Coyotes play vital role in keeping rodent poplulations down
By Melissa Vinson
Often, you will hear a nocturnal animal howling in the night, to announce its presence and to deter other males. This is also an invitation to any nearby females to join him. This species is an opportunistic hunter and preys mostly on small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, and rats. They also have the ability to form a pack, to take down larger prey such as deer. They are assumed to be meat eaters by most, but they have actually been observed eating grass, fruit, and other vegetation as well, making them omnivores. Their eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell are highly developed and, coupled with their resourceful diet, allows them to be an extremely adaptable species. What is this Alabama apex predator I am referring to? Coyotes!
They play a vital role in our environment, controlling the rodent and small mammal populations. Diseases carried and transmitted by rodents are minimized when rodent populations are regulated. As one of nature’s scavengers, they also aid in keeping the community they inhabit free of decaying animals, as roadkill is a coyote favorite. However they have also become known as one the biggest nuisance species in the US – and right here on the Island. In 2017, there were two incidents involving small dogs in Orange Beach: one dog was presumed deceased and the other dog survived the attack. Over the years we have seen several of these unfortunate incidents, but they almost always share some common characteristics. Small pets are allowed to go outside, after dark, often unattended, off leash and in an unfenced yard. Coyotes are discreet and quick (reaching top speeds of 40 mph), making them the perfect ambush predator when so inclined. Not all coyotes prey on pets. In fact, the vast majority go about their business never causing us a problem.
As a part of the fortunate few who can call this beautiful area home, we need to remember we aren’t the only residents. The coyotes, along with many other beautiful species of animals, live here as well, making this a shared environment. In nearly all instances of human/wildlife conflict people are at fault or at least responsible for the behavior that leads to conflict. Avoiding some simple mistakes and changing our daily bad habits will resolve most problems, Some basic but vitally important tactics are: not allowing pet food to remain outdoors, securing your trashcans, walking your dog on a leash (especially at night), motion-sensor lights and sprinklers, and making an uncomfortable environment in general for the coyote otherwise known as negative reinforcement. You can make loud noises, wave your arms, and act like a crazy person, and you will likely scare off most coyotes, but you might concern your neighbors as well!
Occasionally, even when all the correct measures are taken, you still have an animal that continually approaches your house, pets, and your comfort space. There are such circumstances in our area, most recently on Ono Island, in which this is the case. This is why the limited trapping and removal of certain individual animals that have lost their fear of humans or appear to be diseased has started. It is about the safety of the residents and their pets as well as the health of the coyote population. Coyotes suffer from several common diseases and ailments including mange which in advanced stages leaves the animal looking like the mythical “chupacabra”!
The Orange Beach nuisance control program is done in conjunction with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) division. Efforts are typically spread out instead of concentrated in one location because coyotes form family groups, and when a few are removed from one family group, it can affect the entire community of animals. Coyotes have a physiological reaction that is triggered when they feel their population is threatened, and it has helped their populations remain resilient across the country: when they feel vulnerable, they have the ability to reproduce at an earlier stage and birth more pups at a time, increasing their litter size and survival rate, making it almost impossible to eradicate them all together.
If you encounter a coyote that appears to have lost their fear of humans or appears diseased, please call Orange Beach Dispatch at 251-981-9777 if you are within the city limits of Orange Beach. If outside of city limits, please call 844-303-WILD (844-303-9453). Please remember that simply seeing a coyote is not always a cause for concern.
We are privileged to have such diverse wildlife living in our own backyard. The most valuable thing we can do is learn to coexist. It is their home as much as ours and it is important to keep that balance within the ecosystem we call home.
“See our article about coyotes in the Summer 2017 edition of Alabama Wildlife Magazine”