Trouble is, their bodies can adjust easily to other foods when the preferred staples are unavailable. Often, he says, coyotes that stumble upon human habitats are young or have been beaten to their common food sources by more dominant coyotes.
"They can live in the woods, in grass, or in a suburban landscape," says Leopold. "They're gonna survive. They'll just adapt to all sorts of habitats."
A study completed at Mississippi State in 1987 showed that, in addition to natural migration patterns, humans contributed to the coyotes' eastbound roam.
Particularly in the Carolinas, the study shows, operators of hunting tournaments imported coyotes from the West to let dogs chase them. Many coyotes escaped from the pens in which the tourneys were held, then reproduced and migrated across the Southeast.
Leopold says trapping records rarely showed coyotes caught in eastern states prior to the 1970s. Now, some states show thousands trapped per year.
Wildlife officials are urging farmers in areas where there are coyotes to keep smaller livestock indoors or in secured pastures. They say large dogs can help scare away coyotes, if owners leave them outdoors.
But coyotes have been known to prey on smaller dogs, such as poodles, and on cats. Humans are considered safe from the animals, though one shocked a community on Cape Cod last summer when it attacked a child.
Colona says pet owners, even in suburban settings, would be wise to begin stopping pets from roaming freely outdoors.
He also says that if residents leave food for cats and dogs outside, coyotes will sometimes come eat it, and that could help adapt the animals to the suburban habitat.
Bernadine Friend, the 72-year-old director of the Garrett County Animal Shelter, keeps 67 cats on her 5 acres in Friendsville, near the West Virginia border. Like her rural neighbors, she lets animals run freely and says her cats have always returned home safely.
Three cats disappeared last fall, the first ever to vanish from her property. Two more disappeared several weeks ago, each after she heard them shriek.
Evidence is circumstantial - she has seen coyotes on the road and neighbors have heard them howling at night - but Friend is convinced they're responsible.
"I never heard cats scream before," she says.
Taking the DNR's advice, Friend built two large caged pens, now the only areas in which her cats are allowed outdoors.
"They're not happy in there, but they're safe. They can't roam. They can't run and climb trees, the things they did before," says Friend, who adds that her love for animals makes it hard to hate coyotes.
"They're a beautiful animal, but right at this time I have no sympathy for them. There is probably a place for them. It's not in my back yard."
Sun staff researcher Sarah Gehring contributed to this article.