Coyotes sighted near downtown Raleigh

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJanuary 22, 2014 

  • Tips for contact with coyotes:

    1. Do not feed them. Coyotes fed by humans lose their fear of humans and can become aggressive.

    2. Keep trash covered or indoors.

    3. Feed pets indoors.

    4. Keep pets supervised or indoors.

    5. Remove brush piles, wood piles, spilled bird seed and other food sources for small mammals.

    6. Bang pots or spray hoses to ward off coyotes in the yard.

— It was 5 a.m. when Barbara Barron saw it, loping past her window under a streetlamp, tail as long and bushy as a feather duster.

Too big for a fox. Too lanky for a German shepherd. She had a coyote on her street – a block off Wade Avenue, trotting distance from downtown Raleigh.

Coyotes have long stalked North Carolina. The lop-eared predator now occupies all 100 counties of the state, from the Smoky Mountains to Hatteras Island.

But seeing them in the densest part of Raleigh, inside the I-440 Beltline, is a new wildlife experience for people leading urban, apartment-dwelling lives.

“It never occurred to me,” said Barron, an environmental consultant. “It’s extremely dense and urban here. I’m on the lookout now.”

Coyotes conjure images of the dusty prairie and the mythical West, an animal as independent and hardy as the pioneers. But their range is extensive enough for them to thrive in Chicago suburbs and in Long Beach, Calif.

In a 2012 report, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission described them as the most adaptable animal in North America, growing in population and pushing deeper into territory once thought unsuitable. Between 2010 and 2011, hunters took 36,041 coyotes statewide – an 85 percent increase over five years.

As a species they succeed partly because they can stomach most any diet, subsisting for a week on berries and persimmons then for another week on rabbits. But also, although they’re wide-ranging, they learn their territory well enough to spot a tiny detail that’s out of place, making it hard for hunters to approach with an unfamiliar sound or scent.

“They live in a food-rich environment,” said Coleen Olfenbuttel with N.C. Wildlife. “There’s no place they can’t live as long as there’s food.”

The streets around downtown Raleigh, with ample bird feeders, rabbits, squirrels and no chance at meeting a hunter, make comfortable habit.

In recent weeks, they’ve been spotted walking alongside the Beltline near two exits. The coyote Barron saw trotted past O’Berry Street in November, but the listserv in her neighborhood of University Park has lit up with recent sightings.

Bailey Tucker was pulling into his driveway on Furches Street Saturday when a coyote darted out of the way, as big as a collie, maybe 40 pounds. Rabbits are plentiful in his backyard, to the extent that he can’t grow a blade of grass, so he figures the predators stop over for meal.

He isn’t scared of the animals, which are notoriously skittish around people and run when confronted. But he does want to warn neighbors about feeding cats outside.

It’s not his first brush with big wildlife. He’s noticed scat on the ground. Still, a coyote is an unsuspected sight in a neighborhood with a Snoopy’s hot dogs on a nearby corner.

“You don’t typically think of the outskirts of downtown Raleigh and N.C. State as a wildlife refuge,” Tucker said.

A healthy coyote poses no danger to humans. The Humane Society of the United States ranks coyote attacks as less likely than getting hit by a flying golf ball or poorly aimed champagne cork. Two people in the United States and Canada are known to have been killed by the animals since 1980, the group reports.

The streets around downtown are already used to foxes, hawks and snakes, a proximity to critters that other cities can’t offer. They’ll just have to get used to a few new ones.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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