Coyotes have adjusted to landscape changes and now are common in all Indiana counties, including many urban areas.
Personal experiences shape our attitudes toward most wildlife. This is especially true for coyotes.
Thoughts range from a worthless varmint that should be removed completely to a beautiful creature deserving protection.
One thing for sure — Indiana is coyote country.
Coyotes are a native species once limited to the prairie regions of western Indiana. Wolves (long gone from Indiana) inhabited the mostly forested areas. As forests of the eastern United States were cleared for agriculture and the last wolves were killed, coyotes began expanding eastward. Reports of coyotes in Indiana began to increase in the 1970s.
Coyotes have adjusted to landscape changes and now are common in all Indiana counties, including many urban areas. For some Hoosiers, this is old news. For others, the sight of a coyote is new and little is known about how to live with this species.
The DNR has a full list of tips at www.IN.gov/dnr/fishwild/5688.htm to minimize conflicts with coyotes.
If coyotes can find water and shelter, they will find something to eat. Their natural diet includes berries, birds, vegetation, rabbits, deer fawns, and animal remains, but they mostly eat small mammals such as mice, moles, and voles. Reducing the local rodent populations is a benefit to landowners that is often forgotten when talking about coyotes.
Studies have found that coyotes in urban areas have the same general needs as coyotes in rural areas. Human-supplied food items such as household garbage, garden vegetables, domestic animals, and pet food have become part of their diet.
When there is plenty of food, coyote populations expand quickly. Coyotes breed in January and February, and pups are born in a den during March or April. A litter can be as few as one pup or exceed 10, with the average around five.
Small, undisturbed green spaces are all that coyotes need for a den site. A typical den is made underground with a pie-pan-sized entrance that opens into a larger area.
Coyotes usually form breeding pairs and raise their pups together. Lone coyotes do occur, especially in the fall when younger animals leave to establish their own territory. Breeding pairs will establish a territory and defend this area from other coyotes. Occasionally, yearling coyotes will remain with the breeding pair and new pups. When this occurs, it’s called a “group” of coyotes rather than a “pack.”
The rise in coyote numbers in Indiana has impacted other wildlife species, such as the red fox. Coyotes and red fox compete for similar food sources, and coyotes will kill a red fox to get rid of the competition. Annual DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife (DFW) surveys support that red fox populations decrease when coyote populations increase.
Coyotes and domestics dogs can breed and produce coy-dogs, but it is rare and the young are not likely to survive. Coyotes breed during a small timeframe. Dogs do not. If female coy-dogs are born, they usually are not ready to breed at the same time as coyotes.
Coyote discussions often revolve around conflict. In rural areas, conflicts include loss of livestock and pets or reaction to a trail camera capturing a coyote hauling off a deer fawn. Urban conflicts are focused on attacks on pets, concern for safety, and fear of the unknown.
In rural areas across the United States, removal efforts have used toxicants, trapping, shooting and other techniques to control coyotes, protect livestock, and increase populations of other game. These efforts usually have a high cost and short-term results. In addition, coyotes reproduce quickly, are located throughout the United States, and are highly adaptable, which makes curbing their numbers a challenge.
Coyote populations can be lowered in small areas with focused efforts, but they can bounce back quickly once these efforts are reduced or stopped. In areas where coyote numbers have been lowered, coyotes will breed at younger ages and have larger litters.
Bounty systems were used in Indiana from the late 1800s through the 1970s. These programs had a long history, so wildlife managers were able to evaluate them and identify problems. Bounty systems usually covered large areas and didn’t focus on areas of conflict. Fraud was common, with parts of predators needed to claim rewards being transported from different states or counties. In addition, the bounty system called for constant removal, requiring large cash investments with limited or short-term results.
The DFW manages trapping and hunting seasons for coyotes. The seasons are not meant to remove every animal, but they do provide a good, low-cost way to control coyotes while giving hunters and trappers opportunities to pursue coyotes.
Coyotes may also be taken outside of these seasons on private land. Landowners may remove a coyote at any time on the land they own, or they can provide written permission for others to take coyotes on their land at any time without a permit. This gives landowners the ability to control what happens on their property, even outside of established seasons, and provides a quicker solution to conflict. v w
Over the years, biologists have collected a great deal of knowledge and experience in managing coyotes. As human populations increase and coyotes continue to adapt, we will continue to look at our management strategies.
The DFW looks forward to working with Indiana hunters, trappers, wildlife control operators, and the general public to manage coyotes in Indiana.
Shawn Rossler is the furbearer biologist for the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife.
Landowners may remove a coyote at any time on land they own or give written permission to others to take coyotes from that land. Individuals given written permission must have a valid hunting license.
Regulations in red are new this year.
Purple text indicates an important note.