University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #WEC 146

Rancher Perceptions of the Coyote in Florida1

Martin B. Main, Michael D. Fanning, J. Jeffrey Mullahey, Daniel H. Thornton, and Stephen Coates2

Background

Coyotes are becoming a common sight in Florida, as more people each year catch a glimpse of the coyote crossing roads and running across open fields, or notice coyote scats along hiking trails. The recent appearance of the coyote on the Florida landscape is a product of the expansion of coyotes throughout North and Central America. Due to their generalist diet and ability to live in open habitats close to humans, coyotes are one of the few animals that have substantially benefited from human-caused alterations of the landscape. The clearing of forested land for agriculture and other purposes, and the extermination of larger predators such as the gray and red wolf, have created ideal environmental conditions for the adaptive coyote. Coyotes have taken advantage of the human-modified landscape by expanding into new areas and are now found throughout the continental United States and large areas of Canada and Central America.

Florida is one of the areas in the United States recently colonized by coyotes, with coyotes entering the Sunshine State from Georgia and Alabama during the last 30-40 years. Early reports of coyote presence in Florida were limited to the panhandle, but coyotes have rapidly expanded their range to the south and their presence has been confirmed in 65 of Floridas 67 counties. Based on verbal reports from state and federal landowners and the agricultural community, coyotes appear to be rapidly increasing in abundance throughout Florida.

As coyotes continue to expand across the Floridas landscape, there is a large potential for conflict with humans. Coyotes have long been one of the predators most disliked by ranchers across the United States. These feelings of animosity are primarily the result of coyote predation on livestock, particularly sheep and goats and occasionally calves, which may cause substantial monetary losses for ranchers each year.

Coyotes are going to remain a permanent part of Floridas environment. Because coyotes are here to stay, it is necessary to understand the agricultural community's perception of the influence of coyotes on livestock and wildlife. This document provides results of a statewide survey of cattlemen in Florida.

Rancher Survey

We conducted a survey of Florida cattlemen during 1998 to assess the perception of the effects of coyotes on the cattle industry in Florida. Fifty-six surveys were completed from ranchers in north and south Florida, and together they highlight some striking trends that correspond to a steadily increasing coyote population in Florida. Probably of greatest interest is that the number of Florida cattlemen who reported calf losses to coyotes increased steadily from 1992 through 1997 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. 

Trends in calf losses to coyotes in north and south Florida based on University of Florida IFAS survey of 56 Florida cattle operations, 1998.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Cattlemen in both north and south Florida reported that the majority of coyote activity and livestock damage from coyotes occurred during November-April, which coincides with calving and the presence of nursing calves in Florida (Figure 2).

Figure 2. 

Time of year cattlemen in north and south Florida observed peak coyote activity based on University of Florida IFAS Survey of 56 cattle operations, 1998.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Coyotes are opportunistic and will take advantage of any easy food source that becomes available. Young calves may present a tempting opportunity for coyotes and some coyotes may learn to prey upon calves. Not all coyotes, however, prey upon livestock. Studies have repeatedly shown that coyotes primarily eat rodents and other small animals. Coyotes also eat carrion, including still born calves, take deer, eat fruit, and even kill and eat the occasional pet cat when the opportunity presents itself.

Efforts to effectively control coyotes are expensive and provide only short-term results. For example, there was a substantial increase in the number of hours that cattlemen devoted to coyote control from 1992 to 1997. The use of firearms was the preferred method of coyote control by ranchers, and control efforts resulted in 13 coyotes killed in 1992 and 100 coyotes killed in 1997. However, although more coyotes were killed in 1997, ranchers actually killed fewer coyotes per hour of control (10 coyotes/100 hours of effort) than they did during 1992. It also is important to recognize that to effectively control coyotes, roughly 75% of the resident and surrounding coyote population must be killed every year.

Because coyotes are territorial, resident coyotes that have not developed calf-killing behaviors may actually reduce risk of livestock loss by repelling other coyotes that may have different ideas when it comes to killing calves. Identifying calf predation versus scavenging of stillborn calves, therefore, is important. Tips on identifying predation on livestock are available in EDIS document WEC-141. If coyote problems are occurring, assistance may be obtained through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Regional Office serving your area (http://wld.fwc.state.fl.us/critters/regions.htm).

Our survey also revealed that cattlemen perceived a decline in native wildlife populations associated with an increase in the number of coyotes from 1992-1997. Coyotes are capable of reducing populations of certain wildlife species such as fox, bobcat, and white-tailed deer, but too much remains unknown about coyote ecology in Florida to predict how they are affecting native wildlife. It is worth noting that in some parts of the United States, coyotes have been shown to benefit ground nesting birds such as ducks and potentially bobwhite quail by reducing populations of smaller predators, such as fox, that actively search for bird nests.

Another interesting discovery was that over half of the survey respondents reported seeing 2-4 coyotes traveling together and five percent reported seeing more than 4 coyotes together in the same area. These groups of coyotes were probably family groups composed of parents and offspring. Coyotes do form larger packs in some areas of the United States, which is typically believed to be a response to an abundance of large prey, such as might be found in wintering areas for elk and deer.

Concluding Thoughts

While coyotes may cause damage to livestock in some instances and put predation pressure on certain native wildlife species, they may also have positive effects on Floridas ecosystems. For example, coyotes may help to reduce the numbers of smaller-sized carnivores (such as foxes and raccoons) that feed on the eggs of ground nesting birds, such as quail and turkey. Unfortunately, not enough is known about coyotes in Florida to do more than speculate about potential impacts. Ranchers we surveyed indicated a desire to know more about coyotes in Florida -- 98% of the respondents indicated there was a need for additional information and research, an encouraging sign that people are interested in making informed, intelligent decisions concerning coyote management in Florida.

At present, the University of Florida is conducting a study on coyotes and their potential impacts on native wildlife in south-central Florida. For more information about coyotes and current research efforts, please visit the “South Florida Coyote Study” Website at http://www.imok.ufl.edu/wild/coyote/index.htm.

Additional Information on the Internet:

http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/mammals/land/coyote/ [26 June 2012].

Footnotes

1.

This document is WEC 146, one of a series of the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date June 2001. Revised June 2008. Reviewed October 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Martin B. Main, Assistant Professor, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, Southwest Florida Research and Education Center, Immokalee, Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, Michael D. Fanning, Director Benchmark Analysis, Agrilogic Inc., College Station, TX 77842-7990, J. Jeffrey Mullahey, Center Director, West Florida Research and Education Center, Milton, Florida; Daniel Thornton and Stephen Coates, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.