Home Local News ‘We are sharing our homes with coyotes’ homes’: Late autumn can bring increased wildlife interaction

‘We are sharing our homes with coyotes’ homes’: Late autumn can bring increased wildlife interaction


Coyote populations in the area are thought to have remained relatively steady for decades, but sightings in area forest preserves may be increasing amid seasonal changes.

As brush disappears in the move toward winter and the crunch of fallen leaves draws more attention to ground level activity, people may spot coyotes more often, especially as males born this last year are on the move in their search for new territory, according to Negin Almassi, a resource management training specialist for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. But the increased visual presence is in and of itself nothing to fear.

“Just because you see something doesn’t mean it’s a cause for concern,” Almassi said. “Just be aware of your surroundings. Always have your dog on leash when you’re in the preserves or another natural area. Be aware that we are sharing our homes with coyotes’ homes. Coexistence is not just possible but the norm.”

Coyotes live all across the state, from rural to suburban to urban areas, according to the Forest Preserve District of Will County. The coyotes help keep the rodent population in check, while also eating rabbits, deer, birds, insects, fruit and sometimes carrion, which helps clear areas of decaying animals. They are typically nocturnal but can be active during the day at times, too. And they are considered the largest wild predator in the state.

Coyotes typically fall into two major categories in terms of movement, Almassi said. The first are family groups that have established a territory. They may move within that space but often use similar routes to avoid humans altogether, such as railroads or alleys when in the city, Almassi explained. The others are the “unaffiliated males,” who may travel farther in their search for territory.

Almassi said there should not be any difference in terms of how those groups of coyotes react to humans. Research has shown that coyotes actually change their habits to avoid humans and attacks are rare.

But humans should do what they can to avoid conflict, giving the animals their space, according to Will County. The district notes coyotes can get more protective during late winter mating and spring pupping seasons, especially when humans come near pups or a den. In the rare instance that humans are approached by coyotes, it is recommended that people stay calm but get loud and wave their arms, make themselves look large and threatening, and throw things near — but not at — the animals.

“In general, coyotes may watch you to make sure a human’s not getting closer, but they will avoid humans,” Almassi said.

That said, if a coyote is behaving abnormally, such as coming closer to humans, that needs to be reported to animal control, she said. Other signs of aggression in coyotes are unprovoked barking, growling, snarling, raised hackles, lunging and following people.

“That is not how a properly wild coyote behaves,” Almassi said. “That’s the result of humans not following the rules. Any time we’ve seen that issue in Cook County is because humans have been feeding the coyotes, whether it’s on purpose or by accident.”

The forest preserves have rules against feeding wildlife specifically for the safety of both humans and the wildlife. Will County notes some people intentionally feed animals, while others do it unintentionally by storing pet food outside, and leaving out garbage or improperly securing it. Large bird feeders may also attract coyotes, not to the seed but the squirrels and other rodents that also feed upon it. Unsecured compost can attract coyotes to fruit, rabbits, mice and other small mammals, according to the district.

“We see problems whenever people start to feed wildlife — whether they’re feeding deer, birds or other mammals,” Almassi. “That’s when the problems occur.”

This time of the year is also the start of deer rutting (or mating) season. Almassi said her biggest caution for people during rutting season is to be extra cautious on the roads, scanning the sides and slowing down for sightings.

“It’s not unheard of during rutting season to have deer chasing each other and being less aware of cars,” Almassi said. “If you see one deer cross the road, be aware there are likely more coming.”

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Autumn is not just about potentially concerning interactions with animals, though. As mammals are preparing for winter, caching food, there is a lot of activity in the preserves for those paying attention.

“It’s a really great time to observe and notice,” Almassi said. “What I enjoy doing in autumn as the leaves are falling is I start to notice all of the nests that birds made in the previous season that were hidden. It’s a beautiful time to be looking up in the trees.”

She recently spotted a Baltimore oriole nest. She had seen the birds previously but did not know about the nest. Almassi also encourages people to listen to the noises around them, often caused by gray and fox squirrels.

“You hear a lot of mammal activity better when they’re rustling in the leaves,” she said.

The Forest Preserves of Cook County also have a few good opportunities for Southland residents to tap into the joys of autumn in the wild. And that can start with giving back. The preserves regularly hold Volunteer Work Days to improve the habitat through ecological stewardship, with multiple dates and locations.

“If people want to give back and actually enhance habitat for healthy wildlife, every weekend and almost every day there’s a restoration work day,” Almassi said.

Bill Jones is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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