Coyotes hungry after long, cold winter but not likely to pose threat

Jane Michaels | @janemichaels22
April 7 10:08 p.m.

Tips to avoid attracting coyotes

1. Don’t feed pets outside

2. Clean barbecue grills

3. Use bird feeders, rather than scattering seed on the ground

4. Cover garbage

5. Walk small dogs on leashes, especially during the evening and early morning

6. Keep cats inside

7. Practice hazing — wave your hands above your head and make loud noise — if you encounter a coyote. Stare them down and don’t run away.

Coyotes prefer to remain behind the scenes during spring mating and birthing seasons, but could be more visible searching for food after a long, hard winter.

Area police departments report isolated sightings since Jan. 1. In Oak Brook, a coyote appeared to be looking in the window of a home in the York Woods subdivision about 6:40 p.m. March 13, but ran off.

One sighting was reported in Hinsdale so far in 2014. LaGrange Park noted two sightings in 2013, but none this year. Other communities don’t track coyote incidents separately from other animal reports.

“We get calls from time to time, but there have been no attacks or pets missing,” said Clarendon Hills Chief Ted Jenkins. “They seem to run up and down along the tracks and have been seen south of town or from time to time in yards.”

Western Springs police also haven’t fielded any complaints or sightings, said Lt. Dave Dayhoff.

In La Grange, 19 sightings have been reported in 2014, roughly one a week, said Curt Trusner, environmental health officer. He said it’s uncertain how that number compares to other years. But the village does receive more calls on coyotes when foliage disappears and the animals are more easily seen.

Chris Anchor, a coyote expert and biologist with the Cook County Forest Preserves, said coyotes and other wildlife faced a double challenge this winter.

“All the snow cover for an extended period in addition to the extreme temperatures made it very difficult on animals,” Anchor said. “They are extremely lean, and this already is the hardest part of the year when their prey population, such as mice, is the lowest before the spring births.”

Having used up all their fat stores, coyotes have begun metabolizing muscle tissue, he said. The difficult winter also could have an effect on the animals’ birth rates.

After mating, coyotes now are awaiting the birth of their pups in late April or early May. Anchor said pairs stay together, hunting cooperatively, and the male takes over to bring food after the pups are born.

Despite their increased need for food, coyotes aren’t likely to be a danger to humans, Anchor said.

“They’re doing everything they can to keep from being obvious. They don’t want you to know where they are,” he said. “Once the pups are born, the family has to be persistent about trying to find food, but for the average person, it should not seem a whole lot different.”

Nature lovers could feel sorry for a scrawny coyote, but must never feed a wild animal.

“Once coyotes become habituated, they’re no longer afraid of people. Ultimately, a coyote becoming a nuisance would have to die,” Anchor said. “I strongly encourage people to appreciate and enjoy them, but only at a distance.”

Anchor said there are several thousand coyotes roaming about the Chicago metropolitan area, but it’s difficult to say how many with any certainty. Some live in defined territories of five to 10 miles, others are loners not aligned with a territory, and a third group is transient moving between several states, up to 50 miles a day.

Usually, more coyote activity is apparent in the fall when coyotes seek to establish or move to a new territory, Anchor said.

Anchor has assisted in the Cook County Coyote Project, a cooperative study since 2000 to collar more than 250 coyotes, track their movement through radio transmissions and analyze their interactions with humans and their environment.