By now, the behavior patterns of our local coyotes during courting and pup-rearing seasons have become recognizable to many residents. Mating occurs in the early winter and pup-rearing from spring through the summer months. But fall brings another life-cycle event that should be on everyone’s radar—“dispersal season,” when young coyotes leave their packs to strike out on their own.
Much like human teens, as young coyotes start to mature, their behavior becomes more assertive and family squabbles often ensue. Some may be able to remain with the pack as “betas” (the parents are the “alphas”) but most are encouraged to leave and may even be driven out. “Cliff the Coyote,” who was a familiar presence several years ago in parts of Newport and Middletown, is an example of a “beta” who got along well with his parents and siblings and often served as a babysitter.
While coyotes can disperse at any time, there are reasons why it tends to happen during the fall. The parents are preparing for breeding season and the alphas want to nudge potential challengers and food competitors out of the family pack. As winter approaches and the food supply dwindles, the fewer the mouths to feed the better.
Dispersal season is a perilous time for young coyotes. While some will find mates and form packs of their own, others will wander alone as “transients,” seeking a living wherever they can find it and avoiding the territories defended by packs. Many will succumb to disease or injury, especially car strikes, and others may become “problem” animals that end up getting shot.
Not only will sightings increase at this time, but some different behaviors may emerge. As the young coyotes begin to explore, it may be more common to see them in groups. And don’t be surprised if you’re being followed. Coyotes are naturally curious, and these inexperienced youngsters are just trying to find their way in this world.
At this time of heightened coyote activity — or anytime, for that matter — the safety of pets is a major concern. So please keep your dogs on a leash, your cats indoors, and never encourage urban coyote visits by providing food attractants. As always, be sure to remove or secure all trash, compost, pet food, and other edible items.
For more information: coyotesmarts.org. Also: theconservationagency.org/narragansett-bay-coyote-study.