Coyote sightings on P.E.I. likely to rise during mating season

It's coyote breeding season in P.E.I., a time when the animals may be spotted more regularly in open spaces and near people's homes.

'When they're seeking mates, they tend to travel more extensively,' says wildlife biologist

This photo of a coyote was taken in January 2019. (Submitted by Frazer Smith)

Islanders may be seeing more coyotes due to the normal winter breeding season, but a wildlife biologist says the animals pose little risk to humans. 

Garry Gregory, a biologist with the P.E.I.'s fish and wildlife division, said most coyotes are paired up by now, but there may be some still looking for mates in February and March. 

"When they're seeking mates, they tend to travel more extensively," said Gregory.

Wildlife officials get many calls about coyotes, he noted, since people tend to be anxious about seeing them.

When staff follow up on calls, though, they usually find the animal is not behaving aggressively.

"We certainly understand why people would be afraid and want some explanation," he said. 

There are an estimated 2,000 Eastern coyotes on P.E.I. and you can spot them at any time of year. It's an adaptable creature and will stick around if what used to be farmland suddenly becomes a residential neighbourhood. 

"In those areas where there are fields behind subdivisions, and small woodlots and hedgerows, you know, that's very very good coyote habitat," Gregory said. 

Garry Gregory's trail camera captured this shot of a coyote near P.E.I.'s eastern tip in early 2015. (Submitted by Garry Gregory )

"They are not a wilderness animal that stays in the very deep woods; they do very very well in the cleared areas." 

Gregory said people don't need to take additional precautions during breeding season, other than maybe keeping pets close to hand and not leaving food out around the house. 

Cats and small dogs can fall victim to the predator, but it's not common. Larger dogs who tend to roam should be kept on a leash if coyotes are known to be nearby. 

"It does happen occasionally, more often cats than dogs," he said. "Try to keep an eye on your dog just to avoid that potential interaction between the dog stumbling across a coyote territory."

A coyote was sighted in the Charlottetown area last winter, on the ice near North River Road. (Laura Meader/CBC)

More territorial after pups born

Once the coyotes have pups in their dens around April or May, they will tend to display more territorial behaviour, Gregory said. 

In 2019, a P.E.I. National Park trail was closed off because of a suspected den in the area. 

"The male coyote can adopt a defensive behaviour," said Gregory.  

The animals generally keep their distance from humans, he added. "To my knowledge, there has never been a coyote bite, or coyote attack on a person on P.E.I."

Ruth Hanselpacker took this photo of coyotes on her property in Belfast, P.E.I., in 2016. (Submitted by Ruth Hanselpacker )

Gregory said if people see a coyote in their yard, they should make some noise, such as banging pots and pans or shouting. 

"Try to make that experience a negative experience for the coyote, so it does maintain that healthy level of fear or wariness of people," he said. 

Gregory said if anyone is concerned about a particular nuisance coyote on their property, they can contact P.E.I. fish and wildlife officials.

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