Wily Coyotes Experiencing a 'Boom Time' in Suburbia
Though coyotes have sealed a sad fate for several Darien pets, experts say there are ways to keep the predator at bay.
The morning after the first major snowfall in Darien, I packed up my camera, pulled on my boots and slowly but surely wound my way through the streets, capturing pictures of the delicate grey beauty of that day.
On Cass Avenue, amid the tangled brush along the border of Waterfall Glen, I saw a pair of brawny, beige creatures peering through the snow.
From growing up in Ohio with the woods as my backyard, I know coyotes when I see them. I also know better than to walk toward a team of husky, fang-toothed animals, but whatever. I wanted a picture.
It was a beautiful sight, straight out of the CBS Sunday Morning show's Moment of Nature—and nothing bad happened as I crept ever closer.
Once rare in Darien's neighborhoods, coyotes have become more frequent—and frequently unwelcome—guests around town.
Though fearsome looking, the toothy beasts have gotten somewhat of a bad rap. There's no question that coyotes can be dangerous animals. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County labels ones that get too cozy around people as "nuisance coyotes." And sometimes the animals do snatch away little dogs, as they did with three in Darien last summer, according to police reports.
The Forest Preserve doesn't tally the number of coyotes roaming its woods. But naturalist Ron Skleney, of the Forest Preserve's Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn, said that reports of nuisance coyotes have risen in DuPage County since the '90s.
"Over time, coyote populations go through boom and bust cycles," he said. "Clearly we're in a boom cycle."
And in suburbia, humans have created an ideal ecosystem for coyotes, Skleney said.
Though common wisdom would suggest otherwise, Skleney said coyote populations are typically two to three times greater in urban settings than in rural areas. That's because people make it easy for coyotes to find everything they need.
"It's an animal I like to say does surprisingly well living on the margins," Skleney said. "It can take advantage of nooks and crannies, golf courses, parks, forest preserves—anywhere with suitable food and cover." That dish of food you leave on the back porch for your cat? It's a perfect meal for a coyote too.
But a coyote's presence becomes a bigger problem when it goes from making a meal out of a can of cat food to making a meal out of a cat.
Coyotes are smart enough to learn pet owners' habits, Skleney said. So if a coyote sees you let your dog out at 3 p.m. every day, you can bet that eventually the coyote will make 3 p.m. his snack time. They're strong enough animals that they can leap over low fences or wiggle through cracked gates.
"They're very adaptable and very intelligent, which is one of the reasons why they've been so successful," Skleney said.
Brian Rooney, a veterinarian with the Burr Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Darien, said that he gets three or four calls a year about coyotes snatching away small pets. He also treats several pets each year for coyote-inflicted injuries.
In mid-December, a woman brought her dachshund to the clinic for some inflammation on its neck.
Rooney discovered four puncture wounds that could have been created only one way: by the mouth of a coyote prowling for a meal.
"From the way the wound was located on the neck, it was very clearly an offensive rather than a defensive attack," Rooney said. (The dachshund recovered.)
Another client taking his dog for a walk along a nonresidential path reported three to four coyotes crouching in some tall grass. The coyotes didn't attack, but they also didn't run.
And, if you see a coyote, neither should you. It turns out, my instinct not to back away from the coyotes by Waterfall Glen was better than I thought.
The most important thing when you encounter a coyote is to carry yourself with confidence, Skleney said. If you do choose to leave the area, do not turn your back, but instead slowly retreat while making eye contact. It's also a good idea to try to scare it by making noise or throwing something near—but not directly at—the animal. Skleney said that teaches the coyote to be wary of humans rather than unafraid.
"It gives it a second thought, like 'Oh boy, this was an aggressive encounter,'" he said.
If the animal doesn't approach you, then you probably don't have anything to worry about, Skleney said.
As inconvenient as it may be for those with a fenced-in backyard, Rooney said it's best to walk pets on a leash, or at the very least, supervise them the whole time they're outside.
Darien's Public Works Department requests that residents report any coyote sighting by calling 911. Skleney said such calls help the Forest Preserve track the whereabouts of coyotes that could become too comfortable around people.
But Rooney said most of the time all it takes is holding your ground with a broom to keep coyotes at bay. Still, he admits the primordial experience of man versus beast can be disconcerting.
"It's very unnerving to see two beady yellow eyes looking back at you," he said.