Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

Coyotes may be in your backyard



Susan Barnes, left, checks out a coyote hide held by Shawna Burkett, state Game Commission wildlife conservation officer for Northern Bucks, and Beth Samuelson displays a coyote skull at an informational program at the Haycock Township Community Center.

When I heard Haycock Township was hosting a program about coyotes, curiosity drove me to attend. A few weeks ago a neighbor had told me he’d found “the biggest coyote I’ve ever seen” dead in his backyard. “I guess a hunter thought he was a deer,” he said.

I’d heard stories of coyotes wandering Upper Bucks, but not this close to home. Having grown up in town, spending some time lived in town and city, and now in the country, closer to nature, what roams in the darkness fascinates me – and let’s face it, not a lot else is going on in my rural neighborhood.

The Haycock Township Community Center was packed, practically standing room only. More than 80 residents – lots of hunters – turned out to hear Shawna Burkett, the state Game Commission’s wildlife conservation officer for Northern Bucks, provide the lowdown on the beasts now roaming the state.

“The Eastern coyote is here,” she said. “It’s a hybrid, much larger than the western coyote. A blend of Canadian gray wolf and Western coyote, it’s been in Eastern North America for a million years, but has been seen only intermittently, and is often mistaken for a wolf. In the 1960s, Eastern coyotes poured into northern Pennsylvania from the Catskill Mountains in New York and have spread throughout the state. “The population is exploding,” she said.

Burkett said these coyotes are big, with males measuring as much as 5 feet long and weighing 45 to 55 pounds and females slightly smaller. Colors range from blonde to red to black but most resemble the motley coat of the German shepherd.

They usually travel in family groups until the pups are dispersed probably by the time they are a year old. Burkett said they will eat nearly everything and Bucks natural bounty probably accounts for their healthy size and the number of pups they produce –usually five to seven. They will move frequently from den to den, a hollowed-out tree, cave or deserted red fox den, to protect their young.

They are transient, rather than territorial, following the food and ranging more than 50 square miles, so you may see them one day and they’ll have moved on. By the next day.

The coyotes hunt at night, early in the morning and at dusk. Analyses have shown they primarily eat deer and small mammals, although they also will eat fruit and berries.

Although they travel in social groups, unlike wolves roaming in packs, they have been known to join forces to run a deer to its death. Because they are so wily, coyotes are very hard to hunt.

Burkett said only 15 percent of coyotes harvested are breeding adults and about 60 percent are younger than a year. Many are trapped during the winter months.

Residents said they have seen and heard coyotes on their farms and near their homes. The animals make hundreds of different sounds, varying “from yips to the kind of chilling howl that will raise the hair on the back of your neck,” Burkett said. “And they will call back to anything.” She said she’s heard them sound off to fire alarms and sirens.

She said the pups are born in April and May. In June the coyotes leave the dens and people often hear yipping while the adults are teaching the young how to survive, and in the fall when they are learning how to hunt.

What you need to know is they will not hurt you, the official said. Afraid of humans, their only predator here, they are extremely elusive.

Burkett has this advice:

Keep your pets inside, especially during the early morning and at twilight. Coyotes will go after small mammals and cats, but probably not dogs.

Try not to feed pets outside and if you do feed them outside, take any food in at night. The coyotes will pass through if there’s no food.

kathrynfclark@verizon.net

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