Wildlife in Your Neighborhood: Coyotes

Coyotes are typically most active during twilight, but spring and summer when they’re rearing their young, they hunt more frequently and can be seen throughout the day. Photo | Submitted

Coyotes are typically most active during twilight, but spring and summer when they’re rearing their young, they hunt more frequently and can be seen throughout
the day.
Photo | Submitted

Coyotes are a relatively new species for Maryland. Westward expansion, agriculture and land development allowed this midwestern prairie species to increase its geographic range significantly over time.

Agriculture and land development require deforestation, which leads to forest fragmentation. Fragmented forests transform a forested landscape from densely wooded areas into large expanses of prairie like farmlands—prime coyote habitat. In addition to human settlement and forest-to-agricultural conversion, the extirpation of wolves and cougars in the northeast reduced the risk of predation and prey competition for coyotes, thus supporting their range expansion.

According to James W. Hody and Roland Kays, who wrote “Mapping the expansion of coyotes across North and Central America,” since the 1950s, coyotes have expanded their range by about 40 percent, twice the number as other North American carnivores. The first confirmed coyote sighting in Maryland took place in 1972. Now, for over a decade, coyotes have inhabited all 23 counties in Maryland. That means, it’s likely a Maryland resident has seen, or will see, a coyote in their neighborhood.

Coyotes are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active during twilight; however, as Harry Spiker, game mammal section leader at the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service, said, during this time of the year, coyotes are rearing their young and must hunt more frequently to feed the litter. Therefore, it is possible to see coyotes throughout the day, particularly during the spring and summer.

Coyote vs. Fox

Coyotes and red foxes are similar in appearance. Both are part of the taxonomic family Canidae, which includes domestic dogs and wolves, and they have dog-like faces—unlike gray foxes, which have bunched facial features closely resembling a cat. Coyotes and red foxes also have a similar diet. Although coyotes are a newer species to Maryland (and despite being managed as pests) because of their dietary similarities to foxes, coyotes have a part to play in our ecosystem. Rodents are a critical host for Lyme-carrying ticks and because coyotes prey on them, they help manage rodent populations, meaning less hosts for ticks.

The main physical difference between a coyote and a fox is size. A coyote is twice the size, if not larger, than a fox. For this reason, when distinguishing between the two species think about the difference between a 15-pound animal (the fox) and a 40-pound animal (the coyote). Alternatively, take into consideration the size difference between a Bichon Frises and a Border Collie; that is essentially the size comparison between a fox and a coyote. It’s a big difference.

Coyotes in Your Neighborhood

Seeing a coyote in your neighborhood is no cause for alarm. According to Spiker, “Coyotes tend to have large home ranges of about 10 to 20 square miles,” so if you see a coyote while walking your dog in the morning, “it is likely only passing through.” The best way to discourage any wild visitor from coming within close proximity to your home is to limit the amount of food that wild animals seek out. “The most popular food sources,” said Spiker, “are bird feeders, trash and pet food.” An interesting point Spiker made was that bird feeders, in addition to attracting birds, also attract rodents (e.g., squirrels, mice, chipmunks, etc.) that are a prey source for coyotes. Along with minimizing the amount of food around your home, pets should be fed indoors. If they must be fed outside, only set out enough for one meal.

If coyotes are frequenting your neighborhood, you must protect your companion animals. Spiker recommends supervising your pets when they are outdoors, especially cats and small dogs. Furthermore, bringing outdoor cats in and walking pets on leashes will protect them from any encounters with wildlife as well as protect wildlife (i.e., protecting wild birds from cats) from any free-roaming pets.

Take comfort in knowing that coyotes tend to stay under human radar and do not want to interact with us. They are easily scared away by the mere presence of a person, or by shouting. However, should a coyote cause problems in your community, Spiker recommended contacting Maryland’s Nuisance Wildlife Information Line at 877.463.6497.