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Science & Environment

As Urban Coyote Sightings Become More Common, Expert Urges Education, Precautions

Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic
Coyotes can be found throughout North Carolina, but generally won't approach humans.

Maybe you’ve spotted a coyote trotting through your backyard in Dilworth. Or down an alley in uptown, or across a driveway in Plaza Midwood. Or maybe someone on Nextdoor.com has posted a night-vision photo of a coyote on their patio and caused the entire neighborhood to descend into a tizzy about a dangerous predator on the prowl.

Falyn Owens, an extension wildlife biologist for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, wants you to know that you probably don’t need to worry too much.

But there are also precautions you can take to make sure that you and your pets remain safe as coyote and human interaction occurs more frequently amid urbanization.

Owens spoke at a CMPD Animal Care and Control workshop Tuesday evening where she shared general knowledge about coyotes, why there appears to be an uptick in sightings in North Carolina, and what to do to ensure encounters with the animals are benign.

“Coyotes are not going anywhere,” Owens said. “They are here in North Carolina and they are going to be here forever.”

Credit coyote / Nextdoor.com
This coyote was spotted at the end of a driveway in the Chantilly neighborhood in Charlotte.

Coyote sightings have been more common in recent years as urban sprawl has descended on typical habitat areas for the animals, Owens said. It’s not that there are more coyotes – it’s just that there are more people living where they do.

“They’re naturally skittish,” Owens said. “They’re afraid of their own shadow. But they’re also very smart, so if they learn people can be a source of food and no harm comes to them when they hang around people, then they learn from that.”

A coyote’s diet can vary depending on what is readily available, typically consisting of rodents, fruit, rabbits and other small animals. They'll scavange through trash and gobble up fallen fruit. They like birdseed from bird feeders and the small animals that congregate to that food source.

Small animals they prey upon can include outdoor cats and small dogs, Owens said. Complaints about cats or dogs being injured or killed by coyotes accounted for about 4% of the more than 3,000 coyote complaints given to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission in the last two years, Owens said.

When coyotes are most active in the spring and fall – during breeding season (spring) and when young coyotes venture out on their own (fall) – its best to keep a close eye on small animals that might be vulnerable.

“We don’t have to put out the dinner menu for coyotes,” Owens said. “We can keep these animals safe by keeping them inside and just supervising when they’re outside.”

In general, coyotes won't approach humans unless they've become habituated. The best response when seeing one of the animals is not to run, Owens said, but to do the opposite: make loud noises to scare off the coyote. 

“In general, if you’re around, they don’t want to be,” Owens said.

Coyotes accounted for less than 1 percent of all rabies cases reported in North Carolina last year, but the animals can become habituated to human contact and unafraid. That's when outside resources — such as a Wildlife Damage Control Agent — should be contacted.

For more information, see the Wildlife Resources Commission website on coyotes