Coyotes in your neighborhood? Keep an eye on your pets

  • Article by: ELIZABETH HUSTAD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 10, 2014 - 2:56 PM

Officials educating residents about the animals, which are more aggressive in the spring.

Coyotes prowling around Bloomington have become enough of a nuisance that the Police Department has sent many residents letters warning of their increased presence.

The animals first came to the city’s attention a few weeks ago, when neighbors spotted one picking at a deer carcass in the Hyland Park area, said Deputy Police Chief Vic Poyer. “It was unusual even for that neighborhood that borders on the park to see coyotes traveling back and forth” like that, he said.

Coyotes — called “song dogs” by some for their haunting night music, and pests by the less romantic — are not uncommon in suburban areas, but their presence can be more noticeable in the spring, when their pups are born and food is scarcer.

They can become a problem if they hang around one place or become aggressive, Poyer said. Despite their ubiquity, “they’re an animal that doesn’t like human contact,” he said.

Their numbers have increased in recent years in Minnesota, especially across the state’s southern swath, said Steve Merchant, wildlife populations and regulations manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.

Other metro area cities, including Edina, Minnetonka and Apple Valley, have reported problems with coyotes in the past. Like Bloomington, some have posted tips for dealing with the animals on their websites.

“We’re just trying to educate the public on how to live in an area where coyotes are around,” Poyer said.

The animals easily adapt to new environments and are resourceful foragers. Brush piles and compost heaps that attract rodents and other prey are common draws, he said.

Coyotes get the strongest reactions when it comes to pets. Opportunistic hunters, they will not hesitate to go after cats or small dogs left unsupervised outdoors. To a hungry coyote, your pet is no different from a rabbit or squirrel.

Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare; there is no documented case of one in Minnesota, Merchant said.

Aggressive in April

Coyotes give birth to litters of five to nine pups in April, according to the National Trappers Association, but this doesn’t necessarily mean more of them are in urban areas then.

The DNR receives reports of coyote sightings throughout the year, and Merchant said he hasn’t noticed seasonal patterns in the number of reports.

But there can be a seasonal difference in their behavior. Coyotes are more aggressive in the spring because they’re protecting their pups and because prey is scarce after winter, said officer Tim Hunter of Edina’s animal control unit.

Coyotes’ deeper penetration into urban areas has been noted nationwide. “There’s really no effective way to remove them,” Merchant said, adding that there’s little need to remove them unless they become too comfortable with humans or act aggressively.

Coyote removal is difficult because the most effective options, shooting and trapping, pose a greater threat to pets than to coyotes. Many cities have adopted ordinances prohibiting those two options, Merchant said. People should contact their local animal control officer if a coyote becomes a problem, he said.

The DNR asks homeowners to keep small dogs and cats indoors or to watch them closely outdoors and to have them vaccinated for rabies and other diseases. The agency also instructs people to secure garbage bins and wildlife feeders.

And if a coyote approaches you? The DNR advises “hazing” it: Wave your arms and shout at it to scare it away.

 

Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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