ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The chance of having a face-to-face encounter with a coyote increases from January through March. That is because it is mating season for the wild canid species.

Coyotes become more active during the day mating season, making them more visible to humans, and increasing the likelihood of interaction. In most cases, coyotes will avoid human contact, and will often run before even being seen by a person.

However, male coyotes become more territorial during mating season, and can perceive adult dogs as threats, especially male dogs.

“Other dogs are impacting them,” said coyote expert and nuisance wildlife trapper Sam Catterton of Catterton and Sons Nuisance Wildlife Specialists. “They’re fearing that another male is going to come in and take their mate.”

Catterton says pet owners should be cautious when walking dogs near woodlines with access to water because that is where coyotes are more likely to be found at certain times of the day.

“These are just more places you want to be cautious about when you’re walking in the evening or the morning, or just throughout the day period. you want to take that extra step of precaution at this time of year,” said Catterton.

Professional nuisance wildlife trapper Sam Catterton points out a prime coyote trail in Roanoke County (Photo: George Noleff)

The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) echoes the call for caution at this time of year, not only because of mating season, but also because winter causes food scarcity. Smaller pets like cats and dogs could be a potential easy meal, so be aware when letting pets outside.

Coyotes are not native to Virginia, but have established themselves here because of excellent habitat and ample food sources. They are adaptable, and can be found in rural, suburban, and rural areas.

A coyote in the wild (Photo: Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources)

While they do not like to interact with people, the reason they can usually be found near populated areas is that humans provide easy food sources like unsecured trash receptacles, pet food left outdoors, and compost piles. Shelter is another thing people inadvertently provide. Coyotes will often use abandoned sheds or buildings, crawlspaces, and areas beneath porches as den areas.

Here are some tips to help reduce the numbers of coyotes living near you:

  • Secure trash bins
  • Do not leave pet food and water outside
  • Keep an eye on pets when you let them outside
  • Clear brush and overgrowth from your property
  • Block access to areas beneath porches and crawlspaces

Even though coyotes are more visible and more active at this time of year, they are rarely a threat, but it pays to be ready, just in case.

“If you’re walking down this road and a coyote pops out 30 yards away, just walk up and stand and make yourself known, give it a little holler, just let it know you’re there,” Catterton said as he walked a wooded area near Mason Creek. “I would be willing to bet it’s going to fly back into the woods and get out of here as fast as it can, but there’s a possibility that it won’t, and when that happens you want to be prepared.”

Catterton suggest having an air horn or whistle with you to make noise to scare away the coyote. The DWR suggests if that does not work, to throw rocks or sticks to frighten the coyote into retreating. Never run from a coyote because that could trigger a pursuit response.

When is it time to call a trapper or animal control?

Catterton says if a coyote shows no fear of people, or if it becomes aggressive, it is time to have the animal removed.