Monday, December 20, 2010

Coyotes in New Jersey

Recent reports of a coyote sighting in Montgomery put that species in the New Jersey public eye.

If you live outside the state, I'll bet that Jersey coyotes seems unusual as many people associate a coyote calling at sunset with some southwestern location.

This past week, a resident raking leaves at midday saw two coyotes in her back yard. One of the coyotes approached her and when she tried to scare it off, the animal attempted to bite at her legs. She was able to get back to her house by striking at it with the rake.

Most of the wildlife and people news the past few months in NJ has been about the bear hunt and controlled hunts of deer in order to to manage the populations. Both species are at the other end of endangered status as their numbers far exceed what the habitat can safely sustain.

"Blonde" coyote
The coyote is a wild member of the dog family. This resourceful mammal has expanded its range significantly in the recent past, colonizing the entire Northeast and now found throughout the Garden State. The coyote was never introduced or stocked in New Jersey, but has firmly established itself in our area through its extremely adaptable nature.

The coyote closely resembles a small German shepherd with the exception of a long snout and bushy, black-tipped tail. Another key difference from a domestic dog is readily noticeable even from a distance: The coyote has a habit of holding its tail in a horizontal position or lower while standing, walking and running. Past interbreeding between gray wolves and coyotes may be responsible for the larger size and color variations in our eastern coyote. Eastern coyotes differ from their western counterparts with a larger average size and various color phases, including blonde, red and black.

photos via

The NJ Department of Environmental Protection recommends that residents put garbage in tightly closed containers that cannot be tipped over to prevent bear and coyote foraging. they also suggest reducing the protective cover for coyotes by clearing brush and dense weeds from around homes. So much for that landscaping...

People in areas affected certainly need to be more cautious about children and pets being on their own even in their backyards.

The recommended response to a coyote encounter is actually similar to what we are often told about bear encounters - and it certainly seems counter-intuitive to most people. Do not  run, because that initiates the "prey instinct" in the animal. The coyote will go into pursuit mode. Rather, by acting aggressively - "yelling, waving your arms, stamping your feet, or throwing stones” until it leaves. Try keeping that in mind when you encounter a snarling animal though...

Coyotes are very adaptable and will survive on whatever food is available. Their preferred prey is rabbits, mice, birds and other small animals. Coyotes will take on young and weakened deer as well. They will eat carrion that they find, and also garbage, pet food and pets and domestic animals that are left unattended.

Like our black bears, they are quite tolerant of human activities - perhaps too much so. The more they encounter humans without negative consequences, the more aggressive they may become.

Although attacks on humans are extremely rare in eastern states, as with any predatory animal, they can occur. Coyotes bear litters during April and May, and this is when encounters with humans are more likely to occur.

 Coyotes (Our Wild World)
Coyotes (Our Wild World)
Wild Dogs : Wolves, Coyotes and Foxes (Kids Can Press Wildlife Series)
Spirit of the Wild Dog: The World of Wolves, Coyotes, Foxes, Jackals and Dingoes

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