Coyote watch: Don't feed top-level predator, Academy experts say

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Coyote sightings on base will likely increase due to dwindling daylight hours and young coyotes separating from their family groups this time of year, according to Academy experts.

As the Academy maintains a stable and healthy coyote population, staff and residents need to keep their distance from the top deer fawn predator and not feed wildlife they may encounter, said Natural Resources Manager Brian Mihlbachler.

"Coyotes are increasingly common in urbanized environments and fill the niche of a top-level predator," Mihlbachler said. "Throughout the U.S., coyotes have shown the ability to easily adapt to the human environment.  Ready access to food such as pets, pet food and garbage, is a key factor for drawing coyotes into developed environments. Like other wildlife, coyotes will also lose their wariness around humans if they are being fed."

Feeding deer here attracts coyotes because they devour the leftovers and stalk deer herds, said Tom Unangst, a biology professor here.

"Coyotes are a general scavenger-type organism," Unangst said. "They will change their eating patterns to what is most available. During the summer they will feed on deer and dead animals, and in the winter will eat rodents, insects and search the grasslands for smaller mammals. People shouldn't feed the coyotes because they can get aggressive. Individuals should be wary of them because they don't know their temperament."

Although the Academy doesn't have a good estimate on the coyote population here, cadets in Bio 482, Applied Ecology, track coyote howling and footprints to get a relative feel on the amount and where the coyotes are located on the installation.

"At night, cadets will play coyote howls and sirens, and monitor scent posts they create," Unangnst said. "The posts consist of a sand circle and coyote urine to attract coyotes to the site. From there, cadets observe the animals' footprints."

For cadets to determine the exact number of coyotes here, they would need to trap and collar them, Unangnst said.

"We don't know the exact number but we know there has been a relative abundance at the Academy for the past 25 years," he said. "The deer fawn population has also remained consistent."

Coyotes are widespread on the installation and commonly observed in Jacks Valley, the golf course, and near base housing. They have narrow snouts, lean bodies and tend to have gray, tan or brown fur. They typically weigh 20-50 pounds and can run up to 40 mph.

"Living and working on the Academy requires you to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and hazardous wildlife is part of that environment," Mihlbachler said. "Viewing wildlife from a distance and making a little noise in the woods, or on the trails is the best way to avoid a negative wildlife encounter."

Safety tips:

· Do not approach or feed any coyote

· Do not run if a coyote approaches you--back away slowly (facing the coyote) and be as big and loud as possible

· Remove pet food, bird feeders and fallen fruit from your yard

· Secure any trash in a container with a locking lid

· Supervise your pet when outside, especially at dawn or dusk

· Keep pets on a 6-foot leash when walking

· Recreate during daylight hours

· Call 333-3308 or 333-2000 to report bear, mountain lion and coyote sightings

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