WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
Coyotes present a clear and present danger—-to the furry, little, meaty meadow voles that live under the snow in meadows and lawns of Oakland County. Canis latrans, the eastern coyote, is very much at home in the parklands, woodlands and even the suburban and urban areas of Oakland County. Coyotes are elusive, adaptive, curious, and intelligent. They manage to hold their own and often thrive when living in close proximity to humans. Coyote sightings within city limits and along the trails of suburban parks in winter are not at all unusual. They are adapting to our ways and behaviors and have adjusted in our midst far more quickly than we have been able to fully learn about their ways.
Coyotes are wild members of the dog family, quite a bit larger in size than the red foxes that live in Oakland County and significantly smaller than the gray wolves of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Adult eastern coyotes weigh, on average, 35 – 45 pounds and bear a strong resemblance to a medium-size German Shepard. However, in winter months they often appear larger than they are due to their thick fur coat. Eastern coyotes have long legs, thick fur, a pointy snout, and a large drooping bushy black-tipped tail that remains down when running. Their fur color ranges from silvery gray with hints of yellow to a grizzled, brownish red. The characteristic pointed upright ears and yellow eyes are clearly seen in the photo captured by a hidden motion detection activated wildlife camera at Rose Oaks County Park in late November.
Coyotes in Oakland County tend to be loners, except during breeding season and when raising pups. Their primary food includes: rabbits, mice, meadow voles, goose eggs, birds, snakes, frogs, squirrels, woodchucks, carrion, and fawns. During spring, summer and fall, a great variety of wild and cultivated fruits join their menu. Coyotes are opportunistic and are quick to enjoy the bounty under a bird feeder, easily accessible trash, and will even feed on free-roaming cats or small unattended dogs that wander into their territory (NOTE: Cars pose a greater threat to loose dogs and cats than do coyotes).
Coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem of Oakland County, helping to keep rodents, small mammals, and the golf course and lakeshore loving Canadian geese populations under control. They are by their very nature fearful of humans; however, if coyotes are given access to human food and garbage, their behavior changes and they become bold. That is where trouble may begin. Coyotes that are fed by people may lose their fear of humans and then develop a territorial attitude that could lead to aggressive behavior. If a coyote is encountered on a trail and does not quickly flee, never, ever run away. Running can provoke an instinctive predatory response from a coyote. Stand your ground. Yell at the coyote. Throw anything, except for food. The coyote will flee with a strong reminder that humans are a threat.
Important information regarding Coyote-Human Interactions from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:
“Coyotes rarely attack humans. Bites from snakes, rodents, and domestic dogs are a far greater possibility than coyote bites, according to public health authorities. However, coyotes that are fed become accustomed to people and present a human safety risk. People should never intentionally feed or attempt to tame coyotes. It is in the best interest of both coyotes and humans if coyotes retain their instinctive fear of people. The following important points can help minimize potential conflicts with coyotes:”
•Never approach or touch a coyote
•Never intentionally feed a coyote
•Eliminate all outside food sources, especially pet foods
•Put garbage out the morning of pickup day
•Clear out wood and brush piles; they are good habitat for rats and mice and may attract coyotes
•Good husbandry practices, guard animals, and coyote control measures can help to protect livestock
•Do not allow pets to roam free when coyotes are present – consider keeping pets indoors or accompany them outside, especially at night
The two excellent links that follow are rich with detailed information on coyote behavior and living in coyote country. Oakland County is very much a part of coyote country.
Excellent Urban Coyote Ecology info from Illinois: http://ohioline.osu.edu/search Type Coyote
“Keep Me Wild” coyote info from California: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/coyote.html
Text and photo by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks. firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Oakland County Parks for detailed information on all 13 Oakland County Parks.