Coyote sightings are on the rise in Niagara-on-the-Lake and, once again, experts are advising people not to feed them.
There have been at least nine sightings since Jan. 1, according to the Town of NOTL’s website.
“Although seeing coyotes is not uncommon, public safety is of the utmost importance to the town,” the town wrote in a Facebook post.
The nine reported sightings could be the same coyote, however, one expert notes.
“If you look at that number, that doesn’t mean nine individual coyotes,” said Lesley Sampson, executive director of Coyote Watch Canada.
Since Nov. 25, the town reports a total of 15 coyote sightings across all areas of the community, including Virgil, St. Davids and Old Town.
Virgil resident Mary Marrello says she saw them more frequently until November but since then has only spotted a few.
An increase in sightings could be due to a number of factors, including mating season.
“There’s like a week in February, a short window of time and that’s it, and that’s the only time that the female could ever be pregnant,” said Sampson.
Coyotes could also be re-establishing their territory with their chosen mate, whom they stay with for life, or there could be a young coyote that’s figuring out their surroundings, she said.
No matter the reason for the spate of sightings, Sampson noted coyotes play an important role in the community.
They keep the rodent population in check, clean up dead animals and consume species that host ticks.
The best thing residents can do is not feed the coyotes.
“They’re fabulous at maintaining healthy ecosystems in the community as long as they’re not being fed,” said Sampson.
The more often people feed them, the more comfortable they become with human interactions.
“Coyotes don’t go up to people unless there’s been feeding going on,” said Sampson.
Back in April 2022, a video showed a NOTL resident being chased by a coyote while out walking her dog.
“In almost all cases, such behaviour is the result of food conditioning, the process through which coyotes lose their fear of people after repeated access to human food sources,” Anita Tamrazi from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry wrote in an email to The Lake Report.
If you find yourself face to face with a coyote, don’t turn your back on it and don’t run away, experts say.
Slowly back up while keeping a close eye on the animal. Be assertive, wave or clap your hands or stomp your feet.
Sampson urges residents to avoid hanging bird feeders, since they attract lots of wildlife – including coyotes.
It’s also important to secure trash cans with animal-proof lids.
Marrello said she has noticed people putting their garbage out the night before pickup day, only to have trash all over the following morning.
A study that was done in Portsmouth, a small neighbourhood in Portland, Oregon, showed that removing food sources can drastically reduce coyote traffic.
“Niagara-on-the-Lake is a beautiful, beautiful community,” Sampson said.
“Folks did such a great job last year rallying together and wildlife-proofing and getting rid of those bird feeders where the coyotes were coming in,” she said.
“Everything really worked out well for co-existing and people have to commit to that on a daily basis,” she added.
If residents see any coyotes in their neighbourhood, they’re urged to notify the town.
Somer Slobodian, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report