Learning to live with coyotes in urban Pennsylvania

NATRONA HEIGHTS, Pa. — The call of the wild is just outside most people’s back door these days. Or rather the yip and howl of the wild as Eastern coyote numbers climb, and the animals continue to turn up in surprising places.

Valerie Kusenko happened to glance out the kitchen window of her New Kensington home and spotted a coyote milling around her backyard along Freeport Road earlier this year.

When she stepped outside to take a photo, the animal casually walked behind her garage.

“He didn’t have a whole lot of fear of people,” said her husband, Michael.

The couple called their neighbors, notably one with a small dog, to alert them. The coyote never returned.

“I was very much surprised,” Michael Kusenko said. “It’s not something you expect to see in the town.”

But people should start to expect more of these sightings as coyotes are becoming more common in urban settings, according to Dan Puhala, a Pennsylvania Game Commission game warden who spoke last week at Harrison Hills Environmental Learning Center.


The New Kensington sighting adds to others such as one visiting a porch in Tarentum in September. The urbanization of the coyote is occurring in major cities such as Chicago.

Coyotes, for the most part, are not dangerous to people, Game Commission officials stress.

In fact, a number of residents don’t consider them a nuisance unless you have a farm or small domestic animals.

Although the Game Commission does not formally survey coyote population, it does gauge complaints and calls from the public, which have been on the rise, said Patrick Snickles, spokesman for the Game Commission’s southwest district.

This is not news to residents who live in coyote country such as Ren Steele, an Allegheny Township supervisor whose farm is along White Cloud Road.

Several coyote attacks took four of his young lambs and previously injured Canada geese earlier this year.

Steele had to lock up his remaining lambs at night as he noted the coyotes prefer to strike about 3 a.m.

He also is using a hunter to track down the offending animals. In Pennsylvania, it’s legal to hunt coyotes year-round, day or night.

Beyond the country areas, coyotes are thriving in suburban habitats that offer heavy brush with clear-cut edges for their favorite prey – rabbits, chipmunks, birds, road-kill deer, fawns and insects – as well as feasting on plants and fruits, Puhala said.

Yes, they prey on sheep, chicken and goats, as well as cats.

“Don’t allow your dog or cat to roam unattended if your dog is rabbit-size or smaller,” Puhala advised.


Spring is a good time to hear coyote pups “yip” at night pleading to be fed. There are typically six to seven pups in a litter.

Coyotes are more abundant than many realize because they are primarily nocturnal and hard to detect. In fact, they move their pups around to keep them hidden.

Their dens easily can be missed in overturned trees, piles of brush and stumps, all with a southern exposure to keep the pups warm, according to Puhala.

People can tell them apart from dogs if they look closely: The bottle brush tail is diagnostic along with the German Shepherd-coloring and lean build. Males weigh between 45 and 55 pounds, and females are 35 to 40 pounds. They live six to eight years in the wild, Puhala said.

“Making them feel uncomfortable is the best way to prevent a coyote from returning to your yard,” he said.

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