After an increasing number of coyote sightings in West Bradenton and on the Island, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is cautioning residents to treat the canines with caution.
And to get used to them.
“In the past, we had no coyotes in Florida,” said Angeline Scotten, senior wildlife assistance biologist with FWC, who spoke to about 30 people at a special meeting last week at Palma Sola Botanical Park.
“We had red and gray wolves, but their numbers declined as farmers moved in and so did coyotes,” she said, adding that FWC fielded about 900 reports of coyotes statewide last year.
Scotten said agricultural areas offered coyotes food, protection from the elements and space to breed. She said as time went on and the county built bridges to the Island, some coyotes walked from the mainland while others probably swam.
Meanwhile, coyote sightings on Anna Maria Island have increased in recent months. Residents have reported seeing coyotes in all three Island cities, in and around Cortez and in the Perico Island housing developments.
Recently, a coyote was spotted in Anna Maria near the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Tarpon Street, while another was seen crossing the humpback bridge, also in Anna Maria.
Sgt. Mike Jones, who heads the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office substation, said they have had numerous calls from people saying they have seen coyotes in residential areas, both during the day and at night.
Jones said one coyote was spotted by a deputy on the beach.
“It was near Bean Point, and my deputies saw it,” he said. “At first, they thought it was a dog, but they identified it as a coyote, and it left on its own.”
Ed Straight, of the Bradenton Beach-based Wildlife Inc. Education and Rehabilitation Center said they recently had a report of a coyote near St. Bernard Church, and they scared it off. It was last seen headed toward West Bay Cove.
He added that coyotes are extremely hard to capture because they are so smart and that most standard animal traps simply don’t work.
Cats are a favorite food of these wild animals, according to Straight.
“We have a habit of leaving feral cats alone,” he said. “All that does is attract coyotes.”
Straight told The Sun in July that residents should take care with their small pets.
“I don’t think they (coyotes) are dangerous to people unless somebody starts feeding them,” he said. “They’re afraid of people and usually run the other way. If you value your cats and little dogs don’t put them out at night. They definitely like cats and they can jump a pretty high fence. We’ve always felt like it’s a matter of time before they’re out here because they’re everywhere else in Manatee County,”
“Coyotes are omnivores, which means they’ll eat practically anything,” Scotten added. “The more people there are around, the more opportunities for food.”
Scotten said FWC examined the foods found in the stomachs of dead coyotes and found a varied diet.
“There was dog food, cooked human food, vegetation, trash, small mice and insects,” she said. “If you don’t want to attract coyotes, keep pet and human edibles away from the outdoors.”
Conversely, there are pluses for having coyotes around, according to Scotten.
“They control some of the smaller predators like mice and raccoons that hunt birds,” she said. “They don’t compete with endangered species like Florida panthers and bobcats because they live in separate areas.”
Coyotes have undesirable habits though, like going after sea turtles and shorebirds, as well as cats and small dogs.
If a person does encounter a coyote, Scotten said to scare it off by making some noise either by yelling or using a noise-making device like an air horn. She also said to keep dogs on a short leash when taking them for a walk and to make sure all garbage is secured in a bin with a lid.