I suspect that every town in almost all of New York State has a resident population of animals that RE calls “eastern coyotes.” Indeed, these clever creatures have even been reported in New York and are well established on Long Island. The reason they are called the eastern coyote, instead of just coyote, is because this animal is quite different from its western cousins. Western coyotes are a bit smaller and leaner than our local animal, looking more like the cartoon character “Wile E. Coyote”. Some of you may remember the cartoon series in which “Wile E.” was still in fruitless pursuit of the Roadrunner. Anyone who has seen a western coyote and our eastern coyote up close will easily confirm that they are very, very different in appearance. I have seen both animals up close and in my eyes western coyotes are more like foxes in size and stature and eastern coyotes are more like big dogs.
Although there are records indicating that coyotes existed in the east in prehistoric times, there is no record of them from colonial times. They appear to have populated our area for the past 30-40 years. Some recent genetic studies seem to link the eastern coyote to red wolves, which would help explain their larger size. They differ from wolves in their social structure being much less likely to form large “packs”. A typical group of eastern coyotes is usually a single family unit with perhaps four or five animals. Of course, many of us have heard these creatures howl and there seem to be a dozen or more. The howl can be triggered by a whistle or fire siren going off, or after a successful hunt, as if celebrating a kill.
One of the reasons they have become so prolific is that they will eat almost anything, including carrion (dead animals). In fact, these scavengers are responsible for training most of our roadkill deer and other runover animals. They also eat deer (mainly fawns), fish, frogs, turtles, snails, birds, eggs, berries, insects, and other plant matter. In New York, extensive studies show that they primarily eat mice, voles, and other animals that we consider pests. As a ginseng grower, I consider coyotes to be extremely beneficial members of the forest ecosystem since they preferentially eat mice and voles that feast on ginseng roots. Many deer hunters shoot coyotes because they view them as threats to the deer herd, although scientific evidence does not support this hypothesis. I’m not a fan of deer in general (except as food) as they tend to overpopulate their range and are capable of destroying entire populations of ginseng as well as other native herbaceous plants. I allow certain people to hunt deer on my property, but no one is allowed to hunt coyotes. Unlike deer populations, which can quickly reach levels that cause ecological and economic devastation, coyote populations tend to self-limit to levels that do not threaten other wildlife or plants.
Yes, they can also kill small domestic or farm animals such as lambs, dogs, chickens, ducks and cats. Some people claim that our coyotes are actually coydogs, which are the result of a cross between a dog and a coyote. This is highly unlikely since coyotes are more likely to kill dogs than breed with them. I have heard from people in the area who have lost pet dogs and cats to these dogs.
I vividly remember the late 1950s and early 1960s when we had packs of wild dogs roaming around Durham. It seems that this smarter and more sophisticated predator has now replaced those packs of dogs. I can’t definitively answer the question “will coyotes harm humans?” I know there have been a few reports of western coyotes attacking babies in California, but to my knowledge there has never been a report of eastern coyotes attacking humans in New York or elsewhere in the East. They seem to co-exist quite comfortably with us and are rarely spotted despite the fact that there are a lot of them.
This is currently the time of year when New York’s resident coyotes are breeding and setting up dens for the pups that will arrive in the spring, according to the NYSDEC. Although conflicts with people and pets are rare, New Yorkers should remain vigilant and follow common sense DEC guidelines to minimize the risk of potential conflicts with coyotes. If coyotes exhibit bold behaviors and are not fearful of people, or if they are seen repeatedly during the day near residences, the public is advised to contact their regional DEC wildlife office https:// www.dec.ny.gov/about/558. html.