Photo credit: Alabama Extension
Garden Talk: Nighttime Howlers
By Andrew J. Baril
Summer is on its way in Alabama. Those of us who live in central Alabama have the typical hazy, hot, humid days of summer headed our way. Soon the ‘dog days of summer’ will be upon us. Thinking of dogs and having Buster sitting here with me on my front porch prompted this article. Each night I hear coyotes howling in the night. Coyotes are nothing new for us here in the Talladega Mountains, but for my urbanite friends in Birmingham, they can be quite a scare. Let’s look at coyotes.
According to Dr. Mark Smith, Extension Specialist, at Auburn, coyotes (Canis latrans) are everywhere in the state. Yes, as a Regional Extension Agent, I have responded to coyote questions throughout my region, including Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, and Hoover. With the extirpation of the red wolf and mountain lion from Alabama, coyotes have moved in, and in the last fifty years, they have become the largest carnivore in the state. They range in size from 20 – 50 pounds. Coyotes have succeeded in filling this niche because the coyote is an opportunistic omnivore; in other words, they will eat just about anything. They have been known to eat grass and other light herbaceous vegetation, fruit (including your watermelons), seeds, reptiles, rodents, rabbits, birds, dog & cat food (and occasionally the small pet), carrion, white-tail fawns, sheep, goats, poultry, and calves. Recently research has shown that coyotes do play a role in the decrease of the doe/fawn ratio. Large hunting clubs should maintain a trapping program if it desires to grow a large deer herd. Ranchers understand the coyote problem and attempt to minimize losses with guard dogs, donkeys, and llamas.
Coyotes mate in February/March and pups are born April/May. Pups are born with their eyes closed and are completely dependent upon milk for the first few weeks. The family unit or pack consists of the Alpha male and female, this year’s pups, and possibly last year’s pups if they have not bred. During the fall/winter the adults chase off the pups to establish new territory and find a mate. In prime habitat (farm/forest cover), coyotes can live in high densities up to 15 per square mile (640 acres), and they normally live less than three years.
Dangers normally occur when coyotes become habituated to humans. Do not leave pet food out at night! Outside cats and small dogs need a ‘safe spot’ and a fenced yard for their security. Large dogs need to be trained not to follow coyotes into the woods. A good livestock dog will run the coyote off away from the livestock, but not chase it through the woods. Dogs that roam rural communities are fair game. Should one of a farmer’s livestock die, bury the animal properly. Do not give coyotes a reason to live close to your farm. In the city, keep your garbage in the garage over-night (this is also good advice if you have roaming dogs or raccoons in the neighborhood). Garbage trucks are not running at 4:00 AM. Place your garbage curbside during the daylight hours. Any source of food is an encouragement for coyotes to relocate to your property.
Finally, let me put the coyote issue in proper perspective. Nationally 15 – 20 people die every year from dog attacks, whereas one or two people are non-fatally attacked by coyotes. We need coyotes. Coyotes fill the role that the mountain lion and wolf once filled. Not only do coyotes help keep down the surplus rodent population, they also eat the dead stuff (carrion) that we hate to have around. Coyotes are here to stay, let us learn how to safely live with them.
Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 205 879-6964. Learn more about what is going on in Jefferson County by visiting the ACES website, www.aces.edu/Jefferson or checking us on Facebook and Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator. Everyone is welcome!