Neighbors nervous after coyote sightings in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published April 5, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — A local resident was surprised to happen upon a coyote wandering around a St. Clair Shores neighborhood when she was driving to work, but wildlife experts say the occurrence is more common than one might think.

Terry and Colleen Harbowy have lived in the 12 Mile Road and Greater Mack Avenue area of St. Clair Shores since 2001. But Colleen was shocked by what she saw on her recent drive into work.

“My wife was just on her way to work, about 7 in the morning, and she said it ran right in front of her. It was kind of scrawny. You could see the ribs through it,” Terry said. “It wasn’t very large, as far as coyotes go.”

He said he had seen coyotes in suburban neighborhoods on the news before, and his sister-in-law lost her pet to a coyote a few years ago, but she lived in Rochester and had a wooded area behind her house.

“That just makes us more cognizant that small dogs are choice for coyotes and easy prey,” he said.

It also caused them concern because their dog, a bichon and yorkie mix, only weighs 11 pounds.

“My dog would probably run up to it, wagging his tail,” he said.

Coyotes are actually very common in Michigan and can be found in nearly any type of habitat, said Hannah Schauer, wildlife communications coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“It’s not at all unusual to find them in more of those neighborhoods or urban areas,” she said. “They’re very well adapted to figuring out how to survive in close proximity with people.”

Coyotes are more active at dawn and dusk, when they hunt for prey, including mice and rabbits, she explained. The reason residents may be spotting them more often now is because coyote breeding season runs from January to March.

“The coyotes are looking for a mate and establishing their territory,” she said. “They’re going to be very visible and vocal. We tend to get a lot of reports of them.”

The animals have a natural fear of people, unless they are being intentionally fed by humans, Schauer said.

“That might make them more comfortable around people,” she said.

She understands that residents may be shocked to be faced with a coyote roaming their suburban neighborhood, but it is not unheard of to find them all over Michigan, even in the city of Detroit.

Coyotes are extremely resourceful and can be attracted even by the presence of a bird feeder. They’re not after the birdseed, though; they’re hunting the smaller animals like rabbits, mice and squirrels that eat the birdseed.

“It’s a good idea, if there are any of those wildlife feeders out, to remove those to make the area (less) attractive. Make sure you’re not leaving pet food out. Keeping trash secure or indoors, especially overnight, (because) the smell might attract a curious coyote,” Schauer said.

Brush piles also create places for small animals to hide and also attract the larger predators like coyotes. But in addition to removing food sources, there are opportunities for humans to “haze” coyotes to maintain that fear of humans.

“Yelling at them, waving your arms, acting noisy and scary, purposely trying to drive them off. Be loud, be aggressive with your tone of voice,” Schauer said. “You want to make it known that that’s your space and they are not allowed there.”

Using noisemakers, banging pots and pans, and spraying in their direction with a hose are other ways to help coyotes second-guess being close to humans.

“Most of the time, they’re going to run away. They might move a short distance and try to turn around and look at you to see if you’re following them, see how much of a threat you’re going to be,” she said.

Coyotes are unlikely to be aggressive toward humans unless the human is near their nest. The same can be true of dogs. Although coyotes may look at small dogs as prey, they’re more likely to see them as competition.

“If they feel that the dog is intruding on their territory or too close to their den, that’s when we tend to see these things happening,” she said about dogs being attacked. “If you have small pets and you know there are coyotes in the area, it’s an especially good idea to accompany them outside because your presence there will make the coyote leery of getting too close.”

Harbowy said he was surprised by the DNR’s suggestions and that the agency wasn’t going to do anything about the wild animal roaming his neighborhood. He had hoped they would trap and relocate the animal and was not pleased when he read the suggestion to accompany his dog outside at all times.

“He (the dog) usually wants to get up at least once during the night, so we just open the door and let him out, but now it’s like we have to put on a jacket and some shoes and go out with him,” he said. “They say don’t leave them unattended — easier said than done.”

Harbowy said he would like to see the suburban coyotes relocated up north.

“I would like to see the situation remedied, one way or another, so we could go back to a normal life as far as letting the dog out,” he said.

The Department of Natural Resources does not track the coyote population in Michigan because the animal is so common. There is a year-round hunting season for them, although that is not an option for control within city limits where the discharge of firearms is prohibited. In that case, Schauer said, there are wildlife damage and nuisance control companies that are permitted by the DNR for wildlife removal. If residents want to take proactive measures regarding nuisance coyotes, those businesses may be able to take care of the problem.

For more information, visit michigan.gov/wildlife to learn more about how to handle conflicts or nuisance wildlife issues, watch a video on hazing techniques or a video on coexisting with urban coyotes. There is also a MichiganDNR YouTube channel.

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