The approaching winter season brings more with it than cold weather, snow, and the opportunity to sit around the Christmas tree at home. It’s also the peak season for coyote sightings, according to local experts.
“We begin to see increases in terms of the number of calls we get regarding sightings of these animals beginning in October and on through January and early February,” said Joanne Aul, animal control supervisor for the city of Naperville. “Some of the youngsters from the spring litter are ‘teenagers’ now and have been kicked out of the nest and need to find their own territory, and may have to travel anywhere from 25 to 200 miles.”
Aul estimates there are 30,000 coyotes currently living in Illinois and that increases in sightings do not indicate a growth in numbers.
Joe Rogus, a local wildlife biologist who works for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says that at this time of year, people are merely seeing the coyotes that have always been around.
“You’ve lost all the leaves on the trees, the grass in turning brown and getting compacted, and, in general, the foliage is all gone,” Rogus said. “The vegetation that hid these animals isn’t hiding them anymore, and so people naturally see more of them. And as winter sets in, the only focus each day is to look for food until the breeding season begins in the early winter.”
In terms of safety, small animals, particularly dogs and cats, may be vulnerable to attacks if left unsupervised. Rogus said the basic diet of coyotes at this time includes moles, voles, and mice, but added that their diet also can include spoiled fruit and other items.
“These animals will find rotten apples or pears that have been left below trees or eat things like field corn,” he said. “As the spring rolls in, they’ll take down a lot of fawns, squirrels, and rabbits. They’re not desperate enough to go and eat something that’s been rotting in the road.”
Aul calls coyotes “opportunistic” and said that anything from fruit trees to overflowing bird feeders can attract them.
“If you have a four- to six-foot fence, that really isn’t any sort of protection as these animals can easily get over something that tall,” she said. “If they’re hungry enough, they’ll enter you yard and get whatever is available.”
In terms of personal safety, Rogus said humans aren’t likely to get attacked by a coyote but he also warns there is a difference between “urban coyotes and those that live completely in the wild.”
“With the urban sprawl, you’ll now see coyotes walking down the street even if they don’t stay long, and they’re used to being around humans and hearing cars and lawn mowers and so forth,” he said. “This is something that’s been happening for years and these animals are used to that. As kids go down bike paths and people walk through forest preserves, they need to be aware of that.”
Aul advises pet owners never to leave their animals unattended and to look for ways to reduce the amount of edible items that could attract coyotes. She also said that calls for trapping the animals in order to reduce their numbers and hopefully reduce the risk of hurting a pet would be futile.
“These animals don’t just live at the edges of the forest preserve and while people ask us about trapping them, the fact is, it’s not that easy,” she said. “If you eliminate one, it just means leaving an area patrolled by that trapped coyote open for another.”