Crossing paths with coyotes more often
The number of coyote attacks on family pets has spiked over the past year, and wildlife experts say it's a symptom of growing urbanization.
“The days when people can let their pets out without supervision are over, because coyotes will prey on them,” said Michael Foy, wildlife specialist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “We're not going to get rid of them. We're not going to go back to a rural society. I tell people to treat their small pets like children: Don't let them out of your sight. (Coyotes) aren't real common, but (they will attack pets) and people have to be real careful.”
In the past month, four pets were snatched from yards in the Wauwatosa area, prompting a community meeting Oct. 6 where homeowners vented to wildlife officials. The meeting prompted the Milwaukee County Board to approve spending $25,000 to develop a coyote management plan.
Over the border in northern Illinois, a Roscoe couple's pet was snatched in August from the front yard after its owners let it out before bed. The couple spent hours searching for their dog when a neighbor discovered the injured animal. It was suffering from broken ribs, a punctured lung and a broken vertebrae. The couple brought their dog to an animal hospital in Madison for treatment.
Here in Walworth County, because of its rural nature, the clash between humans and wildlife is more of a rarity.
“I had one call from a lady in Delavan about coyotes in her driveway. I investigated it and went out to driveway throughout the week, but I didn't see anything,” said Michael Katzenberg, Walworth County DNR warden. “I never heard from her again after that week.”
But that doesn't mean it will remain so forever.
As coyotes become more comfortable around humans, they are starting to prowl into urban areas more often.
More coyotes have been spotted in urban areas of southern Wisconsin during the past 20 years, Foy said.
“They are becoming more bold. About 30 years ago, seeing them in a residential area was almost unheard of,” Foy said. “They are now being seen in Beloit and Janesville. People see them walking down the street in broad daylight.”
Foy said one of the reasons that coyotes are becoming more comfortable around humans is because there is less farmland and not as many people are hunting coyotes to protect their livestock.
“They're becoming more comfortable living closer to people. For many generations, we lived in a rural society. They got shot on sight. They were very secluded from people,” Foy said. “Now we have more of a suburban settlement. There are fewer people out protecting their livestock. People aren't as vigilant. Farmers aren't raising as (many) chickens, piglets and livestock nowadays. Farmers are growing more corn and beans. When people are growing grains, they're not worried about coyotes as much.”
Foy said more coyotes are migrating to southern Wisconsin because of the growing wolf population in northern Wisconsin. He said wolves often will attack coyotes, whereas there are smaller animals in southern Wisconsin upon which coyotes often prey.
“Wolves and coyotes don't mix,” Foy said. “With more wolves moving up north, they're pushing the coyotes out. You don't see as many wolves to the south. Wolves are rare down here. There are more squirrels, rabbits and mice around here, which is more ideal for (coyotes).”
David Drake, associate professor and extension wildlife specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said wolves are larger and weigh about twice as much as coyotes. He said coyotes have pointed ears and more narrow snouts, while wolves have more rounded ears and wider snouts.
“Typically, you can identify them by their size, facial shape and their ears and their environment,” Drake said.
Southern Wisconsin also has more prairie and grassland areas, which are preferred habitats for coyotes.
“The south is ideal for them because there is a lot of brush. They like more open land,” Foy said. “Generations ago, they were called brush wolves. There's food for them here throughout the year.”
Coyotes also can be seen in undeveloped green space areas and parks, Drake said.
“They can stick around wooden areas, but they're not located deep in the woods,” Drake said. “In urban areas, they can stick more to green space areas, parks and undeveloped areas.”
Coyotes can live in different types of habitats and will eat smaller animals and vegetation, Drake said.
“They're a very adaptive species. They can be seen across a wide range of land uses,” Drake said. “They're carnivores, so they eat other animals. But they also can be herbivores, and they eat insects, fruits and berries.”
Drake said if someone notices a coyote in their area, they should not approach it but should make a lot of noise and throw objects at it to scare the coyote away. He said coyotes often will not attack humans, but people still need to be cautious around them.
“The best thing to do is to put the fear of humans back in them,” Drake said. “Scare them by throwing things at them or yelling at them, without trying to hurt them. We just want to make sure we put the fear of humans back in them, so we can coexist with them in urban areas.”
Drake and other researchers at UW-Madison are conducting the UW Urban Canid Project, in which they are studying coyotes and foxes in the Madison and Milwaukee areas to determine how they interact with each other.
“Typically, coyotes kill foxes because they're both in the dog family and they're competitors,” Drake said. “They don't interact much in the city, because there's so many resources. They don't compete as much in the city because they can share resources.”
Drake said the researchers trap and place radio collars on foxes and coyotes to track their behavior and locations.
“We can track their patterns. That way we can head off a conflict (with a fox) before it starts,” he said.
The research also is used to determine if the coyotes and foxes are contracting any diseases in the urban areas.
“So far, they have been amazingly healthy,” Drake said. “They really haven't been exposed to any viruses or diseases.”
Drake said if people notice coyotes or foxes on their property to report their findings on the canid project Facebook page, (facebook.com/uwurbancanidproject) so researchers can record the information.
“We ask people to report if they've seen a coyote or a fox. We ask them to report what they saw, if the animal moved toward humans and if they moved away or were scared off,” Drake said. “We're trying to get information about their behavior. We want people to tell us where they've seen a coyote, so we can place it on our map.”