A University Grove resident took a photo of this coyote in her yard in January.

A University Grove resident took a photo of this coyote in her yard in January.

Ah, the sounds of winter: The crunch of snow underfoot. The laughter of children sledding down hills in nearby parks. The howling of the coyotes in the frosty moonlit air.

The howling of the coyotes?

Well, more like yipping, according to St. Paul Animal Control supervisor Molly Lunaris. “Coyotes do howl, but I haven’t heard them do it here,” she says. Anyway, she adds, only a trained ear can tell the difference between a coyote howling and a dog baying at the moon.

Whatever. The point is, coyotes are here, in the middle of the urban landscape and, according to recent discussions on local neighborhood listservs and Facebook pages, there have been numerous sightings in St. Anthony Park, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale and Como Park. If you haven’t yet seen one slinking down an alley, crossing an open field near the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota or crossing frozen Lake Como, perhaps you soon will.

Or maybe not. Coyotes are normally shy, solitary creatures. They do not travel in packs and avoid humans when possible, Lunaris says. They are also sometimes easily confused with certain breeds of dogs.

Are they a menace to humans? Lunaris says that other wild animals, like raccoons, create much more havoc, because they are so “welladapted” to invading human living spaces. Even wild turkeys present more of a threat.

“Young male turkeys can be quite aggressive,” Lunaris says. “They’ve been known to attack mail trucks.”

As for coyotes, Lunaris says that in a year-and-a-half on the job, she has never dealt with an actual confirmed report of a coyote attack. “We haven’t had any reported attacks on humans by coyotes,” she notes. “We’ve heard rumors of coyote attacks on pets but have had no confirmed reports.”

That doesn’t mean you should leave your pet Chihuahua unattended in the back yard. “There’s a whole host of horrible things that can happen to small dogs,” Lunaris says. “If we find blood and no dog, people assume it’s a [victim of a] coyote, but mostly [the culprit] is another dog.”

Coyotes, like other wild animals, are drifting into urban areas where they haven’t been seen in decades. The reason, says Lunaris, lies in our human habits. “Environmentally, we’re much cleaner than we used to be,” she explains. “We’ve restored habitats, and that’s a good thing. But the more green spaces we have, the more animals we attract.”

There’s another reason that wild animals like the coyote have discovered the joys of urban living. As suburbs encroach on wildlife habitats, animals discover what Lunaris calls “their No. 1 food source”—the trash we leave behind.

Viewed rationally, what coyote wouldn’t prefer an urban lifestyle? “[In the city] cars are their only natural predators, and if we provide them food, we’re providing ways for them to survive,” Lunaris says.

The take away: Secure your garbage and don’t feed your pets outside. Lunaris stresses there have been no reported cases of rabies among coyotes in the metro area but notes that any potential interaction between wild and pet populations underscores the importance of keeping pet vaccinations up to date.

Coyotes are most active at night and during the early morning hours. If you see a coyote in a large space like a park, says Lunaris, “leave it alone.” If you encounter one in an enclosed space like an alley, then the recommended approach is “hazing.”

“Clap your hands and make noise to scare them away,” she says. If the coyote returns, try to “clash pots and pans.” Anything to convince the coyote that humans are fierce and not to be tangled with.

Which, of course, from the viewpoint of a typical 30-pound coyote, we are.

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