While having breakfast Tuesday morning, Jim Williams and his daughter Christina had an Animal Planet moment as they witnessed a pack of three coyotes chase a fox through their backyard in the Woodcliffe Park neighborhood of Germantown.
Williams told the Germantown Pulse that it was his daughter that alerted him to the Wild Kingdom happening in their back yard as she spotted a fox run through their yard on Gate Dancer Lane. As he turned to get a look at the fox, a pack of three coyotes came running through his yard after the fox. Williams said his house backs up to a large wooded area which is between his street and the Maryland SoccerPlex.
“We’ve lived here for 18 years, and we’ve seen a lot of wildlife from foxes to deer and geese, but this is the first time I’ve seen a coyote,” said Jim Williams. He said that he has seen foxes in his yard before, but he’d never seen one moving this fast. “It was really moving when it came through the yard this morning, but he was really moving this morning. The shock was seeing the three coyotes. At first, I thought they were dogs, and then I realized — those are coyotes. It was kind of cool, to watch. They were working as a team as the three of them walked through the woods after the fox.”
Williams said he’d heard tales from other neighbors of seeing coyotes in the area over the years, but he’s never seen one. He said that he called Montgomery County Animal Control. However, there is not much that can be done unless or until an animal becomes a threat to humans or pets.
According to the Montgomery County Parks Department website, coyotes have been present in Montgomery County since the late 1980’s, but “sightings have increased noticeably in the past five years indicating that coyotes have become established and are now part of our local fauna.”
Coyotes are medium-sized members of the dog family resembling a small German Shepard Dog with a long slender snout and erect pointed ears. Their long, thick fur can make them look larger than they actually are. Average weight in the east is about 35 pounds, which is about 10 pounds heavier than their Midwestern cousins.
“Suburban development with nicely landscaped yards and golf courses, abundant open space and parks, and a mix of agriculture is ideal habitat for many wildlife species, especially the adaptable coyote,” according to Montgomery County Parks website, and it offers some tips for living with coyotes to minimize conflicts.
• NEVER feed coyotes or wildlife (other than birds)
• Don’t leave bowls of pet food or water outside at night
• Keep garbage in sturdy containers with tight fitting lids
• Keep compost in enclosed bins instead of exposed piles
• Keep bird feeders out of reach and don’t let seeds accumulate on the ground
• Keep pets inside at night and watch small dogs while outside, even during daylight hours
• Keep cats indoors
• Always walk your dogs on a leash (this is required on parkland and in other locals)
• Spay or neuter your dogs
• Supervise small children (under 5 years old) at all times.
• Close off crawl spaces under porches and sheds where coyotes could rest and den
• Don’t tolerate coyotes around your yard – chase them off by yelling, throwing sticks, etc.
According to the Urban Coyote Initiative, an organization which documents stories and science of urban coyotes across North America, “Coyotes mate in mid-February and are ready to give birth by mid-April. During this time, both when nearing birthing time and once the pups are born, coyote parents are more protective of their denning areas and more active in hunting food. Their level of activity and protectiveness rises even more as the pups begin to venture out of the den in early summer.”
Because of this change in coyote behavior, residents, especially pet owners walking through coyote territory, tend to have more interactions, according to the Urban Coyote Initiative. “Coyotes that usually avoid any confrontation with humans or dogs will display more territorial behaviors, warning passers-by with vocalizations or even following them. And coyotes that would normally scamper off when chased by an off-leash dog will more likely stand its ground.”
Coyote attacks on people are extremely rare. There have been a small number of attacks on people in the US and Canada, with most of the attacks involving small children under 5 years of age. Since 3 million children are bitten by dogs every year, a small child is millions of times more likely to get hurt by the family pet than by a coyote.
The Urban Coyote Initiative offers the following rules for dog walkers:
1. Keep your dog on a 6-foot leash. This length is long enough to let your dog have some freedom but not so long that you can’t easily control your dog should you need to, especially at a moment’s notice. Retractable leashes are of little help to a dog owner since it is very difficult to reel your dog back in if they are pulling on a long line way ahead of you.
2. Avoid areas known to have coyote activity, especially during breeding and pupping season. If there are signs posted or you’ve heard neighbors report coyotes sighted in a certain area, make the common-sense decision to avoid walking your dog in those areas. This is especially important during pupping season when mother and father coyotes will be more defensive of their den sites.
3. Stick to trails and open paths, and avoid areas with thick brush. Going off trail, following game trails, or heading into areas where there is thick brush lining the path increases your chances of running into a coyote. Staying on trail in open areas gives you plenty of time to spot and react to a coyote.
4. Avoid walking your dog at sunrise and sunset hours. Coyotes are naturally active during the day, though urban coyotes usually switch to nocturnal behavior. Either way, they are often active at twilight hours. If you’re walking your dog during sunrise or sunset, be aware that it increases your chances of an interaction with a coyote.
Top: By marya (emdot) from San Luis Obispo, USA (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Next: By Macmanes (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Next: By Dru Bloomfield (Urban Coyotes) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons