The howls, barks and yelps are unmistakably eerie – It’s a pack of coyotes lurking close, moving through urban neighborhoods under moonlight nights, many times unseen and only heard in the distance.
“They are a fact of life,” said Jerry Fincher, conservation enforcement officer with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We are going to have to live with them.”
Sylacauga Animal Control Officer Michelle Taylor said coyotes are opportunists, and it’s not uncommon for people to see these canines near wooded areas in close proximity to people. And, she said, it’s not uncommon for them to kill domestic animals.
Taylor said if people live in urban areas and their pet dogs or cats are going into wooded areas, they could fall prey to coyotes.
Fincher said Alabamians periodically have cats or small dogs missing, which actually could be victims of coyotes.
He said in Alabama, coyotes can be hunted year-round, and sometimes traps and poisons are used to reduce the number of coyotes on farms and in rural areas.
“You can shoot them in the daylight hours (year-round),” Fincher said.
However, trapping and the use of poison have their own problems, as the pets and livestock people are trying to protect could end up trapped or poisoned.
Live box traps are not effective when trapping coyotes, officials said.
Generally foot-trap type snares are used to capture or kill coyotes, which are generally smaller than most people realize, about 25-30 pounds.
Fincher said coyotes will venture closer to populated areas if they discover food sources.
Jerry Feist, a wildlife biologist for the USDA Wildlife Service, said coyote sightings are more common during the spring and early summer.
“This time of year, they are raising pups,” Feist said. “They are much more aggressive with getting food for their pups.”
He said if you see a coyote during the day, it is likely the canines are looking for food, so they can feed their pups.
Feist said coyotes can kill and eat small to medium-size dogs as well as cats.
He said there are no documented human attacks by coyotes here, but “it has happened in the U.S.”
He recommended not leaving children unattended outdoors if there are frequent coyote sightings near your home.
In recent months, wild animals have surfaced with rabies in populated areas including Riverside, Lincoln and Sylacauga, but Feist said it is uncommon for coyotes to carry rabies.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, there were seven confirmed rabies cases involving coyotes since 2008. Since 1950, there have been only nine confirmed rabies cases involving coyotes.
In comparison, there were 1,835 cases of rabies found in raccoons since 1950 and 1,403 cases involving foxes in the past 62 years in Alabama.
Feist said coyotes will eat just about anything, but mostly feed on rabbits and cotton rats, or field mice.
He said they will also eat small livestock, injured deer or fawns.
Fincher said coyotes are attracted to gardens which have cantaloupes, watermelons and sweet corn.
“They have a sweet tooth,” Fincher said. “Coyotes are really adaptable creatures.”
Fincher said if you have a pet or animal that dies, it should be buried immediately.
He also recommends keeping dog and cat food indoors and not throwing food scraps out in the yard.
Taylor said pet food will attract smaller animals such as possums and raccoons, which could attract the bigger coyotes looking for an easy meal.
“They are here to stay,” Feist said. “The best thing people can do is eliminate any food sources around their homes.
“Keep your dogs and cats in, especially at night,” Feist said. “Not only will they (coyotes) kill them, but they will eat them.”