Coyotes on the prowl

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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The Eastern Coyote — File Photo

Justin O’Leary recently returned home to Kilbride after an unsuccessful day of coyote hunting.

Before going to bed, he stepped outdoors to smoke a cigarette and was amazed by what he heard, breaking the early morning silence, shortly after 1 a.m.

“It was coyotes howling, like across the street,” O’Leary said.

It’s now been three to four weeks and the animals seem to be staying around his neighbourhood.

“They’ve been howling behind the dairy farm, just up the road from me,” O’Leary said.

Earlier this week, he watched one come up out of a drainage ditch next to a neighbour’s house.

“Actually, I thought it was the neighbour's dog at first until I watched it move and, from its movements, I noticed it was a coyote,” he said.

He figures there are at least two animals in the area, scavenging for food. With a lot of dairy farms around, O’Leary said, the coyotes are likely hunting rodents and may even be going into the barns to steal grain from the cattle.

“I think they’re hungry,” he said.

One night, O’Leary said, he started returning calls to the coyotes and had them howling for about 10 minutes.

“They’re really vocal,” he said.

Unlike a dog’s howl, theirs is high-pitched.

They seem harmless now, he said, but in larger numbers that might not be the case. He expects a population boom this year because the female coyotes are denning now and will soon have litters of pups.

Plotted on website

O’Leary is a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Waterfowlers hunting website that has a coyote group, where members report sightings.

Coyote group administrator Tony Cooney has been recording sightings on a Google Earth map. Small, blue balloons represent each sighting. To the left of the map is a short description of each encounter, with the date and time.

O’Leary, for example, describes one of his sightings around 2:30 a.m. at the end of Walsh’s Lane in Kilbride.

“Don’t even think it noticed me until I whistled and barked at him,” he wrote. “He came up out of the ditch on the side of the road, rubbed his scent in the lawn of the house next door and headed up Old Bay Bulls Road next to the dairy farm with the big red barns. The cattle were going crazy for about a half hour after I watched him head in that direction.”

Since last fall, numerous coyotes have been reported from central Newfoundland to the south coast and eastern region, but what’s really noticeable on the map is a large cluster of small blue balloons around the St. John’s metro region, representing recent sightings, including Blackmarsh Road, Brookfield Road, Pippy Park, Wishingwell Road, Crosbie Road and Goulds.

Ed Smith, a conservation officer who works seasonally fighting forest fires, is the founder of the website. He agrees that coyotes are moving into urban areas in search of food.

Females are giving birth, he said, so their energy and food demands are high.

“So, to have a place where it’s easy access to food, like a city or urban setting, is probably really beneficial,” Smith said.

Even small pets can be easy prey for coyote parents and their offspring.

Smith said there have been anecdotal reports of pets being approached and killed by coyotes. There have also been stories of small animals being taken off back porches at night and of beagles being attacked while hunting rabbits with their owners.

“They hear the dog barking one minute and the next minute, it’s whimpering or dead when they come up to it, with pieces taken out of it,” he said.

The hunting dog’s attention was probably on a rabbit, making it an easier target for a coyote, Smith said. Out of a territorial response. the coyote would try to kill an intruder or attack it as a food source.

In the wild, he said, coyotes have a real disdain for foxes and other canines and are said to be the No. 1 predator of foxes.

Once they lose their fear of humans, Smith said, coyotes could attack small children and even adults.

In British Columbia, a small child was attacked by a coyote and nearly dragged off into the woods, he said. Closer to home, a woman was killed in a coyote attack in Cape Breton, N.S., last year.

“The threat for humans is rare, but it does happen,” Smith said, “and with the increased presence in an urban setting, the more likely it is for a confrontation, whether it’s in fear that the animal strikes back or it just loses all fear and goes after the small human or even an adult.”

Smith said he would advise people not to leave small pets and children unattended in their backyards, even for a few minutes, with coyotes roaming urban neighbourhoods.

The population of coyotes in the province since their arrival in the mid-1980s isn’t known, but Smith said their home range on the island seems extensive.

One juvenile animal that was radio-collared by local wildlife officials in Clarenville ended up in the Codroy Valley a couple of months later and established a home range there. It was tracked going down the Burin Peninsula, across Bay d’Espoir, up the Port au Port Peninsula and down into the Codroy Valley.

“That’s quite an extensive pilgrimage,” Smith said.

Wolf hybrid

The breed of coyote in Newfoundland is known as the eastern coyote, which is believed to have been interbred with wolves during their trek from the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, through the Maritimes and into Newfoundland. The species has been blamed for killing animals on the island, such as caribou and young moose.

Smith doesn’t believe they’ve put the caribou population in jeopardy because brain worm disease has also killed substantial numbers of caribou.

“They might hinder the re-emergence of the caribou population by attacking calves, but mostly black bears are doing the major damage when it comes to calf recruitment,” he said.

The eastern coyote can be twice the size of other coyotes, Smith said. Some reported in the city have been estimated to be 60 pounds and heavier.

Smith said they form family groups because the pups stay with the parents for a number of years. It’s not a big leap to say that if they have wolf DNA they may hunt in packs, but there’s no hard evidence of that.

Growing interest

When Smith created the waterfowlers website in November 2009, he was initially interested in connecting with people who hunted ducks and geese.

“I didn’t expect it to go very far,” he said.

In December 2009, he partnered with another hunter, Peter Emberley, who also became a website administrator. Smith said they decided to expand it to reflect their other hunting and recreational interests.

With only word-of-mouth promotion, Smith said the site has grown from 23 members in 2009 to more than 570 members to date and between 8,000 and 10,000 hits a day.

Membership is free, but members can contribute photos, videos and comments or chat with other members.

Smith has a degree in anthropology and diplomas certifying him as a fish and wildlife technician and forestry, wildlife conservation officer.

He said the coyote group has expanded far beyond what he ever imagined because it’s a relatively hard species to hunt. Coyotes can be really elusive and it takes a lot of knowledge and equipment to start hunting them, Smith said. The group has more than 80 members.

Smith said one member in the Grand Falls-Windsor area has successfully hunted more than 22 coyotes this winter.

He said Cooney thought it would be a great idea to map sightings so hunters would know the best spots to find the animals. New sightings are reported and mapped almost every day.

Even if you factor in a margin of error for misidentification that would mean only 50 per cent of the cases were correct, Smith said there’s still a big issue with coyotes entering urban areas.

“We have to take that into account, which was a surprising conclusion we never anticipated,” he said.

Organizations: U.S. Eastern Seaboard

Geographic location: Kilbride, Newfoundland, Old Bay Bulls Road Blackmarsh Road Brookfield Road Pippy Park Wishingwell Road Crosbie Road Codroy Valley British Columbia Cape Breton Clarenville Port au Port Peninsula Grand Falls-Windsor

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Recent comments

  • Leo
    April 25, 2011 - 12:14

    Several years ago in Feb. 2007 around breakfast time one morning I spotted a coyote walking up Christine Cres. in Paradise. I waited until it was halway up the road and decided to follow to see where it went. The animal stopped for a second to look back at me, but continued on it's way eventually disappearing into the wooded area along the poleline that runs parallel to the Outer Ring Road.

  • Duffy
    April 24, 2011 - 21:27

    Idiots are always hearing "Coyotes howling and never see them because they hear dogs barking or some other noise. They are a natural part of the environment and we don't need the Big Bad Hunter running around and shooting these animals. Get a Life! I think I will take a picture off the internet and send it in saying "I saw that in my yard" Elephant maybe.

    • JRyan
      April 26, 2011 - 23:47

      People's friends and family on this island have a right to protect their way of living from natural predators that are passing onto private property.

  • sean o'neill
    April 24, 2011 - 11:52

    Just leave the damn coyotes alone.They don't attack people,period,except maybe a rabid one which is a one in a million shot.We have them all over the place here in Texas and there has never been a case, in my area,which has plenty of them, have attacked a human.Get a grip,let them scavage they'll run off at the sight of a human within 500 yrds.

  • Double R
    April 23, 2011 - 19:28

    Best thing you can do in this situation is to educate yourself. Go to the site below.

  • Double R
    April 23, 2011 - 19:16

    I've tried many times to get close to a coyote. They won't let me. They are frightened of humans and so they should. We are so good at destroying animal habitat that pretty soon the only wild animal we will see will be in a cage in a zoo. I walk the East Coast Trail four or five times a week and I would love to see a coyote. I see fox all the time. If you walk in the Logy Bay/Robin Hood Bay area you will see coyote scat all over the place and signs they had a meal of seagull. No need to panic. You should be more worried about the human perverts running around town and on our trails. Of the 217,900 women over the age of 15 residing in Newfoundland and Labrador, approximately 108,950 (1 in 2) will experience at least one incident of sexual or physical violence throughout their lifetime. That is a well documented fact. How many women will be attacked by a coyote?????? It's amazing what fears mass media installs in humans. I'm sure the coyote in the end will end up like the Newfoundland wolf. Sad to say in the spirit of the human being ..... some things never change. By the way if you need a guide to take you on the East Coast Trail, call me.

  • Ed
    April 23, 2011 - 18:17

    Here are some more facts about coyotes that were not mentioned. With coyotes able to jump as high as 14 feet and run at speeds of up to 40mph (yes, that's miles per hour!), your backyard fences are not enough protection, so be very wary of your pets and children. Farmers must keep traps set always. Trappers must eliminate the mother coyote as they can produce a litter of almost 20 pups. They usually hunt alone or in pairs, but sometimes hunt in larger groups to kill something really large. Here is a link to a video about the coyote problems experienced in Kentucky:

  • Gordon Rice
    April 23, 2011 - 14:22

    The government could have nipped this problem in the bud 20 years ago. Coyotes had then been spotted in the Port-Aux-Port Peninsula. However, instead of actually doing something about it, the government stated that, since the coyote population could not be controlled in other provinces, it could not done controlled in Newfoundland.

  • Jean
    April 23, 2011 - 12:48

    We have two elderly aunts that live next door to each other on the Southern Shore...They have to carry rocks and sticks just to cross the driveway...They also have to watch their cats very carefully when let out as it is not uncommon for them to see coyotes go off with small pets in their jaws.. I shudder to think if they come in a pack what could happen...Something needs to be done, and before we bury someone!

    • Rob R.
      March 27, 2012 - 16:44

      Leave the coyotes alone!!They are filling the niche left when we humans exterminated the Newfoundland Wolf(a genetic subspecies).We are pretty good driving other species to extinction.They tried to exterminate Coyotes in the western didn't work ,the females started having two litters a year ect.They are very intelligent andthey are NOT dangerous,preditors keep prey populations healthy.Many hunters (I am one)and outfitters would have you believe that they are like a swarn of locusts decimating prey population,this is absolute b.s.They are part of the eco system in Newfoundland,Just as the wolf was once.Want to help cariboo populations?Shut down hunting for afew years..In closing, to all the Coyote "hunters" out there;It is weak and wasteful to kill for no reason.If you aint gonna eat it,don't shoot it!

  • judith Devine
    April 23, 2011 - 11:19

    This situation with coyotes is worrisome. I will no longer walk alone on the East Coast Trail or advise any tourist to do so. Given the close proximity to residential areas that these animals are getting, let's hope we don't experience a tragedy. For years, I've felt so comfortable walking alone on our beautiful trails. I am not sure what the answer is to solve the problem; it should be a heads up to government to ensure tourists are aware of these animals.

  • WileyCoYote
    April 23, 2011 - 10:10

    Really interesting article. This will certainly become a much larger issue once human interaction and confrontation occurs in more populated centers. I recently witnessed a Coyote crossing the ice of Winsor Lake. I viewed the animal from Thorburn Rd. as it headed towards the southern shorline of the lake. This is the location of a very popular hiking and cross country ski trail that runs from Thorburn Rd. to the DND military property. If you use the area i'd be carrying a walking stick or some other clubbing weapon.

  • nasty nate
    April 23, 2011 - 09:18

    Maybe people need to stop building homes in their natural habitat Once you kill everything, whats going to be left? Humans to satisfy your blood lust?.

    • Randy
      April 23, 2011 - 17:47

      They are not native here so we are not building in their area. Plus Kilbride is a suburban area of St. John's.. you know.. the capital city and all..

  • mary
    April 23, 2011 - 08:40

    I saw a dog on the prowl last week and as I watched it I thought "that is a coyote". Then, I dismissed that idea as I thought it was silly. Seems I may have been right as the next day I read about coyote sightings in St. John's. I saw one at the corner of Cornwall Avenue and James Lane - it was eating at a bag of garbage left outside. It scuttled off with its tail down when someone came along and headed west onto Cornwall Ave It is kind if scary. What does one do if one meets a coyote? Will they all scuttle off with their tails down or will some be bolder?