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A coyote tracks down a snake.

DEAR JOAN: I live in Martinez and over the past 15 years we've been here we've had the usual wild critters in our backyard -- raccoons, opossums, skunks, snakes and turkeys. But last week we had some visitors that quite frankly scared us. Coyotes, at least two that we could see in the wee hours of the night with our less-than-adequate flashlight.

We started raising chickens in May and believe that's what they came for. How they got back there is amazing as our fences are 6 feet tall and not much room to jump over. We scared them out the back and heard the rest of their gang yelping and screaming. We installed an extra solar motion light and last night got a really good look at one quite small little guy sniffing around and then proceeded to take a nap on one of the lounge chairs.

What can we do to discourage them? My chickens and cat need to know.

Sher Kurtz

Martinez

DEAR SHER: One coyote, while a threat, isn't too bad, but once you have them in a pack, you're talking about some serious trouble.

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters. If they come across something, they're going to hunt it. When they are hungry, they are even more determined and won't be satisfied with just one chicken, or cat.

First and foremost, keep your cat indoors and make sure your chicken coop is coyote-proof with sturdy wire that extends beneath the coop to keep them from digging under and getting in that way.

You also should clean up your area of the things that most commonly attract coyotes -- dog food, garbage and bird feeders, or more precisely the small birds that visit the feeders. Pick up any fallen fruit and remove water bowls. Making sure you don't have a growing population of rats and mice will help, too.

Coyotes should be fearful of humans, so if you feel comfortable, run out when you see one, scream, shout, beat metal pans -- anything that will scare it away.

They will be braver in packs, and if they've become accustomed to humans they may not frighten away. Although it's rare, coyotes have attacked people, so use your best judgment on this one. It might be safer to stand in your doorway or hang out a window to raise a ruckus.

You also can install motion-activitated lights and sprinklers. Hopefully, you can convince them your yard is not a friendly place to be. Coyotes do a good job of keeping mouse and rat populations in check, so we don't want to eliminate them from the landscape, just encourage them to stay in the wilder areas.

DEAR JOAN: I live where there are many critters -- deer, squirrels, insects -- but can you tell me what "chenopods" are? I see them listed on the weather page under "active pollens." I can't seem to find out anywhere what they are.

Ferne Henderson

Walnut Creek

DEAR FERNE: A chenopod is a type of flowering plant, most commonly an annual or perennial herb, subshrub, shrub or small tree. The name is Greek for "goose foot."

Plants in this family include spinach, beets, Good King Henry, quinoa, amaranth, pigweed, lambs quarters, Russian thistle, iodine bush and burning bush. Now is around the time these plants and weeds are blooming, which is making a lot of people, including me, pretty miserable.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/AskJoanMorris.