Coyote sightings are on the rise in the metro, and many residents aren't sure what to make of them -- but FOX 9 Investigator Jeff Baillon got a rare look into how the creatures are adapting to life in the city.
Some of the critters are so cunning, they've even learned how to use traffic lights to safely cross busy streets as they drift quietly through skyline shadows like phantoms.
Late at night, the haunting cry of the urban coyotes can be heard -- but sometimes, it seems they appear out of thin air.
"It was just looking at me," recalled Hayley O'Donnel, who was playing with friends near her St. Louis Park home when she suddenly felt she was being watched. "I saw the coyote standing right over there, just so close to me. I was scared -- really scared."
Two weeks later, another coyote came and tried to make a meal out of the family dog, Dixie.
"She was running as fast as she could, and I could hear her going squeak," O'Donnel said.
The coyote did grab Dixie by the neck and started shaking her, but a neighbor spooked the attacker away by honking a car horn.
"If it wasn't for my neighbor, I don't think we'd have Dixie today," O'Donnel admitted.
Coyotes are being sighted across the metro area, from the crosstown freeway in Edina to a backyard in Inver Grove Heights and the heart of downtown St. Paul.
Recently, a coyote even wandered up to the Department of Natural Resources headquarters on the other side of downtown. The coyote camped out for an entire day. When it didn't leave, they eventually called Animal Control.
Although officers caged and brought the animal to wildlife rehab, the coyote had distemper and had to be euthanized.
Given the scores of sightings, it seems coyotes aren't just passing through. In fact, there's been a pair living near the state fairgrounds for three years -- but it's unlikely anyone who doesn't know where to look will spot them.
It's anyone's guess how many coyotes call the Twin Cities home. No one is tracking their numbers, but residents may be in a big surprise if they did, according to a man who has spent over a decade studying them.
"There are far more coyotes living in the city than we ever thought would or could be," said Stan Gehrt, who studies coyotes in Chicago. "We figured it would just be a few, a handful of animals --but there's hundreds, if not thousands, of coyotes in a city, living with people."
Gehrt discovered that coyotes have an uncanny ability to hide in plain sight, although they mostly keep a low profile during the day and prefer to move after dark.
Urban coyotes get by on a diet of fruit, rodents, and whatever happens to be handy -- like the population of Canadian geese in Chicago. Egg hunts in the middle of the night are common, but attacks on domestic pets are rare.
"It is something to be aware of and something to watch for, but people don't need to be living in fear of coyotes on a daily basis," Gehrt said.
For the most part, coyotes will go out of their way to avoid conflict, staying under cover unless an easy meal is nearby; however, leaving pet food or garbage out -- even a large bird feeder -- can attract them to residential areas. The more comfortable they get, the more likely they will appear in broad daylight.
A St. Paul homeowner took pictures of a 20-minute standoff between her dog and a pack of coyotes, but officials say the best thing to do is to haze a coyote that gets too close.
Hazing can be done simply by yelling, waving your arms, or throwing something at the coyotes, but researchers say once the animals establish a territory, they're likely to stay there as long as food continues to be found.