This year's late spring melt pushed more coyotes out of their natural habitat and into urban Ottawa, but the province's Ministry of Natural Resources says residents should be cautious, not fearful of the wild animals.

The number of reported coyote sightings in the first six months of 2017 has already exceeded the number from the previous year. There have been 149 complaints concerning coyotes to the city's bylaw department so far this year — nearly one per day — compared to a total of 141 in 2016. 

Christine Hartig, a coordinator with the city's bylaw department, blamed the high volume of sightings on large amounts of snow that refused to melt.

"Extended periods of deep snow cover make it difficult for coyotes to access their usual natural food sources, such as mice, rabbits and other ground dwellers," said Hartig. "As a result, coyotes expand their hunting areas and also look for other food opportunities."

Coyote population stable 

Those expanded hunting areas include residential neighbourhoods. Coyotes forced from the forest will often turn to garbage, Hartig said.

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A coyote is caught going through garbage outside a home in south Ottawa in 2009. ((Courtesy of Greg Carter))

According to the ministry, the coyote population in the Ottawa area has remained relatively stable, so it's likely people are reporting the same coyote multiple times.

Both provincial and municipal officials say encounters with coyotes usually don't turn dangerous, as long as the animals are left alone.

However there are times when residents need to take action, acknowledged Trevor Horvatin, a wildlife technician with the ministry.

"A landowner may take actions to deal with problem wildlife without prior approval, including capturing, killing or harassing coyotes to prevent damage to themselves, their property or their pets," Horvatin said.  "However, if you feel that your personal safety is compromised, people should call 911 or their local police force."

Hybrid 'coywolves'

If the current trend continues, 2017 will smash the recent high of 192 complaints in 2015. 

Part of the reason for the high number of sightings two years ago was that Ottawa forests were full of "coywolves" — a hybrid of coyote and grey wolf.

Average adult coyotes weigh about 18 kilograms, but the hybrids can weigh double. Despite their size, the ministry says they're often "over-estimated" because of their extra fur, and are no more aggressive than regular coyotes.