Numerous communities throughout Central Florida are experiencing encounters, many are very unpleasant, with coyotes. Numerous coyotes are in the Metro West area and are responsible for the deaths of several pets. West Orange County Cities, Ocoee, Windermere, and Winter Garden also report sighting of this predator roaming their neighborhoods. Osceola County issued a rabies alert after two people were bitten by a rabid coyote. A Manatee County family’s four dogs were left in their fenced yard while the owner was shopping and all four dogs were killed by a coyote.
It can be scary to see or hear coyotes are roaming around your neighborhood. Normally coyotes do not enter dense urban communities, but as their natural habitat is shrinking due to subdivision growth their presence in our neighborhoods grow. Coyotes, while normally feeding on deer, livestock, squirrels, mice, raccoons, possums, and other small wildlife, they will also attack our pets with cats and small dogs being a particular favorite meal. It is rare for a coyote to go after a human.
Coyotes are medium sized dogs (averaging 28 lbs. with a paw print of two inches) that are in the same family as wolves and foxes. They are habitat generalist and use all types of habitats in Florida except heavily populated urban areas. They are opportunist omnivores, meaning they are scavengers that will eat whatever animal and plant material that is most abundant in their habitat. Coyotes help keep the rodent population under control, so they are essential to Florida’s eco-system.
Coyotes were brought to Florida in the 1950’s and 1960’s as bait to train foxhounds. They are now in every State except Hawaii. They are most aggressive during February and March, their breeding season, and give birth in April to four to seven pups. During this time, they are more frequently seen during the day. They generally hunt from dusk until dawn. While they can attack solo, they are known to bait a dog or other prey by teasing it and running luring the prey into the pack to be ambushed. They generally kill by snapping the neck of their prey.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have allowed coyotes to legally be hunted to help control the coyote population. Not everyone wants to hunt coyotes or has the time to hunt them. Feeding coyotes is prohibited by law. South Carolina recently introduced a bill placing a $75 bounty on coyotes.
If You Should Encounter a Coyote
- Make a lot of noise. Keep a whistle, air horn, pots, empty soda can with rocks in it, or anything handy that you can make a lot of noise to scare the coyote away.
- Make yourself appear larger. Wave your hands up in the air or hold objects above your head to make yourself appear larger than you are. Be loud and bold.
- Never run away.
- Keep a can of pepper spray or an air horn with you.
- Keep your dogs on a short leash (4 foot or less is preferable) from dusk to dawn or when you are near a wooded or heavily foliage area or someplace you may stop to rest. There are also special padded vests you can place on your dog to potentially lessen the severity of an attack.
Tips for Protecting Your Property and Pets from Coyotes
- Secure all trash cans (a potential food source).
- If you feed your animals outside, bring the food and water dishes in once your pet has finished eating – especially at night.
- As birds are on their food sources, bring your bird feeders in at night or better yet, don’t erect a bird feeder.
- Fences that are at least six feet high and 12” to 18” inches in the ground are deterrents. Regularly inspect your fence bottom for any spaces for a coyote to enter. They can scale a fence with a small dog or cat in their mouths.
Coyotes are a very real problem for Central Florida.