Coyotes are well-established in Mecklenburg County now, roaming the nature preserves and greenways and, occasionally, suburban yards and city streets. But it wasn’t always so. Coyotes didn’t exist in Charlotte several decades ago. But the old adage is true: Nature abhors a vacuum. And when top predators such as red wolves were wiped out in North Carolina (before the reintroduction of a tiny population in the eastern reaches of the state), it was perhaps a matter of time before a predator-opportunist moved in.
What helps the coyote is the fact that he’s a generalist: He doesn’t need pristine wilderness, the way a gray wolf does. He doesn’t require a special diet. Trash from garbage cans, seed or fruit from a bird feeder, pet food left outside on a patio, or, unfortunately for humans, an outdoor pet – a coyote welcomes those as much as it might a rabbit or rat.
Coyotes are about as big as a mid-sized dog, but look leggier, and have bushier tails and longer, leaner muzzles. They give birth in April and May to five to seven pups who will stay with their parents until fall. Coyotes don’t howl like wolves, but they chorus together in high-pitched cries and yips that can sound eerie to the uninitiated.
If you see a coyote, the biologists with Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation want to know. You can click here to fill out a form documenting your sighting. Typically, a coyote is shy and nocturnal. But if they find easy meals around people in the form of trash and pet food, they could become bold. Never approach a coyote or its den, and if you encounter an aggressive coyote, yell, wave sticks, keep your children close to you and back away. Don’t run. It makes you an attractive target for a chase.
Keep an eye out on hiking trails and greenways for another sign of coyotes: Scat. Coyotes, like other canids, leave droppings in a path to serve as a marker of their presence, and their scat typically has ends that are twisted and it may contain hair from prey animals. (It probably goes without saying but don’t get too near: Animal droppings can carry bacteria and parasites dangerous to humans.)
Almost no one is going to need all the warnings about coyotes, however. Though they are a species that tries to avoid us, they are thriving in the urban landscape we have made. – Amber Veverka