Wily, intelligent and adaptive coyotes are in all 100 counties of North Carolina and they are here to stay.
are set up to use the habitat,” said Chris Kent, a biologist with the
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission whose district includes the state’s
largest coastal cities.
Turner, a commission biologist in the northeastern part of the state
agrees that coyotes are highly adaptable and can live in rural,
suburban and even urban areas. “Being omnivorous, they can utilize many
food resources, ranging from small mammals to fruit/berries to
agricultural crops to dog food and table scraps,” he explained in an
native to the grasslands and prairies west of the Mississippi River,
coyotes first became permanent residents of the state’s mountains in
the early 1980s. Within 30 years, they reached the Atlantic Ocean.
the evidence points to large populations in coastal North Carolina,
they are rarely seen. “They are very wary of people and you just don’t
see them very often,” Kent says.
it may not be apparent to an untrained eye just what has been seen. At
first glance, a coyote may look like a medium-sized dog or a small
German shepherd, but with a more pointed muzzle and flatter forehead.
They also tend to be thinner than domestic dogs, although in the winter
they will look bigger because they are carrying a heavier fur coat.
latrans is a remarkable species of canid. From its original habitat
west, it has spread throughout North America and is found in every
country of the continent.
migration of the coyote began soon after European settlers took control
of North America. Intent on creating a safe landscape to farm their
fields and raise livestock, settlers hunted apex predators — wolves,
cougars, bears — almost to extinction.
generally understood that there was a canid top predator,” explained
Pete Benjamin, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service’s Raleigh office. “On the East Coast, cougars and the red wolf
were eliminated, and coyotes have filled that niche.”
service’s red wolf recovery program in Alligator River National
Wildlife Refuge in Dare and Hyde counties has brought the eastern red
wolf and coyote into direct contact. In the western United States where
the larger grey wolf lives with coyotes, the coyote becomes prey.
its original habitat in the West, the coyote has spread throughout
North America. Map: Cook County, Ill., Coyote Project and Ohio State
smaller red wolf, although larger than a coyote, seems more likely to
avoid interaction for the most part. “Until mating season,” said Woody
Webster, site manager for the state’s Buckridge Coastal Reserve in
Columbia. The Buckridge Reserve borders the federal refuge.
of the genus canis, coyotes can cross breed with dogs and wolves. “When
opportunity may present itself, canids, including coyotes, are
physically capable of cross-breeding, “ Turner said.
and Wildlife biologists, worried about crossbreeding between coyotes
and red wolves, came up with what they hope is an innovative approach.
“The issue of hybridization is a concern, and we’re managing the
interaction between the species,” Benjamin explained.
all canids, coyotes are territorial, and studies have shown that
sterilized coyotes retain their territorial instinct. “We have
place holders using sterilized coyotes. Sterilized coyotes will defend
against other coyotes,” Benjamin said. “They’ll keep the territory from
other coyotes until the wolves take over or we insert wolves (into the
one is sure how many coyotes live along the coast. Scott Crocker has
managed the state’s reserve sites along the northern coast for the past
three years. “I have seen evidence pretty much since I’ve been here,”
he said. “Each year there’s maybe a half dozen that I actually see.
I’ve definitely seen the evidence. Scat with fur in there and we have
game trail cameras at both sites.”
one has seen a coyote at the Coastal Reserve sites along the southern
coast, including at Masonboro Island, Zeke’s Island, Bald Head Woods
and Bird Island, but there is evidence that they have been visiting if
not living in some of the more accessible parts of the reserve,
according to site employees.
often consider coyotes nuisances that can cause damage. “Unprotected
poultry and livestock can . . . be harmed in some situations,” Turner
wrote in his email. “Coyotes can also take small dogs that are left to
range free or are left unattended.”
The eastern red wolf, shown here, is slightly larger than the coyote. Photo: Wolf Haven International
of the potential for damage to farm production and the designation as
an invasive species, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission allows the
hunting of coyotes at any time throughout the state. The exception is
the five counties where red wolves live — Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell
and Washington. In those counties a special permit is required.
is doubtful, however, that open season on coyotes is an effective means
of controlling the population. Wildlife biologists point to the
reproduction characteristic of coyotes that makes controlling the
population so difficult. Typically a coyote litter will be five
to seven pups. If a coyote population in an area becomes too dense, the
litter size drops. If the population is thinned either through disease
or hunting, litter size increases — and may increase substantially —
doubling in size over the average. Additionally, female coyotes will go
into heat at a younger age.
is a well-documented phenomena and one that the Wildlife Commission
seems to address in its 2012 report on fox and coyote populations. “In
all cases, the use of bounties has been an ineffective and inefficient
tool for controlling coyote populations,” the study authors wrote.
there have been no systematic population studies of statewide or
regional coyote population, that report offers indications of how
widespread coyote populations are in North Carolina. A little more than
4,000 animals were killed by hunters in 2007-08, the report notes. Two
years later, that number had more than doubled to more than 10,000.
animals have had to adapt to what is apparently a very healthy coyote
population in eastern North Carolina, Turner wrote. For instance, the
populations of those that compete with coyotes, like red foxes, have
small mammal species may now have another predator to deal with,
resulting in increased mortality during the year,” Turner continued.
“Increased mortality of some species, especially those small mammals
that may destroy the nests of some ground-nesting birds can actually be
beneficial for other native species.”
POSTSCRIPT: Coyotes on Cape Hatteras National Seashore
are not common on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, according to
Randy Swilling, the Park Service's natural resources program manager,
but they are here -- especially on Bodie Island.
are also on Hatteras Island, but Swilling says as far as the National
Park Service knows, the predators haven't made it to Ocracoke yet.
eventually be on Ocracoke," he said. "They may already be there, just
in such small numbers that we haven't run across them yet."
Swilling says the coyotes have especially been a problem with pedation of tern colonies on Bodie Island.
Hatteras Island, he says, they have been trapped as part of the
predator control program for several years. Rangers often see their
tracks, he said, adding that they seen the tracks all the way out to
Cape Point. And earlier this month, a coyote was run over on Highway 12
near Sandy Bay just outside Hatteras village.
can swim, Swilling said, though park officials think that the animals
got to Hatteras the same way the rest of us have -- on the Bonner
Obviously, they will have to swim -- or hitch a ride on a ferry -- to get to Ocracoke.
that's possible, Swilling said, because there are coyotes on Cape
Lookout National Seashore, which is south of Ocracoke and accessible
only by boat.
(Postscript contributed by Island Free Press Editor Irene Nolan.)
article is provided by Coastal Review Online, an online news service
covering North Carolina's coast. For more news, features, and
information about the coast, go to www.coastalreview.org.)