Wild coyotes thrive in wooded areas throughout Des Moines area

At first, I thought the animals trotting across frozen Gray’s Lake were a pair of stray dogs, and I worried they might need to be rescued from the ice.

The late-January sun had just set at the Des Moines park, where I was one of a few bundled-up walkers. I peered out at the shadowy animals, which were ambling across the ice with the confidence of experienced travelers.

Then, an ambulance siren wailed nearby, and the creatures on the lake responded with a spooky, extended chorus of howls and yips.

They were announcing who they were: wild coyotes.

I’d seen or heard coyotes plenty of times while camping in the West or spending an evening on a farm. But I’d never expected to run into them a few blocks from downtown Des Moines.

Such encounters are becoming more common, however, especially near woods throughout the metro area.

Urbandale resident Bobbie Van Roekel recently posted this photo of a coyote she and her husband saw in their neighborhood.

State experts say coyotes have made a dramatic comeback since the mid-1900s. Before that, uncontrolled hunting and trapping devastated the population. Many counties even paid bounties for every dead coyote, because of an inflated belief that they feasted on lambs, calves and chickens, said Vince Evelsizer, a wildlife biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“It’s quite the story with coyotes,” he said. “They’re hated and loved and everything in between, and yet they’ve survived.”

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