Last week at a Weaver City Council meeting, Michael Kelley asked officials to post a street light near his house so he can see the nocturnal coyotes when they visit. The council granted Kelley’s request, and at least one city leader said coyotes have been seen in Weaver and surrounding areas with increasing regularity over the past year.
“It has become more common in the whole area,” City Councilman Mike Warren said.
Weaver isn’t the only community where residents are reportedly spotting the wily animals. There has been a significant up-tick in the number of coyote sightings across the state, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Ray Metzler, assistant chief of the department’s wildlife division, said neighborhoods in Montgomery have experienced similar trends. So too have Birmingham neighborhoods, Metzler said, adding that coyotes are more likely to visit residential areas near wooded habitats.
And while the coyotes are more likely to be seen on the outskirts of bedroom communities, they’ve also been spotted nearer to the heart of some Alabama cities, such as Tuscaloosa, said Mike Sievering, a supervising biologist for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
“They’re opportunistic animals, so wherever they can find a place to live, they’re going to,” Sievering said. “We’re seeing more and more coyotes in exurban areas.”
The department’s data shows that the population of coyotes has increased steadily over the past 20 years and that it has more than doubled since 1998.
The state's most recent coyote count dates back to 2009-2010 when wildlife agents spotted 340 coyotes in Alabama. That was 40 more than the year before. Sievering, whose job it is to track the state’s coyote population, said that increase is significant.
Coyotes typically weigh between 35-40 pounds, Sievering said. Their snouts and ears are pointed, their coats are full and their tails are bushy.
Coyotes prey on small mammals at night, and are rarely spotted by humans in the day. They live in dens and travel in family packs that usually include between two and 10 coyotes, Sievering said.
“You might catch a glimpse of them at night,” Sievering said.
Typically the coyotes are not a threat to humans, but they may prey on pets and livestock and wreak havoc on other wild species such as foxes, Sievering said.
Opened trash cans and half-full pet food bowls can attract coyotes to neighborhoods. To keep them at bay, Sievering recommends feeding pets inside and using trash cans with lids that shut tightly.
If a person encounters coyotes they should walk away slowly, being careful not to run or move quickly because sudden movements can prompt the animals to chase or attack.
Fred Bain, the wildlife division’s law enforcement supervisor for Jacksonville, said the coyotes are skittish and likely to run away from people. Wild dogs, which are domesticated animals that have been released to fend for themselves, are more dangerous, he added.
“They’re not going to attack someone unless they’re injured,” Bain said. “A wild dog doesn’t have any fear of man. They’re pretty dangerous, but a coyote is not.”
Because of the threat coyotes pose to livestock and pets, they’re often a target of human hunters. Alabama residents need only a general hunting license as permission to kill the animals.
There is no limit to the number of coyotes hunters can kill, and they can be tracked year-round, Sievering said. He also cautioned against attempts to wipe the animal out.
A deficit in coyotes could throw off the ecological balance, and could allow a surge of another species, he said.
Instead of widespread kills, Sievering recommends targeting the specific coyotes that are a threat. There are good coyotes and bad ones, he said. Some coyotes are more aggressive than others, he said.
“It’s like you have good folks and you have bad folks,” he said.
Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.