Great Park’s addresses myths and misconceptions about urban coyotes

Increased coyote sightings throughout Hamilton County and a rising mixture of concern and curiosity inspired Great Parks' presentation called “How to Coexist with Urban Coyotes.”

Great Parks nature interpreters will present information and answer questions in four parks through the month of February, just in time for the coyote breeding season.

The presentations outline the behavior and habits of coyotes in an effort to debunk myths and ideally minimize public concern. Nature interpreters will detail ways people can coexist with these predators so that their presence benefits the ecosystem instead of conflicting with humans.

The eastern coyote, a hybrid of its smaller cousin the western coyote and the larger gray wolf, only began occupying the area within the last 200 years. It currently owns the role of sole apex predator in Ohio, a place once populated with several, including mountain lion, black bear, and wolves.

Great Parks nature interpreter Paul Seevers, one of the three presenters, says the “unfounded fear” of coyotes comes from myths. According to Seevers, there are lots of misconceptions surrounding coyotes, which will be a main topic at the talks.

Hamilton County’s wildlife population mostly includes small animals. With white tail deer as the largest species, residents are not used to seeing much of these elusive canids. The reaction from the public has been a mixture of fear and curiosity.

Seevers drives home the point that their habits rarely intersect with people.

“Their history doesn’t include humans,” he says.

But, of their reported sightings, Seevers says, “They’re all over the place.” They have been seen everywhere from suburban neighborhoods to urban streets. And since their howls and yips can be heard from very far away, their presence may seem even greater.

“They are really good at hiding in plain sight because they are fearful of us,” Seevers says.

Some residents express concerns for their pets and young children. Seevers, a father himself, explains that while those are legitimate concerns, coyotes are actually quite fearful of humans and mostly avoid them.

“It’s not true that they hunt cats and dogs,” he says.

“Extensive research done out of OSU shows that feral cats make up less than two percent of coyotes’ diet,” Seevers continues, quoting Dr. Stanley Gehrt, principal investigator of the Cook County Coyote Project.

As opportunistic eaters, coyotes are both hunters and scavengers. But his studies found that their diets consist mostly of rabbits, squirrels, bugs, berries, and sometimes fawns.

There has only been one recorded incident of a coyote biting a human in Ohio, and one of a coyote and dog conflict in which the coyote was scared away at the sight of the dog’s owner. The dog survived.

The real hazard isn’t necessarily of coyotes coming into yards to hunt dogs and cats. The potential conflict would be for an off-leash dog to startle a coyote with pups in the woods.

There is still lots to learn about them as they are elusive and relatively new to urban areas. What we do know is that they are resourceful and will move to places with opportunities.

The way to limit their contact with humans is to avoid attracting them. Taking steps like cleaning grills, keeping trash contained, refraining from leaving dog and cat food out, as well as accompanying small pets outside and enforcing good outdoor lighting are all ways to deter them from human spaces.

“If we create situations, problems arise,” says Seevers.

They’re moving here, in part, because of an absence of apex predators, which leads to issues like the overpopulation of white tail deer. Seevers explains that coyotes play a pretty important role in the ecosystem, and their presence can help manage deer populations.

A healthy predator population can help keep animals in check and, in turn, benefit humans. A well-managed deer population means less car accidents, less bacteria-carrying road kill, and less garden pests.

The presentations are to say: “Here’s what’s really going on.”

The talks will feature two nature interpreters and will begin at 7 p.m. each night. February 6: Farbach-Werner Nature Preserve, Ellenwood Nature Barn, 3455 Poole Rd., Colerain Twp.; February 13: Sharon Woods, Stonewood Lodge, 11450 Lebanon Rd., Sharonville; February 20: Woodland Mound, Auditorium, 8250 Old Kellogg Rd., Cincinnati; February 27: Miami Whitewater Forest, Auditorium, 9001 Mt Hope Rd., Harrison. Attendees will be invited to ask questions. The event is free but motor vehicle permits are required in all Hamilton County Parks.

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Emily Dillingham is a Cincinnati native and University of Cincinnati graduate with degrees in English and Geology. She writes full-time for a local material science company and lives in Brighton with her husband and pack of dogs. Follow her on Instagram @keeperoftheplants