VIRGINIA BEACH – Coyotes, which are native to the Great Plains, are now so comfortable in Virginia Beach that they sometimes saunter out on an open trail during daylight hours and in full sight of humans.
Coyotes can be a bane or a blessing, depending on your perspective. They prey on chickens, sheep and sometimes cats, but they also may be helping to reduce the population of rodents, feral hogs, ghost crabs and possibly deer. They are very clever and elusive when they’re stealing chickens, according to Virginia Beach Agriculture Extension Agent Roy Flanagan.
“I can’t tell you how many chickens, ducks and guineas we’ve lost,” said Flanagan, also a farmer in Pungo. [Ed. – Flanagan is kin to John Doucette, editor of The Independent News.]
Coyotes are classified as nuisance animals, meaning that there is no closed hunting season and no limit on how many can be taken. Some places have bounties for hunting them, and the idea was discussed in Virginia Beach this past year.
However, there’s no evidence that this effectively controls the population, said Dr. Jim Parkhurst, wildlife specialist for the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Parkhurst recommends that homeowners be very careful to not attract coyotes by leaving uncovered garbage or pet food outside. He also recommends guard animals, such as dogs, donkeys or llamas to keep them away from livestock.
Virginia Beach Animal Control Supervisor Meghan Conti said there have been coyote sightings around the city, and more calls over the past two years.
There have also been a few instances of dead coyotes that may have been hit by cars. In 2011, The Virginian-Pilot reported that a young coyote had been found dead in the Sandbridge area.
Depending upon the nature of a call, animal control officers may tell citizens to take common sense measures by respecting an animal’s boundaries and avoiding leaving pet food out, Conti said.
Coyotes began their eastward migration sometime in the mid-twentieth century and arrived in Virginia during the late 1950s, Parkhurst said.
The coyote probably arrived in Virginia Beach during the late 1990s, according to Kyle Barbour, park manager at False Cape State Park, who said that their first confirmed coyote sighting was in 2009.
“I said that if they were in False Cape, they were everywhere now, “ Barbour said.
The coyote isn’t negatively affecting the park’s environment and may be helping to reduce the number of feral hogs, which damage native grasses by rooting, according to Barbour.
Barbour hasn’t noticed any decline in the deer population in the park, but some – including Flanagan – speculate that there may be fewer since the coyote arrived.
It’s not likely that a coyote could take down an adult deer or hog, but they may be preying on the babies, Barbour and Parkhurst said.
Coyotes also wander onto the beaches at night and hunt the ghost crabs that prey on baby sea turtles. Because foxes also hunted the ghost crab, this may be one reason why there aren’t as many foxes at False Cape now, Barbour said.
“When coyotes move in, they tend to displace the fox,” said Barbour. “They either become more secretive, or they may just move out completely.”
Flanagan also said that he’s noticed more quails in recent years, and he thinks this may be because there are fewer foxes.
While some don’t like coyotes, Parkhurst says that they may be filling a void left in the ecosystem by the decline of cougars and other large cats. There are no hard data on the number of coyotes here, but Parkhurst thinks that the immigration has slowed and that the local population won’t increase significantly now.
It’s not likely to decline much, no matter how many are hunted, Parkhurst said. Young coyotes will usually move into an area if the resident coyotes are killed or displaced.
The coyote is hardy, clever, opportunistic, adaptable and capable of getting used to living in close proximity to humans, according to Parkhurst.
Barbour agrees, saying that the 2009 coyote sighting came when workers were grading trails within the park. Undisturbed by the nearby humans, the coyote was following behind the equipment, probably taking advantage of rodents displaced by the grading.
Visit aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/wildlifedamage for more information about interactions between humans and coyotes.
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