Learning To Live With Coyotes In Mecklenburg County

In light of recent coyote sightings throughout the Charlotte area, the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department, in cooperation with the Towns of Cornelius and Huntersville, would like to provide the community some brief information on coyotes and what to do in the event that you encounter one.

Identifying Coyotes – Coyotes stand 23-26 inches tall and usually weigh between 30 and 40 pounds. They are predominantly brownish-gray, but colors can vary between individuals and by season. There are four identifying characteristics that can help distinguish a coyote from a small dog:

· Long slender snout
· Large erect ears
· A thick round bushy tail
· A stiff-legged lope, usually noticeable unless they are in an all-out sprint.

Coyotes are highly adaptable and very intelligent. They are opportunistic and often eat what is easiest to catch, feeding on many different food sources. While they feed primarily on ever-abundant rodents, they also eat rabbits, carrion (dead animals), ground nesting birds/eggs, young fawns, reptiles, amphibians, insects and wild fruits like persimmons. In areas with high human populations, they may eat fruits and vegetables from gardens as well as refuse from trashcans and dump sites. They have also been documented to prey on small livestock and domestic animals. Cats and very small dogs are vulnerable, particularly if left out at night. In order to avoid humans, coyotes are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. Large dogs are seen as competition and coyotes will naturally react in a territorial manner toward a dog of equal or larger size. Coyote attacks on people are very rare and none have been documented locally. Unless coyotes are being actively fed by humans or are sick, they will keep their distance from people and their leashed pets. Thus, it is very important to keep dogs on leashes and an eye on domesticated cats that are allowed outside.

Coyotes were first spotted in North Carolina as early as the late 1930’s but did not successfully establish themselves as part of the natural wildlife until the late 1980’s. The eastern expansion of this species is due primarily to two human-induced factors. First, the killing of red and gray wolves opened up habitat usable by coyotes. Second, the illegal public release of coyotes into the eastern U.S. for hunting resulted in the successful establishment of sustainable local populations. Currently, coyotes are considered a natural part of our wildlife County-wide and occupy an important role as a top-level predator. With their successful establishment, it is not feasible or cost-effective to develop a trapping or removal program unless specific individuals exhibit behavior associated with diseases, such as rabies.

Coyote Safety Tips
· Never approach or touch a coyote.
· Never feed coyotes or any wild animal directly or indirectly.
· Remember the buddy rule (go with a friend) while visiting a park, nature preserve or greenway.
· Since our parks, nature preserves and greenways are home to many birds, rodents and other small mammals, do not be surprised if you see a coyote. In fact, you should expect to see them since they are a part of our local wildlife.
· In order to protect pets, pet owners and wildlife, responsible pet owners should keep pets on a leash, because, it’s the law! *
· An unattended small dog or cat can be easy prey for coyotes. Do not walk small dogs at night and cats should remain indoors as much as possible.
· Viewing coyotes from a distance is a great and rewarding experience! However, if you feel uncomfortable, use the following techniques to maintain distance between you and coyotes:
o throw sticks,
o yell,
o wave your arms, and/or
o spray them with a hose.
These actions will help keep a den from being located nearby and will help them maintain an appropriate level of fear of humans.
· At your home:
o Fence off outside animal enclosures and include a top. Coyotes can jump a 6’ high fence.
o Enclose the bottom of porches and maintain outdoor storage sheds in a manner that prevents animals from using them as cover.
o Remove thick brush and weeds around homes that may harbor rodents. The presence of rodents may attract coyotes.

For additional information on coyotes, contact the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s Natural Resources Division at 704-432-4531.