Coyotes in the County
Is that a party I hear? Or just a pack of song dogs?
Whining and yelping, yipping and barking, huffing and howling. Put that all together with a few friends and family and you’ve got a concert by a pack of song dogs, better known as coyotes. And whether you’re in the city, farmland, town, wooded tract or beachfront in Brunswick County, those feisty canines are nearby, because they’re not just for the prairie anymore.
I went out West many years ago and woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning with all kinds of commotion in my ears. It sounded like a whale of a party, and I thought to myself that these folks in Arizona stay up mighty late and do carry on. Then I remembered it was my birthday and thought I might be missing my own shindig. Scratching the sleep from my eyes, I realized it was just a pack of coyotes in the desert, and they sounded as if they were right outside my back door. What fun they seemed to be having!
Fast forward to 2018, and I hear a similar party near the Odell Williamson Municipal Airport, near Ocean Isle Beach Road. I was walking in the woods when an ambulance went by with the siren going and set the coyotes off. It sounded like I was surrounded, and it scared me half to death.
According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC), I could just as well have been in Wilmington or inland Brunswick or any of the state’s 100 counties. The coyotes are here, there and everywhere in North Carolina — most likely in a hiding place near you!
Who are these little doggies, and should we all be terrified? Roland Kays is a zoologist and head of the Biodiversity Lab of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Resources. He analyzes coyote data, and says a citizen science project currently underway is capturing coyotes in “camera traps” throughout the state (find out more at nccandidcritters.org). The project shows the average rate camera traps detect coyotes. Kays says, “In Brunswick [County], its 0.015 coyotes a day, which is typical or slightly low for the state.” However, just because people haven’t seen or heard them doesn’t mean they’re not there. In fact, the most sightings are in the state capital area. That’s because the population’s so dense, there are more people likely to experience them.
What do they look like? WRC says people often describe them as mangy dogs, about the size of a mid-sized canine (20 to 45 pounds), usually with reddish to dark gray thick fur. They have long slender snouts, a long bushy tail and ears that point upward.
The WRC does quite a lot to educate the public about co-existing with the critters, including having held a workshop in Bolivia last year. They say that while coyotes are for the most part harmless, people can take steps to prevent conflicts with them.
“Attacks on people, including children, are extremely rare,” Kays says. Normal coyote behavior is to be curious, but wary, when close to humans. Problems can crop up if people feed them, though, either purposely or inadvertently, such as with outdoor pet food or bird seed. In such cases, coyotes keep coming back — and get bolder and bolder.
They are voracious creatures and will chow down on a varied menu of mice, rats, squirrels, fawns, fruit, plants, birdseed and a special delicacy — household trash.
Will coyotes attack pets? It could happen. They view outdoor cats and small unleashed dogs as prey and larger dogs as threats. WRC cautions that in winter coyotes are most likely to confront larger dogs during mating and pup birthing season, which starts January and runs through June.
Like other wild animals coyotes might harbor sickness and diseases. They attract parasites and get viruses, distemper and heartworms. They reportedly don’t often carry rabies, but they might.
The commission has no plans to try and rid the state of coyotes because research shows efforts to do so don’t work. The WRC says the best thing is to strive to co-exist. So how do we do that? The commission recommends several things:
- If you see a coyote, don’t be alarmed. The animal most likely will leave when it detects you. But do throw a small object such as a tennis ball near it, while making loud noises, or spray it with a hose. Make it unwelcome, so it won’t come back. If you see it often, take the following additional steps.
- Don’t feed it or try to pet it or it will keep coming back and could get bold and aggressive. Remember, it might have a contagious disease.
- Feed pets indoors or remove food when your pet is finished eating outside. Coyotes are attracted to pet food left outdoors.
- Put your garbage receptacles out the morning of pickup and secure the lids; otherwise, coyotes will get in the cans, eat your trash, and keep coming back for more.
- Use bird feeders that keep seed off the ground or keep bird-feeder areas clean, because the seed attracts small animals, which attract coyotes. Remove the feeders if coyotes keep returning.
- Clear fallen fruit from trees.
- Cut back brushy edges in your yard, which provide cover for coyotes.
- Close off crawl spaces under sheds and porches, where they might rest or raise their young.
- Protect pets by keeping them inside, leashed or inside a coyote-proof fence. Those fences must be very high and deep into the ground and are better if angled outward at the top.
- Educate your neighbors so they don’t provide food for the coyotes or your efforts will be for naught.
- Allow hunters or trappers to access your property, to manage the coyote population. Coyotes will avoid areas where they perceive threats.
- If you have questions or concerns about coyotes you may contact the Wildlife Resources Commission weekdays at (866) 318-2401. Or you can go to org/coyote or ncwildlife.org/have-a-problem
Go to here to hear a coyote howling.