Due to recent isolated incidents reported in Darien and
surrounding communities the Darien Police Department is
releasing this information for you to take the necessary
precautions for you and your family pet. Should you have an
encounter with a coyote please call 911 immediately.
1. What do coyotes look like?
coyote, Canis latrans, is a member of the dog family,
similar in appearance to a medium size shepherd. They weigh
20-30 pounds; have pointed ears and a narrow muzzle. Males
tend to be larger than females. Pelts are usually
grayish-brown, but occasionally black, often with a patch of
white chest hair. Their tail is rather bushy and is held
down between the hind legs when running. Coyote tracks are
narrower and more elongated than dog tracks. Sometimes
coyotes do interbreed with stray feral dogs. These
“coy-dogs” can be much bigger than coyotes.
2. What do coyote tracks look like?
Coyote tracks are narrower and more elongated than dog
tracks. However, it is very difficult to distinguish coyote
tracks from dog tracks because dog tracks vary so much in
size. Generally, it is the spacing and pattern of the
individual prints that distinguishes a coyote track from a
dog track. Coyotes are referred to as ”perfect steppers”.
This means that their front and rear paws land in the same
spot when the coyote is traveling in stride.
3. What do coyotes eat?
opportunistic predators and feed on a wide variety of food.
A coyote’s favorite food items are small mammals, such as
rabbits, mice, voles and shrews. Coyotes will also eat
birds, frogs, skunks, berries, insects, occasionally beaver,
and carrion, especially road-killed deer. Here in the
Chicago region it has been found that coyotes have taken
advantage of two other abundant food sources: Canada goose
eggs and deer fawns. Coyotes raid the goose nests, taking as
many as 20 eggs from a group of nest in a single evening.
They then dig caches, or hiding spots, nearby to store the
eggs. Coyotes return later to eat the eggs, sometimes as
many as three weeks after they were cached. As deer
populations grow in the Chicago region, coyotes have been
taking advantage of deer fawns as a food source. Coyotes
almost always hunt alone or in pairs, and cannot kill a
healthy adult deer. Although coyotes will feed upon the
remains of deer, adult deer are usually not killed by
coyotes unless injured. Coyotes, like other wildlife, also
take advantage of food that people leave out, such as messy
garbage cans, bird seed and even cat and dog food left out
for pets. Coyotes will also eat feral and free-roaming cats.
The only way to keep your cat safe from coyotes is to keep
4. Are coyotes dangerous to people?
Coyotes have a natural fear of humans and are not interested
in confronting people. They are not aggressive toward humans
unless humans attempt to feed or interact with coyotes.
5. What should I do if I see a coyote?
The key to living with coyotes is remembering that they are
naturally afraid of people. The most effective way to
prevent a bad encounter with a coyote is to reinforce this
natural fear using your behavior. Coyotes are often seen in
neighborhoods near natural areas. If a coyote is seen in its
natural habitat, it is fine to watch it from a distance.
Never approach a coyote, let your dog approach it, or feed
it. If you are approached by a coyote, or it comes into your
yard, scare it away by shouting at it and waving your arms
over your head. These actions will reinforce the coyote’s
natural fear of people and teach it that your yard is not
available territory. If a coyote becomes aggressive, will
not be scared away by you, or approaches you aggressively,
these are signs that it has lost it fear of people. This is
often a result of someone feeding it. If this occurs, the
individual coyote may need to be trapped and killed. Another
coyote will take its place, but this new coyote will have a
fear of people and will not exhibit aggressive behavior.
If you see this type of aggressive behavior in an individual
coyote, you should call 911.
6. Are coyotes dangerous to pets?
Coyotes cannot tell the difference between their natural
prey and pets. Therefore, they have been known to
occasionally prey on cats. They will only attack another dog
if they perceive it to be a threat to their territory, mate,
or young. Coyotes view dogs as competition, not as prey. In
addition, coyotes, like all dogs, are territorial animals.
If an unfamiliar animal enters their territory, a small
group of coyotes will often investigate together. This is
why people may see three to four adult coyotes approach
their dog or horse. Remember that coyotes are simply curious
about you or the animal and are not organizing to hunt.
Research has shown that the majority of coyotes in our
region live as lone animals, but some live in family groups.
These family groups work together to bring food back to a
nursing mother, and to protect their territory, but they do
not hunt in packs like wolves do. A coyote’s primary prey is
small mammals, and it only takes one coyote, or a pair, to
kill a mouse. Coyotes are protective of their den sites in
the early summer and will aggressively chase, or attack, any
animal that gets too close to their young. Coyotes, which
are dogs themselves, do not think of dogs as prey and
usually will not attack a dog for food. However, coyotes do
view dogs as competition for territory, food and mates.
Coyotes protect their territory just like a dog will protect
a yard. Therefore, if a dog, or any animal, enters a
coyote’s territory, the coyotes will chase it off, or attack
it if it won’t be chased away. This can also happen when
dogs are walked off-leash in natural areas. Coyotes are most
protective of their territory when they are mating, January
through March, and when they have pups, May through June.
7. What can be done to prevent any unwanted contact
and protect pets and coyotes?
By keeping dogs on
a leash and staying on designated trails, contact with
coyotes can generally be avoided. You should always
supervise your dog closely in areas where coyotes are
present, even your backyard. Coyotes are not afraid of your
dog, but they are afraid of you. If a coyote approaches your
dog, scare it away. If there is any other food around your
house or your neighbors’ houses that coyotes like, such as
bird feed, untidy garbage cans, or food left out for pets, a
coyote will take advantage of it when people are not around.
These types of food sources are unnatural and will teach the
coyote that if it risks coming close to humans it will be
rewarded with food. It is very important to keep the area
around your house free of these food sources.
8. Have coyotes always been present in Illinois?
The coyote was present in Illinois before European
settlers arrived. Their numbers increased when settlers
moved to Illinois and the removal of timber began. Journals
kept by settlers suggest that coyotes, then referred to as
prairie wolves, were abundant in Illinois in the early
1800s, but by the mid-1800s their populations were
dwindling. This trend was linked to the decrease in prey
populations caused by habitat loss and over harvest. When
settlers began raising livestock on Illinois prairies in the
mid-1800s, programs were created to eliminate all rivals for
range land, including coyotes, bison and wolves. By the late
1800s millions of coyotes had been killed. By the 1950s
coyotes were considered rare and programs began to stop
their removal. Coyotes started to move across the country
filling the niche once filled by cougars and wolves,
becoming the top predator. During this time the development
of land created edges where rodents and rabbits lived,
supplying ample food for the coyote. The coyote, with its
adaptable behavior, now lives throughout much of North
America, despite decades of persecution by people.
Information courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserve
For more information on Coyotes you can visit the DuPage
County Forest Preserve District at
Any Coyote sighting should be reported to 9-1-1. Please
report location, time of day, and direction the Coyote was