Those of us who are fortunate to call Niagara-on-the-Lake home are blessed in many ways. For me, living in a town that has some wonderful outdoor areas so close is one of those blessings. With these outdoor areas comes the opportunity to view and photograph a variety of wildlife. On a recent morning walk, for example, I was able to take photographs of a muskrat, a juvenile bald eagle, several birds and a coyote minutes from the house.
Then on an early Tuesday morning walk, I was able to get a few photos of two coyotes. It was not the best condition, with low light, but interesting. These were taken in the forested area between the former hospital building and Fort George. They passed by me, and a couple who had been walking on the path. They minded their own business, marking territory, and trotted past the fort toward the river.
In the Old Town, with One Mile Creek running through it, we can often see some of the town’s wildlife without leaving our backyards. Earlier this year, I came across three deer following the creek bed, crossing streets, and continuing through town on this route. In the last few weeks people have been reporting a large “white” coyote wandering through their backyards, crossing streets and, like the deer, following the creek bed through town. Often, with sightings like this comes concerns.
I came across the so-called “white coyote” early Saturday morning, as both of us wandered through the Old Town. Although it stopped to look at me a few times, it did its best to avoid me, disappearing behind houses, following the creek bed or meandering down roads. It was, for me, a fortunate experience, as I was able to get a few photos during this brief encounter. Like the deer spotted earlier this year, a special encounter!
Coyotes in the Old Town are not an unusual sighting. They have been living in the town for decades. Many of us were alarmed this winter by the story of hobbyist hunters tracking down coyotes with dogs and killing them in the rural areas. Often believed to be a nuisance, local grape grower Warren Dyck, pointed out their importance in controlling mice and rodents that damage grape plants when they chew on them.
In a 2019 article about the situation, The Local interviewed the founder and executive director of Coyote Watch Canada, Lesley Sampson.
She had done much research on coyotes that, at that time, were in the William street area of the Old Town. Going back more than two decades ago, she also made a presentation to town council emphasizing the benefits of an educational program that would emphasize how residents and coyotes could co-exist comfortably. It was disappointing that the council of the time did not initiate such a program, despite the best efforts of Bob Howse, our town clerk then. An educational program, she felt, should have been continued to address the issue.
Two concerns that Sampson also pointed out at a 2019 meeting at the community centre was the problem with people possibly feeding them. This, she felt, was a main factor which may contribute to them becoming a nuisance. Also of concern was the oft-used misnomer ‘coywolf,’ which she felt makes them sound more dangerous than they actually are. It’s a nickname that is being used more commonly as if the species is new, when in fact it has been around for over a century. When western coyotes extended their range east and mated with the eastern wolf, the result was the eastern coyote, the species we see in town.
Given the amount of development and infilling that has occurred since then, comes the realization that much of the habitat for wildlife is gone, and they have been displaced. So, we need to re-examine the factors that allow for a coexistence.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources outlines some of the ways this can be achieved:
Prevent encounters with coyotes
How to make your property uninviting: Landowners are responsible for preventing problems with coyotes by limiting attractants and discouraging them from damaging their property.
You may not use poisons or adhesives to kill, capture or injure coyotes, including to protect your property.
How to limit attractants
Properly store and maintain garbage containers to help prevent coyotes from becoming a problem.
Keep pet food indoors.
Put garbage out the morning of a scheduled pickup.
Use enclosed composting bins rather than exposed piles.
Pick ripe fruit and seed from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.
Protect vegetable gardens with heavy-duty garden fences or place vegetable plants in a greenhouse.
Discourage coyotes from entering your property
Use motion-sensitive lighting and/or motion-activated sprinkler systems to make your property less attractive to coyotes and other nocturnal wildlife.
Put up a two-metre high fence that extends at least 20 centimetres underground as coyotes may dig under a barrier.
Install a roller system to the top of your fence so animals can’t gain a foothold.
Clear away bushes and dense weeds near your home where coyotes may find cover and small animals.
Close off spaces under porches, decks and sheds. Coyotes use these areas for denning and raising their young.
Since coyotes are opportunistic feeders, small pets such as dogs and cats may be seen as prey. It is advised to watch them carefully if your dog is in the backyard and don’t allow cats to wander the neighbourhood.
Fact sheets entitled Coyote Proofing Your Property, Encounters with Coyotes and Protecting Your Property can be found at ontario.ca
As more people move to our wonderful town, it is hoped they can embrace the wildlife that, in many ways, enhances our life here. Casual sightings of animals like our ‘white’ coyote” in local neighbourhoods should be, with appropriate cautions, a satisfying experience.