‘Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free’ may be your backyard
The closest many of us have come to a coyote may be cartoon character Wile E. Coyote, best known for chasing Road Runner, his arch nemesis, through desert scenes of Warner Bros cartoons.
But that may soon change.
The eastern coyote has been spotted by many residents in Lehigh County, including sightings in Lower Macungie Township documented in a photograph accompanying this article and contributed by readers.
The sightings, which some may find and describe as unnerving or disturbing, are not out of the ordinary.
Upper Milford Township Board of Supervisors Chairman George DeVault knows firsthand how unnerving a coyote encounter can be.
About 10:30 p.m. Jan. 23, DeVault heard a horrible commotion near the rear of his farm just off Main Road East in Upper Milford Township. A mix of screeching, howling, growling, snapping and yapping, the din continued for several minutes and sounded like “a pack of demons,” DeVault said.
The next morning DeVault found evidence of what he’d heard; mangled remains of a full grown deer. The deer had been set upon by coyotes, DeVault said.
“It sounded like bloody murder and it was,” DeVault said.
“All 67 counties have coyote populations,” Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Tyler Kreider, said in a telephone interview July 26. The coyote also has a presence in urban areas such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
“They’ve been around forever and will continue to be around,” Kreider added.
In Pennsylvania Game Commission literature, the eastern coyote is described as “the largest canine found in Pennsylvania.”
Female coyotes can weigh 35 to 40 pounds while their male counterparts can weigh 45 to 55 pounds. The animals generally have yellow eyes and their bodies range in length from four to six feet.
The colors of the coats of the eastern coyote range “from light blond to reddish blond to gray, and from dark brown washed with black to black,” according to the game commission website www.pgc.pa.gov.
According to the National Geographic, coyotes are members of the dog family. Coyotes are immigrants from deserts and plains. Omnivores, their opportunistic diet allows them to adapt quickly to new surroundings and coyotes can now be found in much of North America. The eastern coyote makes its home in northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Studies of coyote genetics show evidence of wolf ancestry and fossils provide evidence of coyotes in eastern North America for at least a million years.
Urban sprawl has brought humans and wildlife, including coyotes, in closer proximity to each other in recent decades.
Among the older urban populations is Philadelphia, according to Tom Hardisky, a wildlife biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The coyote population arrived in Philadelphia in the 1990s, Hardisky said. The animals have moved into urban areas because the more remote spots are occupied.
Kreider explained preferred and frequent hunting grounds for coyotes are along the edges between lines of trees and near fields where mice, a favored prey, and other small animals live.
As more development encroaches on such areas, sightings of coyotes will be more frequent, Kreider said.
Coyotes, often described as nocturnal, prefer to hunt in the early morning and at dusk.
The animals’ senses of smell, hearing and alertness are particularly acute. They can run up to 40 mph, according to the National Geographic website nationalgeographic.com. The average lifespan is 14 years.
And, coyotes, like other species, humans included, frequently take the path of least resistance when it comes to food.
For example, although coyotes do not eat birdseed, they do eat the animals that do such as squirrels, chipmunks and mice that snack on birdseed fallen from feeders. And an outdoor garbage can is like a “fast food restaurant” to wildlife, Kreider said.
Steps such as securing garbage cans indoors until trash day and not hanging bird feeders can help deter wild animals from visiting residences.
Plus, pet owners should be responsible and take precautions such as supervising their pets when outdoors and using a leash when walking dogs to keep the animals from putting themselves in harms way by chasing wild animals.
“Never let pets interact with, chase or harass wildlife,” Kreider cautioned.
Also, Hardisky recommends pet food not be left on porches or other accessible outdoor areas.
In an email July 31 to The Press, DeVault mentioned he has lost several geese and ducks to coyotes.
If wildlife, including coyotes, persist as a problem, contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Kreider recommends. Lehigh County is in the Southeastern Region of the jurisdiction and can be reached by telephone at 610-926-3136.
“Observe from a safe distance,” Kreider said of coyotes. And maintain a respectful distance.
“People have started to notice (coyotes),” Kreider said. “They’ve always been here.”
“I didn’t see them but heard them from a few 100 yards away,” DeVault said of his experience. “And that was enough.”
Coyotes do not like humans, Hardisky emphasized. If you see coyotes in your yard, make a loud noise such as clapping your hands, yelling, or banging a pot with a spoon to make the encounter uncomfortable for the coyotes.
“They remember negative experiences,” Hardisky said.
“The key is not to fear them but don’t invite them,” Hadisky said.