Probably originating in the Great Plains, coyotes (Canis latrans) are now widely distributed throughout North America and have been in Virginia for at least 60 years. The versatile canid has benefited from the decline of the gray wolf, a competitor and predator of the coyote, and easily adapts to environments modified by humans.
Commonly mislabeled as carnivores, coyotes are omnivores and will eat just about anything. Much of their diet consists of rodents and other small mammals along with fruit and carrion, including road-killed deer.
If you spot a coyote in or around Willowsford, do not panic: most coyotes avoid people, and seeing a coyote out during the day is not a cause for alarm, especially in the spring and summer when they’re looking for food for their pups.
Coyotes generally avoid human contact, even when living in urban or suburban areas, and should be left alone. However, the presence of pet food, compost, dirty BBQ grills or trash can lure coyotes into yards, and a coyote who finds food in one yard may learn to search for food in others. Don’t make your yard a food source to coyotes!
As you and your pets spend more time outdoors, the possibility of a coyote encounter increases. In the spring, when coyotes raise litters, they may be territorial and challenge dogs that come close to the pups. Or they may try to escort you out of an area to protect their pups when you encounter them on a trail. It is important to recognize such incidents for what they are: defense of space, not an attempt to stalk or attack.
If you encounter a coyote, do not run away. Haze the coyote by clapping, shouting, and waving your arms, or throwing sticks and small rocks to persuade the coyote to move on. Noisemakers, such as whistles, can help scare coyotes away.
Coexisting with coyotes is easy; most of us are already doing it without realizing it! Coyotes learn from our actions and follow our cue; teach them that the neighborhood is not a free buffet and they will remain benign and wild neighbors.