Coyotes in your Backyard: Ghosts of the Plains are now Ghosts of the Cities

Wild coyotes prowl through almost every neighborhood inside the Perimeter, and some Decatur residents are going to ask city officials to help them protect their pets

A coyote’s distinctive howl may seem out of place in Atlanta’s urban environment.

Yet the wild canines prowl almost every urban neighborhood in metro Atlanta, according to wildlife officials and trappers. And, they have been blamed for eating pet cats and small dogs.

Residents of a Decatur neighborhood plan to lobby the Decatur City Commission Tuesday night to help them rid their neighborhood of the wild animals.

“Wild animals that can actually hurt people have no place in intown neighborhoods,” wrote Laura Paul on a blog for the Lenox Place neighborhood. “What are we supposed to do--stay up all nite and beat pans and whistle until the sun comes up?”

Paul works with the Dearborn Animal Hospital to rescue and rehabilitate stray cats. One friend found a pet cat on his doorstep, dead with his belly eaten out, apparently by a coyote. Another couple had a small pet dog taken in front of them while still on his leash, Paul said.

But trapping wild coyotes is unlikely to rid the neighborhood of the animals, whose  pointed ears, slender muzzles, and drooping bushy tails often resemble German shepherds or collies, said Stephanie Philippo, a wildlife rehabilitator with Animal Wild Animal Rescue Effort, or AWARE, based at DeKalb County’s Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.

“We are not going to get rid of them,” Philippo said. “They are here to stay. They are in every neighborhood.”

Wildlife trappers and wildlife experts all agree that wild coyotes populate every neighborhood in metro Atlanta, inside and outside the Perimeter. Under Georgia law, wild coyotes must be euthanized and may not be released into the wild, because they carry rabies and other diseases.

Relocating a coyote would likely result in its death anyway, because animals removed from their home range have a “low likelihood of surviving,” Philippo said.

“Coyotes are very prevalent in every county in Georgia, and in every neighborhood in metro Atlanta” said Philippo, who added that there are coyotes in her Buckhead neighborhood.  As concrete slabs replace trees, wooded areas shrank and coyotes, normally very shy animals who hang out in shadows, have become more visible, Philippo said.

Coyotes generate a lot of hysteria and misinformation, such as that urban coyotes are a hybrid with red wolves, she said. “Coyotes do not interbreed with wolves.”

As omnivores, coyotes will eat anything, including your garbage, small rodents, rates, mice, chipmunks and squirrels. The wild animals will eat cats, but Philippo believes that coyotes have been unfairly blamed for the disappearance of many urban cats.

The Ohio State University studied urban coyotes in Chicago starting in 2000 by trapping and tagging them with radio-controlled collars so as to study their movements. They discovered that the canines with striking yellow eyes were far more prevalent than they’d previously thought, and suspected what was true of coyotes in Chicago would be true of the animals in other big eastern cities.

“Originally known as ghosts of the plains, coyotes have now become ghosts of the cities, occasionally heard but rarely seen,” began the report, led by Stanley D. Gehrt of the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

In the study, some urban coyotes howled, others did not. One pack regularly howled in response to sirens from a nearby fire station. Most of the coyotes were killed by vehicles, while others died from shootings, malnutrition, and disease such as sarcoptic mange and parvo virus.

Although the Chicago coyotes did eat cats, they didn’t eat many. A graduate student, Paul Morey, analyzed coyote droppings and concluded that domestic cats comprised just 1.3 percent of the coyote diet, and human-related food, such as garbage or pet food, about 2 percent of their diet. Urban coyotes appeared to be feeding on small rodents (42 percent), fruit (23 percent), deer (22 percent) and rabbit (18 percent), according to the study.

Coyote removal has often been accompanied by an increase in an area’s rat population; they’re also credited with controlling deer and Canadian geese, often overabundant and a nuisance in urban areas.

Chip Elliott of Atlanta Wildlife Relocator specializes in trapping coyotes throughout metro Atlanta. In 2010, he trapped more than 70 coyotes, and it was an off year. He recently trapped two coyotes near West Paces Ferry Road, and has trapped the animals near Lenox Mall.

“Teddy” Kubiak, a licensed DeKalb County wildlife trapper with Trutech Inc., says there isn’t an Atlanta zip code he hasn’t worked in to trap coyotes, including Alpharetta.

 “They’ll eat your garbage, eat your cats, eat your Pomeranian,” said Kubiak. “They don’t care.”

Neighborhood associations will often band together to pay Elliott’s $1,000 fee for two weeks of trapping, including daily monitoring of the traps.

“It’s an animal of opportunity,” said Elliott. “He’ll take the neighborhood cat standing there if it doesn’t run away. It takes the easiest thing he can find.”

Trappers use modern leghold traps, fitted with thick rubber instead of iron teeth, from which coyotes and pet animals can be removed, usually unharmed. Elliott either shoots trapped coyotes, or gives them to equestrian centers who use them for fox-hunting in fenced areas.

Shooting coyotes is considered an authorized and humane way of euthanizing them, said Don McGowan, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division.

But trapping coyotes is unlikely to rid a neighborhood of the wild animals, because other animals will breed and fill in the area, he said.  Trapping can rid an area of nuisance coyotes, McGowan said. In fact, the state maintains a list of currently licensed Georgia nuisance wildlife trappers.

“It’s not totally fruitless to trap,” said McGowan. “You can have individual coyotes who are more brazen than others.”

Although there have been reports in other states of urban coyotes attacking people, McGowan said he has not heard any confirmed reports of such attacks in  Georgia. Most coyotes are wary of people and will quickly run away if encountered. 

But coyotes “get accustomed to people,” he added. “The only time I see a coyote in a rural area, it’s always running away from me. In urban and suburban areas, they’re not as skittish.”

Residents of Decatur’s Lenox Place neighborhood are wary of the wild animals and are seeking guidance from city officials to deal with the problem. The animals probably dwell along Peavine Creek and wooded areas around there.

Steve Sharp wrote that one of his pet cats, Otis, nearly became a coyote meal last June, but an animal-loving neighbor scared the wild animal away. Since then, Sharp has locked up his cats.

Sharp wrote “if these pets of ours were being killed by a stray/wild dog that action to remove those type of animals would be taken without a second thought. The fact that the animal doing the killing was a coyote did not change that thought process. 

"Everyone I have spoken to on Drexel is against the idea of letting coyotes stay in the neighborhood,” posted Eric Blue on the Lenox Place neighborhood blog.

Barbara Belcore said that “because of human behavior (ie development) these animals have had to adapt, therefore so do we.” Belcore noted, “When people go out into nature, we are going to meet mad dogs, coyotes, possums, bats, mosquitoes, flies and whatever else that is a part of nature."

“I don’t like killing anything,” says Paul. “I put bugs and spiders outside. But if it comes down to animals we love and nurture and make part of our families, yeah, I’m going to chose them over predators.” 

Residents of neighborhoods with coyotes “shouldn’t be scared,” said McGown. “But they need to be be respectful.”

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division recommends that urban residents take these steps to protect pets and small children from harm by coyotes:

  •  Take pets indoors during the night, as this is the coyote’s primary hunting time. (In addition to coyotes, small pets may fall prey to free-roaming dogs and great horned owls.)
  • If the pet must be kept outside, install fencing and motion-activated flood lights to discourage predators.
  • Small livestock or poultry should be kept in an enclosed or sheltered area. Coyotes rarely bother larger livestock although they are often blamed for such nuisance instances.
  • NEVER, under any circumstances, feed a coyote.
  • Keep items, such as grills, pet food or bird feeders off-limits.
  • Make trash cans inaccessible, keep lids securely fastened or store trash cans in a secured location until trash pick-up. 
Susan Phillips February 22, 2011 at 10:12 PM
I live in the neighborhood in question and will definitely NOT contribute to any fund for the purpose of killing coyotes. Susan Phillips 205 Adair Street Decatur
Joseph February 23, 2011 at 12:57 AM
I live between Avondale Estates and Stone Mountain, and we hear (and sometimes see) coyotes fairly regularly. We don't mind them at all, and they are a natural part of our urban ecosystem. I cannot imagine wanting to murder ("euthanize') them, simply for having the audacity to exist.
Vicki Hammond February 23, 2011 at 03:55 PM
An interesting fact about coyotes - these animals pair up and mate for numerous years, if not for life. Additional info on them can be found in this UGA publication: http://www.caes.uga.edu/extension/cobb/anr/Documents/coyote.pdf
Rebecca February 23, 2011 at 08:38 PM
I live along a Peavine Creek tributary a few houses outside the Decatur city limits. I have to agree with Susan Phillips' & Joseph's comments, and with Philippo's statements in the article, and with the results of the Chicago study that show the composition of an urban coyote's diet. I'd also like to remind cat owners that when they allow their cats to roam freely, whether during the day or night, they are breaking the law. The leash law applies to cats as well as dogs, for reasons ranging from cats' safety, to public health concerns, to the property rights of your neighbors. When you allow your pets to roam without supervision and protection, you are always gambling their safety. Regardless of the presence of predators, cats & dogs should be kept indoors -- it is the law, it's what's best for them, and it's part of being a responsible pet guardian. If your pet is outside on your own property, that is lawful, but the DNR recommendations listed above should be common sense basic precautions for protecting your animal. There are so many dangers out there more substantial than coyotes: getting hit by cars, hurt by people, hurt by dogs, fights with other cats, disease exposure, etc. Laura Paul's comments in the article above are hysterical. People who are alert and aware of their surroundings when they walk their animals, and who abide by the leash laws have no reason to beat pans & whistle all night. Humans clearly still remain more of a nuisance than coyotes.
Diane Loupe February 24, 2011 at 01:50 AM
The city of Decatur has posted a coyote information sheet on their web page. http://www.decaturga.com/index.aspx?page=569 They offer a link to the Stanley Park Ecology Society coyote information sheet. http://www.decaturga.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=1745 Among the recommendations... If you are concerned about encountering an aggressive coyote, you may want to keep a deterrent handy. Deterrents can include rocks, pots and pans, tennis balls, tin cans filled with nails or coins to make loud noise and a super‐soaker filled with vinegar. If a coyote approaches you: • Appear to be as Big, Mean and Loud as possible • Make yourself appear larger (stand up if sitting) • Wave your arms, throw objects (not food) at the coyote and use your deterrent • Shout in a deep, loud and aggressive voice • If the coyote continues to approach, DO NOT RUN or turn your back on the coyote. Continue to exaggerate the above gestures while maintaining eye contact and moving toward an area of human activity
Msgoff February 24, 2011 at 08:19 AM
"Urban coyotes" ("Coyote vs. Man") was a topic on "Nightline" last week - February 15, 2011. There was mention of some coyotes having bred with wolves; therefore, these particular coyotes will attack humans. I cannot remember all of the specifics and unsuccessfully tried to fast forward on the online show. Here is the link if you would like to watch it: http://abcnews.go.com/watch/nightline/SH5584743/VD55112231/nightline-215-americans-in-japan
Msgoff February 24, 2011 at 08:53 AM
About 10:55 minutes into the show they talked about coyotes in Canada who killed a teenage woman for the purpose of eating her. They say that this is the first of this type of incident on record. They also mention that during the last century coyotes & wolves in the northeast (? United States) and Canada became friendly and mated, which resulted in cross-breeding. This produced a larger and more fearless coyote. "Killed by Coyotes?" will air on the National Geographic Channel on this coming Friday, February 25 @ 6:00 P.M. Copied from the NGC webpage: "There are only two recorded fatal attacks on humans, one of which is Taylor Mitchell. There is a possibility that the two coyotes that attacked her were actually wolf-coyote hybrids." Read more: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/killed-by-coyotes-5169/Overview#tab-Photos/0#ixzz1ErdITyID
Victoria Webb February 24, 2011 at 12:46 PM
I agree with the majority of comments here. Research on coyotes suggests there is a very low likelihood of anyone's full grown cat being eaten. The animals prefer easier prey, like voles or rats. Since they're going to be eating our rodents, I say let them stick around! Most Atlanta and Decatur neighborhoods have a much more severe problem with rats. Coyotes may be a solution and not a problem. Whenever a predator comes into an urban environment, there either has to be a food source or they're being nudged out of their natural habitat. No wild animal wants to live in close proximity with humans without a pressing reason.
maxine rock February 24, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Yes, let's adapt to the coyotes, as they have been forced to adapt to us. Let them become our helpers in culling rodents and other natural prey. Be a responsible pet owner and keep your cat or dog indoors or closely supervised. I agree that coyotes can be "a solution and not a problem."
Boyd Leake February 24, 2011 at 03:54 PM
I live intown near Nancy Creek and we have trapped 13 racoons in a period of two months. We live in "their" habitat. I would have left the racoons alone had they not continued to raid the bird feeder and become so brazen as to come up on our deck in broad daylight and look in the door. Our dog got where she would not even go into the backyard. We have only seen coyotes on two occasions in 10 years although we know they are there. What is concerning is that one approached my son in our own backyard a few years ago and seemed to be unafraid. A friend had to chase three off a few years ago as they circled his Jack Russell in his own backyard. If given the opportunity, I would think nothing of killing one with my shotgun.
Victoria Webb February 24, 2011 at 04:22 PM
How to get rid of your raccoons and squirrels: Birds are fine with foraging for bugs in the warmer months and feeding them during spring/summer only encourages predators like hawks, along with pesky raccoons and squirrels. Gardening tips from Mike McGrath of 'You Bet your Garden' on WHYY out of Philly. http://homesteadgardens.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/mike-mcgrath-on-gardening-for-wildlife/ If we practice sound management in our own habitats, the coyotes (and raccoons) are less likely to come around.
Alexandra February 24, 2011 at 06:22 PM
WE were here first, not the coyotes. They are not native to this area. The wonderful government brought them here to control the rodent population and now that they are eating our dogs and cats (mine being one of them) they don't want to do anything about it. I will trap them until the day I die or they are gone:)
Msgoff February 24, 2011 at 06:22 PM
As my young neighbor often says, "They were here first." I am as afraid of hawks/falcons as I am of many four-legged animals because I have seen them in action and they are vicious. I have seen one hanging out in the trees in my front yard. Yep, bird feeders are quite inviting for all. No, I do not have one; I can barely feed myself.
Msgoff February 24, 2011 at 06:32 PM
I am a GA transplant as well, and it seems the government brought a few other pain-in-the- butt things here to control one thing and created another problem, e.g, kudzu. Anyway, the "They were here first" comment refers to our having disturbed the eco-environment, or natural habitat of many "wild" animals by destroying their home to build ours. To make it plain, cutting down the forests to build subdivisions. Let's not get into that discussion at this time, please. I am definitely not pro-coyotes or any wild animals.
Diane Loupe February 24, 2011 at 06:47 PM
While it is true that coyotes are not a native Georgia species (I think of them as a canine kudzu), I believe coyotes migrated naturally. I found no evidence from any source that any government brought them here to control the rodent population. Alexandra, what is your source for that statement?
Nancy Wilkinson February 24, 2011 at 11:32 PM
Loving this discussion - it seems to be more fact-based than some of the other coyote discussions I've been involved in lately. Thanks for asking for Alexandra's source, Diane - I'm curious about it as well. I did a little research on stories I had been hearing about rodent control using coyotes by local governments and they seem to stem mostly from the Cook County study or other coyotes that found their way on their own into Central Park or other areas. The coyotes were not introduced intentionally, but in studying their effect on the local area it is always noted that the major portion of the coyotes' diet is rodents.
Cynthia L. Armistead February 25, 2011 at 12:58 AM
I've never heard anything credible about any government entity bringing coyotes into Georgia or any other state. They migrated here on their own. I'm all for leaving them be since they're eating the rodents. No responsible pet owner leaves cats outside, or allows dogs to run around unmonitored. Dogs aren't happy out in a fenced yard alone, either - they'd rather be in the house with their humans, and just go outside to do their business or run around for exercise. You won't lose them to coyotes if that's the only time they're outside. Of course, tiny children don't have any business being outside unsupervised, and they're the only ones to whom a healthy coyote poses an actual risk, anyway. A rabid coyote is completely different - even a tiny rabid animal can pose a risk to anybody, so there's no use talking about that. I don't think they hunt in packs, do they? The rest of us should be able to take care of ourselves.
Cynthia L. Armistead February 25, 2011 at 12:58 AM
I actually liked to see the raccoons on our deck when we lived in Stone Mountain, and I didn't mind feeding the squirrels alongside the birds. They never bothered our kids, though, and didn't act so bold as to give me any reason to worry about rabies. I know that they are likely to be carriers, though, and we educated our children about never trying to approach them, kept our garbage confined, etc. I won't worry about coyotes chowing down on a few raccoons and squirrels, though. @Victoria Webb: I hadn't really thought about problems with feeding the birds when there's plenty for them to eat - I just like seeing them. I've worried about keeping their water clean, so as to be sure mosquitoes can't breed in it, but not that. I'll have to read that article. Thank you for the link.
Victoria Webb February 25, 2011 at 01:23 AM
Cynthia, the best thing you can do for birds is to plant flowers, veggies and shrubs that attract insects. Birds are carnivorous and have to eat lots (preferably bugs) to stay healthy, esp. in the spring. I've often 'donated' my cabbage and collard plants to moths just to give birds good eats. Water - use a birdbath and hose it each week. I met Mike McGrath when I was coordinating a local farm's young internship program in southeastern PA. You can read my notes from his workshop on how to attract beneficial insects and other creatures to your garden here: http://maysiesfarm.blogspot.com/2009/06/saita-seminar-with-mike-mcgrath-on.html Look on the right hand sidebar under 'Blog archive' to find more on sustainable gardening and farming. My notes date from April 2009, under SAITA seminars or workshops.
Rebecca February 26, 2011 at 06:24 AM
Cynthia's comments are right on the money. I find Boyd's comment slightly disturbing, as I would hope he would not shoot a coyote at any opportunity, but only if the coyote were posing a threat, which is highly unlikely to happen. Also, there are easy ways to keep your bird food out of the reach of raccoons with a little effort. I find Alexandra's comment and attitude highly regrettable, and no, she isn't correct about government introduction to this part of the country. Even if coyotes were not native to Georgia, other wild canids were at one time. Urbanization has provided excellent habitat and food for both native and non-native rodents to thrive, while at the same time, pushing out more and more their native predators. Bears, bobcats, red wolves, mustelids, etc., were here "before we were." Now, not so much. Coyotes are here because they're adaptable opportunists, and people's pets disappear because pet owners make the mistake of not protecting them adequately. If you wouldn't let your toddler crawl around the yard or neighborhood alone, then you shouldn't let your cat. It's a hard lesson to learn, and no matter how many coyote attacks are publicized, it's a lesson people seem to resist learning. It's easier to blame the coyotes than ourselves.
Cynthia L. Armistead February 26, 2011 at 07:52 AM
Thanks for the advice, Victoria. Unfortunately, I'm unable to garden - I'm allergic to all that "out there." My partner and daughter actually handle the bird feeders and water for me so I (and our cat, who stays indoors!) can watch the birds. But I'll see if we can't add a bird bath, and we'll stick with water during the warm months from now on. Perhaps I can persuade someone to plant some low-maintenance shrubs for me. The fig trees seem to be plenty popular for now.
Catrina May 10, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Just Saturday afternoon my younger son and I were driving along N. Decatur at the crest of the tall hill, right before we got to Ponce de Leon, and a very large coyote ran across all 4 lanes of traffic. It was surprising to see one out in broad daylight, so vulnerable. We are far more dangerous than so many of the wildlife we take issue with...and we have a far worse impact on the environment than the animals we consider pests.
Christina October 16, 2011 at 02:43 AM
Has anyone heard that there are coyote living in Glenwood Park/ Decatur Cemetery? A couple of the police officers told me that they see them all the time over there. They likely are trying to find leftovers from people's picnics in the park.
Elisa Jed April 10, 2014 at 10:30 PM
I wonder what is driving the coyotes down into populated areas. During a drought in my hometown coyotes and bears starting moving down the mountain closer to the city. They couldn't find food and water. The main problem was them getting into our garbage, but the pets were a scary issue as well. They should start having animal control make daily rounds if needed. Elisa Jed | http://wildthingzllc.com/index.php


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something