Last night in the garden around 9pm, I heard this chorus of beautiful songdogs; my beloved coyote family. This lasted nearly a full minute, along with other shorter lyrical melodies.
Turn up the volume, as it was extremely LOUD! I wanted to run up the hill to join them, but I did that once and broke my wrist in the dark, so I merely sent them all my love.
I know what you’re thinking, but there are other reasons for this symphony besides a fresh meal…
“The sound of coyotes howling and yipping at night sometimes causes people concern and alarm. Some mistakenly believe howling indicates that a group of coyotes has made a kill. While coyotes howl for a variety of reasons, it is not likely because they have downed prey. Doing so would draw attention and might attract competing coyotes or other predators to their location, which is not something a hungry coyote would want to do. Coyotes howl and yip primarily to communicate with each other and establish territory. They may bark when they are defending a den or a kill.” https://wildlifehelp.org/solution/district-columbia/coyote/should-i-be-concerned-if-i-hear-coyotes-howling-yipping-or-barking/93
This is the first color video of my nightly visitor. It was about 6:00 a.m. Isn’t he absolutely gorgeous?
In this black and white video, there are now two coyotes and since we know they mate for life, I have my fingers crossed waiting to see if they bring me any grandchildren! Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Some coyote facts:
Urban coyotes can create territories out of a patchwork of parks and green spaces.
While many urban coyotes make their homes in large parks or forest
preserves, this isn’t the case in all situations. Urban coyotes don’t need one
cohesive piece of green space like a single park or a single golf course to
call home. They manage to make do with surprisingly small patches of hunt-able
land woven together as a whole territory.
Coyotes can thrive in a small territory if there is enough food
and shelter, but if there isn’t — such as in sections of a city with only a
handful of small parks, soccer fields, green spaces and the like — then they
will expand the size of their territory to include enough places to hunt for
food to sustain themselves. The size of an urban coyote’s range is dependent on
the abundance of food and can be anywhere from two square miles to ten square
miles or more. Urban coyotes tend to have smaller territory sizes than rural
coyotes because there is so much more food packed into smaller areas, even if
that area has only a few scattered parks.
Studies have shown that coyotes much prefer forested areas and large parks where they can steer clear of humans, and they try to avoid residential areas. But when that’s not available, they still figure out how to make do. In a large-scale study of urban coyotes by the Urban Coyote Research Program, it was discovered that “29 percent of collared coyotes have home ranges composed of less than 10 percent of natural land and 8 percent having no measurable patches of natural land within their home ranges.”
Urban coyotes may live in family packs or on their own at
different points in their lives.
It’s common to see a single coyote hunting or traveling on its
own, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is alone. Coyotes are highly social
animals and this didn’t change when they entered the urban ecosystem. Coyotes
may live as part of a pack, which usually consists of an alpha male and female,
perhaps one or two of their offspring from previous seasons (known as a
“helper”) and their current litter of pups. The pack may also welcome in a
solitary traveler if their territory can support another member. Packs living
in sizable protected areas can have as many as five or six adults in addition
to that season’s pups.
However, a coyote may also spend part of its life on its own,
known as a solitary coyote. This is common when young coyotes disperse from
their pack and go in search of their own territory, a new pack to join, or a
mate with whom to start their own pack. A coyote may also spend a stretch of
time as a loner if it was an alpha in a pack but lost its mate. According to
Urban Coyote Research Program, between a third and half of coyotes under study
are solitary coyotes, and they are usually youngsters between six months and
two years old.
Because coyotes hunt and
travel alone or in pairs, it is often thought that they don’t form packs. The
study of urban coyotes has helped to correct this misconception and has
revealed much about the social lives of coyotes.
Urban coyotes mate for life and are monogamous.
Speaking of mates, coyotes mate for life and are 100 percent
faithful to that mate. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Mammalogy found
that “among 18 litters comprising 96 offspring, [researchers] found no evidence
of polygamy, and detected a single instance of a double litter (pups from
different parents sharing the same den).”
This loyalty holds even when there are other coyotes in adjacent
territories and plenty of opportunity for cheating. But coyote pairs stay
faithful and faithful for life. Some of the pairs followed by the research team
were together for as long as 10 years, only moving on when one mate died.
The researchers believe that this monogamy plays an important role
in the success of urban coyotes. Because a female can adjust her litter size
based on the availability of food and other factors, she can have larger
litters of pups in a city where there is a buffet of rodents, reptiles, fruits,
vegetables and so much else in a relatively small area. She also has a
dedicated mate to help her feed and raise the pups, so these large litters have
a higher survival rate, resulting in more coyotes reaching an age to disperse
to other areas of a city.
Even when food is less
abundant or there is territory pressure from other coyotes, the couple stays
together year after year. Coyotes may be opportunistic about matters of food
and shelter, but not when it comes to love.
Urban coyotes do not feast on pets and garbage; they typically stick to a natural diet.
Due to sensationalistic reporting, many urban residents think all
coyotes are out to eat their dog or cat at the first opportunity, or that
they’re dumpster divers of the first degree. On the contrary, studies have
shown that urban coyotes stick mainly to a natural diet.
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and will eat fruits and
vegetables along with animal prey. A study by Urban Coyote Research
Program analyzed over 1,400 scats and found that “the most common food items
were small rodents (42%), fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbit (18%).” Only
about 2 percent of the scats had human garbage and just 1.3 percent showed
evidence of cats. “Apparently, the majority of coyotes in our study area do
not, in fact, rely on pets or garbage for their diets,” say the researchers.
This aligns logically with urban coyotes’ preference of sticking
to parks, preserves, cemeteries, and other out-of-the-way areas as much as
possible. The food available in these locations is rodents, reptiles, fallen
fruit and other food items that are part of a natural diet.
Coyotes of course take feral cats or the occasional domestic cat
that has been left outdoors, and there is certainly evidence that coyotes that
have become habituated and overly bold will go after small dogs. However pets
are not primary prey for them, not by a long shot.
Urban coyotes often switch from naturally diurnal and
crepuscular activity to nocturnal activity.
When urban residents see coyotes “in broad daylight” it is often
assumed that the coyote has grown overly bold or is ill in some way. Actually,
it is perfectly normal for a coyote to be out during the day, as this is their
natural time for hunting.
Urban coyotes have made a behavior change to avoid humans,
switching from being active at dawn and dusk or during daylight hours, to being
mostly active at night. This strategy lowers their risk of encountering a
species of which they are naturally afraid while still hunting in an urban
However, if a coyote needs
to be out during the day to hunt or to get from one place to another, there
isn’t necessarily anything wrong or odd about the coyote’s behavior. In fact,
in the spring and summer when raising their pups, coyotes need to find more
food and so may be more active during the day and thus spotted more often.
Urban residents frequently misinterpret daytime sightings as a rise in the
urban coyote population or that the coyote could be rabid, neither of which are
Urban coyotes help control the populations of other problematic urban wildlife like rodents.
It’s so easy to think of urban places as home to humans, pigeons,
crows and raccoons, and that’s about it. But our cities are increasingly home
to an ever more diverse array of wildlife species rats have been an issue in
cities ever since cities were invented. Coyotes play a role in limiting the
populations of these species and more, helping to keep a balance and increase
biodiversity in urban ecosystems.
Rodents are the primary food source for coyotes in rural and urban
areas alike, and studies have shown an increase in the rodent population in
areas where coyotes are removed.
The easiest way for city residents to avoid
negative interactions with coyotes is to avoid feeding them, either
accidentally or on purpose, and otherwise habituating them to humans.
When coyotes become overly bold or aggressive, and in the rare
instances when coyotes have bitten humans, it usually is discovered that they were
Coyotes have a natural fear of humans, and like most wildlife,
will start to lose that fear and even become aggressive if they are being fed.
This is the reason wildlife managers warn people to never feed wildlife, and
there is the saying, “A fed coyote is a dead coyote.”
Once a coyote loses its fear, it is likely to become a problem
animal and that means animal control will have little choice but to lethally
Feeding coyotes sometimes happens on purpose, but it can also be
done accidentally when people leave pet food on their porches intending it for
cats or dogs, when they leave scattered seeds under the bird feeder, or even
when they leave fallen fruit or compost in their yards.
Educating the public on the
importance of not feeding wildlife and removing any food sources, as well as
educating them on safe and humane coyote hazing strategies to maintain coyotes’
fear of humans, is the best way a city can avoid negative interactions and
instead enjoy quiet coexistence.
Trapping and killing or relocating urban coyotes does not
reduce the overall population of coyotes.
A common reaction from urban and suburban residents when they
learn coyotes are living in their area is to ask for the removal of the
coyotes, either through lethal means or by trapping and relocating them.
However, animal control officers have learned through a lot of experience that
this is not only a lot harder to do than it sounds, but it does nothing to
reduce the number of coyotes living in an area. In fact, it has the opposite
Coyotes are territorial and keep other coyotes out of their home range.
The larger the territory of a coyote pack, the fewer coyotes are present
overall. Removing coyotes from an area opens that location up for new coyotes
to come in and claim it as their own (and there will always be more coyotes
coming in to fill a void), often resulting in a short-term increase in coyotes
as the territory lines are redrawn by the newcomers. Additionally, when there
is less pressure from neighboring coyotes and more food available, female
coyotes will have larger litters of pups, again creating a short-term increase
in the number of coyotes in that area.
There are other problems with trapping coyotes. As the Humane
Society points out, “The most common devices used to capture coyotes are
leg-hold traps and neck snares. Both can cause severe injuries, pain, and
suffering. Leg-hold traps are not only cruel and inhumane for coyotes, but may
also injure other wildlife, pets, or even children. Non-target wild
animals are also caught in traps, and many sustain injuries so severe that
they die or must be killed.”
If a city wants to limit or reduce the number of urban coyotes
living there, the easiest thing to do is allow existing coyotes to work out
their own territories, naturally stabilizing the coyote population. There will
never be more coyotes in an ecosystem than that ecosystem can support, so
(despite what some may think) a city can never become “overpopulated” or
“infested” with coyotes.
We can take extra steps to make an area less appealing to coyotes by removing all extra food sources – from fallen fruit or ripe vegetables from backyard gardens to pet food left on back porches – and removing sources of water. The fewer resources available, the larger the territories need to be to support the resident coyotes, and the fewer coyotes there are overall.