Over the last 25 years, scavenging relatives of domestic dogs have become more and more common in Greater Williamsburg.
Coyotes are not native to Virginia, but now they’re in every city and county in the state.
While they’re not generally dangerous to humans, coyotes in Virginia are interacting more with humans than before, and that’s not a good thing, according to Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries wildlife biologist Mike Fies.
As commercial and residential developments sprawl onto prime wildlife habitats, animals will likely continue to have increased interaction with humans.
This is especially the case for coyotes, according to Fies.
“Coyotes are one of the most adaptable mammals in the entire world,” Fies said.
The canines first moved into Virginia in the 1950s and slowly made their way across the commonwealth and into the Virginia Peninsula.
Ever since they claimed Greater Williamsburg as part of their territory, the coyote population has continued to grow.
“Once they started to colonize this area, there was a tremendous amount of available habitat for them,” Fies said.
The growing population and continuing development have led to growing confrontations between homeowners and coyotes.
In 2013, the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reported a Yorktown man’s chicken coop had been attacked by at least one coyote.
Later that year, James City County enacted an ordinance more heavily regulating hybrid wolf-dogs or coyote-dogs.
Reports of rabid or aggressive coyotes have come in from around the area from local health department officials, while reports of increased interactions with coyotes have made their way onto social media.
“A fed coyote is a dead coyote”
While coyotes are not generally dangerous to humans, they can be dangerous to pets and livestock, Fies said.
“A lot of times just seeing a coyote is enough for people to get very concerned,” Fies said. “The big thing with coyotes in urban areas is that they [should] not [be] fed.”
Feeding the canines can make them less wary of humans and increase the risk of a coyote becoming aggressive in its territory, which can often include neighborhoods, Fies said.
Neighborhoods filled with bird feeders, outdoor cats and dogs, and fruit bearing trees can make a prime urban habitat for coyotes, according to Fies.
Coyotes are attracted to the birds and rodents at bird feeders and outdoor pets can become a coyote’s meal.
“Even things as innocuous as a bird feeder, they’re not there to eat the bird seed,” Fies said. “They’re there to eat the animals that eat the bird seed.”
Removing coyote’s food sources removes the canine’s motivation to be in an area, according to VDGIF spokesman Lee Walker.
“If anyone in the neighborhood is feeding wildlife,” Walker wrote in an email, “it can cause trouble for everybody.”
While coyotes are considered a nuisance species by the VDGIF, hunting them “really doesn’t have much impact” on their overall population, according to Fies.
Neither York or James City counties offer bounties or cash rewards to coyote hunters, and Fies only recommends hunting the trouble-causing coyotes.
“If you’re not having problems leave it alone,” Fies said.
Here are a few steps to reduce the risk of interactions with coyotes
- Stop feeding wildlife
- Put trash in animal proof containers
- Do not leave pet food outside
- Remove bird feeders if coyotes have been seen in the immediate area
- Keep your yard clean
- Keep small dogs inside, when outside always use a leash
- Keep cats inside
- Install coyote proof fencing — seven foot tall fencing with an outward slant — to protect unsupervised pets.
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