Coyote at Middle Farms Driving Range, Nov. 1, 2020. Thought to be one of the most adaptable animals on earth, coyotes have “plasticity”, enabling them to adapt to changes in food availability, cover and habitat. Eastern coyotes are part western coyote (62 percent), western wolf (14 percent), eastern wolf (13 percent), and domestic dog (11 percent). Prue Gary Photo

Island residents were “up in arms” last fall after a bold daytime coyote attack led to the death of a beloved family pet. Coyote sightings on Fishers Island are no longer unusual. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to control their numbers.

Other than dealing with a bold coyote, this adaptable species is here to stay. In fact, indiscriminate killing of coyotes encourages more breeding. Also, coyotes self-regulate their population by having larger or smaller litters depending on availability of territory and food.

Mass killings of coyotes began in the 1850s. Since then, their geographical range has tripled in the United States, an estimated 40 percent since the 1950s. Originally restricted to the western two-thirds of North America, the species now stretches across most of the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific seaboard and from Alaska to Panama.

Biologists theorize that the coyote expanded east to fill a vacant ecological niche left by the extirpation of gray wolves, cougars and jaguars. By 1920, coyotes were established in northern New York State.

Coyotes are programmed to pursue and kill prey, but they are also opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of the most available food source. They will consume small mammals, birds, livestock, pets, fruits, vegetables, carrion and garbage. Their habitat has expanded to include not only forests and fields, scrublands and wetlands, but also major cities, wooded suburbs, parks, golf courses and beach fronts.

The first coyote was spotted on Fishers Island between 12-15 years ago. At least one breeding pair was documented in 2017. It is difficult to know how many are on the Island, and frequent sightings are often thought to be the same coyote. Coyotes are smart, become easily habituated to human environments and have few natural enemies other than the great horned owl, which may take a few pups.

Scientists, however, are quick to remind the public that coyotes can play an integral role maintaining healthy ecosystems. They hunt foxes, raccoons, opossums and skunks, and provide rodent control by killing destructive, vegetation-eating rodents that comprise 80% of a coyote’s diet. Their primary foods are rodents, fruits, berries and insects.

Preventing coyotes from associating humans with food or shelter is the best method for minimizing conflicts with them. Eliminate easy access to outside food sources, such as dog food, bird seed and garbage. Supervise pets while outside; keep cats indoors.

Sent as eblast April 16, 2020