Tips and tidbits about these intelligent creatures
by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (January 2019) – You may notice more critters in your yard this time of year scouring for food. This is also a time of year when you may be more likely to spot coyotes in Lansing and the surrounding area, according to Charles “Chip” O’Leary, Deputy Director of Resource Management for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. “Coyotes are present in the area year ’round, but may be seen more in winter because there is less cover (vegetation), and they are also working harder and taking more risks to find food.”
As with many species of animals, O’Leary notes that coyotes are usually more afraid of humans than we are of them and are generally not a threat to people. “Most often, people can simply enjoy seeing a coyote, but should exhibit caution. Cook County has not recorded a single human attack by coyotes,” he said. “A person who encounters a coyote can make noise, yell, or throw a rock in its direction to scare off the coyote. Generally, coyotes may be curious about humans, and may watch them, but shouldn’t exhibit any aggression unless they are protecting a den and the person is coming too close. If it appears the coyote is protecting a specific area, it’s best to change routes.”
Coyotes live in small groups, usually between two and seven together. They maintain a territory and hunt individually for food. “You may see them grouped together for other reasons, but you’re less likely to see them hunting together. They eat surprisingly little human-sourced food. They don’t like garbage; they like to hunt small mammals and frogs. They’re really opportunistic,” said O’Leary. “A pretty high percentage of their diet is wild-caught game.”
Other common parts of a coyote’s diet are mice, voles, and squirrels or rabbits—if they can catch them. They’ll also eat dead prey. In summer, their diet includes fruits and berries.
Since they prefer to hunt live animals, it may cause concern from pet owners when coyotes are spotted in residential areas. O’Leary said he wouldn’t call it “likely” that a coyote would target a small pet, but “It’s possible.”
“They might look at a dog or cat as going after the same food, so they’ll chase them off and at times kill them,” he said. “One of the most important things pet owners can do is keep food out of their yard and out of their neighbor’s yard, especially pet food. This is the number one link between a coyote attack against domestic pets—the presence of food in a yard. Another good tip is if pet owners are walking their dogs, they should always keep them on leash.”
Sharing the area
About 2,000 coyotes reside in the Chicago area and may be spotted at different areas within their territory that may include golf courses, along railroad tracks, or in residential neighborhoods. Coyotes have always been native to the area and many Native American cultures revered coyotes as being intelligent and perceptive.
“One of the interesting things about coyotes is that they’re probably one of the most intelligent animals in our area. They’re really curious and will explore but will know when to get out of the way from danger,” said O’Leary. “It’s important that people remember that Cook County is incredibly diverse in terms of ecosystems and wildlife. Generally wildlife can see people coming and will hide; they’re more afraid of people than people are of them. If people are quiet, they may be lucky to spot wildlife in nature. It’s important to remember there is wildlife all around us, and we are all sharing the same spaces—being aware and respectful is the best way to enjoy the outdoors and the wildlife living in it.”
The Forest Preserves of Cook County has been part of the longest-running studies on urban coyotes, the Urban Coyote Research Project. For more information, visit urbancoyoteresearch.com.
Bonus tips: Avoiding conflicts with coyotes
- Do not feed coyotes
- Do not let pets run loose
- Do not run from a coyote
- Repellents or fencing may help
- Do not create a conflict where it doesn’t exist (do not aggravate them if you encounter them)
- Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately