Coyote Awareness Tips


Wildlife officials have experienced an increase in the number of calls reporting coyotes in recent months across Fairfax County. Coyotes are now established and widespread in Fairfax County so it is important for residents to know and understand a bit more about them.

Coyotes are opportunistic foragers with diverse diets that commonly prey on small animals such as mice, rats, voles and rabbits but will also readily eat fruits, plants and carrion. Coyotes may mistake small, unattended pets including cats and small dogs as prey due to their similar size to natural prey. Coyotes are territorial and may view larger dogs as potential competitors, particularly from January to June while mating and birthing pups.

“The best way to safeguard pets in areas where coyotes are active is to keep them indoors and do not leave them outside without supervision,” stated Dr. Katherine Edwards, Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist.

Most coyote encounters in residential areas stem from attractants in the form of available food or den sites. In urban areas, garbage, compost and pet food may become alternative food sources. Feeding or unintentionally providing a food source for coyotes is a primary concern by wildlife biologists as these actions may result in coyotes becoming less wary of humans or cause them to display bold and aggressive behaviors as a consequence of being fed.


Precautions should be taken in areas where coyotes are active to minimize encounters with people and their pets. Preventive practices such as reduction and removal of food attractants, habitat modification and responding appropriately when interacting with wildlife are keys to minimizing the likelihood of conflicts with coyotes.

Never feed or attempt to “tame” a coyote.

  • Place garbage and compost in an animal-proof container, such as a metal trash can with latches on the lid or secure with bungee cords.
  • Keep trash inside until the morning of trash pick-up whenever possible.
  • Do not feed pets outside or store pet food outside.
  • Pick up ripe, fallen fruit and do not let it accumulate on the ground.
  • Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting small rodents and other coyote prey.
  • Trim shrubbery to ground level to remove hiding cover.
  • Close up all openings under porches/decks, crawl spaces or out-buildings where animals might establish dens.
  • Keep small pets inside and do not leave unattended when outside.
  • Keep dogs on short leashes (less than 6 feet) while walking outside.
  • Provide secure shelters for poultry, rabbits, and other vulnerable animals.
  • Be alert at dusk and dawn. Coyotes are most active at night and early morning hours; however, they may be active during the day in search of food or denning sites.

If a coyote is sighted, let it know it will not be tolerated. Use hazing techniques to frighten coyotes from the property or exclusion measures to restrict their access.

  • Yell and wave your arms at the coyote.
  • Use noisemakers such as whistles, air horns, bells, “shaker” cans full of marbles or pennies, or pots and pans banged together.
  • Throw non-edible objects in the direction of the coyote including sticks, small rocks, cans, or tennis balls.
  • Spray the coyote with a water hose, water guns or spray bottles with vinegar water, pepper spray or bear repellent.
  • Install motion sensor lights or a motion-activated sprinkler around your home.
  • Install fencing to keep coyotes out of yards. Fencing should be at least 6 feet tall, have an outward slanting overhang or roller-type device to prevent coyotes from climbing or jumping, and have an L-shaped mesh apron buried one to two feet to deter digging. Few fences are completely coyote-proof.

If these techniques do not solve the problem, Virginia regulations allow nuisance coyotes to be removed by a licensed trapper or critter removal service. It is illegal in Virginia to trap and relocate wildlife to another area.

If coyotes are behaving aggressively or appear sick or injured, contact the Fairfax County Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.

For additional information on managing wildlife interactions and resolving human-wildlife conflicts, the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline is available toll-free at (855) 571-9003, 8:00AM-4:30PM, Monday through Friday. This helpline is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services.