According to the Colorado Parks & Wildlife website, coyote breeding season lasts from January through March and pups are born from April through mid-May, which is likely a contributing factor to an increase in coyote sightings in the Falcon area.
With increased sightings, there are heightened concerns about conflicts between coyotes and humans or pets. Other factors that might be inadvertently attracting coyotes to more urban areas that could be preventable, said Stanley D. Gehrt, Ph.D.
Gehrt is an associate professor of wildlife ecology and an extension wildlife specialist at the School of Environment and Natural Resources at The Ohio State University. He said litter-rearing season can be one of the most stressful times in a coyote’s life. “They have really strong parenting instincts, and you will see a spike in dog/coyote conflicts during this time,” he said.
The main reason for increased sightings is that coyotes have moved into more urban development areas, Gehrt said. In some instances, development is encroaching on their territory; in many other instances, the animals have simply moved to a different, more highly populated area, he said.
Sarah Watson, district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks & Wildlife, said although coyotes are typically fearful of people, they adapt successfully and find ways to live alongside humans in urban settings. “In Colorado Springs, there are absolutely coyotes; and, in the Falcon area, with all the agricultural land, there are definitely going to be coyotes out there and even in town there, too,” she said.
Because of the increase in sightings, there is the perception that coyotes are a bigger problem than they really are, especially when it comes to conflicts with humans or domestic animals, Gerht said.
According to a study on the Urban Coyote Research website, published in 2012, called, “Assessment of Human-Coyote Conflicts: City and County of Broomfield, Colorado,” three children were bitten by coyotes in separate incidents during July and August 2011.
According to a Fact Sheet called, “Urban Coyotes: Conflict & Management,” on the Urban Coyotes Research website and co-authored by Gehrt, coyote attacks on humans are relatively rare. “Most attacks on humans occur between May and August (pup-rearing season),” the sheet states. “Coyotes may view small children as potential prey and may also be stimulated to attack children that are running or engaging in playful behavior.”
Often, an immediate reaction to an attack incident is to demand the coyote be removed or destroyed, Gehrt said. “We have been able to document that, if you shoot the coyote, that may take care of the problem, but if the problem was created by something else to make the coyote act that way, removing the individual is not a long-term solution,” he said.
Gehrt said coyotes are quick learners, which is one of the keys to their success and why coyote numbers are still growing. They often watch human behaviors and actions and learn from them, he said. People might inadvertently give coyotes the message they are welcome by leaving out food for a pet, providing a consistent source of food through an easily accessible compost pile or giving up space to the coyotes in their yards, Gehrt said.
“We have had a couple coyotes become more obvious during the day in people’s yards because of the really big platform bird feeders they have,” he said. “There are piles of bird food that the birds knock to the ground. The coyotes are not attracted to the feed, they are attracted to the rodents that come feed there.” People often complain about having a coyote in their yard even though they are not providing a source of food for it, but one or more of the surrounding neighbors might not be doing their part to deter coyotes; and that affects everyone in the area.
Coyotes are generally not a welcome sight in a person’s backyard, but they play an essential role in the ecosystem, Gehrt said. “The number of coyotes that actually come into conflict with people is a very small percentage,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of them are actually doing other things like eating rodents, eating other things we consider nuisances and performing important ecological services.
“The majority of coyotes will not take advantage of human food. They actually bring a predator role into a city that did not have it before and help to control the population of rodents there.”
There are places where coyotes do not belong, and the best way to handle them is to act aggressive and try to scare them away, Gehrt said. They have a natural fear of humans but can learn to overcome that with enough innocuous contacts with people, he said.
Watson said it is important to keep an eye on small animals and children when they are outside, especially during dawn and dusk. “With little kids, they may have a harder time distinguishing between a coyote and a dog,” she said. Keep animals on a leash to further protect them, Watson said.
Aggressive or fearless coyotes need to be reported, Gehrt said. The CPW website recommends calling their local administrative offices at 719-227-5200 during regular business hours and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office or the Colorado State Patrol after regular business hours.
If someone is thinking about relocating a coyote, live traps like cages or box traps, are the only types of traps permitted by the CPW. To relocate a coyote, a person must first obtain a relocation permit from the CPW.
The bottom line is that coyotes perform a function even in the most urban of areas; while removing or destroying an individual coyote might be the safest option, sometimes the best thing is to learn how to effectively live with them, Gehrt said.
“Coyotes are now part of the urban landscape; whereas they were not before,” he said. “And people should act accordingly.”
This “urban” coyote has made his home in a residential area in the heart of Falcon. That low juniper bush is where the rabbits liked to hide — not so much anymore. Photo by Kathy Hare