Creature Feature: Coyotes

Trickster, creator, messenger and symbol of death, the coyote appears often in the tales and traditions of Native Americans. Most stories focus on the coyotes’ cleverness in achieving victory. These mythological portrayals have seeped into our perception of who the coyote is, for better or worse.  

Modern coyotes do display an impressive level of cleverness, continually adapting to the changing American landscape. These members of the dog family once lived primarily in open prairies and deserts. Now they are found across North America, including densely populated, urban areas. You might spot one running across a golf course or city park or in a culvert alongside a busy road.

Urban areas offer a steady supply of food for these opportunistic eaters. With plenty of rodents, rabbits, deer and vegetation cover around our community, it’s no wonder that coyotes have chosen to call The Woodlands home.

Be sure to look for the Creature Feature article in the upcoming July Community Magazine for more coyote facts and highlights.

Largely nocturnal hunters, seeing a coyote is rare, however it is possible that you may cross paths one day. Unexpected encounters with wildlife can cause confusion and invoke fear for both you and the animal! Familiarize yourself with the following responses and be prepared to act calmly and responsibly if you find yourself in one of these situations.  

If you hear or see a coyote, follow these best practices:

Utilize TheWoodlands311 app service request system (the app will pinpoint lyour location and allow for comments)

Hazing Techniques 

Pathways, Parks, Forested Areas, Open Spaces: Slowly and calmly walk away. If approached, DON’T RUN. Wave arms, make noise and walk toward the coyote until it retreats. Thrown rocks and sticks can be effective. The goal is not to hit the animal, but to scare it away. Be “Big, Bad and Loud.”  

At Home:  Do not approach animal. Wave arms and make loud noise (air horns, car horns, banging pots and pans, whistles). Throw rocks and sticks toward the animal. Water hoses can be effective. 

Pet Safety 

Though naturally timid, a coyote may see your pet as a threat, especially during breeding season, when pups are nearby, or when defending a source of food. Coyotes will try to intimidate your dog by baring their teeth and hunching their backs. This threat display is an attempt to scare your dog away without making any physical contact. If your dog does not move on, the possibility of a physical conflict is more likely. 

Ensure your pet’s safety and follow these guidelines: 

  • Never let your dog chase or play with a coyote.  
  • In an area where coyotes have been seen, keep your dog under full control at all times.  
  • To protect your small dog in coyote areas: 
    • Avoid using a flexi-leash  
    • Avoid walking near bushy areas  
    • Stand or walk with other people or larger dogs  
    • Avoid walking small dogs at dawn 
  • If a coyote gets too close for your comfort make eye contact with  
    it. Leash larger dogs and pick up small dogs. Haze the coyote (see above).  
  • If the coyote doesn’t leave, it’s likely there’s a den, pups, or food source nearby. Don’t run. Leave the area calmly. Change your routine to avoid this area for a while.  
  • If a coyote performs a threat display, or two or more coyotes charge your larger dog(s), leash up, leave the area calmly, and report it to 3-1-1. 

At home, reduce the chances of a coyote encounter by doing this simple yard audit:  

Want more information? 

Coyotes are clever. They have managed to adapt to an evolving landscape, raise their young in densely populated areas and find food and shelter in unexpected places. Understanding how to live with our wild neighbors creates a safe home for all of us. There’s much to appreciate and learn from coyotes on how to adapt to an ever-changing world. 

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Want to save pollinators? There’s an app for that.

Attention outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and wildlife champions! Don’t miss the chance to participate in a community-wide, virtual event that brings you closer to the outdoors right in your own backyard. 

The Township is hosting a week-long “bioblitz” – a community effort to identify as many species as possible during National Pollinator Week. This effort provides an informal, fun opportunity for the public to learn together and share their enthusiasm for nature. And the information collected contributes to a genuine scientific survey. Anyone can participate regardless of age or knowledge level.  

This community-wide, virtual event coincides with National Pollinator Week, June 22-28, 2020. Created by Pollinator.org, this world-wide celebration is also a call to action to save the bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and other pollinators who need our help.  

The Woodlands Township is celebrating National Pollinator Week by hosting a week-long BioBlitz. Participants are encouraged to seek out pollinators, in particular,when making observations. iNaturalist will automatically identify and track your observations and share the data with scientific organizations. Now you are participating in a world-wide citizen-science effort to help populations in need, like pollinators. 

How to participate 

  • Download the iNaturalist app onto your phone, tablet or computer.  
  • Before the Bioblitz officially begins, familiarize yourself with the app. 
  • Watch a short, simple tutorial at iNaturalist.org.  
  • Head outside with your phone and photograph the insects, critters and plants you encounter. 
  • Upload the photos to iNaturalist via the app or website. iNaturalist will help identify your picture. Just click ‘What did you see?’ on your phone, or the ‘Species name’ section under the photo you shared.  

To join The Woodlands Bioblitz, log into your iNaturalist account 

Cell Phones 

  • Select ‘Projects’ in the top left corner. 
  • Use the ‘Search’ magnifying glass in the top right corner. Type ‘The Woodlands Township BioBlitz June 2020’. 
  • Select ‘Join’. 

Computers 

  • Select ‘Community’ at the top of the page.  
  • Use the drop-down menu and select ‘Projects’. 
  • Use the search bar, located below the featured project. Type in ‘The Woodlands Township BioBlitz June 2020’. 
  • Click on the event to be directed to the project page. 
  • Select ‘Join’ in the upper right corner. 

Observations made during National Pollinator Week will be tallied at the end of the week. Results will be shared with our community.  You can make as many or as few observations as you like and from any area you wish – backyard, park or forest. However much you participate, you will find that you learn something new, contribute to important scientific efforts including pollinator conservation, and have fun being outdoors. Sign up today! 

For more information on how you can celebrate National Pollinator Week, visit www.pollinator.org or email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 

Explore the world without leaving your backyard

Tired of being inside all day? Looking for a way to keep the kids entertained without the TV? It’s time to take a break and get outside. Immersing in nature has many health benefits including reducing stress, anxiety, and blood pressure. And a breath of fresh air always feels good!

So step outside and look around. What do you see? Bees buzzing your lantana, and an anole sunbathing on the brick siding? What about that flowering vine you don’t recognize or the frog you found in the garden? Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of iNaturalist.

What is it?

iNaturalist, a FREE app that can be downloaded on your phone (iPhone and Android), tablet or computer, allows users to identify what they’re seeing and share their observations with others. iNaturalist is also a citizen science tool, with the collected data supporting research projects and conservation initiatives. Citizen science is when curious or concerned people collaborate by contributing the data they have collected to increase scientific knowledge. Those contributions have totaled nearly 33 million observations, and identified 250,000 species thanks to the 1.1 million people collecting data.

If you have kids at home under the age of 13, note that iNaturalist does not allow for accounts to be created for those younger ages. Check out Seek, a companion to iNaturalist that works in a similar way, but does not require an account. Drawing on images and information from iNaturalist, Seek encourages taking and sharing pictures to earn badges as a way to track your observations.

I downloaded it, now what?

Keep track and record your observations and encounters. You can upload photos, sound, tracks, nests and more. Not sure what you are looking at? Post that photo and a detailed description and the iNaturalist community will help you identify what you’ve found. iNaturalist has many video tutorials here, to help learn the functions of the app.

What else can I do in iNaturalist?

Build your knowledge and discover something new. You can look at observations made by others in your area, gaining a better understanding of the web of life that surrounds us. Challenge yourself, family and friends to see who can post the most pictures or who can identify the most observations. Once you’re comfortable identifying multiple species, have a friendly competition to find the most interesting animal or plant, or see who can identify the most birds by their call only.

However you decide to use iNaturalist, you’ll probably learn something new, develop your wildlife identification skills, and certainly spend more time outdoors. And you’ll likely find yourself inspired to make a difference. If you didn’t observe any bluebirds nearby consider building a bluebird house. If its March or April and you haven’t recorded many monarchs, plant native milkweed. By learning about the wildlife around your home, you can take educated actions to encourage more visits by providing the food and shelter that they need.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov

Creature Feature: Raccoons

They’ve been recorded sneaking food from the backyard, teasing household pets through the patio door and ransacking campsites. Their fluffy, cuddly appearance, combined with a curious and endearing behavior has drawn interest for centuries. Christopher Columbus called them perros, the Spanish word for dog. Raccoon was one of the first words recorded by Jamestown colonists: the Powhatan word means “animal that scratches with its hands.” These days you might know them affectionately as night bandits, trash pandas or forbidden cats.

Mischievous and opportunistic, raccoons are not looked upon favorably by some. Maybe you can learn something new about these commonly misunderstood creatures, which were recently highlighted in the April issue of The Woodlands Community Magazine.  

Here are some facts about our highly adaptable and intelligent neighbors to get you started:   

  • Raccoons weigh up to 30 pounds, are 30 to 40 inches long, and are covered in grayish brown fur that has a dense underfur to insulate against the cold. They are notably adorned with a black mask, and ringed tail. 
  • Opportunistic omnivores, raccoons enjoy fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, eggs and crayfish, but won’t pass up the chance to sift through your garbage. 
  • They do have a few predators: coyotes, bobcats, cougars and larger species of owls. Disease and cars are their biggest cause of death, though. 
  • They play an important role in a healthy woodlands ecosystem by helping control the pest population. Raccoons help control snake, insect and pest populations and reduce the spread of disease by eating carrion. 

Raccoons are pretty great neighbors, until they’re not. Raccoons can lose their natural fear of humans as they find more food and shelter opportunities, especially if those are in your backyard! If you are seeing a lot of raccoon activity around your home, you may find yourself facing one of these scenarios. 

Nightly Raids 

Once a raccoon has found a source for a tasty treat, they will continue to return, night after night. If your garden, trash can or pet food is being raided, it’s time to remove the source. Adding protective fencing around your garden and using bungee cords to secure your trash lid are a good starting place. But keep in mind that those little dexterous hands can undo many simple latches, so if possible, store your garbage cans inside a shed or garage. There are many ways to scare away a raccoon for a night or two. Loud noises or a barking dog may do the trick a few times, but if the food source is still there, the raccoon will return, and your neighbors might not appreciate the noise. Bright lights, or motion sensor lights will also have a similar, short-term effect. It’s best to remove the source of food and let the raccoon move on to another nightly buffet.

Raccoon Removal 

Raccoons prefer brushy or wooded areas near streams, lakes or swamps but have adapted to live near developed areas, as long as food, water and shelter can be found. Warning: If a raccoon has taken up residence in your attic or shed, it is difficult to remove without professional help. If you are certain that the raccoon has left the space and there are no babies around, you may be able to board up the area before it returns. If you are unable to safely address the issue yourself, check with the Montgomery or Harris County offices for local wildlife removal companies and other resources.  Just be sure to restrict access so another raccoon doesn’t take its place! 

There are no repellants, toxicants or fumigants registered for raccoon control

Found an abandoned or hurt raccoon 

As with any wild animals, be cautious when approaching. Even babies can bite and mom is likely nearby. If you have found baby raccoons, also called kits or cubs, and are certain that mom is not returning, and not just out getting some food, there are some local wildlife rehabilitation resources that can help. For residents of Montgomery County, Friends of Texas Wildlife is a great resource. If you are in Harris County, reach out to Wildlife Center of Texas for assistance. Caring for baby raccoons until you can reach a rehabilitator has its challenges. Review these simple steps for doing your best to ensure your safety and their survival. Both organizations can field questions regarding a raccoon that has been injured as well. 

Raccoons are wild animals. They are not meant to be rescued and turned into a household pet. Wild animals can be dangerously aggressive and many, including raccoons, are known to carry disease. According to the CDC, raccoons were responsible for 28.6% of all reported cases of rabies in the U.S. in 2017. In addition to rabies, raccoons may also carry ticks, fleas, lice, roundworm, leptospirosis bacteria, and salmonella. If you, or a pet, encounters a raccoon, please be cautious and follow up with medical professionals if you receive a bite or scratch.  

Whether you think they are the epitome of cuteness, the best cleanup crew and pest control, or are just one of nature’s nocturnal neighbors, there’s no denying that raccoons are a part of our community. Next time you see one scampering across the road at night, you might wonder, did I put the trash can away?  

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov 


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Creature Feature: Feral Hogs

Have some unusual “alterations” to your landscape occurred overnight? Trampled flower beds, plowed up lawn, tufts of hair and mud stuck to fence posts and garden sheds? No, Bigfoot hasn’t been out for some midnight gardening. You’ve likely been visited by feral hogs.

Whether you’re dealing with these unwanted neighbors or you just want to know more about the history, biology and impacts of the invasive Sus scrofa, be sure to attend one of these upcoming lectures by a State expert.

Upcoming Events

Kick off the Spring Walk in the Woods Nature Lecture Series with Dr. John Tomecek, Assistant Professor and Extension Wildlife Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Dr. Tomecek is a leading expert in the State on feral hog biology and control. His agency’s mission is both scientific and educational, providing landowners and governmental bodies with support on the identification, management and abatement of damages from feral hogs.

Walk in the Woods: Feral hogs in a Suburban Landscape

Wednesday, February 5 from 7 to 8 p.m.

The Recreation Center at Rob Fleming Park

Free Lecture. Space is limited. Register online here

Can’t make it on the 5th? Don’t worry. Join The Woodlands G.R.E.E.N. for the next Going GREEN lecture, Feral Swine: Challenges and Control. Chris Watts, Wildlife Damage Management Biologist with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension will walk through the history of invasive feral swine in Texas, their ecological and economic impacts, wildlife-human interactions, and urban feral swine management practices and strategies.

Going GREEN: Feral Swine Challenges and Control

Thursday, February 20 from 7 to 8 p.m.

Houston Advanced Research Center

Free Lecture. Space is limited. Register online here.

Feral hogs don’t have great eyesight, but make up for it with excellent hearing and a keen sense of smell

Let’s talk hogs

Feral hogs were likely first introduced to Texas by Spanish explorers in the 1600’s. Over the ensuing 300+ years their numbers have grown dramatically. Over 1.5 million feral hogs are estimated to now roam the State, becoming one of our most destructive invasive species. Feral hogs cost the State some $400 million in damages annually by wreaking havoc on crops and lawns. They also have a tremendous impact on native plants and wildlife. Rooting, trampling and wallowing activity destroys vegetation and destabilizes riparian areas. This leads to soil compaction and erosion, spread of invasive vegetation, water quality degradation, and disruption of the nutrient cycle.

The secret to their success is multi-fold: they are highly intelligent, impressively fecund and lack natural predators. They’re also remarkably adaptable, as more and more residents of urban areas, like The Woodlands, are realizing.

Most human interactions with feral hogs are limited to an uprooted lawn. Feral hogs have a keen sense of smell and use it to avoid contact with humans whenever possible. However, as with most wildlife, feral hogs will defend themselves if cornered and females may aggressively protect their young. They can grow quite large, up to 400 pounds and are more powerful than their domestic counterparts. Should you encounter a feral hog, be calm and move slowly away from it. Do not corner or provoke the animal. If you see adults with young piglets, leave them alone.

What you can do

If feral hogs are impacting your property there are steps you can take.

  • First, reduce access where possible. Address any holes or gaps in your fencing and cordon off garden areas. A fence height of 36 inches is enough to keep feral hogs. Make sure fence is flush with the ground to prevent access.
  • For areas that can’t be fenced, remove food sources, like acorns, fruits and vegetables, and bulbs. They also eat grasses, forbs, roots and tubers, mushrooms, insects, earthworms, reptiles, amphibians, carrion (dead animals), live mammals and birds.
  • Don’t water your yard in the winter. Lawns should go dormant (brown) in the winter to allow the roots to grow deep and strong. Watering in the winter not only weakens your grass, making it more susceptible to disease, the green leaves are a major attractant to feral hogs.
  • If you encounter a hog during the day, you will likely be able to scare it off with loud noise but you’re likely to see it back at night in search of more food.
  • Currently no chemical repellents are labeled for use.
  • Motion-activated sprinklers and ultrasonic animal repellents have also not been proven effective.

While feral hogs may be killed or trapped on private property without a State of Texas license or permit with landowner consent, discharge of firearms of any kind within The Woodlands Township is not permitted.

For more information on feral hogs, check out the Wildlife section of the Environmental Services Department website.

For more resources or to report feral hogs that have been sighted in the area, please contact the following:

Reach out to Environmental Services with questions or comments at enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov