As urban sprawl claims land that was once wooded or used for farming, wildlife must adapt to living near and with people.
And just as many raccoons, squirrels and other small animals make their homes near humans, so too are coyotes adapting to Indiana’s cities and suburbs.
“We are certainly getting more calls than in past years about people spotting coyotes in their yards or streets,” said Caity Judd, membership coordinator at Wolf Park, a Lafayette-based research and education organization focused on wolves and other predators.
Though it’s difficult for researchers to study urban coyote populations, anecdotal reports indicate coyotes are increasingly taking up residence in Hoosier cities.
After an influx of coyote sightings in 2014, the city of Greenwood created a map to allow homeowners to report coyote sightings; more than 200 have been logged since September 2014. Last winter, Carmel residents also reported seeing several coyotes.
“Certainly they’re running out of territory; they’re learning how to move into everywhere,” Judd said. “They’ve moved into cities. … They are figuring out how to adapt to us.”
A massive study conducted during 2013-16 by the Urban Coyote Research Program followed hundreds of coyotes in the Chicago area. The study found nearly one in three coyotes had home ranges composed of less than 10 percent natural land. Eight percent of the coyotes studied had no measurable patches of natural land within their home ranges, meaning they lived entirely within a city center.
As sightings increase, so too do homeowners’ worries that pets or children could be attacked by coyotes.
Wildlife experts say those worries are overblown.
Brian MacGowan, extension wildlife specialist with the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, said coyote attacks on humans are incredibly rare. When they do happen, he said, outside factors, such as intentional human feeding of the coyotes or debilitating disease, brought the animal closer to people than coyotes would normally approach.
“The threat to pets, particularly cats or small dogs, is much more real,” MacGowan said. “In urban areas, predation of cats is slightly higher than in rural areas, although cats still make up only about one percent or less of (the coyote) diet.”
One study MacGowan Not so bad: As sightings increase, so too do homeowners’ worries that pets or children could be attacked by coyotes.
cited, again conducted during 2013-16 by the Urban Coyote Research Program, analyzed more than 1,400 coyote droppings and found that the most common food items were small rodents (42 percent), fruit (23 percent), deer (22 percent) and rabbit (18 percent).
“Only about 2 percent of the scats had human garbage, and just 1.3 percent showed evidence of cats,” the study reads. “Apparently, the majority of coyotes in our study area do not, in fact, rely on pets or garbage for their diets.”
“We were shocked to find how little of the diet consists of trash,” Judd said. “What’s very interesting is they can actually be very helpful in an area for keeping vermin down.”
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources advises homeowners to discourage coyotes by feeding pets indoors when possible. If feeding outdoors, don’t leave uneaten pet food out, and store pet and livestock feed where it’s inaccessible to wildlife.
The DNR also encourages parents and pet owners to keep pets and children in their view and not allow pets to remain outside or run free when coyotes are in the neighborhood.
When worried residents call Wolf Park looking for advice, Judd said, she often tells them to “haze” the animals by making loud noises or flashing lights.
“Coyotes are usually scared of any human activity. They don’t want to be around that, so making noises is usually enough to scare them away for good,” she explained.