When I was a girl, coyotes were images of the desert Southwest, with mesas, canyons and cacti as their backdrop. The closest I ever got to one was through Wile E. Coyote, that hapless would-be nemesis of the Road Runner in Saturday-morning cartoons.
Eighteen years ago, when I first moved to Delaware County, I still did not consider coyotes to be part of Midwestern life; I would read a random report of a coyote sighting and think, "Really!"
But I shouldn't have been surprised. Coyotes have been among us for a long time; the big difference seems to be that we are more aware of them today, through media reports and other means.
In fact, say the experts, people probably walk near a sleeping coyote on more days than not, without ever knowing it.
We do see coyotes in the parks occasionally, and we often see their signs: tracks and scat (droppings). Last February, leaving a park late in the evening after an event, we could hear the yip-yipping of a number of coyotes in the distance. The sound thrilled me, and I was happy at this evidence of Dela-ware County's wildlife. "Another wild being thriving in nature" was my probable thought.
Coyotes make some people nervous, however. At Preservation Parks, we field questions about whether they will hurt people or attack their pets, and those fears are fueled by occasional reports on the news or Internet.
To make the public more comfortable with coyotes, we can do a couple of things. First, we are offering a free public program, "Call of the Wild," on Nov. 15. Participants age 12 and older will gather to learn some nature facts about coyotes, and to listen as we try to get them to respond to our calls. While the program is free, registration is required by Nov. 12 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org); more information is available on our program calendar, preservationparks.com.
Second, we can consult with the experts, which is what I did. Here are some facts I gleaned from a conversation with Gary Comer, assistant wildlife management supervisor for the Ohio Department of Natural Re-sources, Division of Wildlife District One.
* Although coyotes are not native to Ohio, they now live in all 88 counties, and are becoming more comfortable in urban areas.
* Coyotes are very curious animals, and it's not unusual to see them observing people. However, it is unusual for them to exhibit aggressive behavior toward people. Compared to the number of dog bites reported countywide, said Comer, the number of bites by coyotes is "virtually nonexistent."
* We'll usually see coyotes alone, or in groups of two or three; they do not run in packs. An exception is when the pups are still young and traveling with their families; then, larger groups might be seen.
* Coyotes are territorial and often will key in on food sources; they might be attracted to a residential yard if the homeowner feeds pets outdoors. Speaking of food, rodents are the biggest component of a coyote's diet.
* Coyotes will eat the fresh meat of a deer that has recently died, or will take down a crippled deer, and some estimates say that 20 percent to 25 percent of newborn fawns are killed by coyotes. This will bother some, but the fact is that coyotes help keep the deer population in check.
* Coyotes view outdoor cats as they would any other free-ranging creature: either as competition for food, or as an actual food source. Owners of small pets should keep them indoors at night, which is when coyotes are most actively hunting.
* However, coyotes are not strictly nocturnal. Comer says they have personalities, just as humans do, and sometimes "like to sleep in." That comment made me smile.
For more information about coyotes, refer to the Ohio Division of Wildlife's "A-Z Species Guide," easily found via an Internet search. Along with many interesting (and myth-busting) facts, you'll find a downloadable pamphlet that describes how to handle a coyote in your own backyard.
As for me, I now consider coyotes to be part of the fabric that makes up Delaware County's natural resources -- an equal with the birds, deer and other wildlife we see every day.
Sue Hagan is the marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.