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Changing coyote behavior is key to coexistence

Residents urged to haze animals to make them afraid of humans

A female coyote mousing in tall grass at Yellowstone National Park.

A female coyote mousing in tall grass at Yellowstone National Park. Photo By Bob Whitney

Feb. 12, 2013

If the North Shore is suddenly swallowed up by a cacophony of shrieking whistles, trumpeting air horns, and rattling homemade noisemakers, don't be alarmed.

It's just coyotes.

Well, not the coyotes themselves, but residents attempting to "haze," or scare them off, a key technique of coyote coexistence explained by Lynsey White Dasher, Urban Wildlife Specialist at the Humane Society of the United States, at a coyote workshop last week.

"There are almost limitless ways to haze a coyote," she told a crowd of North Shore residents in the cafeteria of Bayside Middle School. "We can reteach them, retrain them."

With a combination of hazing, precautions and knowledge, White Dasher said, residents can keep coyotes off their properties and keep them from preying on household pets.

"If we want to change the behavior of problematic coyotes," she said, "we have to understand why they're doing what they're doing in the first place."

In the area

Nearly the entire crowd - estimated by Bayside Village Manager Andy Pederson to be between 100 and 125 based on sign-in sheets - raised their hands when White Dasher asked if they had seen coyotes or feared for the safety of their pets.

Bayside resident Gena Chhikara said her dog has had a number of run-ins with coyotes, at times chasing them and getting into confrontations over territory. Similarly, Bayside resident Debbie Goldin said she has seen them in her yard, on her patio and in the bushes.

"My experience is that they just keep going," said Goldin, though that doesn't make her less wary of the sight and sound of them.

Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Tom Isaac estimates there could be 10 to 20 coyotes in the Bayside area. A Whitefish Bay resident in the crowd commented that she had seen a pack of a dozen coyotes in her neighborhood several times.

Bayside Police Capt. Scott McConnell - the point of contact for Bayside residents with coyote concerns - said he gets the most calls in the spring when adults are out hunting to feed their newborn pups, and when those pups venture out on their own at the end of summer to forage for food and form their own packs.

A 2006 study cited by White Dasher showed that 1 percent of a typical coyote diet is domestic cat, and 2 percent is composed of human-related things like garbage and left-out pet food. According to Isaac, area coyotes have virtually no competition when it comes to hunting abundant small game and their second favorite food, fruit, which makes them the top of the food chain.

"They're everywhere," Isaac said.

Steps to take

To the surprise and chagrin of many people and municipalities who have attempted to curb coyote populations by trapping or killing, female coyotes breed quickly, increase the size of their litters — and even seem to begin having more females than males — to regain their lost numbers.

A seven-year study in southeast Colorado found that a coyote population lethally reduced by 61-75 percent bounced back to its pre-removal size in an average of eight months.

"A lot of communities who try this tactic end up with more coyotes than they started with," White Dasher said.

She emphasized hazing as the best way to coexist with coyotes and instill a fear of humans, which can often be lost in urban settings. Hazing, she said, can range from shouting and arm waving to whistle blowing, air horn blasting, or even spraying coyotes with a squirt gun. A coyote should avoid an area after two or three hazings, she added, and residents should always haze in plain sight so coyotes associate the noises with humans. Residents should not haze coyotes that are injured or don't have a path of escape, and shouldn't run away from coyotes.

Oftentimes coyotes are drawn to pet food left outside, or other sources of food like compost heaps and bags of trash. By removing such temptations, and making sure dogs and cats aren't allowed outside unattended or unsheltered - White Dasher suggested, to some chuckling from the crowd, the idea of outdoor "catios" - residents can do their part to keep coyotes away.

Isaac encouraged area residents to contact the DNR with questions and sightings of coyotes and other wildlife.

"The more information you have, the more it helps us," he told the crowd.

Bayside residents with coyote questions can call McConnell at (414) 351-8800. More information is available at http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/coyotes/.

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