Recent news articles have regarded coyotes living in our communities as potential threats, which has caused unnecessary fear and concern. These articles were not based on the coyotes natural behavior nor did they give people helpful information.
The following are common questions and answers about coyotes living in Massachusetts.
Q. Where do coyotes live?
A. Coyotes can be found in nearly every town/city in Massachusetts.
Q. I have read that coyote sightings are increasing. Does this mean that the coyote population is growing?
A. No, an increase in sightings does not necessarily mean that the coyote population is growing. Coyotes are territorial animals who actively defend their territory from transient coyotes. This means that they travel between 2 to 30 square miles while patrolling their territory. A single coyote traveling through his territory may be reported several times, which may lead people to believe that there are more coyote then there really are.
Q. If a coyote is seen during the day is he rabid?
A. Coyotes primarily travel between dusk and dawn but during the spring and summer, when food needs are higher, they will move around during the daytime. This does not mean that they are rabid.
Q. How many coyotes live in each territory?
A. Each territory has a resident family unit which consists of an alpha male and female (they mate for life), possibly 1 or 2 "teenage" coyotes called associate/helpers, and during the spring and summer a litter of 4 - 8 pups.
Q. Why are coyotes seen more during the daytime in the spring and summer?
A. Like most animals, coyotes are giving birth to and raising their young in the spring, so during this time they have to search for more food to feed their young. Coyotes breed between February and March; the pups are born between April and May. Litters average approximately 5 pups that are weaned at 2 months old and fully independent at 9 months old..
Q. Why are coyotes drawn to urban and suburban neighborhoods?
A. Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the country, losing 40 acres of land a day to development. As habitat decreases, human and wildlife interactions increase. Coyotes are drawn to neighborhoods due to human encroachment of coyote habitat and for food and water, which is generally easily available in urban and suburban areas.
Q. Can a territory become "infested" with coyotes as stated in the media?
A. No. The resident coyotes do not tolerate other coyotes in their territory so it is impossible for an area to become "infested" with coyotes. Resident coyote defend their territories fiercely and will fight with intruding coyote to death if necessary
Q. What can state/local authorities do to protect public health and safety?
A. If an animal is posing a threat state and local officials have the authority to kill the animal.
Q. Are coyotes a protected species or can they be hunted?
A. Massachusetts has a nearly 5 month long coyote hunting season and a 1 month coyote trapping season (November 1-November 30) with box/cage traps. The state’s foremost coyote researcher successfully uses box and cage traps to capture coyotes for research.
Q. Is it true that trapping restrictions have caused the coyote population to increase?
A. No. The Wildlife Protection Act restrictions on the recreational use of cruel and indiscriminate traps has no effect on the coyote population because Massachusetts has never used trapping as a method to manage the coyote population.
Q. How can I prevent conflicts with coyotes and other wildlife?
A. There are several simple steps you can do to minimize your chances of experiencing wildlife conflicts:
- Never feed a wild animal
- Avoid any contact with wildlife
- Keep trash securely covered or indoors
- Feed pets inside or supervise outdoor feedings/keep area clean
- Keep cats/dogs indoors and supervise them while outdoors
- Report any unusual behavior to local animal officials
Q. What are the most effective ways to prevent conflicts with coyote?
A. - Keep children, cats, and dogs indoors and supervise when outdoors at all times
- Keep pets up to date on vaccinations
- Remove food and habitat sources for small animals like rodents (brush piles, wood piles, spilled bird seed, pet food/water, Koi ponds, and other water sources)
- Fencing (6 feet high and 1 foot below ground)
- Motion sensitive outdoor lighting
- Motion sensitive sprinklers
- Close off crawl spaces under decks, porches, and sheds
- Keep home in good repair
- Securing hobby livestock, rabbits, etc. in well built pens
- Use livestock guard dogs, donkeys, llamas
Q. What should I do if I encounter a coyote?
A. Coyotes are usually afraid of humans but if you encounter one while hiking, etc. you should attempt to leave the area calmly (do not run) and make loud noises. If a coyote is in your yard, let the coyote know that it is not welcome by making loud noises (like banging pots and pans together), spray it with hose, toss tennis balls near the animal - you want to scare her away, not hurt her. And NEVER attempt to touch, tame or feed a wild animal. For more information on how to avoid conflicts with coyotes, see The Humane Society's coyote hazing guidelines.
Q. Why can't we just remove coyotes from a town that does not want them?
A. Coyotes are part of the New England landscape and they are here to stay. Efforts to eradicate the coyote across the country have failed largely because of the coyotes’ ability to adapt to changing circumstances and replenish their numbers. Removing coyotes is a short-term solution because it leaves the habitat open and transient coyotes looking for a territory will take the place of ones who are removed and the conflict will continue. The long-term solution is to focus on conflict prevention.
Q. The media says that coyote encounters are increasing. What is the chance of people and children being attacked by coyotes?
A. Although the media likes to sensationalize the risk of coyote encounters, the reality is that the chance of being attacked by a coyote is extremely low. In fact, there have been only five people bitten by a coyote in Massachusetts since the 1950s - one animal appeared to have been fed and cared for by human beings and had become accustomed to people, two others tested positive for rabies and a third is suspected of having rabies; another was not recovered after being shot by police. Again, the state already has the ability to capture and kill problem coyotes.