When to get concerned about urban coyote sightings

Sightings of coyotes are more common in early winter. (Submitted by Ruth Hanselpacker  - image credit)
Sightings of coyotes are more common in early winter. (Submitted by Ruth Hanselpacker - image credit)

Coyotes have been well established on Prince Edward Island for decades, but it seems that sightings have been more common in the last couple of months.

Residents of urban areas have been particularly surprised to see coyotes. A pair were spotted by Charlottetown police on Lower Malpeque Road in November, and the Town of O'Leary posted an advisory this week in the wake of a number of sightings in the town.

Garry Gregory, a conservation biologist with P.E.I.'s fish and wildlife division, said seeing more coyotes around this time of year is not unexpected.

"There are times of year when coyote movements are a little more pronounced on the landscape and this would be one," said Gregory.

CBC
CBC

"We're approaching the time of year when coyotes will be mating and breeding and associated with that there's a little more movement."

The coyote population is fairly evenly distributed across the Island, he said. The animals are adaptable and opportunistic and can thrive in almost any environment, from heavily forested areas to agricultural landscapes, as well as residential areas on the outskirts of urban centres.

Recent development on the outskirts of towns and cities has, rather than driven coyotes out, simply seen them adapt to the new environment, said Gregory.

Defend yourself

While it is not unusual to see a coyote, aggressive behaviour toward people is rare.

Island coyotes are habituated to humans, said Gregory, and they won't typically run off at first sight of you. They are more likely to exhibit some curiosity before slowly moving off.

"The worst thing you can do is turn and run away, because it could trigger an instinct to chase," said Gregory.

"That's not necessarily suggesting a particularly aggressive coyote. It's just an instinct. You want to make yourself big, make some noise."

While people are not at serious risk, unattended pets are a different issue, particularly cats. A small animal alone outside at night, particularly around dusk or dawn could be taken as prey.

While a coyote passing through is not a cause for concern, animals that appear to be establishing a presence might be. In that case, said Gregory, call fish and wildlife to discuss the situation.