Coyotes in Connecticut
On March 3, 97 people attended another entertaining and educational talk in the Nature Lecture Series co-sponsored by the Town of Bloomfield’s Leisure Services and the Wintonbury Land Trust. Paul Colburn, a Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) Bureau of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Master Wildlife Conservationist, shared his in-depth knowledge of the history, habitat and habits of the Eastern Coyote.
According to Paul, the coyote suffers from lots of myths. Ask anyone what they think of coyotes, and you’re likely to get one of two replies: they’re dangerous or they’re a nuisance. Admittedly, the coyote does have a shady reputation as a chicken coop-robbing, fawn-killing, garbage-eating, pet-snatching scoundrel (think Road Runner and Wiley Coyote cartoons) and as something to get rid of. In 10 year period from 1947-56, approximately 6.5 million coyotes were exterminated. Now about one per minute or 500,000 per year are killed, aided by U.S. Fish & Wildlife efforts to eradicate them to protect livestock. Despite all this, coyotes continue to thrive and have expanded their reach through process called dispersal.
In reality the coyote is just a medium sized predator trying to make a living! It is among the most flexible animals, opportunistic, adaptable, and is extremely intelligent. Coyotes can run at speeds of up to 35-40 mph, are strong swimmers, have an excellent sense of smell, hearing, and eyesight, all of which they use to locate prey. They can be found in every type of habitat, including urban settings, hunting rodents, eating garbage, etc. They are by nature diurnal but adapt to being around humans by becoming active early and late in the day.
Coyotes, who are in the dog family, date back a very long time. They are not native to Connecticut but rather are recent newcomers filling a niche of other species exterminated, such as wolves. They were first found here in the 1950’s. They have a lifespan of 5-7 years and the population is now growing every year. It is estimated that there are 4-6,000 currently in the state. The coyotes in Connecticut are a subspecies known as the Eastern Coyote. At 48-60” long and 30-50 lbs, the Eastern Coyote is larger than the Western Coyote due to some interbreeding with wolves, as well as adapting to the available prey, notably deer.
They typically have a grayish coat but there is lots of variation.
Coyotes are very protective of their dens and young and will present and exert territoriality to protect them. Remember that if you are out hiking during April to mid-May and encounter a coyote on the path, it is just protecting its young. Try to get coyote to move off the path by throwing pebbles or rocks. Put dogs on a leash – and if it won’t move, just go around it!
They are extremely social animals that mate for life. They are not pack animals so the groups are usually just the nuclear family. Even thought their howling sounds like a large pack, it is just the 5-7 member nuclear family communicating. When a parent is out hunting, the family will howl when they reunite. They will howl when there is an intruder in their area or will use it to locate one another if the youngsters become separated from their family. In addition, the young will howl to exercise their vocal chords, something that is necessary to develop a good howl.
Coyote tracks are prominent, with four toes and a larger triangular heel pad and will always print claws. Bobcat tracks are similar but do not show the claws.
Coyotes range from 2-10 square miles depending upon the quality/quantity of the food supply. They are opportunistic omnivores whose favorite food is anything they can chew, including berries. Coyotes help spread native nuts and berries. They are very adaptable and can adjust their eating habits according to the availability of food sources. Acorns are important to their diets. They will eat mice, rabbits, chipmunks, and woodchucks as well as larger animals, such as deer, beaver, and roadkill carrion. They can take down a larger animal only if it weakened, e.g., deer being chased. They will also take small pets, and livestock such as fowl. Birdfeeders may draw them to your home and put you on the food map… Be careful of garbage and use ammonia to dissipate smell. Keep cats in at night (should be in at all times!) and be very watchful of smaller dogs (25 pounds or less). We can all work to adjust our behaviors to avoid conflict with this wild animal who is just doing its job of providing for its family!
Fencing can be helpful at keeping coyotes honest but if you do install fencing, make sure it is six feet high and several feet underground with rotating PVC or horizontal fencing on top to prevent coyotes from scaling the fence and going in over the top.
Coyotes live in dens, or in an abandoned woodchuck or fox burrow or under trees, etc.
Breeding season is in late winter and they give birth to 1-12 pups in April – mid-May. They are helpless at birth and nurse for the first 6-8 weeks at which point they are weaned and the young are out hunting with their parents at 3-4 months. They grow rapidly and are nearly full grown by their 9th month. They disperse in fall or early winter and a male coyote may go 50 miles or so to find new territory, which is usually an exclusive territory. They won’t tolerate foxes and see them as competitors. They do co-exist with bobcats and bears.
DEEP has a detailed coyote management plan to preserve the species and minimize conflict between humans and coyotes. Populations are managed through hunting and trapping. The goal is to cull about 10% annually, or about 400 per year.
There is lots of information on the DEEP website (https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Coyote) about living with coyotes, e.g., keep dogs on leashes, don’t feed coyotes, and if you do confront one, don’t turn around and run. If coyotes are hanging around your house, try to frighten them away by throwing rocks, spraying with hose, making noise, acting larger, and report any dangerous kinds of behavior to DEEP. Spaces under porches should be blocked off to prevent animals nesting there. Coyotes are rarely dangerous to humans despite hundreds of millions of encounters. Children should be instructed to recognize coyotes and to retreat to shelter and report the sighting. They are infrequently rabid but strange behavior should be reported. There is no need to report sightings unless acting aggressively or strangely. Be sure to educate your neighbors to keep easy food sources such as garbage away or coyotes end up paying with their lives.
Coyotes are here to stay, and their population is expected to grow. With a few sensible accommodations, we can live harmoniously with this beautiful, intelligent wild animal in our midst.
More information is available on the DEEP Wildlife Division website on all types of wildlife and how to get involved. https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Wildlife-in-Connecticut Consider taking out a subscription to the CT Wildlife magazine. At $8 a year it is a great deal! https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Connecticut-Wildlife-Magazine
Paul Colburn has a website with presentations and contact information. https://paulcmwcpinct.wixsite.com/website Be sure to click on the “Learn More” link.
For a brief video of coyotes in action, visit WLT’s YouTube Channel for a recommended video, Getting to Know Coyote: Into Their World.