How to avoid attracting coyotes to neighborhoods as coyote activity peaks

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INDIANAPOLIS — Wildlife experts are encouraging suburban homeowners to keep an eye on small pets and take steps to avoid attracting coyotes during a very busy time for the animals.

In recent weeks, many homeowners have posted videos on social media that show coyotes sniffing around back yards and patios. Johnson County resident Betty Strohm got quite a surprise when her phone pinged an alarm from her home security system around 2 a.m. last Tuesday.

“I looked at my camera, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a coyote.’ I couldn’t believe he came up this close.”  

Video from Strohm’s motion-activated camera showed a large coyote sniffing through her back yard in the Willow Lakes East subdivision. The coyote seemed startled and left the yard when Strohm’s motion lights activated.

“It was a little terrifying because I know they can scale a four-foot fence,” she said.

A couple miles to the northeast, Craig Harrell looked outside after his dog started barking at something last Sunday afternoon. He was able to snap a photo of a coyote near his yard before it retreated into a nearby wooded area. While that was the last time he saw the coyote, he believes he heard it a few nights later.

“I heard some coyotes howling,” Harrell said. “I don’t know if it was just one of them or multiple, but almost made me wonder if they haven’t created a den or something like that close to us.”

That’s a good bet according to Indiana Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Erin Basiger. She says most suburban homeowners don’t realize how close coyotes create dens to their subdivisions.  

“They’re very secretive animals, so you typically don’t see them,” Basiger said. “Usually, they’re more scared of us than we are of them.”

However, Basiger says Hoosiers are more likely to see coyotes roaming neighborhoods right now because it’s a very active time for them. Late February and early March are typically the peak mating season for coyotes. Male coyotes can be more aggressive during this time.

“You’ve got juveniles who are leaving their adults and looking for new homes, you’ve also got the adults getting ready to breed,” Basiger explained.

At the same time, coyotes can often appear more intimidating during this time.

“This time of year their fur is thicker, which can give them the appearance of being larger than they actually are,” she said. “The average coyote is about 20 or 30 pounds and about same height as a German Shepherd.”

Basiger says coyotes are more likely to hunt mice, rabbits and other small wild animals rather than household pets.

That’s not to say that homeowners shouldn’t be cautious about leaving small pets outside. Basiger says coyotes will occasionally attack small dogs and cats in neighborhoods. However, that’s not typically what attracts coyotes to subdivisions. The smell of garbage and rotting meat is more likely to lure a hungry coyote into human territory.

Homeowners are encouraged to avoid leaving garbage out overnight, make sure grills are thoroughly cleaned and keep pet food and treats indoors.

“If you have bird feeders, you might think about bringing the bird feeders in,” Basiger said. “The coyotes can be attracted to the rodents that come in and eat the seed.”

If you see a coyote in your neighborhood, Basiger says you should use a “hazing” technique to scare it off. That can include yelling, clapping and waving arms as a means of startling the coyote.

“All that does is scare them and reinforce that they don’t want to be around humans,” she said.

Once a coyote is scared away from an area, it’s unlikely to return, Basiger added.

You can read much more about coyote habits and prevention methods on the the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website.

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