Wily coyotes take to New Jersey suburbs

When you think of suburban wildlife, you likely picture deer, squirrels and common birds like cardinals. In northwestern New Jersey, you can add bears. But the latest creature looking for a slice of the American dream in the ‘burbs is the coyote. Originally from the southwest United States, in recent years coyotes have expanded their range throughout the Northeast, including New Jersey.

Like most suburban wildlife, coyotes are extremely adaptable and tolerant of human activities. They normally eat rabbits, mice, birds and other small animals – even young deer – all abundant in our suburban neighborhoods. Being opportunists, however, they will take whatever they can find: garbage, pet food … even the occasional small pet. In the absence of larger predators, coyotes have likely claimed top spot in your local suburban food chain.

Though coyote sightings are growing increasingly common, they can be quite elusive. But they can also be brazen. You may have heard about coyotes attacking small children in Monmouth County last spring. This is an extremely unusual event and unprecedented in New Jersey, but also a reminder that coyotes are wild animals.

Biologists are wondering whether evolution or mixed breeding is at the root of the adaptation to heavily populated suburbs. A current New Jersey Fish and Wildlife study is analyzing the DNA of New Jersey coyotes for answers.

The coyote is one of the few wild animals whose vocalizations you can commonly hear. At night, coyotes both howl (a high wavering cry) and emit a series of short, high-pitched yips. The first time you hear a coyote in New Jersey, you may feel a tingling fear of primitive danger, but to a lover of nature, hearing the howl of a coyote is a thrill. Howls help coyotes keep in touch with each other. And the scientific name for coyote, Canis latrans, means barking dog. The bark is thought to be a threat display when a coyote is protecting a den or a kill. Huffing is used to call pups without making a lot of noise.

Coyotes mark their territories and use their calls to defend this territory. They can easily leap an eight-foot fence or wall. They don’t hibernate, and because of their secretive nature, few coyotes are ever seen.

Those of us living near coyotes should use some common sense. Coyotes may become habituated to people, especially as a source of food, and lose their natural fear of humans. Never feed a coyote, even though it may look cute enough to be a pet. Although normally wary of people, coyotes can be threatening. Unintentional sources of food and water – like garbage, birdseed and pet food – should be kept inside, or in carefully sealed containers.

In fact, these practices are the same ones you should use in New Jersey’s bear country.

Other tips for living with coyotes include: Do not leave small pets out at night. Motion-sensitive outdoor lighting can help scare coyotes off at night. If you spot a coyote on your property, reinforce its natural skittishness by making loud noises or spraying it with a garden hose.

Coyotes, along with all of New Jersey’s wildlife, are part of what makes this state we’re in a special place to live.

Michele S. Byers

Executive director New Jersey Conservation


Far Hills