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Coyote sightings more common amid winter breeding season

A Kentucky coyote stands in grass, looking at the camera.
Joe Lacefield
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
A coyote in Kentucky.

Coyotes were once a rare sight in Kentucky, but today they’re as common among the hills and hollers as they are along the creeks, streets and parks of Louisville and Lexington.

Maybe you’ve never seen one -- and that’s just how they like it -- but these clever canine cousins are more visible February through March because they are on the prowl… for love.

“Coyotes breed in the Midwest from about late January through March,” said Laura Palmer, wildlife biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They become more visible, you may have seen more along the roadsides, they’re traveling more.”

Coyotes are generalists, adapting to habitats as far north as Alaska and as far south as Central America. They’re so abundant now in Kentucky that state Fish and Wildlife doesn’t track the population numbers, figuring the funds would be better spent on teaching people how to live with them.

Even in Kentucky’s largest city, coyotes can be seen wandering the river corridors of Beargrass Creek in Cherokee and Seneca Park, Palmer said. They’re as likely to sleep in an abandoned groundhog burrow, as settle into an abandoned building or brush pile.

You might call them gastronomically adventurous, or omnivorous if you want to be scientific about it. They’ll dine on rodents mostly, but won’t shy away from frogs, roadkill, insects or a neighborhood watermelon patch.

Many coyotes establish territories and mate for life, though there is the occasional bachelor coyote known to wander. This time of year, coyotes will leave territories in search of a partner to settle down and have pups with, which only takes around 60 days. Then they’re out in search of food to feed the new pack.

All that foraging is what ordinarily causes a ruckus between people and the coy critters, Palmer said.

“Most often it’s tied to food sources,” she said. “Finding an easy food source or being easily fed… and that can lead to some problems.”

The Fish and Wildlife Department recommends the best way to avoid conflict is to not leave out food they might dine on, including cat food. It is legal in the state for landowners to shoot coyotes causing damage to livestock or crops, but it won’t do much to affect the population.

Coyotes are so resilient that state fish and wildlife says it's “impossible to eradicate them.” Taking one out, just leaves new territory for another to move in.

“If there are coyotes in an area, and they are heard from time to time or seen and they are not causing problems, it’s probably a great idea just to leave them be,” Palmer said.

One reason the coyote’s territory has expanded so far across North America is because of the reduction in wolf populations, Palmer said. Even though they’re fairly new to Kentucky’s ecosystems, Palmer said they play an important role, especially in cities where they can help control rodent populations.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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