Whitney Roman was in her Overland Park home when she heard barking from the yard.
She went to the front door to check if the neighbor’s dog had escaped, she said. And there she saw a coyote standing about three feet away on her front step.
The bad news: Coyotes are here to stay. The good news: They (usually) don’t bite.
Kansas City area residents have also reported spotting coyotes on streets, yards, walking paths and more.
Tim Urban, a wildlife biologist technician at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, said he saw a coyote walking in his western Shawnee backyard midday. Another man reported to the department that a coyote strolled 20 to 30 feet behind him while he was walking his dog.
“A lot of people don’t like coyotes. They’ve got a negative connotation,” said Joe DeBold, a wildlife biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation. “But they’re really something to appreciate.”
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoons may have contributed to the dangerous reputation, but it’s undeserved, DeBold said. Coyotes usually don’t try to harm humans, and DeBold said coyote spotters should feel grateful.
“Having something that’s a keystone animal of our state, such as a coyote, is something pretty neat to see,” DeBold said. “I consider the coyote the Einstein of the wildlife community. They’re one of the smartest animals you have across the landscape. They’re very keen and they’re very sly.”
Still, you should take precautions to avoid unnecessary run-ins. Most coyotes avoid humans but some have habituated to urban life and won’t mind your company. Experts offer tips to protect you and your pets from a coyote on the loose.
Coyotes don’t prey on humans and primarily target rabbit-sized creatures. For the most part, they are more afraid of you than you are of them.
“You shouldn’t panic,” said Juju Wellemeyer, an agent at K-State Research and Extension in Johnson County. “If you’re with a small child or small pet, it’s good idea to pick them up and hold them in your arms. Make yourself look large and make a lot of noise to startle the coyote away.”
Raising your arms helps you look bigger. DeBold also recommends continuing at the same pace away from the coyote.
“They’re not here to basically have us on the menu. They don’t go after adults. They don’t go after children. That’s just not their normal behavior at all,” he said.
Coyotes will only attack if they feel threatened or trapped, if they’re protecting their young or if they’re diseased. If you see a coyote, continue acting normally and make sure it’s keeping its distance. Don’t run off.
“You should show no fear because we’re already bigger than them. Even the smallest person is bigger than a coyote,“ DeBold said.
Most of a coyote’s diet consists of rabbits and rabbit-sized or smaller animals, like moles and rodents. That means coyotes may try to attack cats and small dogs, particularly from January to March when prey are scarce.
“They don’t associate a cat with a cat. All they know is that that’s not much bigger or the same size as a rabbit,” DeBold said. “They cannot reason in their mind that this is a cat, this is a dog, this is a rabbit. They’re just seeing it as the size of the animal they’re eating.”
Wellemeyer recommends keeping cats inside and not letting dogs out unattended, especially in the evening. Similarly, Urban advises dog owners to use short leashes, carry a walking stick and refrain from walking their dog first thing in the morning or late at night. Even though larger dogs won’t likely become prey, you don’t want coyotes to see them as easy targets.
“Small pets are not used to dealing with predators and so they aren’t as equipped as some of their wild counterparts to fight or flight,” said Wellemeyer. “They’re more used to humans advocating for their safety.”
Protect your property
To keep coyotes off your property, ensure that your yard is free of food and drink and that your trash can stays in the garage or is tightly sealed. Usually a fence is enough to keep the coyotes out, but you can also install motion-detector floodlights to startle them.
“I can’t say 100%, but typically if it’s a wooden fence that’s five or six feet tall, they wouldn’t jump in there,” Urban said. “But I mean, if there are loose boards or openings, or they have the ability to dig, or they want in there badly enough, they could probably find a way.”
Coyotes tend to be most active during dusk, dawn and the nighttime, but you can spot them at any time.
“Sometimes they are out during daylight, which I think some people get concerned about,” Wellemeyer said. “As long as they’re not acting aggressively, this is pretty normal. They’re just out looking for food or other resources.”
You can call animal control to trap and remove a coyote on your property for a fee. But that doesn’t mean coyotes will be gone from your property forever.
“It’s pretty hard to remove opportunities for wildlife to be in our cities,” Wellemeyer said. “They already exist here, and it’s very easy for them to find resources in our cities.”
Coyotes are difficult to control and have adapted to live around humans. According to DeBold, they have the widest range of any land mammal in North America, and thrive in all kinds of habitats, including desert, urban, rural and tundra.
“The long-term strategy is just to figure out a safe level of coexistence,” Wellemeyer said. “People have tried to eradicate them, but they’re very resilient.”
A recent multi-year survey in the Los Angeles area showed that urban coyotes feast on trash, fruiting ornamental plants and domestic cats. In Tim Urban’s 18 years of working as a wildlife expert, he has yet to receive a call about a pet getting eaten by a coyote, but he recalled some attacks on dogs in Leawood in 2008. Wellemeyer said K-State Research and Extension has no record of a coyote biting a human.
“There’s not really a safety risk,” DeBold said. “Just seeing one all of a sudden instigates fear in people. And there really is no reason to have fear.”