The call of the Corridor

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By Lee Helscel

It seems like more and more Corridor residents are having close encounters of a coyote kind. Over the years sightings haven’t been uncommon, but their presence is becoming more of an everyday part of life.

Until the widening of State Road 200 from a sleepy two-lane road to a six-lane highway, there was a lot of wooded acreage for them to roam. Since then, and now during the building slowdown, more of that scrub habitat is being cleared – evicting prey and predator – and they are running out of places to live.

Some animals fly or migrate away from the humans who have dislodged them. Others dwindle in population, along with the habitat, and die off.

But coyotes have proven themselves to be far more adaptable. Before 1960 they were rarely found south of the Panhandle, but are now reported in all of Florida’s 67 counties – and Marion is no exception.

Instead of looking afar for greener pastures, the wily coyote finds easier pickings in the matchbox forests that sprouted where the palmettos, live oaks and tall pines once stood. In the daylight hours they lay up in secluded dens in shrinking woodlands too small to provide a living.

At night they take on the airs of their human neighbors and commute to areas where the menu is different from the mice, rabbits, squirrels, baby pigs, cranes and deer who have been evicted. The adaptable cousin to dogs now finds different fare in its unnatural surroundings.

Urban coyotes have developed a taste for the chicken and steak in your garbage, pet food left outside, and the seed in your birdfeeder. Being omnivores and predators they have learned to include small dogs and cats in their diet – along with watermelon, cantaloupe and farm animals.

There is less and less barnyard livestock in the Corridor, but there are plenty of pets and owners walking them at times of day when coyotes are coming and going – evening and morning. Within the past few months the Canine Club in Oak Run has received more than a half-dozen sightings in the sprawling community.

Most of the encounters are neighborhoods where homes meet wooded areas. But it wasn’t long ago that one was seen lopping down “the boulevard” on a Monday morning around 10:30, not far from the utility easement to the Greenway. They’ve been seen in Neighborhoods 3, 4, 6, 11, 12, digging under the white fence around Eagles Point, and slipping through the barbed wire fence that separates Palm Cay and Oak Run.

The K-9 Club at OTOW has also been aware of coyote presence for some time – but has seen a trend of increased contact with dog walkers, especially. To some it has become a problem since land was cleared to make way for the Windsor and Candler communities.

The howling they once heard has developed into house calls at Dumpsters near 90th and 99th. And the OTOW sightings are becoming more like encounters.

One report was at 11 p.m. and the man’s large dog panicked when they were apparently being sized up by a lone coyote. The man became entangled in the dog’s leash and fell. The coyote crept a bit closer but did not bother the pair.

Other dog walkers have said to have been stalked by coyotes, and possibly coy-dogs in small packs – the result of coyotes breeding with feral dogs. Some residents now report seeing coyotes in yards and traveling between houses.

OTOW management has located and disturbed coyote dens and set live traps. (They are not protected animals and may be hunted or trapped year-round.) But human efforts to eliminate the resilient hunters is rarely successful – thought to have been eradicated in the 1950s, in Texas, they were back in every county by 1973.

They’ve also been seen in ungated communities like Forest Glenn and Marco Polo. So, it looks like the bushy-tailed varmints are here to stay.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says coyote attacks are rare, and usually happen when humans are protecting their pets. It seems most encounters occur when a dog, or cat, is not on a leash.

Be aware that some of that wildlife you moved out of the city for is in the neighborhood. Have direct control of your pet and be ready to take a detour to avoid a confrontation.

To satisfy any desire for protection, a sturdy walking staff is always handy – it can make noise or be an effective weapon against a 20- to 35-lb. animal. It’s not a good idea to chance discharging a firearm few have the permit to carry legally.

They may not be the kind of neighbors anyone would welcome, but coyotes also think the Corridor is a nice place to live – and it looks like they are here to stay. If you listen closely, some street-lit night you may hear the prairie wolf’s lonesome cry over the traffic on State Road 200.