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Landowners May Control Nuisance Coyote Problems
By Allison Matthews
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The howls of coyotes in the night may sound eerie to some, chilling to others, but for animal owners, the howls may be a reminder of a problem.
Coyote population has expanded across the United States. Their highly adaptable nature has helped them cope with widely varying habitats. The predator is common in Mississippi, where a few decades ago it was unknown.
"When I was a kid growing up here in Mississippi there were no coyotes," said Dean Stewart, Mississippi State University Extension wildlife associate.
In the past few decades, coyotes slowly moved eastward, and their populations increased steadily in Mississippi. Stewart said they can now be found virtually anywhere in the continental United States, as well as in Canada and Mexico.
Mississippi has lost some of its larger predators of the past, such as red wolves and cougars. Their absence may have provided an opportunity for another predatory animal to come into the area and be very successful. Many bobcats and foxes still inhabit the state. Coyotes share similar diets with the smaller predators, but coyotes will eat a larger variety of food.
"Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores, will eat many foods and can survive anywhere, from urban areas to more wild, rural areas," Stewart said. "They will attack and eat live animals, including small mammals such as rabbits and rats. Coyotes will also eat fruit, garbage and hunter-killed deer carcasses.
"We don't think they significantly impact populations of white-tailed deer in most situations," Stewart said.
However, coyotes may kill small deer or fawns when they get a chance, or look for opportunities to prey on cattle, especially during birthing seasons.
The predators present problems to other small farm animals including chickens, guineas, goats and sheep. Stewart said coyotes will also take domestic pets.
Animal owners who have problems with coyotes may consider some options for control. Stewart said trapping, exclusion and shooting are the three most common ways to control coyote populations and associated problems in an area.
Stewart said leghold traps or snares are good options for trapping the animals, which can be relocated to a place where they will be less of a nuisance. Many trapped coyotes are used for their fur. Trapping season usually takes place during winter months.
Stewart said owners can take preventive measures to protect domestic animals from coyotes.
"If you've got livestock or other animals, exclude coyotes with fencing, especially when you have particularly young or small animals," he said.
Stewart warned livestock owners against leaving animal carcasses around production areas to prevent attracting coyotes.
Because coyotes are non-native predatory animals, they may be shot in Mississippi at any time of the year by landowners on their own property. Stewart said calls are available which produce distress cries of various prey to attract the coyotes within shooting range.
Dave Godwin, wildlife biologist with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, said wildlife laws allow landowners to manage coyotes on their property throughout the year. When weapons are restricted for other types of hunting, coyote hunters must abide by the same regulations.
Stewart said these methods of control may prove particularly useful when followed intensively on a large scale. Control methods also will be helpful when a problem develops with one or a few coyotes who learn where they can get a free meal. Coyotes are mobile animals and reproduce rapidly, and unless landowners employ extensive control methods on a regular basis, more coyotes will move into an area.