A New Top Dog in North Carolina

coyote in tracking collar

A coyote in the Fort Bragg study wears a tracking collar. Photo credit: Christopher E. Moorman

Editor’s note: The following article is a guest post by Chris Moorman and Chris DePerno, professors of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology in the College of Natural Resources.

It’s believed that wolves once roamed the southeastern United States before they were eliminated by overhunting and habitat loss. Now the region has a new top dog, the coyote, which may fill the role once played by wolves.

Coyotes are native to western North America but moved to North Carolina only in the last few decades. Because coyotes are strangers to the region, relatively little is known about how they affect the environment, especially prey populations. A series of recent studies conducted at Fort Bragg by NC State researchers sheds some light on the lives of coyotes, showing that they range widely across the landscape, with the annual space they cover averaging 33 square miles. Some individual coyotes dispersed up to 214 miles away from Fort Bragg before establishing new home ranges.

Coyotes ate a variety of foods, including insects, fruits, mice, rabbits and white-tailed deer.

Most impressive was the apparent top-down influence coyotes had on deer populations at Fort Bragg. A recent paper in PLoS ONE showed that coyotes killed one out of every two deer fawns born.

“Only 14 percent of fawns survived for the first 16 weeks of life,” says Colter Chitwood, the study’s lead author, now a postdoctoral research associate at NC State. “With such low survival, the deer population inevitably is in decline.”

Chitwood and his colleagues also document four instances where coyotes killed adult female deer, adding to the evidence the species may be filling the niche once occupied by wolves in the region. Although wildlife scientists are only beginning to understand how coyotes affect native plant and animal communities, Chitwood suggests that deer herd managers will need to make adjustments where coyotes are suppressing deer populations.

11 responses on “A New Top Dog in North Carolina

  1. Sam Ennis says:

    Fawn Predation:I have read this and other papers over the years. I’ll comment with SUBJECTIVE thoughts on fawn predation and predator control in the SE.
    1. The midwest has a 3-4 week whitetail breeding season..The SE US breeding peaks as expected but extremes are becoming the norm. 6+ months. This is critical as coyote predation is learned behavior and the presence of fawns over a wider time period offers greater opportunity for pups to learn from an experienced female. (I doubt that research exists but this extended breeding season and associated learned behavior is THE MAJOR FACTOR in fawn predation between the SE and MW / West.) Due to more open and fractured habitat in the midwestern farming areas, a long fawning season would result in drastic, nonsustaining coyote predation as coyotes adapted.
    2. “Modern” black bears and coyotes LEARN to follow blood trails. Wounded deer (shots, vehicles) that survive will be limited. I saw this first-hand in northern MO and SW Iowa. Longer hunting seasons offer more exposure to learning to respond to blood.
    3. Coyote CONTROL in the SE is currently critical if we want to maintain the recreational and associated financial benefits of a large deer herd in eastern NC/Southeastern US. Current control methods (trapping, calling, etc) will have effective local, but limited widespread geographic impact due to the specialized nature of the tactics. As with deer, to be successful in the SE, coyote control must attract a large following of SPORT hunters across across a wide geographic area. This is non-traditional thinking but the concept will become widely accepted with promotion/education. I could absolutely see large hunting clubs extending their sport hunting season and uniting to welcome trained hound hunters from Jan 1 – Apr 1. Property lines would be less of an issue…publicity would be critical. Bear hunters use a similar concept to access wide areas of land. As with bears, the dogs would be broke to run exclusively coyotes. Traditional upper midwest hunters use 2-4 dogs. In the SE, packs would be larger and the jury is still out on the dog breeds. The key is to make dog hunting of coyotes a wide-spread sport in order to maintain a healthy deer herd. A few packs of dogs would stay very busy for 3 months in eastern NC. Speculate that clubs would subsidize dog owners once the benefits were understood.
    4. Businesses tend to respond to problems based on ‘indicators’ rather than research backed by further research. Deer hunters in the SE are incredibly efficient and using kill numbers to determine herd size may not be the right approach. Businesses tend to respond to ‘indicators’ to reduce financial drain. With what we know about fawn predation in the SE US, coupled with an expanding and non-controlled coyote population, deer herds could very well reach a point of drastically reduced sustainability while research is seeking proof of a proven concept..i.e. fawn predation is a serious issue.
    3. Wildlife mgt has some classic examples of slow reaction to a looming problem. Look at the traditional Canada Goose migrations to eastern NC and our response to the ‘short-stopping’ of the geese in the Del/Mar/Va area. “They are keeping our geese up there”. It was years before we realized that numbers had plummeted. We saw a similar, albeit totally opposite understanding of numbers with the midwestern Snow Goose populations and the associated impact in the arctic.
    4. Point: Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time proving concepts/reasons. Deer numbers are dropping in the SE US and current research is 3-5 years away from offering proof associated with Coyote predation. The adaptability of the Coyote does not lend itself to referencing studies in other geographic areas. Other wildlife species will suffer as deer populations reach lower but stabile levels. Coyote control is not a widespread or effective concept in the SE. The solution to control is critical. Work on this while proving the numbers associated with fawn predation.
    (Written quickly…thanks for the opportunity and in no way am I suggesting limiting research. Conversely, we need more research on addressing the control of a looming problem prior to losing the benefits of a large, healthy deer herd.)

  2. Carl Cooper says:

    I hate deer and I love coyotes. Coyotes don’t eat my garden and my grapes. Deer destroy everything I plant. There are 10 times too many deer in our state. Oh how I long for the way it was in the 60’s when there were no deer to be found. How I long for the days when there were no deer tracks anywhere to be found. It is the 320 million dollars per year spent on deer hunting that created this. Please, please send more coyotes to NC.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Its not the deer who get my goat kids or my neighbors calves. The coyote population needs to be regulated.

  4. Rich says:

    Not to worry: The Mt Lions will reduce both the deer and the coyotes. Years back, there were neither Coyotes or any Turkeys in WNC. Turkeys are everywhere now, and many. With the turkey, the predators follow. All are here now. There’s room for all. Wolves will come in time.

  5. John L says:

    I hate to break it to everyone here, but coyotes are not the top dog in the state. That position belongs to the “Coywolf”, a cross between the coyote above and the gray wolf. They have been migrating southward for a few years now and are already seen in the state.

    I have seen two of them on separate occasions in Cary, NC. Here is a Youtube video of one captured live marking territory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yJb_tCAYt0 .
    As you can see, that one is too big for a coyote. If you haven’t seen this former Canadian Broadcasting show, you really need to do so. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=andMu4oVgyw

    And the Red Wolf here in the state is genetically a coywolf as well. It was announced a couple of years ago. These are the top predators in the SouthEastern Seaboard.

  6. KIM says:

    I live in Watauga County and when I first moved to my current home only 2 years ago, I only heard coyote packs come through the adjacent land for a few weeks at time. Since this past summer, I hear them almost nightly, and there has been no extended period of time without hearing them. My neighbors and I have had several cats go missing and they are believed to have been eaten by coyotes. In addition, we have a huge deer population, like most, however I have rarely seen deer on my property or adjacent lands. I am one of the few in Watauga County that do not have to worry about deer pestering our gardens and landscape. Although this is a bonus, I am concerned about their nightly visits and how close they seem to come to my house. I am also curious about other potential risks and how to protect my young children and dogs. As I state earlier, I believe one of our cats fell prey to them.

    1. Jeffro says:

      Hey Kim,

      Have you thought about putting up an electric fence ?

  7. Chuck Hoffmann says:

    Living in the Piedmont of NC, adjacent to Uwharrie National Forest we see many deer and coyotes. I have a 50 ac farm,and breed goats and have found that through a few measures you can greatly reduce the risk of coyote predation. #1 Put goats or other livestock up in a enclosure prior to sunset so they are not an option for predation (it is far easier to prevent than to allow an undesirable behavior to become established) #2 If #1 is not an option, get a guard animal, …a variety of options exist from guardian dogs to donkeys to llamas. #3 Don’t shoot or excessively target the coyotes in your area. First off, you cannot hunt coyotes away. The only way coyotes were ever eliminated from areas in the west was through poison. Allow a natural balance between coyotes and game to develop. Too heavy of predation by coyotes on deer are self regulatory. Less deer/ game means less pups each litter. When you hunt coyotes hard in an area you do drop their numbers temporally. However, what happens…small game and deer populations skyrocket the next year and the female coyotes rather than producing 3.4 pups per litter now have 12-14 pups in response to increased game. I limit my killing of coyotes to “rogue” coyotes, those that are actively targeting my goats or are exploring too close to my herd. Coyotes that are targeting small game and deer in the forest I leave alone.

    1. Chuck Routh says:

      Chuck,

      If you ever need any help with those rogue coyotes, just let me know.

      Chuck Routh

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