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Night howls: It’s coyote season in Durham’s hills and valleys

If you’ve been hearing nighttime howls, your ears aren’t deceiving you — coyote season in Durham is underway. Residents from across Durham, including Forest Hills, Lakewood and Hope Valley, have been reporting sightings — or hearings — of the generally nocturnal canines.

In late January, Hope Valley resident Christopher McCurdy set up a game camera in his backyard to show his daughter the wildlife that ventures out at night. When he looked back at the recordings, McCurdy found that he had captured a handful of coyotes on video. The animals returned to his backyard several more times nightly.

Other Durhamites have reported coyote sightings, including one Redditor who noted “seeing one cross someone’s yard and disappear into the dark” in the Forest Hills/Lakewood area. 

“Coyotes are very well adapted to any type of habitat, including extremely urban,” says Falyn Owens, a wildlife specialist from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission who focuses on the interaction between wild animals and humans. “I would not at all be surprised to hear somebody say that they saw a coyote wandering the streets in downtown Durham in a quiet moment when there aren’t a lot of people around.”

Contrary to popular belief, coyotes aren’t native to North Carolina. The pack animals made their way from the Western and Midwestern United States to the biodiverse South in the 1980s.  Coyotes can thrive wherever they are able to find a supply of food — anything from rodents or insects to fallen apples. For this reason, the suburban areas of Durham, where vegetation and leftover food are abundant, make a perfect place for coyotes to find a home. 

Even though coyotes inhabit Durham year-round, there are certain times when you’re more likely to see them — including now. “The peaks are usually during the breeding season, which we are going through right now,” says conservation biologist Joe Folta, who works with District 5 of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Another peak in activity will happen about 60 days from now, when coyotes will be on the hunt for food for their pups.

With coyote sightings potentially on the rise, Durham residents must keep small pets safe from our carnivorous neighbors. According to Folta, it’s best to avoid linking your house with a food source, be it a bird feeder or picnic leftovers. What if you’re a pet owner who does happen to see a coyote in your backyard?

“Do whatever you can to make it feel uncomfortable,” says Folta. This won’t be hard to do, considering coyotes are naturally skittish, especially around humans. For instance, he suggests banging pots and pans to make loud noises. Keeping small pets in close proximity, especially on a leash, is another easy way to protect them.

Given that coyotes aren’t going anywhere, even with the development of more and more forested land, Owens emphasizes the importance of establishing a symbiotic relationship with the creatures.

“There’s not really a place in North Carolina, regardless of where you live, where a coyote isn’t going to be. Just because you’re not seeing them doesn’t mean they’re not there. But if you do see one, it doesn’t mean that you have to do anything differently. You just saw the local resident coyote for the first time.”

Above: Hope Valley resident Christopher McCurdy recently captured these nocturnal images of coyotes in his backyard. Photos courtesy of Christopher McCurdy.