Living with Wildlife: Coyotes
By Amber Haloftis, Animal Control Officer, Niles Police Department
Coyotes have been a common sight in the Village of Niles, especially for residents that live near wooded areas. While the wolf-like creatures may seem like a nuisance, they are an important part of our ecosystem as the largest predator in Illinois. Here’s what you need to know if you see a coyote on or near your property.
First, What Do Coyotes Look Like?
Coyotes look like medium-sized dogs with a more pointed snout and a bushier tail. They tend to be yellow-gray in color with guard hairs, the outer layer of fur, tipped with black. Coyotes have yellow irises with large, dark pupils in contrast to brown, like most dogs have. They are usually 23 to 26 inches high and three to four and a half feet long and typically weigh 20 to 40 pounds. Though, coyotes can weigh up to 55 pounds.
Where Do Coyotes Live?
Coyotes are very adaptable and live in a variety of habitats in Illinois. While they prefer a mixture of semi-open country, grasslands, and woodlands, it is not uncommon to find coyotes living in suburban and urban areas. In fact, there are many coyotes living in metropolitan Chicago.
What Do Coyotes Eat?
Coyotes are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plants and animals. Coyotes primarily prey on small mammals, like rabbits, mice, and voles while supplementing their diet with insects, plants, fruits and berries. Coyotes are also opportunistic feeders that will eat pet food, garbage, and dead animals when available.
How Often Do Coyotes Reproduce?
Coyotes usually produce one litter per year with peak breeding in February to March. A coyote’s gestation period is about 58 to 65 days, with pups born in late April to May. An average litter consists of six to seven pups, but litters as little as two and as high as 19 pups have been recorded. Pups will stay in den sites that can be underground, under hollow trees, in abandoned buildings, or under logs or brush piles. Most young coyotes will be on their own by late summer or early fall, unless they stay with their parents to help raise the next year’s litter.
Do Coyotes Pose a Threat to Public Safety?
While it is commonly believed that coyotes are dangerous, most coyotes do not cause problems. However, some individuals do sometimes injure or kill livestock, poultry, or domestic pets like cats and small dogs. Although some coyotes are so accustomed to human activity that they may approach buildings, people, and pets, there have been no reported attacks on humans in Illinois in the last 30 years.
Do Coyotes Carry Diseases?
Coyotes can be carriers of multiples diseases including canine distemper, parvovirus, rabies, and sarcoptic mange. Dogs, cats, and livestock may be susceptible to these diseases, but only sarcoptic mange and rabies can be transmitted to humans. Sarcoptic mange is caused by mites that burrow under the skin and causes severe itching while rabies is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. If you see a coyote exhibiting neurological symptoms like lack of coordination, tremors, or convulsions, please contact Niles Animal Control or your local Illinois Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist.
How Do I Prevent Damage Caused by Coyotes?
There are a few ways you can prevent coyotes from causing damage on your property. The first is by way of habitat modification or making the environment less attractive to coyotes. Store garbage securely to not attract rodents which coyotes will prey on. Keep bird feeding areas clean of debris and use squirrel-proof bird feeders. Again, the bird feed may attract small rodents which attract coyotes. Keep all dogs on leashes when walking outside, especially at night. Do not leave your pets outside unattended and do not feed your pets outside. The pet food could attract small rodents or the coyotes themselves.
Exclusion is another method to prevent possible conflicts with coyotes. A properly installed fence can help keep coyotes out. The fence should be at least four feet tall and made of chain link or sturdy welded wire. Although coyotes can jump several feet and are very good climbers and diggers, a four-foot fence will keep most coyotes out.
What If I’m Approached by a Coyote?
If approached by a coyote do not run. You should stand straight up, yell, and wave your arms or throw something in the coyote’s direction to make it move away from you. The goal is to make yourself look bigger and to deter the coyote from advancing without injuring it. If an undesirable pattern of behavior develops, or you believe that a coyote is particularly aggressive or fearless, please call Niles Animal Control immediately.
While removal of a coyote is often temporary and used as a last resort, it is a solution for an immediate, and obvious, threat to human safety. Removal of a coyote cannot be done without a permit and is often done by licensed nuisance wildlife control operators.
To help you understand more about appropriate responses to coyote behavior, please refer to the diagram from the Urban Coyote Project. While this is a good reference, please be aware that not all coyotes will be this predictable. For more information, please visit www.wildlifeillinois.org or call Amber Haloftis, Animal Control Officer, Niles Police Department at 847-588-6508.