An attack on a deer by two coyotes this week in Westchester is further evidence that coyotes are here to stay and area residents will have to learn to live with them, a wildlife biologist said during a town hall-style discussion Tuesday at the Harry Bennett Branch of Ferguson Library in Stamford, Conn.
Several towns in Westchester and Fairfield have been hit by many coyote sightings the last few months, including, most recently, Briarcliff, where two coyotes killed a deer Wednesday morning on Long Hill Road East in an incident captured in a video shown on News 12 . Simon said coyotes try to avoid human contact as they hunt for primarily smaller mammals for food.
New Castle residents are also being warned to be extra cautious after two large pet dogs were attacked by coyotes.
Laura Simon, a wildlife ecologist for the Humane Society of the United States, spoke to a crowd of about 40 people at the event about how to deter the coyotes.
There are ways to deter coyotes from populated areas, including ensuring that food sources are not left out and that garbage is secured, she said. Coyotes avoid human contact, but if they are fed — whether on purpose or by accident — they will return to where food is available.
"When there is food out there for them they don't know they are not supposed to come for it," she said. "They are attracted to our backyards because they are a source of food."
Efforts to control coyote populations by either killing them or relocating them doesn't work, Simon said. A family unit with alpha parents tends to have small litters with only the alpha pair reproducing. When that is interrupted, often with the removal of the alpha male, other males move in to mate with the female and with the younger members of the coyote family unit resulting in more coyotes being born, she said.
The most effective way to deter coyotes is by "hazing." When you see coyotes, you should make noise and appear larger by raising or waving your arms, she said. Simon said this persuades the coyote to move and not to make themselves visible. Coyotes will either move to another area, or if they remain, to hide from humans.
They are opportunistic omnivores, she said, which means that a coyote will eat what is abundant and easy to scavenge, find or hunt. They primarily feed on smaller mammals such as mice, voles, raccoons and groundhogs as well as birds, insects and fruit. Simon said that up to 25 percent of a coyote's diet comes from fruit and berries.
"They are making an honest living," she said about the diet of coyotes.
Coyotes rarely attack small dogs and cats, but she said it does happen because those pets appear to be the same size as their other prey. In the winter, when other food sources are scarce, coyotes will turn to deer that have been killed or died to feed on. Only rarely will coyotes attack a healthy deer.
She said that coyotes do perform a service in eating mice, rats and squirrels that are common pests.
"They do help to balance the ecosystem," she said. "They are a key predator and important one particularly in urban and suburban areas."
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