About two years ago, my son was mowing the lawn when he came across something orange and furry lying in the grass. He backed away and yelled for his dad, but the damage had already been done—he had come across the remains of our orange tabby cat, killed overnight by a larger predator. Emotional repercussions aside, it was startling for our family to realize that even in a residential neighborhood within the city limits, animals were hunting nearby. Based on the experience of seeing one in our own yard just a few months earlier and from other neighbors’ stories, we realized we’d had a coyote attack. Our neighborhood is located relatively close to a large wooded area and a local bayou, and there are plenty of places for coyotes to find shelter.
We learned several lessons after our incident that could be helpful to others living in areas populated with coyotes. Like sharks, coyotes are crepuscular creatures—most actively feeding at dusk and dawn. While they prefer to eat small animals like lizards, rodents, and young birds or deer, they are omnivorous and will also eat fruit and grasses. Not unlike other urban wildlife such as raccoons, they are opportunistic feeders and will scavenge dead animals and garbage. One of the best ways to protect small pets is to keep them (and their food) indoors at night and early morning. Pet food left outdoors often attracts coyotes’ normal prey and therefore the coyotes themselves. It is extremely rare to hear of a coyote attacking a human, but if threatened it is recommended that you yell, throw something, or spray a water hose. Stand your ground and fight back—don’t run, as this will encourage them to give chase.
Coyotes are social animals and often hunt in packs, and like the dogs they’re related to, have excellent vision, hearing, and sense of smell. They will howl and bark to communicate with one another, and hearing these vocalizations is often the first sign that there are some living nearby.
Floridians are no strangers to living with wild animals—we all routinely hear stories of alligators, black bears, venomous snakes, and sharks interrupting our attempts at taming the former wildlands that we now occupy. As urban development marches through the landscape, the large tracts of land once used primarily by animals for hunting and shelter are occupied by human dwellings and transportation routes.
While coyotes are relatively new to Florida (they are native to the western US but entered northwest Florida in the 1970’s), they’ve filled in the ecological gap left by a reduction of native wolves, bobcats, and panthers. Research has shown they now reside in every Florida county and can range the entirety of North America and most of Central America.
Most homeowners will never encounter a coyote, but it is helpful to know they are out there and to take precautions with pets and yard practices to prevent attracting one into your backyard.
For more information on managing coyotes, please visit the UF publication Managing Conflicts with Wildlife: Living with Coyotes.