When coyotes come to town: A special report

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Coyotes are amazingly intelligent hunters, and they're on the move across the country. It's not just in green fields and woods where the  creatures are living, now they're taking up residence in neighborhoods. They're adapting quickly and successfully.

"The coyotes are very opportunistic survivors," explains wildlife expert Dr. Jim Armstrong of Auburn University. So how do they survive in their new urban surroundings? "They eat anything - they live anywhere," and neighbors often provide food and shelter.

Experts say coyotes prefer rodents, rabbits and in some cases a small dog or the family cat, as WSFA 12 News anchor Bob Howell found out recently. Howell found a coyote dragging his cat "Bill" across the front yard, its head firm lodged in the wild animal's mouth. Fortunately for Bill, though, the coyote dropped him and ran away.

"He had lots of wounds...lots of trauma to the head," said Dr. Zeb King, the veterinarian who treated Howell's cat that night. "He was in bad shape, but we managed to pull him through."

While small, domesticated animals fall prey to coyotes, animal scientists are quick to point out that it's almost unheard of for a coyote to attack a person.

Recently, visitors to Town Creek, a popular park in Auburn, reported a number of coyote sightings. With the help of Auburn University and the USDA, the city set out five, soft catch leg traps.  Conan Devine, an animal control officer in Auburn says the traps have a rubber piece around the edge so when it closes down it doesn't hurt them, it just holds them still."

The traps caught five coyotes in the first six weeks.

So, it comes down to this: Does Alabama have a coyote problem? According to Dr. Armstrong the answer is no. "Not on a broad scale," he said. "We don't need to try and go out and eradicate every coyote in the state. For one thing, it's not going to happen. The other, it's unnecessary."

But frustrated hunters take a dim view of the coyote and his constant search for food. "They're definitely after our young deer and turkeys," says Jackie Bushman, founder of Buckmasters. Bushman believes predator hunting is the fastest growing sport in the shooting industry because of that.

"It's a great sport to try because you're knocking down some predators a little bit," says Bushman, "because they keep multiplying they're just more pressure on our deer and turkeys."

"Every evening they're howling and 'raising sand'," according to Jim Mason, a hunter at Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge. Using an electronic call, Mason found out just how common coyotes are in the middle of the day. "Turned on a call and called up three coyotes at 12 noon," Mason said. "And killed one of them."

While Dr. Armstrong and others agree that there's no widespread problem with coyotes, he understands there are lots of individual pockets of problems that need to be dealt with. "Sometimes that means lethal control."

No one is suggesting concerned residents go out and start shooting coyotes, especially in urban areas since it may be against the law to discharge a firearm in the city limits. There are things that can be done, however.

If you're one of those folks with a serious coyote problem, Dr. Armstrong suggests contacting your local animal control officers. If they can't help, you can contact the US Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Division, or the state Conservation Department.

If you've seen a coyote in your neighborhood, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don't encourage the animal. Don't make them feel welcome.
  • Scare the coyote away. Make loud noises, jump up and down waving your arms. Even bright lights help.
  • Don't leave food out. Since coyotes are always on the prowl for food, take up any pet food that's outside and secure garbage cans so they can't tip over.
  • Keep small pets inside when possible. Experts say when a coyote is lurking around your neighborhood a little dog, left outside at night inside an invisible fence is a sitting duck.

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