That coyote may be in your backyard


Brad RossContributing columnist

Traveling along routes 23, 315 and I-71, as well as a recent drive across the Midwest on I-70, I occasionally see a coyote dead along the roadside. I can’t help but envision that poor creature so totally focused on chasing the elusive roadrunner that he totally missed seeing the ACME semi-truck that ran over him.

The old cartoon depictions of the hapless Wile E. Coyote showed the canine to be lacking in any kind of intelligence or ability to survive (however, the slapstick comedy was quite entertaining for this young toddler, then and now!). Fortunately, they are far from realistic, as the coyote is very adaptable in whatever surrounding it is found.

The coyote (scientific name Canis Iatrans) is not native to Ohio, but is found throughout the state today. Before the 1900s, coyotes were mostly found west of the Mississippi River, associated with wide open territories. Their initial appearance in Ohio was in 1919 and they have adjusted well to the hilly farmlands mixed with wooded areas. They also adapt quite readily to urban and suburban areas. It is not uncommon to see TV news spots of coyotes in big cities such as Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia.

The coyote has very similar characteristics to the domestic dog, as they are both from the same family, Canidae. It has a bushy tail with a black tip and are gray, rusty brown or off-white in color. It stands about 1½ to two feet in height and is 40-55 inches in length generally.

The coyote is a nocturnal animal, mostly active during the night. However, it is not uncommon to see it moving and hunting during the day.

During my wilderness excursions in Utah and Colorado, most nights (especially during full moon) I hear groups of coyotes as they strike up their forlorn howls. It can cause quite a ruckus. Depending on where you live, it is not uncommon to hear the same howling right here in Delaware County. The cries might sound as if they are in the far distance, when in actuality they may be right in your backyard.

Coyotes usually hunt in groups and search for small mammals, such as shrews, voles and rabbits. They also feed on fruits, grasses, vegetables or carrion (carcass of dead animals). They will feed on sheep in the summer when the adults are feeding pups. Although the coyote is notorious for killing sheep, studies show that livestock makes up only 14 percent of the coyotes’ diet.

Searching the Internet for information on cat predation by coyotes has shown that there is a wide range of statistics supporting both sides – coyotes are a threat and coyotes are not a threat to cats in the outdoors, depending on which study you read. My suggestion is: be safe. Keep your cat indoors or at least supervised when outdoors.

Coyotes are monogamous, meaning they pair for life with one mate. The gestation period for a pregnant female is just over two months and the litter can be 1-12 pups. The coyotes are very family-oriented – many times sharing den areas with 2-3 families and the females will sometimes share in the care of offspring.

In the early days of my career, back in the early 1970s in Knox County, I remember many livestock farmers having concerns about expanding populations of “coydogs” or mixed breeding of coyotes and domestic dogs. While this does happen occasionally, research shows only 2 percent of the actual sightings of these animals have been coydogs. Skull measurements have indicated that 98 percent are true coyotes.

If you are interested in hearing the howl of the coyotes, just open your windows during the nights of a full moon and, if you have any nearby, it is likely you will hear their cry.

If you think you have nuisance problems with coyotes, contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife and the local wildlife officer can assist you.

For more information on conservation issues, contact the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District at 740-368-1921 or go the website at www.delawareswcd.org.

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Brad RossContributing columnist

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at brad-ross@delawareswcd.org.

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at brad-ross@delawareswcd.org.