The Eastern Coyote

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) recently released a guideline advising residents to avoid conflicts with coyotes. Coyotes, you might ask? Aren’t they typically found on the Western prairies and in the Rocky Mountain States? The answer can be a simple “yes” or a more complicated “no.”

The Eastern Coyote is something of a hybrid species that began showing up in New York State in the mid-1930s. Biologists believe that in the early 1900s, western coyotes began an eastward migration to fill the void left when timber wolves were extirpated from eastern forests, which brought them around the wild Canadian shorelines of the Great Lakes. Along the way, they are thought to have interbred with Canadian timber wolves, creating a distinct subspecies that explains why the Eastern Coyote is larger than its western cousin. Lacking competition, the coyote eventually established itself as a major contender in New York’s predatory food chain. Today, the Eastern Coyote is the Empire State’s top predator and can be found throughout the Finger Lakes Region.

“Coyotes are an integral part of our natural ecosystem, but they can come into conflict with people if they become habituated to human presence and food sources,” said DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The coyote is an adaptable animal and has established populations throughout most of New York State. While coyotes can provide many benefits to New Yorkers through observation, photography, hunting, and trapping, they should be treated with respect and common sense.”

The DEC memo advises that with the onset of warmer weather, many of New York's resident coyotes have set up dens for soon-to-arrive pups. Coyotes are well adapted to suburban and even urban environments, but for the most part they will avoid contact with people. However, conflicts with people and pets may result as coyotes tend to be territorial around den sites during the spring through mid-summer period as they forage almost constantly to provide food for their young.

To minimize the chance that conflicts between people and coyotes occur, it is important that coyotes’ natural fear of people is maintained. Here are some steps you can take to reduce or prevent conflicts from occurring: Do not feed coyotes, intentionally or otherwise; do not feed pets outside; make garbage and compost inaccessible; eliminate the availability of birdseed. Birds and rodents that come to feeders can attract coyotes. Do not allow coyotes to approach people or pets. If you see a coyote, be aggressive in your behavior. Try to chase it away. It is important that coyotes maintain their instinctive fear of people.

If coyotes are so plentiful, how come we seldom see them? They are among the wariest of all wild animals and have the ability to simply melt into the landscape. In addition, they are primarily crepuscular – active at dawn and dusk – although they will hunt all day and night when feeding pups. The more coyotes are pursued, the more nocturnal they become. For most people, a coyote experience doesn’t involve seeing them at all – it’s hearing them – usually on frosty mornings, clear evenings, or when the local fire whistle goes off.

story and photo by John Adamski

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