November 9, 2013 9:00:21 PM
Several residents inside the Columbus city limits have recently spotted coyotes in their backyards.
Beth Ferguson lives at the corner of Eighth Street and Eighth Avenue North and has seen coyotes on two separate occasions this past week. Each time the coyote has been traveling alone. Ferguson's first coyote spotting came Sunday, a week ago, when she and her small dog were in the backyard.
"It just kind of came loping across my yard," Ferguson said. "My little dog went running and barking after him. He turned round and looked at her but he never stopped."
Ferguson said the coyote was "18 to 24 inches long at the shoulder" and she wasn't sure what it was at first.
"When it first came by I thought it was a fox but I thought, 'No, that's too big to be a fox.' So I Googled coyote and that's exactly what it was."
Her second coyote spotting happened on Thursday near the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Seventh Street North. This time, Ferguson was in her car.
"He was coming out from a driveway," she said. "It saw me and turned around and went back down in the woods."
After the sighting, Ferguson contacted her neighbors who said they had also seen a single coyote in the area.
Local Game Warden Mark McCleskey said coyotes travel anywhere to get food. That includes residential neighborhoods.
"If they're around somebody's house, it's probably because there is some food," McCleskey said.
Like deer, coyotes can get accustomed to being around people.
"It's just like deer in these neighborhoods, they just get used to seeing people," he said. "If people are throwing food out, they're going to get that food."
He added that coyotes feed on a wide variety of things.
"Small fawns, rabbits --anything they can find. Rats, squirrel, anything small. Turtles, armadillos. They'll eat anything dead, too. They'll eat whatever."
During deer season, McCleskey said coyotes will gather around dumpsters where hunters have disposed of deer carcasses.
"They're going to be around dumpsters," he said. "They're going to hang around those carcasses."
Coyotes typically hunt in a pack at night. If a single coyote is spotted during the day, chances are it is a female coyote getting food for her cubs, McCleskey said.
"You'll see a single one out if a female coyote has got a den and got some little ones," he said. "She'll go out an hunt for rats as a single coyote but most of the time, they hunt in packs. If you were to see them in packs during the day they're probably not hunting, they're scouting."
A single coyote is not considered dangerous to adults but young children and small dogs should not be left unattended in an area known for coyotes, McCleskey said.
"As a pack, they can be dangerous," he said. "Even one can be dangerous to a small child but as an adult I wouldn't think so. It's like a dog. If a dog wants to bite you it will bite you, but as far as overpowering, I wouldn't think so. But if people are seeing a lot of coyotes in their yard, they probably don't need to let a little small child play in the yard."
He added, "A coyote will attack a little dogs, they'll eat a little dogs, puppies. Anything like that, people need to be cautious of."
McCleskey said an average coyote can weigh 35-to-40 pounds with a large coyote weighing as much as 60 pounds. The animals are considered "nuisance wildlife" by the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and can be killed or trapped any time of the year, according to the organization's website.
"That means you can shoot them anytime anywhere as long as it's on your land," McCleskey said.
There is no way to know how many coyotes are in the area and the only way to control the population is to kill them, McCleskey said.
"The only thing you can do to control coyotes is shoot them and trap them," he said.
Shooting the animals is only permitted in the county. If someone sees a coyote in the city limits, McCleskey encouraged them to call him to come and kill the animal.
"If coyotes are in the city limits and people are scared of them, they need to call me," he said.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Vasquez murder affidavit reveals more details COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. A beloved doctor retires after 40 years COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. City to limit hours for some stores COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY