My Coyote Friends: Coexist with Love

Good morning!

What an absolutely magical surprise!

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.

As it is with the presence of apex predators in any ecosystem, having coyotes living and thriving in an urban area is a positive sign of the health and biodiversity of urban areas. Their presence can be considered a thumbs-up for the quality of a city’s urban ecology.© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

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 territory.

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 usually true.

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 being fed.

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 remove it.

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.

People often feed urban coyotes accidently by leaving out pet food, open compost bins, fallen fruit and other tasty morsels for these opportunistic eaters to find. © Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

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 effect.

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.

Coyotes are here to stay and removing them is not and will never be an option. Our one and only path forward is coexistence. https://urbancoyoteinitiative.com

Learn more about coyotes and support the great work of Projectcoyote.com

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