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Coyotes most often heard and not seen

By Sandra Chafin Guest Columnist

We are going to look at coyotes this week however, it’s hard to leave the owl species since we’ve mostly talked about two kinds that live in Florida - the great horned owl and the barn owl.

These two black coyotes were photographed on a Wildlife Management Area in Florida.

The burrowing owl is a species of special concern and lives in Florida. It is found in northwest and southwest Florida in large populations. You will find them as far north as Madison County and oddly enough in Okaloosa County on Eglin Air Force Base. None have been documented on State Buffer Preserve property.

Chart provided by Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust
Coyote tracks

Human harassment, being prey for domestic animals, fire ants, vehicle collisions, and land developments are destroying their habitats are causing concern for these owls.

The barn owl lives in Florida and in open habitats throughout the contiguous United States. It has the distinction of being the least common species in Florida.

The barn owl has been associated with death and destruction. It is nocturnal and does not have a nice hoot instead it hisses, grunts, shrieks and screams. It sounds very scary so one can imagine how it got its reputation.

Having smaller eyes that most other owls doesn’t hurt it. It can still see in the dark 35 to 100 than people can. Barn owls can find their prey in total darkness.

Today farmers do not find them scary at all and place nest boxes for them. Farmers refer to them as “nature’s mousetraps.” A family of four owls may eat more than 1,000 mice in three months.

Check out Bird Academy to hear sounds owls make. Which are the scariest? Which seem the friendliest?

Now, let’s move on from owls to coyotes. You can find coyotes in all 67 counties in Florida. They have expanded their range from the western states; they live in every state except Hawaii reports the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

If you see a coyote you might mistake it for a medium-size dog. Do not feed them as they will lose their fear of humans. In fact, it is illegal to feed them.

Coyotes are extremely adaptable, and you might find them in rural, suburban and urban landscapes. Normally, coyotes are shy, retiring, and elusive.

Coyotes help control populations of rodents and small predators such as raccoons, foxes, and opossums. Coyotes help maintain balanced ecosystems according to researchers.

Coyotes are about the size of a medium-sized dog weighing between 20 to 30 pounds with a paw track about 2 inches long. Seeing a coyote in the wild you might think you are seeing a small German shepherd. They can sound like they are barking, and you can hear shrill yips and howls.

Coyotes are a member of the dog family. They have pointed ears, a narrow muzzle, and a bushy tail. The male is larger than females. They are normally grayish-to-brown and on occasion you might see a black coyote. It has been reported that there is a black coyote in the Preserve. Not having seen it personally, and there having no picture of a black coyote we just have to believe there’s one on the preserve. Most of the time, coyotes will have a white patch of chest hair.

 If you see a coyote in the distance you might notice the coyote usually holds their tails at “half-mast” when running.

You can determine coyote tracks from a dog because their tracks are more elongated and are narrower than a dog.

In times past, coyotes resided in Western states only. Today you will find them in all the Eastern states. In the 1970s coyotes began to expand in north-western Florida and continued to expand to all 67 counties.

Coyotes are extremely adaptable; living in any type of forest or farmland. You might see them in suburban and urban areas as reported by the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission).

The scientific name of coyotes, Canis latrans, which literally means “barking dog.” While they might be active day or night you will most likely see them at sunset and sunrise.

Coyotes are territorial, sharing space with other family members only. Coyotes range on an area as small as 1,500 acres to over 10,000 acres.

You are not likely to see a group of coyotes hunting together. Normally just one and sometimes a pair will hunt together. They like rabbits, birds, rats and mice, insects, deer and fruits. If you find your trash upset, it might have been a coyote instead of the notorious black bear.

Coyotes like pet food… so keep your pets’ food put away and keep your trash secure.

While a coyote might look intimidating you can scare it by making loud noises, waving your arms, using a water hose or throwing sticks -- near it – not at it. If you try to injure a coyote it will try to protect itself, in turn, hurting you.

If you encounter a coyote in the wild, take great steps to appear larger in size and thus convince the coyote you are a danger to them. This technique works for bears also.

The FWC, along with UF/IFAS (University of Florida/Institute of food and Agriculture Sciences), produce some very informative brochures and posters you can view or download.

Researchers point out that coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem. A few cities in Florida trapped coyotes thinking they were a determent to the environment. That did not solve their problem and actually brought in more to fill the places of those trapped. If trapped they must be killed and cannot be moved to public lands.

When trapped and killed, more coyotes move into take the place of those gone.

Coyotes were probably brought to Florida in the 1920s to train hunting dogs.

It has been reported that coyotes have been around forever. The Tampa Bay Times says, “today’s species originated from ancestors that lived alongside saber-tooth tigers, mastodons and dire wolves.

An interesting study done by a graduate student mapped the historic range of coyotes using archaeological and fossil records. This student was able to plot the range expansion from 1900 to 2016 using museum specimens, various reports and records covering 10,000 years.

If you find tracks and want to determine if they are coyote or dog tracks, how do you tell which is which? If the tracks are somewhat off entered, not in a straight line, you are seeing a domestic dog track. Coyotes most often always walk in a straight path. Coyotes’ tracks will be more linear and even.

While coyotes are mostly seen and heard after dark, they are not strictly nocturnal. You might see one during the day but your best bet to see one is after sunset and at night.

Mating season for coyotes is January through March so you might see and hear more during those months.

Staff members at the preserve have seen tracks of coyotes and occasionally a coyote. We are unable to locate pictures of either right now, so we borrowed some from the internet. Since our trails close at sunset it is very unusual for anyone to report seeing a coyote on sight.

How many remember the Looney Tunes character – Wile E. Coyote? While he was fun to watch as he tried his best to catch the Roadrunner, we can learn a life lesson from him. Never give up! Wile E. Coyote’s will to succeed serves as an inspiration to us all.

Since some days we feel like we are living the life of Wile E. Coyote and that boulder is being dropped on us, we have to remember to smile and carry on. It was just fun to watch him get crushed by a boulder, get right back up, shake it off, and continue his quest to capture the Roadrunner.

Trails at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve are open from sunrise to sunset. Take advantage of these trails, take pictures, share with us and we will try to incorporate them in articles.

If you see a coyote acting aggressively report it to FWC in Panama City at 850-265-3676.