Rob Ling of Yorktown got his chickens in 2009 and he purchased a game camera at the same time. As soon as Ling lost a few chickens, he started putting his game camera outside to see what was taking them. It turns out, some chickens were taken by foxes and others by coyotes.
About two or three months ago, Ling’s neighbor saw a coyote behind Ling’s chicken coop so Ling kept an eye out and when he saw one for himself, his dog ran after it and so did he. Ling said he followed his barking dog through the woods when the dog came running toward Ling, then past him and into the house. Ling said there weren’t leaves on the trees yet so he could still see what was going on in the woods. A coyote came toward him, likely after his dog, and got to within 20 feet of Ling before seeing him and running off.
Ling said there’s a Dominion Virginia Power line near his property that has tall grass growing under the lines, and that’s where the coyotes and foxes usually seem to emerge from.
The coyotes come at different times of the day to stalk Ling’s chickens. He said when his family is home, they usually come between midnight and 4 a.m. according to the timestamp on his game camera. If the family goes on vacation though, the coyotes come when it’s still light outside, either in the morning or early evening.
In 2010, Ling’s family went out of town for Christmas. The first day they were back, he looked out the window around 8 a.m. and saw a coyote sitting near his chicken coop.
In addition to seeing the coyotes, Ling says he sometimes hears them when sirens go off from fire trucks or other emergency vehicles. The sound is different from a dog, he said, describing it more like a crying or yelling baby or a “yipe.”
As it turns out, what Ling has seen and experienced may not be so uncommon.
According to Lee Walker, the director of outreach for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, coyotes are in every area of Virginia and reports of coyote activity are made to the department a couple times a week. Walker said coyotes have had a substantial population in Virginia for at least 20 years.
Coyotes are nocturnal and don’t pose safety threats to people, although Walker says people should not approach or feed coyotes.
“What makes a wild animal a dangerous animal is when they … lose their fear of humans,” Walker said.
He explained coyotes are not an aggressive animal, but are extremely wary and are very elusive. They do most of their feeding at night.
“Chickens are their livelihood. If [people] free-range their chickens, they’re basically inviting the coyotes to come in,” Walker said.
Coyotes are listed as a nuisance animal in Virginia and can be killed without a permit any day except Sunday. Hunting regulations for individual jurisdictions must be obeyed. Licensed trappers can also be hired to capture coyotes. Likely another coyote will replace one that has been killed, Walker said.
If coyote sightings in an area become regular, food sources should be eliminated. Walker said coyotes are looking for dog food, cat food, small rodents or smaller farm animals. Bird feeders often drop seed on the ground, which attract small rodents that coyotes feed on. Bird feeders also are attractive to black bears, which have been sighted in James City and York counties.
“They area a nomadic type of animal that travels, so when the food source is removed from whatever location they start showing up in, they leave,” Walker explained.