The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

March 17, 2012

Coyote numbers on the rise in Iowa

Elusive creatures no threat to humans

OTTUMWA — That distant howling sound that you’ve heard early in the morning and late in the evening might be a coyote after all.

While the sorrowful sound brings thoughts of the great southwest, deserts and cactus, coyotes are native to Iowa and are one of the most wide-spread fur-bearing mammals in North America. Their habitats range all the way from Mexico to Canada.

It is very difficult to count the number of coyotes living in Iowa due to their secretive nature. They are shy and elusive animals, not often seen out and about. So the Iowa Department of Natural Resources uses the annual Iowa Bowhunters Observation Survey to study what population is available to the naked eye. In 2010, the survey reported higher numbers of coyotes in nearly all regions of Iowa.

In addition, a harvest report can be used to inversely represent the coyote population in the state. Approximately 25 percent of the harvest numbers come from trapping, while the other 75 percent are from hunting summaries for the year.

The reported harvest for coyotes in 2010 was 8,089, up from 2,501 in 2009. Vince Evelsizer, fur-bearer and wetland biologist at the IDNR, says this can be attributed to weather, food sources and the number of predators in the area.

“The numbers for other species have been on the decline, but coyotes are doing really well,” Evelsizer told the Courier. “Here, they don’t have the predators like wolves and mountain lions. They’re the king of the country around here.”

In this area, Evelsizer says the only real predators coyotes face are humans. Their populations can really only be affected by hunting, trapping and disease.

It’s not unusual for coyotes to be seen during the day, but the nocturnal creatures are more often out at dawn and dusk. During the breeding season, from January to mid-March, it’s not unusual for them to be out during the day prowling around.

They’re often attracted to areas that offer the most cover, the most security and the chance to find plenty of food. Their main sources of food are mice and rabbits, but they will take on a deer if they have to.

“We have lots of places to hide and get away here,” said Kurt Baker, director of the Wapello County Conservation Board. “You look at the difference between southern Iowa and northern Iowa and you’ll really see why they like it here. In northern Iowa you can see for eternity, but here there are all of these nooks and crannies, places to be out of sight and out of mind.”

When you hear coyotes howling in winter, they are staying in their family groups, made up of both adults and pups from the previous spring. They will stay together, Evelsizer said, until February or March, when mating season is in full swing. Until then they’ll hunt together and live together for the added warmth and protection.

The mild winter has been somewhat of a blessing for the area coyote population.

“Times are good for coyotes. There are abundant rabbits and squirrels,” Baker said. “It’s not been nearly as stressful with the absence of snow and mid temperatures. It gives them some easy hunting.”

During the next couple of weeks, the females will move away from the group and find den sites. The family that was so tight during the cold winter months will now break up and spread out. There will now be only a single coyote or pair of coyotes here and there, with their home range dependent upon the food availability.

“When there is more food available, they will be more dense,” Evelsizer said. “There might be three to five per square mile in the wooded rural areas, while there might only be one or two in a square mile where there is agricultural land. It all depends on habitat quality.”

The females are now moving to their dens sites to have their pups. After the birthing season in late March and early April, the babies will spend about six weeks in den growing and gaining weight. By mid-May they will be venturing out of the den and will expand their range as they age.

“Then you’ll really hear the pups howling,” Baker said.

There is little to fear from coyotes, no matter how lonesome or troubling their howling might sound. They typically live in remote areas with woods and grass rather than around agricultural areas and homes.

“Coyotes aren’t likely to bother people, but they’re not shy at night,” Evelsizer said. “They’re more bold then.”

Of slightly more concern are pets — outdoor and smaller pets that are allowed to roam are more likely to be caught by a coyote away from the house. Evelsizer says these are really the only circumstances where pet owners need to be a little watchful.

“But we need to emphasize that humans and coyotes have co-existed in Iowa for a long time. There is very little threat for human safety,” Evelsizer said. “For pets, it’s not a big problem if you just use common sense.”

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