Coyotes prowl neighborhoods looking for food

Chris Green

Pet owners, beware.

If you’re leaving any food out for your dog, another four-legged creature may be eating it. For that matter, if you’re in the habit of letting your cat out at night, it might not return.

Coyotes, sometimes packs of them, are boldly roaming the county and even congested urban areas looking for food.

“This coyote problem, I think, is getting to be serious,” Winnebago County Animal Services Director Gary Longanecker said. “There is literally not an area in the city where we have not gotten calls.”

Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare, but they will eat your pet’s food and prey on small animals such as cats, dogs and mice.

“I don’t want to cause a panic, but I think this community needs to know if you live around a wooded area, you need to protect your pets,” Longanecker said.

Coyote sightings

Rob Taylor, a Machesney Park resident who lives near a wooded lot just south of Illinois 173 on North Second Street, said he saw a coyote in his backyard last month.

He also said his 3½-year-old cat, Sasha, has been missing since Jan. 14. He’s hoping for the best but fears the worst.

“She had been afraid to go out in the backyard, just sitting at the back door waiting for hours. We really don’t know what happened to her,”

Taylor’s neighbor, Barbara Speiser, said there are at least two coyotes roaming between the Rock River and her backyard.

“We see them at least once a month,” she said. “In fact, you’ll see them for several days in a row, and then you won’t see them. I know there is at least a pair of them.”

Speiser doesn’t have to worry about house pets, but she does fear for her grandchild, who isn’t much bigger than an adult coyote.

“I’ve got a little grandson. He just turned 3,” Speiser said, “and I won’t let him out in the backyard by himself.”

Madeline Robins of Rockford said she’s seen more than one coyote scavenging for food around her southeast-side home.

“A coyote? We have a whole pack in the field between our house on Brooke Road and the fence that surrounds the old ComEd plant on Harrison Avenue. We have seen them, and hear them all the time. ... It is very eerie, to say the least.”

Shawn Baxter, site and operations manager at Rockford’s 130-plus-acre Midway Village & Museum Center, said a family of perhaps five to seven coyotes call the grounds of Midway Village home.

Baxter is OK with that because the coyotes for the most part are more afraid of humans than vice versa, and he said they keep the village’s “huge rabbit population” and field mice in check.

“We haven’t had any incidents other than them crossing people’s paths more closely than they would like. But they don’t bother me. The closest I’ve been to one is maybe 100 feet. They don’t stay out in the open too long. At least not during the day.”

Adaptable animal

Sterling-based Department of Natural Resources Capt. Gary Hunter, who heads the 25-county northern Illinois region, said coyotes have been spotted in urban areas — even downtown Chicago.

Longanecker and Hunter said the animals are noted for their ability to adapt to virtually any environment. And they are becoming less fearful of people as urban sprawl encroaches on their natural habitat.

“They’re losing their sensitivity to humans, human odors and noise,” Longanecker said.

“People leave food out for the dog, and they eat that. They dig into the garbage.

“A lady said she had food in a bird feeder hanging five feet off the ground in her backyard, and there in broad daylight a coyote was jumping up to eat it.”

Bob Bluett, a wildlife biologist with the IDNR in Springfield, said this time of year is ideal for coyote sightings.

“People see more coyotes because of a lack of leaf cover,” he said. “Mating season also is just around the corner, and they are more likely to be seen.”

Mating season is late January and February. That means, Bluett said, people should take caution when a coyote is present.

“They, male and female, tend to be more aggressive this time of year,” he said.

Coyote sightings are up statewide, from 29 per 1,000 hours in 1992 to 35 per 1,000 hours in 2006, according to the statewide Archery Deer Hunter Survey.

State DNR officials cannot give a head count on the number of coyotes in the wild, but it’s safe to say they are far from an endangered species.

Attempts to curb the population growth of coyotes is, at best, tricky.

Longanecker said bluntly, “You can hunt it legally and destroy it, but you can’t fire a

firearm in any municipality. The only natural predator coyotes have is disease and the wheels of an automobile.”

Staff writer Chris Green can be reached at 815-987-1241 or

Coyote characteristics

The coyote resembles a small German shepherd, but carries its tail below the level of its back rather than curved upward.

Its upper body is typically light gray to dull yellow, but can vary from mostly black to nearly all gray or white. Coarse outer hairs are usually tipped with black. The underparts are whitish, cream-colored or pinkish yellow.

A coyote’s muzzle is long and narrow; its large ears are erect and pointed. The average length of an adult is 44 to 54 inches, including a 15- to 17-inch tail. Weights measured during fall and winter vary from 22 to 42 pounds.

Coyotes prefer semiopen country and like to travel on ridges or old trails. They are most active from dusk until the early-morning hours, but are sometimes seen at other times of the day. They can run up to 43 miles per hour for short distances, and water is rarely a barrier because they are strong swimmers.


Coyote Q & A

Q: Why are coyotes coming so close to my house?

A: Development has caused a loss of natural habitat, bringing coyotes closer to urban areas. Easy food sources, such as pet food, open garbage cans and bird seed attract coyotes to residential areas.

Q: There are children in the neighborhood, and we’ve seen a coyote. Do we need to be concerned?

A: While the possibility of being bitten by a coyote does exist, the probability of it actually happening is quite low. Healthy coyotes are not known to attack humans.

Q: What should I do if a coyote approaches me?

A: Coyotes are typically frightened off by aggressive gestures, such as moving toward the animal while waving your arms and shouting in a loud, deep voice. Do not turn your back on or run from the coyote. If possible, move toward an area of activity.

Q: Will a coyote eat my pet?

A: Some pets, especially small dogs and cats, might be seen as potential prey by coyotes. A larger dog can be seen as a threat to a coyote’s security and may be attacked in order to drive it away from its territory. This is especially true if a den or pups are nearby.

Q: Is it OK to feed a coyote?

A: Never feed a wild animal, including coyotes. Feeding coyotes teaches them to associate humans with food, eventually making them very bold.

Source: McHenry County Conservation District;