By Tom Hall
Occasionally, a resident of Montgomery Square will report seeing animals believed to be coyotes. Often these animals are foxes. However, coyotes are known to inhabit our area, and have been spotted since the late 1990s. Local newspapers have reported regular sightings around Falls Grove, and the City of Rockville has posted signs acknowledging Potomac Woods Park as a known coyote habitat. The park backs up to Mongtomery Square and is part of a corridor of woods and parkland, interrupted only briefly by our neighborhoods, linking up to Cabin John Park and others. Reports of red foxes are common as well, and one black bear sighting was reported.
Historically, coyotes were a Western United States species. They were first documented in Maryland in 1972. Coyotes have been moving eastward for most of this century and further population increases in Maryland’s suburban areas are to be expected. There is no state or county program to eliminate coyotes from our area. Their existence here is a permanent feature. Eradication programs in North American suburbs and cities have proven to be ineffective. Trapping and poisoning programs are not practical because they can not discriminate between coyotes, children, pets and other wildlife.
Coyotes resemble medium sized dogs, 35-50 pounds in weight. They have golden brown eyes, bushy tails that are held down when in motion. Colors range from reddish yellow to tan and gray, generally with a lighter “bib” on the neck, darker color on the back than on the underside. They feed primarily on small mammals, including mice, voles, squirrels, and rabbits common in our area. They will eat garbage, birds, eggs, fawns, and — if they can – small pets. Coyotes can be active at any time of day or night.
Conflicts between people and coyotes in our area are still rare. While more and more people are reporting coyote sightings, there have been no reports of coyote bites in Maryland. Coyotes have adequate food supplies in the area without having to attack humans. However, it is important not to encourage coyotes by feeding them or making our yards attractive to them. Things attractive to coyotes should be removed – pet food and water, food waste, trash piles or other rodent habitats.
Aggressive coyotes and any animal bites are serious and must be reported to the Montgomery County Police Department, Animal Services Division, at 240-773-5960 during business hours or 240-773-5900 in an emergency. If a coyote behaves aggressively toward humans, it must be removed from the neighborhood. Simple reports of sightings do not constitute an emergency; and state and county officials will simply offer advice similar that contained here.
If you are concerned about encountering an aggressive coyote, the following measures from the City of Rockville article are recommended. The advice is similar to that used for campers who may encounter bears or other wild animals.
Children are not immune from harm. Coyotes can surmount a five foot fence and are difficult to keep out of a yard if there is something attractive to them there. Young children are potentially vulnerable, and must be closely supervised if outdoors, even in a “fenced” back yard.
Coyotes, foxes, raccoons, squirrels and other mammals can carry rabies. An animal that acts strangely and attacks humans for no apparent reason may be sick. All wild animal bites should be treated seriously and reported to the County immediately at the Animal Control numbers above.
Pets may be at risk from coyotes, particularly outdoor cats and small dogs. Pets should be indoors or on leashes when outdoors, or closely supervised even when in your backyard. Cats and small dogs should be kept close to you and are vulnerable. Larger dogs are less likely to be attacked, but must be restrained from going after a coyote or other strong, wild animal.