Eastern Jackson County is a prime habitat for many species of wildlife, but coyotes “lead the pack” as the area’s most prolific, especially since they have no natural predators, according to an official with the Missouri Department of Conservation. Sightings this winter by residents in eastern Independence and Blue Springs are not unusual any time of year and are perhaps even more common now, said Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Management Biologist Todd Meese.

Coyote food sources are depleted during late winter and a scarcity of mice, rats and rabbits cause these predators to move around more in search of food, increasing sightings while the animals encroach on homeowners’ land. Coyotes, which resemble dogs and are smaller than wolves, may be especially hungry this time of year, due to more snow and ice making food sources scarce as typical prey tend to hunker down and hide.

Social media posts by those living in subdivisions near Burr Oak Woods in northern Blue Springs, Hidden Valley Park just west of Woods Chapel Road in Blue Springs and Bass Pro Shops in eastern Independence show that residents are concerned about the threat posed to small pets and children.

While Meese confirmed, during a telephone interview, that resident concerns about the safety of their small pets are valid, he said coyotes are afraid of humans and generally won’t attack unless cornered. He said coyote attacks on children also are rare. When asked how many coyotes live in eastern Jackson County, Meese said no one knows.

“There are more than you could probably count,” he said, adding that there’s no good way to track them.

Meese urged pet owners, especially those with small dogs and cats, to watch pets very closely when letting them outside. Owls, bobcats and hawks also will attack small pets.

“It happens all the time,” Meese said, adding that many pets each year are maimed and killed in such attacks when their owners are absent and not watching. “That’s not a responsible pet owner.”

Meese said a possible deterrent for homeowners is dropping human hair and urine around the perimeter of their property.

“It may or may not work, but it’s not costing you anything,” he said, adding that the method sometimes is successful because coyotes are afraid of people and will avoid areas with a strong human scent.

He also said residents can use paintball guns to shoot and scare away coyotes. He advised against traps where coyotes are baited by food because of the danger of trapping pets. Besides, coyotes are smart and usually will not be tempted by food placed in a trap because they fear being cornered and caught.

“It just doesn’t work,” he said.

While the Conservation Department allows for those threatened to shoot wildlife, cities have ordinances that ban discharging firearms within city limits.

Dottie Haack, who lives in the Hidden Pointe subdivision in Blue Spring, just east of Sunnypointe Elementary and Paul Kinder Middle School on Woods Chapel Road, posted her concerns on the Nextdoor neighborhood website. Since her property butts up to Burr Oak Woods, she’s accustomed to seeing wildlife venture into nearby streets and even her backyard.

Haack, who said she grew up hunting with her father and knows about wildlife, said often people are not good about being “aware of their surroundings. Be aware where your pets are because there are animals out there who are hungry,” she said in a telephone interview. She added that even larger pets sometimes can become prey for wildlife that can hunt in groups. For instance, a neighbor of Haack posted recently about seeing several coyotes attack a medium-sized dog.

While coyotes cause fear and anxiety within city limits, the stakes are even higher for farmers and Meese spends most of his time advising those who live outside the city, where coyote attacks on young livestock, such as cattle, are somewhat common.

“It’s a lot more serious,” he said, “out in rural areas because these farmers are losing a lot of money.”