Call of the not-so-wild

Coyotes continue to take up residence in Naperville. After the difficult winter they’ve just been through, they’re likely to be surly neighbors.

The one that showed up in Sun Kwok’s south Naperville backyard earlier this week was hungry. As it tossed around a hollow 8-foot plastic rain tube, the creature at first appeared to be playing.

“It turned out that a rabbit was trying to hide in the rain tube and it ripped the tube apart to get at it,” Kwok wrote in an email. “Our own little nature show.”

Unfortunately for the hapless hare, the bigger animal was behaving as could be expected under the circumstances.

“We definitely saw that the animals were very stressed this year, with the kind of winter that we had,” said Chris Anchor, a wildlife biologist with the Cook County Forest Preserve District who has done extensive coyote research. “They’re at a negative energy load right now, which means that not only have they used up their fat reserves, but they’re actually digesting their muscle as well.”

Compounding the difficulties for the females is the breeding season that just passed.

“They’re trying to feed their pups in utero, but they’re also going to have to feed them once they’re born,” Anchor said.

The animals appear to be particularly plentiful in the area where Kwok lives with his wife Grace and their kids, Taylor, 12, and Scott, 10, as well as in the nearby Ashbury subdivision. Joanne Aul, supervisor in Naperville’s Animal Control department, said they’ve been getting numerous calls reporting sightings in that neighborhood.

“There was one last week where the lady felt that she was threatened by a pair of coyotes,” Aul said. “She had been walking her dog. Actually over the past week, we have gotten several calls from people in that subdivision.”

Often the animals are attracted by rabbits and other small prey that frequent residential areas. Aul said many coyote experts now are reporting the animals have begun to show a preference for developed areas over their natural habitat in the wild.

“There’s approximately 30,000 coyotes in Illinois. They’ve rebounded,” Aul said. “They’re throughout the United States, and many places where they’ve never been before.”

Although encounters between humans and coyotes that result in injury are extremely rare, Aul encourages residents to practice caution around the animals, and recommends “hazing” to encourage them to move on.

“You can try going to them in a big voice, making noise,” she said.

Animal control crews who do that have never gotten closer than about 20 feet to the coyotes before the run off, she said. Another potential remedy is a commercial bear repellent that emits an odor that can keep coyotes away as well.

Anchor also suggests making an effort to avoid making the animals feel welcome.

“The biggest factor always is that people have to be very careful not to feed the coyotes,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”

Even more at play at the moment, however, is the double whammy of the food scarcity generated by the long winter, and the turf protection that coyotes pursue to keep their mates and food sources intact.

“The animals are highly territorial, and right now they’re very much fixated on trying to protect their territory,” he said.

The coyote that visited the Kwoks’ house went away satiated, at least for the moment — and that was a tough lesson for the kids. They’ve been fond of bunnies ever since they discovered a hutch next to the house, and brought in several baby rabbits.

“I made them put the bunnies back, even though they really wanted to keep them,” Sun Kwok said, adding that Taylor and Scott continued to look in on the creatures until they grew up and left the hutch. “But anytime they see bunnies around the house, they think it is part of ‘our family’ of rabbits.”

Naturally, seeing one of the clan become the coyote’s breakfast was disconcerting for Taylor.

“I told her that it wasn’t our bunnies,” her dad said. “But probably their grandkids.”

For more information about coyotes, including a link to the video of a coyote forum the city hosted in 2012, visit www.naperville.il.us/dynamic_content.aspx?id=6710. A copy of a brochure on the subject published by the city can be obtained by calling 630-420-6178 or sending an email to animalcontrol@naperville.il.us.

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