By Cheryl Blackerby
Sharp-eyed and quick, coyotes are turning up in Palm Beach County as far east as the Intracoastal Waterway, running across neighborhood lawns and nimbly jumping 6-foot fences. They have been in Palm Beach County for a little less than three decades, and since they are excellent swimmers, waterways are proving to be no deterrent.
Sightings have been reported in neighborhoods in the northern part of Boca Raton around Hidden Valley, and in the southeastern part of the city including Palm Beach Farms, Camino Gardens and Boca Square neighborhoods, according to Mary McGuire, a Boca Raton spokesperson.
In southwest Delray Beach, a Sabal Pine Condominium resident’s small dog was mauled and killed by a coyote when she briefly left the dog alone outside just before dawn. She saw the coyote carry the dog off and found her pet the next day.
Delray Beach Police Lt. Scott Privitera said there have
been no other reports of coyote sightings, and said he has never seen one.
No coyote sightings have been reported in Boynton Beach, said Eleanor Krusell, city spokesperson. Lantana also has had no reports of coyotes.
One reason for more frequent glimpses of coyotes in some areas is the land clearing for big projects, which is exposing and displacing wildlife.
The projects include major canal clearing work by the Lake Worth Drainage District and the South Florida Water Management District, and the Florida Department of Transportation’s express lane project that is affecting the Hillsboro Canal area and southern Boca Raton border. The city also has begun clearing the land for Hillsboro El Rio Park off 18th Street.
Palm Beach County is clearing land for the shared use pathway along Palmetto Park Road, and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District is about to begin construction on the old Ocean Breeze Golf Course along Second Avenue north of Yamato Road, according to McGuire.
But coyotes belong in the Western states, not on Florida golf courses, right?
That was one of the first questions asked at a workshop on coyotes hosted by the city of Boca Raton and presented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on May 9 at the Boca Raton Downtown Library.
“In 1900, coyotes were primarily in the West, but because of habitat change they spread east and southeast,” said Bryce Pierce, FWC wildlife assistance biologist.
The near extinction of the red wolf by the 1920s, because of habitat loss, deforestation and hunting, paved the way for coyotes. They expanded east past the Mississippi River to the Southeast by the 1960s. Coyotes, it turned out, acclimated well to agriculture and open fields.
“In the 1970s, they were in the Panhandle and by 1983 were found as far south as Orlando. In 1990, they were all the way to Broward,” said Pierce.
But coyotes are considered native or naturalized species — fossils indicate coyotes were in Florida 2 million years ago — and are now in all states except Hawaii. They are in all Florida counties, but have not yet made it past the Seven Mile Bridge channel in the Florida Keys.
Many of the people at the workshop had never seen a coyote until recently and didn’t know what to think. Do they run in packs, do they kill pets, do they hurt people, do they carry disease?
They don’t run in packs like dogs, said Pierce. They usually hunt alone. They will kill pets under 20 pounds, and Pierce advised keeping dogs on leashes and cats in the house. Cats do enormous harm to wildlife, especially birds, he said, and are more of a danger to native animals than coyotes.
Only one person in the U.S., a child in California, has been known to be killed by coyotes in the last 39 years. They might bite, though, if cornered.
“Rabies is extremely rare in coyotes,” Pierce said, and they prey on small mammals that carry rabies.
And another big question, can you get rid of them?
“No. They’re here to stay,” said Pierce. But you can easily run off shy coyotes by waving your arms, making noise, or throwing rocks in their direction (not hitting them), he said. Relocating or killing coyotes requires a permit, which the average urban dweller is not going to get.
The city of Boca Raton does not have the jurisdiction or control over these animals and is not authorized to trap or relocate. The FWC will not remove coyotes.
How to keep them away: Don’t feed them; don’t leave pet food and bird seed outside; and clear away fallen fruit. They are omnivorous, eating plants and animals, but only 31 percent of their diet is mammals.
There are reasons you may want coyotes to stick around. They help maintain balanced ecosystems by controlling populations of rodents and smaller predators. They eat cockroaches and rats. Pierce showed a photo of the contents of a coyote’s stomach containing 47 rats, all eaten within five hours.
They probably eat small iguanas and young pythons, too, although the FWC doesn’t have research statistics yet.
Coyotes don’t compete with Florida’s native panthers and bobcats. They could potentially eat indigo snakes and burrowing owls, both threatened species in Florida, but coyotes don’t target them like raccoons and other animals do.
And it is unlikely a neighborhood will be overrun with coyotes, which are highly territorial. A family of coyotes stays in its territory of about 1,500 to 12,000 acres, and other coyotes usually do not intrude. If a coyote is killed, he is immediately replaced by another coyote family.
Coyotes, a close relative of the domestic dog, have one breeding cycle per year, usually producing four to six pups, which disperse to new territories when they are about 9 months old. Their lifespan is six to seven years. The coyotes in Florida weigh 25 to 35 pounds and are brown, tan or black.
There’s another reason to want coyotes around, Pierce said: “They have aesthetic value. They are part of wildlife here.”
For more information about coyotes, go to https://myfwc.com, or call the FWC regional offices at 625-5122.