Coyote mating season in Virginia is from January through February and pet owners need to be vigilant. Mike Fies of Virginia Department of Wildlife warned, “The males may be a little more territorial in the breeding season.”
Coyotes were first spotted in the 1950s as they migrated eastward when the number of larger predators like wolves and mountain lions dwindled. Now, they can be found in every county in Virginia. The opportunistic omnivore stalks small mammals like rodents, squirrels, and groundhogs, but will eat fruit and plants. They also feed on roadkill, turkeys, and fawns.
A coyote may also view a small cat or dog as prey and a larger dog as a threat. “They’re a little more challenged for food in the late winter,” Fies said. “So they might be more apt to attack a small dog or cat when food resources are low.”
Virginia coyotes are a hybrid member of the Canidae family. A 2014 study of the coyotes in the northeast found Virginia coyotes are 64% coyote, 13% gray wolf, 11% eastern wolf, and 10% domestic dog.
Traditionally, coyotes roamed rural fields and forests, but as houses, buildings, and roads began to encroach their natural habitat, they have become common in suburban and urban areas. These highly adaptable animals have learned to survive in almost any habitat.
In urban areas, coyotes may make a den under a deck, porch, crawl space, or beneath an outbuilding. They are considered a nuisance species in Virginia and there is a continuous open season. Contact your local Commonwealth Attorney’s office for information on legal ways to remove the animal in your city or county. Remember, it is illegal in the State of Virginia to trap and relocate any animal to another area.
Coyote attacks on humans are rare, but in 2015, two Virginians in York County were attacked by a rabid coyote. The two were trying to thwart a coyote preying upon their chickens. One was bitten. The other scratched.
The best way to protect yourself and your pets from coyotes is to discourage them from coming around your property. To avoid turning your full garbage can into a coyote smorgasbord, consider keeping your trash cans indoors and not bringing them out to the curb until the day of pick-up. If that is impossible, a bungee cord over the lid could act as a deterrent.
Bird feeders attract small rodents and birds which may be a perfect area for a coyote to linger. Coyotes aren’t above eating birdseed and can wreak havoc on your feeding station. They are most active around sunrise and sunset but can be on the prowl day or night.
To protect your pets from coyotes, use a leash when taking them outside and don’t leave them unattended. A male will not hesitate to protect its mate if it perceives a threat.
Coyotes are shy, but curious. It’s important for them (and us) to be instinctually wary of humans. That’s why it is vital people never try to feed, pet, or tame them. If a coyote gets too close, don’t run. Instead, look it in the eye and back away. Make noise and wave your arms.
“Once a coyote does become aggressive, you can’t really turn that behavior back,” Fies said. “So that animal needs to be removed from the landscape.”
If you come across a coyote unfazed by humans or exhibiting aggressive behavior such as stalking, growling, or chasing, report it to your local health department or the Virginia Department of Wildlife. Remember, a coyote is wild and can be unpredictable. Treat those you encounter with caution and respect.
If you have tips to deter coyotes from getting too close to you or your pets, I’d love to read your advice in the comments!
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