Coyote sightings prompt police warnings

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 25, 2013

ROCHESTER — Rochester police are advising residents to keep a close eye on their pets in response to an increase in the number of coyote sightings reported in the city.

“We’ve been getting calls about coyotes sporadically over the last couple of months, but at the same time, we just thought that, due to the calls, it would be helpful to get some information out there, so we put together a one-page tip sheet with suggestions after talking with the Department of Natural Resources,” said Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm.

In Michigan, people are most likely to see coyotes — which are most active at sunrise and sunset — during the animals’ breeding period, which is from mid-January into March. That’s  when they get more territorial, according to the DNR.

“Coyotes are in nearly every community, so it should be almost a common thing to see them now,” Schettenhelm said. “They are very nomadic, so they move around depending on what level of small animals, rabbits, squirrels and that sort of thing are in that particular area.”

In Rochester, the calls reporting coyotes haven’t been tied to just one area, according to Schettenhelm.

“It’s pretty well spread out. … They’ll roam in an 8-10 mile area that is kind of their territory, and then they’ll move on from there, so they are not exactly extremely territorial, but they roam in quite a large area,” he said. “Most of the calls have been from people seeing them late at night, and a lot of times, it’s when they are walking their dogs.”

Schettenhelm said coyotes can be difficult to distinguish from a medium-sized German shepherd from a distance. Although there is wide variation in a coyote’s color, the DNR said, generally, their upper body is yellowish gray, and the fur covering the throat and belly is white to cream color. Coyotes have pointed ears that stand erect, and they carry their bushy, black-tipped tails below the level of their backs when running.

Although most people are frightened when they see a coyote, the Michigan Humane Society said there is generally little cause for alarm because there have been no known attacks on humans in Michigan. However, the DNR reported that coyotes that have been fed by humans have been known to present a human safety risk.

Coyotes, which generally feed at night, according to the DNR, are opportunistic and will eat almost anything available, although they prefer small mammals such as mice, moles, shrews, rabbits and squirrels. In urban areas, coyotes are attracted to garbage, garden vegetables and pet foods, but the DNR said they will also prey on unattended small dogs and cats.

To avoid attracting coyotes to a home or business, Schettehelm said it’s a good idea to bring pet food indoors, and secure compost piles and garbage cans with a cover.

“Be careful not to leave anything out that could be feed for the animals,” he said.

Even though coyote attacks on pets are rare, Schettenhelm advises residents to keep pets under close supervision.

“We’re encouraging people to obviously be careful and not leave their dog out unattended at night, just so they don’t have a problem. One thing that has been helpful in a couple of cases is people have said that when they have picked up their dog and put it in their arms, the coyote realizes that there is now a much bigger target than a dog on a leash and loses interest and takes off,” he said.

For more information about coyotes, contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at (517) 373-1263.