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Kammermeyer: Coyotes are just overrated predators

POSTED: July 30, 2009 5:51 p.m.

So you heard some coyotes howling or maybe even saw a coyote the other day. They sound just like wolves howling and are most often heard at dusk when they emerge from their dens to begin hunting. What kind of threat do they pose to you, your children or your pets? What about wildlife? Read on.

Coyotes are not at all rare these days and are found in all of Georgia’s 159 counties and all lower 48 states. They were released illegally in this state by fox hunters and also moved into Northeast Georgia on their own about 40 years ago by moving from west to east from Tennessee and Alabama. How could that possibly be, you say, we hardly ever see one?

Despite the fact that coyotes are common in Northeast Georgia, they are shy, secretive and for the most part nocturnal. Glimpses of coyotes are rare and fleeting. Despite being common near my property, I have only seen two on two separate occasions in the past year. Besides, they are often mistaken for dogs, foxes or wolves (believe me, there are no wolves in Georgia). They are usually a blended color of gray mixed with a reddish tint, but show great variation in color ranging from pure gray to black. The Georgia record weight is a male recorded at 40 pounds, but average weights are 25-35 pounds (larger than a 15-pound fox and much smaller than a 150-pound wolf).

They use a den to raise their litter of five-to-seven pups born in March and April every year. Dens can consist of holes in steep banks, rock crevices, underbrush, or enlarged fox or groundhog holes. Pups are weaned in six weeks, but often remain together with the adults until late summer or early fall. Home range size for coyotes vary greatly with males usually ranging much farther than females. One study in Arkansas showed an average home range of 13 square miles for males and five for females.

Coyote populations in Northeast Georgia are not high and probably won’t get any higher than they are right now. When coyotes first get established in an area, the initial impact is often the decline or demise of the red fox population. Soon after this takeover of the red fox niche, several factors usually begin limiting coyote numbers. Diseases and parasites commonly found in coyotes are distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, mange, and heartworms.  

Coyotes are feared and hated by many people because of their reputation as killers. For the most part, their predatory impacts are highly overrated and exaggerated. Coyote diet mostly consists of mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, insects, carrion, persimmons, watermelons, nuts, and poultry.

They are commonly blamed for much mischief that is really caused by free-ranging dogs. One study done by the Wildlife Resources Division a few years ago kept track of coyote complaints visited by their personnel in the field for over a 10-year period. Over 60 percent of complaints did not involve coyotes but were caused by some other animal (mostly dogs).

Finally, there is little reason to fear for your own safety, or that of your children. It is extremely rare for coyotes to act aggressively or docile. If one acts this way and also becomes active and commonly sighted in daylight hours, it is likely sick from a disease. Kill it if possible, or report it to Hall County Animal Control or the Department of Natural Resources..

The only danger to humans is the remote chance of rabies transmitted by a bite or scratch. Meanwhile, the howling of a family of coyotes at night may raise the hair on the back of your neck, but really shouldn’t be anything serious to worry about. They are here to stay and we can learn to live with them if we take necessary precautions with cats and small dogs.

Kent Kammermeyer is a certified wildlife biologist. His column appears monthly.



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