Surprising encounters

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 Photo courtesy of Metro Parks

Pictured here is a lone coyote howling  at one of the Ohio Metro Parks. Coyotes live in all 88 counties in the state but encounters with humans are very rare.

Ohio is not the first place you would expect to find a coyote but they are here – in all 88 counties. So do humans really have anything to fear from this wily animal?

Peg Hanley, spokesperson with Metro Parks, said coyotes are in all the Metro Parks throughout the state but an encounter is rare.

"They are very shy and retiring," she said. "They will do their best not to show themselves to humans."

Hanley explained that there have been very few incidences in the Metro Parks involving coyote attacks. She could only recall one in Cleveland, in 2005, where the animal bit a cyclist. It was later discovered that the coyote had rabies, contracted through a raccoon.

Where they live

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the coyote made its way to Ohio in 1919. They can adapt in any environment but prefer hilly farmlands mixed with wooded areas. Hanley said they could be found in rural areas as well as urban neighborhoods.

"Coyotes are the most adaptable carnivores next to humans. It is easy to find food in urban areas so nothing stops them from exploring that," Hanley explained.

When a coyote stakes its claim in a city, it finds food in Dumpsters and garbage cans. The city is also an ideal place to find meals such as squirrels and rabbits. Hanley said they would also eat pet food left outside. For rest, coyotes tend to stay in a wooded area but if it’s city bound, it can find a drainpipe or an abandoned building for shelter.

The coyote diet

Coyotes eat small mammals including shrews, voles, chickens and rabbits. They are notorious for killing sheep but sheep only make up about 14 percent of their diet. According to the ODNR, coyotes usually hunt sheep when they have pups to feed and need extra food. They will also eat fruit, grass and vegetables.

Hanley explained that coyotes could hunt anything under 45 pounds, including domestic animals.

"If you are at a Metro Park, keep your pet on a leash," she said. "If you have pets, it’s important not to attract coyotes to your yard by leaving pet food outdoors."

Hanley also suggests that if you know there are coyotes in your neighborhood, try not to walk your dog at night and keep an eye on your pet when its outdoors.

The life of a coyote

Coyotes are monogamous. According to the ODNR, they will pair for life with just one mate. Breeding season runs from January to March. Most pups are born in April with 1 to 12 pups per litter. Baby coyotes are born helpless, much like domestic dogs. They cannot see, hear or stand. It takes approximately three weeks before they will leave their den but by about eight weeks, they are learning to hunt.

An adult coyote can weigh between 20 and 50 pounds and is similar in appearance to a medium-sized dog. Their life expectancy is 3 to 10 years. They travel through the day and hunt in the dark. They usually hunt in a small pair or in large groups.

How to stay safe

Hanley explained that coyote/human encounters are rare but if they do happen, do not run.

"Most encounters involve a mother with her pups," said Hanley. "Simply walk away in the opposite direction. Do not confront it or try to wave it away."

Running from a coyote will make the animal want to chase you.

Hanley also suggests you keep your pet food indoors, do not feed coyotes, remove the brush and debris from your property and keep your garbage cans closed. This will reduce the risk of a coyote encounter.

She also noted that if you spot one in a Metro Park, contact a park ranger.

"Coyotes are a natural part of our parks," said Hanley. "We are not trying to get rid of them."

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