It's that time of year when coyotes are on the move, and that could mean more sightings and encounters across the South and in the Chattanooga region.
In recent weeks, members of an East Ridge neighborhood Facebook group and a St. Elmo listserv email group have lit up cyber conversations with several coyote sightings.
Most were in hilly areas on the west end of East Ridge near Missionary Ridge and near the eastern slopes of Lookout Mountain, but officials say it is possible to encounter them anywhere.
One resident said he'd been catching glimpses of coyotes on a security camera at night for several months around West 40th Street in the St. Elmo area, and most recently around 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Another member spotted a coyote near Glenn Falls a little after 7 a.m. Wednesday.
The East Ridge residents noted coyotes most recently on Nov. 29 in the Bennett Road/Mission Oaks, South Seminole and Blackhawk Trail areas, one coyote being spotted on Nov. 23 eating food left out for strays. Other sightings were noted from March, May and October in the same general areas.
But while residents may be seeing more of the animals, wildlife officials say it doesn't mean there are more coyotes.
"There's a reason that people see coyotes this time of year," according to Mime Barnes, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
When the weather turns cold, coyotes need more energy and they have to roam farther to get food, she said. Young coyotes that reached maturity around September are also looking for their own territories in the fall.
"Sometimes, just because we see an animal people automatically think there are more," said Barnes, who worked with coyotes as a graduate student and for most of her career as a biologist with TWRA.
Animal Pros, one of the companies in Chattanooga that provide animal removal services, has had no more calls than usual about any problem animals, according to dispatcher Bobbie Ball.
Ball said Wednesday that she wasn't certain how many calls the company has received recently about coyotes but was sure there hasn't been an uptick in removal requests for them.
Likewise, Georgia-based Total Animal Control's owner, Brandon Turley, said his company gets lots of coyote calls across its Tennessee-Georgia-Florida service area but that there hasn't been an increase in population.
"Winter sightings kick up because food is more scarce," he said, echoing Barnes.
Many times, Turley said, people call with a sighting, but the animal never reappears.
"Coyotes move in kind of a circle, so you may only see them for a week out of the year," he said. Turley said coyotes' prey moves similarly so the predator moves with them.
Then, sometimes coyotes get blamed for something a dog did, Turley said.
"I did a job in Atlanta last year that was a neighborhood dog," he said. "We actually ran cameras to confirm it."
Historically, coyotes came to Tennessee in the 1970s.
One prevailing theory is that the nation's freeway system provided wild animals ways to cross rivers and spread to new areas, Barnes said, noting also that many other factors play a role, too.
Coyotes can flourish in urban settings as large as Chicago and New York City, Barnes said.
"Coyotes are good at living around people," Barnes said.
The problem is on the human side, and wildlife officials want to empower people by teaching them how to live around coyotes, she said.
When someone spots a coyote, typically they take a photo, observe quietly or they simply go inside, but Barnes said people should "haze" coyotes to drive them away and make them understand that a human's yard is no safe haven.
"The goal is to scare the animal and get it running away from you; that is a healthy wildlife interaction," Barnes said.
DEALING WITH COYOTES
According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, coyotes are locally common due to their adaptability. They are hunted to control their damage to livestock and poultry and for their fur pelts.
*Do not feed coyotes because coyotes that associate humans with the food lose their natural fears and may become dangerous.
*Eliminate water sources that can attract rodents, birds and snakes which the coyotes will prey upon.
*Position bird feeders so coyotes can not reach the feed. Coyotes may also be attracted to birds and small mammals that have been lured in by the feeder.
*Do not discard edible garbage. Coyotes are opportunistic and will eat any table scraps.
*Secure garbage containers but using trash barrels with lids that clamp down tight even when tipped over.
*Do not place trash cans out the night before scheduled pick up. Placing cans out in the morning will give coyotes less time to scavenge and they will not have the cover of darkness.
*Do not leave barbecue grills outside and uncovered as the smell of the grill and the contents of the grills drip pan attracts coyotes.
*Feed pets indoors whenever possible and remove any leftovers if feeding outdoors. Store pet food in areas not accessible to other animals.
*Clear brush and weeds from around property used by coyote's prey for protective cover, thereby deterring coyotes from hunting nearby.
*A fenced yard may deter coyotes but the fence must be at least 6-feet high, and preferably, the bottom of the fence should extend 6 inches below ground level.
*Do not leave small children outside alone if coyotes have been frequenting the area.
*Do not allow pets to run free and provide secure housing especially at night. Small pets, like cats, rabbits and small dogs, are favorite prey of coyotes.
*Discourage coyotes from frequenting your area. Harass them by throwing rocks, shouting, and making loud noises when one is seen.
Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
PETS VERSUS COYOTES
Aside from fears of increased coyote numbers, residents have also expressed concerns for pets.
Barnes said a common misconception is that coyotes frequently prey on pets. While coyotes occasionally kill and eat small pets, animal deaths are usually a result of a dispute over territory that a coyote has marked as their own, she said.
"A coyote is defensive of its territory when it comes to other predators," Barnes said.
Another factor is that owners sometimes scold pet dogs when they avoid other dogs or bark at them, and some dogs only spend time outside in a dog park or other controlled setting.
"They no longer know how to read those wild coyote signs," Barnes said. "Therefore, they ignore coyote signs."
As a result, wild canines have little fear of the domestic ones.
She said other animals can be the cause of pet deaths, too, noting that the area's red and gray foxes will also kill another animal they perceive as a threat.
Not all captures or euthanizations of coyotes or other nuisance animals are reported to TWRA, but data shows coyotes and some others are not likely to be released if their capture is reported to the state agency.
According the TWRA's 2018-2019 Nuisance Animal Damage Control Year End report for July 2018-June 2019, all 186 coyotes dealt with by animal control companies and reported to the state for the fiscal year were euthanized.
In the Chattanooga region, nine coyotes were euthanized during that past fiscal year in Polk County, along with seven in Roane County. Around the rest of the 13-county Chattanooga region in Tennessee, the TWRA report didn't note any coyote captures or euthanizations during the period but that doesn't rule them out either, Barnes said.
Coyotes can be trapped and hunted without limits year-round, so in most cases TWRA doesn't regulate it and isn't involved.
Turley believes humans and coyotes and other wild animals will increasingly encounter each other in the future.
"Building is going off the charts and coyotes will be in more and more contact with people as the U.S. continues to grow," he predicted.
Barnes said that's reason to take preventative steps, and cooperation among residents in neighborhoods can make a difference by limiting attractants and working to drive away potential problem animals.
The best move for most folks, she said, is to learn more about the animal and what it takes to coexist with the fewest problems.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.
COYOTE FAST FACTS
*A typical group of coyotes consists of a mating pair and their offspring. The family unit is largest in the summer when pups, parents, and non-breeding adults are together at dens.
*Coyotes breed during January through March, and daytime activity increases during the coyotes breeding season.
*After breeding season, coyotes begin a frenzy of feeding activity and begin searching for suitable den sites.
*Coyotes may dig their own den or enlarge another animal’s den. Natural holes, blown down trees or rocky ledges may also be utilized as den locations.
*The typical litter size is five to six pups born 60-63 days after breeding. The entire family unit including the mother, father and other family members help raise young by providing food.
*The young are weaned after five to seven weeks. Young coyotes begin dispersal in October, at which point a young coyote may travel up to 100 miles from its birthplace.
*Coyotes are chiefly nocturnal but may be active by day. Coyotes communicate through a series of yips, barks, and howls. A common call of the coyote is two short barks and long wavering yodel known as the howl.
*They use stumps, posts, bushes or rocks as “scent posts” on which they urinate and defecate, this marks the animal’s territory and communicates with other animals.
*Adult males have large territories —15-25 square miles — in which they roam; adult females occupy areas of six to 10 square miles. The availability of food affects the territory size of the coyote which may eat almost anything.
*They prefer fresh kills but will eat carrion. The most important foods to the coyote are rodents, rabbits, insects, watermelons, apples, persimmons, muskrats, squirrels, skunks and domestic fowl.
Source: Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
To learn more about coyotes in urban areas and how to interact with them, check out urbancoyoteresearch.com to find out about the Cook County Coyote Project in Chicago or Berry College’s Atlanta Coyote Project at atlantacoyoteproject.org.