Game official: Coyote sightings to rise

A game camera captured this coyote roaming the backyard of Greg Ragan\'s Eastview home near Frederick on an early April morning. (Courtesy of Greg Ragan)

Sherry Crockett is used to seeing deer, wild turkeys, foxes and raccoons in the woodlands that surround her home. But a coyote — now that was a bit of a surprise.

“Our first coyote sighting was last spring about this time,” said Crockett, who lives on Rocky Springs Road just outside Frederick. “It was early in the morning when I looked out over our deck and saw … well, I was not 100 percent certain of what I saw.”

But after observing it for a few minutes, as it wandered into their yard, Crockett and her husband confirmed the doglike animal was a coyote.–

In late April of this year, the couple had a second coyote visit their backyard. “It was very early in the morning, just after dawn,” she said.

She has not seen it since, but Crockett said she keeps her camera by the door in hopes of snapping a photo should the coyote return.

In mid-April, Christine Reeder did snap some photos of a black bear that not only tiptoed through her tulips, it ate one. The bear wandered through her backyard to the front of the house, where it munched on a tulip planted beneath a tree at her home near Gambrill State Park on U.S. 40. Last year, she saw a sow and two cubs in her front yard.

This is the time of year when reports of coyote and black bear increase, said Harry Spiker, game mammal section leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife & Heritage Service in Oakland. Coyote and black bear populations are increasing, he said, so it’s only natural that more people would be catching glimpses of them.

Coyotes

“Statewide, coyotes are found in every county,” Spiker said. The first documented sightings in Maryland were in 1972 in Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties, he said. Today, Garrett County has the largest coyote population.

Spiker said the urban myth that coyotes were “stocked” in Maryland is just that, a myth. Coyotes are a Plains animal and as the population grew, their territory expanded using two routes — up to Canada and the Great Lakes region and down through New England, and a southern route that took them east across the Mississippi River, through Alabama and Tennessee and into the Mid-Atlantic states.

“They likely came into Maryland from both,” Spiker said, noting that Maryland and Delaware were the last two states in the contiguous United States to be colonized by coyotes. A decline in the wolf population left a niche for coyotes to fill. They are a top-order predator, meaning they have no natural predators.

The Eastern coyote roams Maryland. “It’s considerably bigger than its Western cousin,” Spiker said, noting the Eastern coyote typically weighs between 30 and 35 pounds and the Western coyote is about 10 pounds lighter.

It’s believed that as the coyotes moved east, they bred with wolves, resulting in the larger Eastern coyote.

“Eastern coyotes can be blond to black to the typical colors of a German shepherd, like gray or brown,” Spiker said. “Out West, typically they are gray or brown.”

In Maryland, coyotes would have had their litters in the past month or so, Spiker said. They have one litter per year, typically of four to six pups. Coyotes are nocturnal, but with a litter of pups to feed, it’s not uncommon to see the “mom and dad” out hunting to feed their brood.–

“The habitat they use is varied,” Spiker said of coyotes. “They love to hunt fields and field edges” for voles, moles and rabbits. Pup dens are in “safe places like marshy areas, where they won’t have much contact with people.”

Coyotes also have large home ranges and travel long distances. “They’ll stay pretty close to home when the pups are little, but when the pups are bigger, they will cover a range of several miles, and it may take several weeks to cover their territory,” Spiker said. “Most of the year they are found solo, unlike wolves that travel in packs.”

Red foxes prefer the same habitat and resources that coyotes do, and it has been observed that when coyotes expand into an area, the red fox population can decline; that has not been the case in Garrett County, however, Spiker said.–

Coyotes have been known to prey on livestock, but it’s usually limited to an individual coyote, he said.

“There have been a small number of incidents,” Spiker said. Between 2006 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued six coyote trapping permits statewide for problem coyotes, he said. There is a year-round daytime coyote hunting season and a trapping season in Maryland, he said.

“Typically, they don’t cause much trouble,” Spiker said. He suggests not leaving pet food outside overnight, which could attract a coyote or black bear. “If they’re getting fed, they could become a nuisance. (Coyotes have) been here for decades. I wouldn’t change anything you do. Just enjoy them when you see them.”

Black bears

The western part of the state — defined as Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties — is “occupied” by black bears, meaning that sows have given birth to cubs. But, Spiker said, there is “evidence” that black bears are in other counties, including Montgomery.–

Current population numbers are not available, Spiker said, but he is expecting the findings from a 2011 study to be released in about a month. A 2005 study reported the population at 600 adult and sub-adult (yearlings). The state holds an annual bear hunt in Garrett and Allegany counties, where the highest bear population is found.

“For the most part, they don’t cause a lot of problems,” Spiker said, noting that DNR received 300 nuisance complaints in 2011, most in Garrett and Allegany counties, and most were bird-feeder or garbage-can incidents.–

As with coyotes, a lone bear may occasionally kill livestock. “A couple of nights ago, a black bear killed some goats in Garrett County,” Spiker said. The bear was put down.–

“That’s rare,” he said.

May is the month that the juveniles or yearlings will disperse and drivers need to be alert for bears crossing highways.

Most bear road fatalities occur in the fall and, he said, there is a correlation between the acorn crop and fatalities. Bears love acorns, and when the crop is good, there are fewer road kills, according to Spiker.

Last year was a record year for bear road fatalities with 82 statewide — six in Frederick County and eight in Washington County, he said.–

“I attribute that to two things: an acorn shortage and a really warm winter where a lot of the bears stayed out instead of going into hibernation,” Spiker said. The average number of bear road fatalities is 50 per year.

Tony Poffenberger, who lives on Timbery Court near Jefferson, reports that he saw a black bear passing through his yard early one morning late last month.

Greg Ragan has a trail camera in the backyard of his Eastview home near Frederick. The camera snaps a photo whenever an animal moves in front of it. So far, he’s captured photos of a coyote and a black bear.–

Ragan, an avid outdoorsman and former park ranger, is not concerned about the proximity of the wild animals to his home. “I see a lot of them when I’m hunting,” he said, noting he frequently hunts in the Western states, too.–

“I think it’s kind of neat,” he said.


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