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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Nature Notes: Coyotes remain plentiful in Connecticut

    About 3,000 to 5,000 eastern coyotes live in Connecticut. (Photo by Ray Uzanas)

    Connecticut has been home to eastern coyotes since the 1950s.

    Have you ever watched an animal cross the road in front of your car, or lope across your back yard, like I have, and didn’t know if it was a stray dog or a coyote? Here’s a how to tell the difference:

    “Coyotes resemble a small, lanky German shepherd dog, but have wide pointed ears, a long muzzle, yellow eyes and an uncurled tail, which is carried low to the ground.”

    This is how the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection identifies these ubiquitous animals, who have a surprisingly long history with our state.

    “Connecticut has become home to the eastern coyote (Canis latrans var.) since the late 1950s,” said Chris Vann, nuisance wildlife biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

    Sometime around the 1930s, Vann said coyote populations began expanding from their base in the plains states into the Great Lakes region of Canada, across the northern Midwestern states, and eastward into New England.

    Now, there are approximately 3,000 to 5,000 eastern coyotes in Connecticut, Vann said.

    During this population expansion, Vann said there is evidence some western coyotes hybridized with gray wolves from Canada, leading some researchers to call the eastern coyote a “coywolf,” a cross between a coyote and wolf.

    “Nevertheless,” Vann said, “eastern coyotes are regarded as a mid-sized predator preying predominantly on small mammals and exhibiting coyote habits and behaviors that are different than gray wolves.”

    When you compare the two different breeds, Vann said, adult eastern coyotes weigh between 35 and 40 pounds, while mature gray wolves can weigh between 50 and 140 pounds.

    Also, eastern coyotes prefer hunting in open spaces, while gray wolves favor hunting in forests. And for anyone worried about encountering a gray wolf in Connecticut, Vann said there are no wolves in our state. The closest population is in Algonquin Park, Quebec, Canada.

    However, Vann said eastern coyotes are regularly reported attacking unsupervised pets, vulnerable, smaller farm animals, and, in rare cases, may become a public safety concern such as when threatening dog walkers or if given food.

    If that happens, Vann said DEEP may issue special permits to wildlife damage control professionals hired by landowners or municipalities to control coyotes.

    Fortunately, coyote contacts with humans are extremely rare, Vann said.

    Here are a few tips from DEEP to avoid unwanted contact with eastern coyotes:

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    Keep cats indoors, particularly at night, and small dogs on a leash when walking them.

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    Never feed coyotes or put food out for any mammals.

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    Use loud noises, like shouting, or waving your arms, or throwing sticks to frighten them away.

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    Be aware of abnormal or unusually bold behavior from coyotes, and report any problems to DEEP, Wildlife Division at (860) 424-3011.

    Bill Hobbs is a resident of Stonington and a lifelong wildlife enthusiast. For comments, he can be reached at whobbs246@gmail.com.

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