Even if you haven’t seen them yourself, you might have noticed a lot of coyote sightings reported around Austin on social media lately.
The posts often start with a description of where and when the animal was spotted, and end with a plea for residents to keep their pets and kids indoors while the creatures are roaming.
The apparent uptick in sightings made us wonder if there are, in fact, more coyotes out and about or if social media is just making it seem that way.
We called City of Austin Wildlife Officer Sarah Whitson to get the scoop.
Her answer: “It’s been both.”
Whitson says social media can have an amplifying affect, but it’s also likely sightings really are up.
Coyotes' “denning season” – when juveniles leave their homes and start to “act like college students" – ends in November, she said. And by that she means, “they act kind of crazy.”
The period from November into mid-February is kind of a coyote Rumspringa, when adolescents are no longer under full control of their parents, but haven’t learned how to act around people.
That means they’re more likely to take risks about where they go and when, making them more visible to humans.
Whitson says people in certain parts of town, like the area around the Mueller development, may be seeing more coyotes for other reasons.
“It’s been a really big hot spot over there,” she said. “It has to do with all the development and food sources and the juveniles being out on their own.”
As with humans, the college phase often ends when coyotes settle down and start families of their own. That day is coming up fast.
“They say Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, is the day of copulation for coyotes,” Whitson said.
As for the danger posed to humans and pets, she says, stray dogs are “without a doubt” a greater threat than coyotes. “The data doesn’t support that coyotes are a public safety threat.”
She says problems usually arise only when people begin feeding or otherwise domesticating the animals.
“What we don’t want is the coyotes being so comfortable around people,” Whitson said.
The animals need to think people are scary.
"You can do that by shouting, clapping, waving your arms, or throwing rocks (in their direction, not at them)," according to the Austin Animal Center. "The goal is to startle them and have them associate humans and pets with loud scary noises."