Residents shared stories of Sterling Heights neighborhood coyote encounters and learned more about the mating patterns, favorite foods, and history of coyotes in Metro Detroit suburbs at a public seminar held Oct. 9 at the Sterling Heights Nature Center.
Despite feeling uneasy about wild coyotes roaming free on the streets of suburbia, with knowledge and common sense, we are perfectly safe sharing our neighborhoods with these wily beasts, says Holly Vaughn, communications coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division.
“There has never been a human attack by a coyote in Michigan. They will not eat your children and likely will not attack your pets if you are smart,” says Vaughn.
Coyotes are, in fact, a good friend to urban and suburban dwellers because they eat thousands of small mammals, like mice, rats, and raccoons, over the course of a year. “They hold an important place in the ecosystem. They are not a villain or a nuisance or a pest, but an important part of the natural community,” Vaughn says.
Coyotes in and out of Michigan’s history
Coyotes are not native to Michigan but inhabited the Plains region of the U.S. Michigan was home to the gray wolf until European settlers cleared the forests of the state, and forcibly removed the wolf population because it was perceived to be a threat to livestock and settlers. This gave coyotes the opportunity to move in.
“In the late 1890s, coyotes were first reported in the area in Washtenaw County where there were many sheep farms,” says Vaughn. By 1927, coyotes were confined to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “Here in Michigan we had a bounty system for coyotes between 1935 and 1975,” says Vaughn. “People were paid to remove them from Michigan.”
By the early 1980s, coyotes had funneled back down to lower Michigan, and have enjoyed healthy populations here since. Vaughn dispels rumors that the DNR reintroduced coyotes to Michigan to control other animal populations.
Normal coyote behavior
Coyotes are in every city in every county in southeast Michigan, from urban Detroit to exurban Milford. They’re most active at sunrise and sunset, and mid-day roaming indicates they are seeking food for their families. Although part of the canine family, coyotes are not pack animals and tend to travel in family groups. Often mistaken for wolves – which do not live in southeast Michigan – coyotes are 40 to 60 inches from nose to tail, weigh 25 or 30 pounds average, and vary in color from gray to red. Coyotes have erect ears and bottle-shaped tails, which tend to point down.
Because coyotes tend to establish territories and roam between two and six miles in a day, their most common predators are vehicles, but young can be carried off by birds of prey. Coyotes will compete with other canines, including dogs and foxes, that they see as a threat, and stories of dogs being killed by a coyote are within normal territorial behavior, Vaughn says. They do not, however, prey on dogs or cats for food.
A coyote’s diet is predominantly small mammals like voles, mice, rabbits, and raccoons, but they also eat fruit and occasional roadkill. Residents who do not want to attract coyotes to their properties should remove whatever attracts mice and rats, including excess bird food and woodpiles where mammals can feed and hide. Also, remove any outdoor pet foods.
Vaughn also suggests never approaching or intentionally feeding coyotes, put garbage out the morning of collection day, and make a lot of noise to show coyotes they are not welcome. Be vigilant about keeping pets on a leash, especially after dark or before dawn.
“Keep the fear of humans in coyotes and they won’t get too close,” Vaughn says.
Learn more about coyotes at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.