Several residents said they were surprised recently when they spotted coyotes in their Milford neighborhoods, but city and state officials say it’s no surprise. Coyotes have been around for a while.

“They’re in most towns now,” said Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

One local animal control official said the office has gotten calls from various parts of Milford reporting coyote sightings.

“They’re all over,” she said, adding that one resident reported that coyotes had killed a pet Chihuahua, but she did not say when that attack occurred.

Coyotes were not originally found in Connecticut, but have extended their range eastward during the last 100 years from the western plains and Midwestern United States, through Canada and into the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, according to the DEEP website .

“Coyotes were first reported in Connecticut in the mid-1950s. For the next 10 years, most coyote reports were from northwestern Connecticut,” the site states. “Coyotes eventually expanded their range throughout the entire state and are now a part of Connecticut’s ecosystem.”

A Milford woman who lives on Noble Avenue said she was locking her car last Thursday at about 9 p.m. when she spotted a German-shepherd sized animal standing in the road.

“First glance, I thought it was a deer. It was big,” she said. “When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I was looking at it trying to figure out if it was a German Shepherd or a coyote. Then another one ran out from behind my house, and I figured they were coyotes. They walked down Noble Avenue toward the center of town.”

Another resident who lives near downtown said she was cooking on Thanksgiving and looked out her kitchen window when she spotted a coyote.

“I happened to look out the kitchen window – and there was a coyote walking right down the center line on Seaside Avenue, headed for downtown. I thought it was a German Shepherd at first – but then looked closer and knew it was no dog,” she said.

Another resident spotted a coyote Thanksgiving night. He’d never seen one in Milford before.

“I saw what clearly looked like a coyote walking across Bailey Lane near the intersection of Ford Street on Thanksgiving night right around 7 p.m.,” he said. “We're used to seeing plenty of deer and wild turkeys around here, but that is the first coyote I've seen that close to Route 1.”

A typical coyote resembles a small, lanky German Shepherd, but several characteristics distinguish it from a dog, according to the DEEP.

Coyotes tend to be more slender and have wide, pointed ears; a long, tapered muzzle; yellow eyes; slender legs; small feet; and a straight, bushy tail which is carried low to the ground. The fur is usually a grizzled-gray color with a cream-colored or white underside, but color varies.

“The eastern coyote is larger than its western counterpart,” according to the DEEP. “Most adults are about 48-60 inches long from nose to tail and weigh between 30 to 50 pounds, with males typically weighing more than females.”

Coyotes are opportunistic and use a variety of habitats, including developed areas like wooded suburbs, parks, beaches and office parks, according to the DEEP.

“A coyote’s diet consists predominantly of mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, deer, some fruits, carrion, and when available, garbage. Some coyotes will also prey on small livestock, poultry, and small pets. In Connecticut, unsupervised pets, particularly outdoor cats and small dogs (less than 25 pounds) are vulnerable to coyote attacks.”

As coyotes have become more common, public concerns about coyotes attacking pets and people, especially children, have increased, officials say.

“Although some coyotes may exhibit bold behavior near people, the risk of a coyote attacking a person is extremely low. This risk can increase if coyotes are intentionally fed and then learn to associate people with food,” according to the DEEP.

“The best way to protect pets is to not allow them to run free. Cats should be kept indoors, particularly at night, and small dogs should be on a leash and under close supervision at all times. The installation of a kennel or coyote-proof fencing is a long-term solution for protecting pets. In addition, homeowners should eliminate other sources of attraction to coyotes including pet food left outdoors, table scraps on compost piles, and decaying fruit below fruit trees.”

People should never feed coyotes, DEEP officials said.

“Do not place food out for any mammals,” the state website states. “Homeowners should eliminate any food sources that may be attractive to coyotes. Clean up bird seed below feeders, pet foods, and fallen fruit. Secure garbage and compost in animal-proof containers.”

Coyotes are most active at night but may be active during daylight hours, particularly during the young-rearing period and longer days of summer, according to the DEEP.