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Local wildlife experts explain why coyotes keep popping up in Gainesville neighborhoods
02052021 COYOTES
A coyote wanders through a neighborhood in Cedar Glen, Calif., in the San Bernardino Mountains in Nov. 2003. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says calls from people in Gainesville and Hall regarding coyote sightings have become typical for the past two decades. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

If you haven’t seen one in Hall County, you’ve probably heard them singing in the night. 

Smaller than a gray wolf but larger than a red fox, the coyote has made its home in both the urban and rural areas of Northeast Georgia. 

Scott Frazier, wildlife biologist at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said he receives frequent calls from people in Gainesville and Hall who have spotted the wild canines a little too close to home. He said these reports have become typical for the past two decades. 

“We get lots of coyote calls,” Frazier added. “People are commonly concerned about their health and safety, and we get a lot of people who have lost some sort of animal, and there’s suspicion that coyotes did it.”

Although DNR doesn’t survey coyote populations in Northeast Georgia, Frazier said the area does have a “robust” amount. Four years ago, he said the department offered incentives for people to kill coyotes. However, after two to three years, he said they found removing coyotes didn’t put a dent in the population. 

“Our agency doesn’t have a proactive coyote control mission,” he said. “Nobody has solved how to do that. Currently, we think a program to control coyotes could be an endless drain of resources.”

However, if someone does have an issue with a coyote eating their pets or livestock, he said DNR will provide individual assistance.

Why are people seeing coyotes in urban areas?

Garrett Hibbs, Hall County UGA cooperative extension agent, said he believes the increased number of coyote sightings around Gainesville result from the animal’s growing familiarity with urban environments. 

“As they inhabit the area for longer, they’re becoming more comfortable with people and the urban atmosphere,” he said. “In this setting, usually the issues are with going through trash and grabbing a pet every now and then.”

Coyotes are omnivores known for eating berries, table scraps and small vertebrates like cats, mice, chickens, dogs, rabbits and young livestock. Hibbs said the wild canines will form packs with four to seven members and prefer to congregate at night. Their territories can extend over miles. However, males are known to enter new territories during mating season, which occurs from December through March. 

Though they’ve been present in Georgia for decades, Hibbs said coyotes are classified as an invasive species in the state. They’re native to the West, but over time have migrated east. 

Luckily for coyotes, Frazier said they haven’t shown signs of harming the environment. He said they fill a niche left behind by the red wolf, which no longer lives in Georgia. 

“They will drive the numbers of things they eat like turkeys and deer,” Frazier said. “Some of our hunters don’t like that trade off. But, it is a natural scenario to have a red wolf do that. They’re (coyotes) not the red wolf we had, but they’re doing the same job.”

How to coyote-proof your home

Coyotes attacking people is rare, but Frazier said it has happened. The wildlife biologist said he’s unaware of them harming people in Georgia, but has seen a few reports in California. 

“It’s almost unheard of,” he said. “We tell people that you’re not the one at risk, it’s small animals like cats, dogs, chickens and ducks.”

Frazier said the DNR’s guidance has always remained the same when dealing with coyotes — protect your pets and livestock.

If an animal needs to live outside, he recommends keeping them inside a fence. Frazier said a chain-length fence with tension wire at the base will generally keep out coyotes. While they can dig under enclosures, he said they typically won’t expend energy unless they know they can gain access to food.

“Coyotes are very opportunistic, they’re smart,” he said. “The chances of this (coyote encounters) going away is nil, really. It’s something that our residents have to face. Middle-sized mammals (like coyotes) do quite well here in Gainesville.”

For questions about coyotes in Hall County, contact DNR at 770-535-5700 or the Hall County Extension office at 770-535-8293.