NORTH ANDOVER — After his mom captured video images of a coyote playfully tossing a Nerf football in their backyard on Forest Street, 8-year-old Aiden Segool and his third-grade classmates at Sargent Elementary School decided to give the animal a name.
“I asked my class and everyone voted,” Aiden said. “The one that was voted for the most was ‘Thunder.’’’
Other names suggested were “Rocket” and “Fang,” and also “Soccer Wolf” because the kids thought the animal was playing with a soccer ball.
This coyote sighting is one of many reported by North Andover residents recently. According to a Facebook post from the Police Department, there has been an increase in sightings because this is the time of year when young coyotes split from their familial packs, heading out on their own for the first time.
Because the young coyotes are inexperienced, they are more likely to be seen in areas that older coyotes have learn to avoid, like the backyard of the Segool family, where Aiden’s mother, Alyson Segool, videotaped the young animal playing.
Marion Larson, chief of information and education at the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said that from August to November the coyotes born that year learn to hunt with the pack. When November arrives, the young animals are able to live on their own. They may leave the family unit or hang around the outskirts of their families’ territories, which can be as wide as 10 square miles.
“The young that decide to leave and literally cut ties, sometimes they are literally chased out,” Larson said. “The transients — mostly bachelors as it were — that are trying to find their way in the world, haven’t established a territory. The family unit has a territory that they will cover. It can be anywhere from seven to 10 miles depending on how much food there is. It could be much smaller than that if there is a lot of food availability.”
Katie Kozikowski, North Andover’s animal control officer, said coyotes are often seen on Foster Street near the Boxford line. She said a coyote has been “hanging out” along Route 125 in a field near the intersection with Route 114.
“They kind of come from all over the place,” Kozikowski said. “I do get quite a few (calls) from the downtown area of people saying they are running through their yards.”
Coyotes haven’t always lived in the region, according to Larson. The animals first appeared in Massachusetts in the 1950s.
“The Eastern coyote is a relatively new neighbor, a new resident to Massachusetts,’’ she said. “They came to Massachusetts in the early 1950s in the western part of the state, and over time they have finally made it such that you’ve got coyotes all over the state except for the islands — Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.”
Larson said there are two kinds of coyotes in the United States, the Eastern coyote and the Western coyote. Eastern coyotes developed from the Western coyotes and, as people moved west to settle the United States, they cut down many forests for agricultural purposes which “opened some connections (for coyotes to migrate) that might not have been made,” she said.
“Also, people were killing wolves left and right because back in those days anything that was a predator, especially wolves, that was a bad thing,’’ she said. “A lot of wolves got wiped out, and during that time coyotes were moving, kind of expanding to the east because there wasn’t as much in the way of wolf concerns for coyotes. But they did do some breeding with coyotes, there is some wolf DNA in Eastern coyotes.”
Larson said because wolf DNA exists in Eastern coyotes, the eastern variety is much larger than their western counterparts, but they are nothing to be afraid of.
“Coyotes are naturally afraid of people,” she said.
Larson said pet owners should, however, be concerned about the presence of coyotes in a neighborhood because small dogs and cats can be perceived as food to coyotes and larger dogs may be considered a threat to a coyote family unit. Because of these concerns, residents should stay close to their pets when pets are outdoors, she said.
“You should be outside with your pet because your physical presence as a human being is a terrific deterrent for attacks,” she said. “Your animal should really be on a leash.”
Pets should not be fed outside and trash should be secure because coyotes might look to eat trash or eat from pets’ bowls, she said.
“Restrain your pets. Don’t feed your pets outside because if there is food out there, coyotes will come there,” Larson said. “Don’t put garbage out the night before trash pickup because you just set up an all-you-can-eat buffet for coyotes, as well as other animals that eat garbage. Coyotes don’t just eat meat. They eat a lot of vegetable matter, too.”
Larson said residents shouldn’t be concerned if they see coyotes during the day because they are not exclusively nocturnal, but if one happens to show up in a family’s yard, people should make themselves known.
“What we suggest is that you scare the daylights out of them, whether you pop out of the door and yell, bang, throw things, squirt them with a hose,’’ she said. “That kind of thing is language for ‘hey, this is my territory!’’