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Naturalist: Coyotes breeding in Fairfax Co. park

Thursday - 8/21/2014, 2:56pm  ET

coyote_fairfaxparks.jpg
A wildlife camera captured this image of a coyote pup in E.C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly Aug. 12. Naturalists believe that the pup's presence is an indication that the park's coyotes are breeding. (Fairfax County Parks Authority)

WASHINGTON - Naturalists with Fairfax County believe that a pair of coyotes are successfully breeding after a pup was spotted on a wildlife camera last week near Chantilly.

And that has Tony Bulmer, a naturalist with the Fairfax County Park Authority, very excited because the creatures, which pose little threat to human populations, are good for the county's natural environment.

Bulmer says an image taken at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park on Aug. 12 shows a 12-week-old pup. The young animal is old enough to venture out on its own but likely wouldn't have traveled too far yet.

"Logically that means that the coyotes did breed in the park," Bulmer says of the pup's appearance.

He has seen coyotes in the 640-acre park many times and the camera has captured images of a pair of coyotes as well.

The animals can be found throughout the county but are thriving in Lawrence Park, which links nearby Manassas National Battlefield with other green areas and parks within Fairfax County.

"When you see a beautiful, healthy coyote, it shows you that the forest here is giving what that animal needs to survive," he says. "It's kind of an indicator of the health of the forest."

Coyotes also help keep the local deer population in check. By hunting sick or elderly deer, the coyotes actually improve the health of the local herd, he says.

In addition to weak deer, coyotes typically hunt small mammals like fox or rodents but also small dogs and outdoor cats. They will also eat carrion, garbage or even pet food left for outdoor animals.

"They're very opportunistic, that's why they're so successful," Bulmer says.

Residents should not encourage them to come to their yards and should secure their trash cans and avoid leaving pet food outside. Dog owners should keep their pooch on a leash, especially at night.

Coyotes are nocturnal animals that can weigh up to 55 or 60 pounds. But it's not unusual to find them hunting during the day. And they generally follow the same route when they hunt. They are vocal animals that mate for life.

Coyotes have been making a home in Virginia for decades and can now be found in every state in the union except for Hawaii. Eastern coyotes however are larger than their western counterparts and are fast filling in terrain where wolves once roamed.

"I personally am very happy they're here. They could fill the niche that the wolves left," Bulmer says.

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