Number of coyote sightings on the rise

coyote11 (1)By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News

Austin resident Jack Mayberry believes there is an epidemic in Austin of which few are aware. Mayberry recently stood in front of the Randalls in Steiner Ranch passing out flyers that read, “Coyotes are Killing Our Pets.”

This summer Four Points News reported on a Steiner Ranch family whose 25-pound-dog, Louie, was fatally injured by a coyote while walking with his owner on the trails near River Heights Overlook on June 22. The following day, another dog belonging to Steiner resident Victor LaRocca was also nearly attacked while walking on the greenbelt but LaRocca was able to scare the coyote away. Both dogs were off leash at the time of the incidents.

“Austin is growing very rapidly… there is a possibility for more interactions between people and coyotes,” said Stefan Hunt, a wildlife biologist with Texas Wildlife Services.

“Austin is growing very rapidly… there is a possibility for more interactions between people and coyotes,” said Stefan Hunt, a wildlife biologist with Texas Wildlife Services.

Mayberry said he has heard many other similar stories from pet owners. He said he does not think the city is doing enough to educate residents about coyotes and the risk to their pets. 

“This is their job to inform the public of a health risk and they’re not doing it,” he said.

He said his goal is not to have the coyotes killed or even run off, but rather to educate residents so they can protect themselves and their pets.

“My goal on this is just to raise awareness,” Mayberry said. “This is not a problem that is ever going to go away.”

Following the June incidents, the Steiner Ranch Homeowners Association sent a safety alert to residents, and information relating to the attacks was posted on the HOA website and Social Committee Facebook page.

Meredith Hamrick, communications coordinator for Steiner Ranch HOA, said to her knowledge, the June coyote attacks were the first verified coyote attacks that have taken place in Steiner Ranch.

“The only other pet attack in Steiner I am aware of is the attack that took place last fall, when a dog was killed during the early morning hours in its backyard by an undetermined animal,” Hamrick said. “The HOA has not received information and is not aware of any aggressive coyote behavior toward people.”

She said the HOA advises residents to call 311 to report aggressive coyote behavior.

“Doing so is the best course of action, as it enables 311 to determine how many calls they are receiving relating to coyote behavior, which determines when they will get Wildlife Control involved,” Hamrick said.

Government response

Travis County and Texas Wildlife Services, a department of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, have partnered to address the coyote problem in Travis County. The City of Austin participates in this partnership

When a resident calls 311 to report a coyote sighting, the calls are forwarded to Texas Wildlife Services for follow up.  

“Based on the report and talking with the citizens, we assign a score to the call,” said Stefan Hunt, a wildlife biologist with Texas Wildlife Services. “The action we take is loosely based on that score. For scores 0-3, we are providing education to the resident. That could be harassment, manipulation of the environment, or whatever would be necessary to reduce the interactions with coyotes in the area. For scores 4+, we would look at removal of problem coyotes that are a threat to human health and safety.”

The number of reported coyote sightings is increasing. In 2014, there were 759 reported sightings in Austin and Travis County. In 2013, there were 694 sightings and in 2012, there were 634 sightings. The 759 reported cases in 2014 included 52 reports of a cat or dog being killed at night, 17 cases of a cat or dog being killed during the day.

So far in the first quarter of 2015, there were 267 reported sightings, an increase over the same period in 2014. Of those, two were categorized as aggressive, meaning that the coyote displayed aggressive behavior toward a human, such as showing teeth or growling, with no pet present.

“I think we see an increase in sightings because the longer our program is here, the more people learn to report,” Hunt said. “Also, Austin is growing very rapidly and more people means that there is a possibility for more interactions between people and coyotes. More sightings or the number of sightings does not concern us, what we look for is coyote aggression.”

Coyote aggression signs

Characteristics of coyote aggression are chasing or taking pets from residential streets, attacking pets on leash or in close proximity to their owners, coyotes chasing joggers or bicyclists, coyotes seen in and around children’s play areas, school grounds or parks in mid-day and coyotes acting aggressively toward adults during mid-day.

“It is not unusual at all for a coyote to be out during the daytime,” Hunt said.

While there are a number of calls coming from the Four Points area, there are other areas of the city that report more sightings, according to Hunt.

“This does not mean that the number of sightings is lower, just that fewer people report the sightings,” he said. “It is also more spread out and not as dense as some of the neighborhoods closer to the center of Austin.”

What to do

Hunt said the city of Austin urges residents to report all coyote sightings, not just aggressive ones.

“It gives us a pattern of activity in areas and provides us with a better picture of the problem that exists, or a problem that may exist in the near future,” he said.

Hunt said if a person sees a coyote, he or she should act very aggressive and try to scare the coyote away.

“Any time a coyote is seen, the individual should be very aggressive toward the coyote, forcing the coyote to run away,” he said. “The more aggressive the better. Noises alone do not always work. Coyotes get use to noises very quickly, so something physically aggressive is usually necessary. Throwing objects or squirting the animal with a water hose are some ideas of what should be done.”

He said the biggest attractants to coyotes are unattended pets and food.

“So try to accompany pets outside at night, and pick up anything that may be a food source for coyotes,” he said. “The most common unintentional feeding of coyotes is fruit left on trees. Coyotes are very opportunistic and will eat just about anything. All fruit from trees should be picked up off the ground.”

River Place coyotes

River Place Homeowners Association President Scott Crosby said he has personally seen coyotes on numerous occasions at the golf course, crossing the street from one preserve area to another and in the greenbelt area behind his home.

“It is not uncommon to hear their yelps when they have made a kill or a there is a nearby siren,” Crosby said.

He said the HOA does not keep a record of coyote sightings so he did not know how many there have been; however, he said sightings are fairly common.

To educate residents, he said the HOA runs an article in its newsletter once or twice each year about what to do in the event of a sighting, how to report a sighting, as well as tips for homeowners.

“The main (tips) are not to leave children or pets unattended, to make load noises when one is sighted, and never run away from the animal,” Crosby said.

To request an educational program about coyotes for your community, residents can call (512) 854-2994.

Courtesy Photo

Courtesy Photo

Keep coyotes at bay, Tips for homeowners:

Coyotes are drawn to neighborhoods for three reasons: food, water, and shelter.  The following steps from the City of Austin can help prevent coyotes from being attracted to your home.

  • Tightly secure garbage cans with bungee cords or rope. Store trash bins inside enclosed structures. Put garbage out the morning of pickup, not the night before.
  • When composting, use well-secured bins. Don’t add pet waste, meat, dairy, or eggs.
  • Pick ripe fruit off trees and from the ground.
  • Keep bird feeders from overflowing.
  • Fence vegetable gardens or use a greenhouse.
  • Eliminate artificial water sources and ponds.
  • Install motion-activated outdoor lighting.
  • Install motion-activated sprinkler systems.
  • Fence your property or yard.
  • Clear bushes and dense weeds where coyotes may find cover and small animals to feed upon.
  • Close off crawl spaces under porches, decks, and sheds.