I didn’t write this and I can’t find the author to cite, but here’s one of the best posts I’ve seen about coyotes that’s worth reading and sharing:
“We humans have a strange urge to create monsters. For many, it’s not enough to believe in predators that hunt prey. We have to also project strange, sinister, and even supernatural forces onto the creatures who share our planet.
Since the beginning of time, we’ve created and exaggerated stories of dragons that abduct maidens, giant eagles that grab children, the Big Bad Wolf who pretends to be a sheep or a grandmother. The most modern version of these myths involves none other than the coyote: a 25-pound omnivore often seen in the suburbs, where it eats a diet containing mostly rodents.
You’ve likely heard about how coyotes are vicious beasts who come up with complex, cunning plans to befriend innocent dogs. When the dog thinks it has made a friend— as the legend says— the coyote will lead it back to a den, where a large pack of vicious coyotes leap upon the dog and eat it.No matter how many times you’ve heard a version of this story, it’s not true.
Coyotes do not live or hunt in large packs.
A coyote family usually includes just one pair of adults and their young of the year. While the family does occasionally work together to hunt, they usually prefer to hunt alone, and they never hunt in the large groups of 10, 20, or 30 animals that many claim to have witnessed.
While coyotes are extremely intelligent animals, their minds don’t work like human minds. They don’t develop complex plans for the future, and they don’t have a theory of mind— the ability to conceptualize and predict another animal’s thoughts and perceptions— in the same way that humans do.
A coyote simply isn’t capable of “lying” to a dog by pretending to be its friend or developing a plan to lead it into a trap. Like many other myths, the story about the coyote luring a dog to its death probably started as a misunderstanding.
Coyotes and domestic dogs are very close relatives, so coyotes have been known to sometimes approach them socially. That can include the kind of bowing and tail-wagging that we all know means, “Be my friend!” in dog language.
When a family of coyotes is heard singing and yipping later, the same people who witnessed the coyotes approaching dogs might mistake them for a pack ready to hunt. Coyotes use rapidly rising and falling notes fo create an auditory illusion, which makes a pair or trio of coyotes sound like a large pack, so it’s easy to be intimidated by the sound.
But just because coyotes are singing doesn’t mean they’re killing a dog or making sinister plans: it just means they’re a family and they’re together.With all that said, coyotes are opportunists, and like any other predator, they will eat whatever prey is available if they’re hungry enough. A small dog, especially a toy breed, may be hunted by a coyote. This is one of many reasons that small dogs should not be left outside unattended, particularly at dawn and dusk. Although coyotes aren’t known to target larger dogs as prey, they will fight with a dog if provoked, and both the dog and coyote can be injured or killed. Responsible pet owners should always take steps to prevent these incidents.
Lying, deception, and complicated, evil plans are human traits, not coyote traits. There’s no need to project the flaws of our own species onto our wild neighbors or to assume the worst of a coyote’s friendly or confused behavior.
We need to understand and coexist with our wildlife, not to fear them.”
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.
When we first moved to Carlsbad in 1985 well before a LOT of indiscriminately built developments encroached upon animal habitats, our street abruptly stopped at a magical and wild hillside covered with sage, buckwheat, and coyote bush. There were deer and bobcats; even a mountain lion sighting now and again.
And always the ubiquitous coyote.
I’ve only spotted them a dozen or so times, but their scat is always present, and the symphony of songs we’ve heard over the years has been part of the joy of living here.
At sunset, at midnight, before sunrise, our lives have been punctuated with yips and howls.
Recently, there’s been one particular voice that belongs to a specific coyote we’ve named “Old Man” because he has a distinctive lower tone, and his signature song is one solitary defined melodious cadence.
What is so amazing about “Old Man” is not only his distinctive voice, but he seems to be located in our yard, and silly or not, we believe he’s communicating with us.
I know. Crazy, right?
That’s one reason why we’re so upset about all the development that willfully destroys their environment: coyotes play a necessary and important role in managing rodents and rabbit over-populations.
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.
Project Coyote, a North American coalition of wildlife scientists, educators, predator- friendly ranchers and community leaders, promotes compassionate conservation and coexistence between people and wildlife.
As a national non-profit organization based in Northern California, Project Coyote works to change negative attitudes toward coyotes, wolves and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding, respect and appreciation.
All of our work — through education, science, and advocacy — strives to create fundamental and systemic changes in the ways wild carnivores are viewed and treated in North America.
As the most persecuted native carnivore and a species that has existed in North America since the Pleistocene, the Coyote represents all misunderstood and exploited predators. Poisoned, trapped, aerial gunned and killed for bounties and in contests, an estimated 500,000 coyotes die every year in the U.S. alone — one per minute.
Revered and respected by Native Americans for their intelligence and resilience, coyotes have much to teach us about the capacity to evolve and coexist in the face of rapid ecological and social change.
By changing attitudes toward coyotes, we replace fear and misconceptions with respect and appreciation for all native carnivores as ambassadors for healthy and sustainable ecosystems
How to make your community coyote-aware:
Whether you live in a rural or urban area, you can help to educate your community about coyotes and coyote coexistence strategies.
Many state wildlife agencies are underfunded and understaffed and simply don’t have the resources to address increasing human-wildlife conflicts resulting from urban sprawl, habitat fragmentation, and growing human populations.
Here are just a few ways that you can help make your community Coyote Aware:
Organize a Coexisting with Coyotes event in your community; contact Project Coyote to see if one of our staff or Advisory Board members can speak in your community or suggest someone locally.
Coyote, America’s song dog, is an amazing and magnificent animal who is very misunderstood, historically maligned, and tragically and reprehensibly persecuted. Coyotes are intelligent, playful, affectionate, and devoted caregivers. Native Americans appreciated them as cunning tricksters. They are among the most adaptable animals on Earth and are critical to the integrity of many diverse ecosystems. I know coyotes well having studied them for decades.
North America is home to a very special wild dog—the coyote. Highly respected by Native Americans, coyotes have held a special place in our history. The Navajo’s sheep and goat herders greatly revered coyotes, and referred to them as “God’s dog.” It wasn’t until sheep ranchers began running large herds of unprotected sheep that coyotes began to be viewed in an unfavorable light.
Quiet and intelligent, coyotes play a special role in our sense of the natural world and in our eco-system.
Though our interactions with coyotes are rare, these fascinating animals live in nearly every city in the country, and in every forest and town in between. Because they’re predators that will occasionally prey upon the domesticated animals we love—our cats and chickens—coyotes have been reviled by many. But it’s important to keep in mind that, like any predator, coyotes play an important role in keeping our ecosystem in balance.
42% of a coyote’s diet is made up of rodents. That means that coyotes work hard every day to keep a cap on the mouse and rat populations in our area. In farming areas, coyotes can be seen following farm machinery as they catch the voles and rodents that flee the machine. Nearly 30% of their diet is berries and grasses.
Like all omnivores, coyotes will take food wherever they find it, which means that they will also eat insects, fawns, birds, frogs, snakes, and human trash. Coyotes eat raccoons. And, given the chance, a coyote will eat a cat. This happens rarely, however—studies show that cats make up less than 1% of a coyote’s diet.
In many parts of our region, coyotes are an apex predator, which means that they are at the top of the food chain. By nature, they keep the other animal populations in check.
Humans and Coyotes
Because coyotes are predators, their history with humans has been filled with violence. Coyotes are hunted in many parts of the country, including Washington State. Yet studies show that where coyotes are hunted and trapped, females produce more pups per litter than in areas where they are protected.
Many people worry that coyotes might attack or bite a human child, but the truth is that coyotes shy away from people. In Kitsap County, for example, in 2007 there were 189 dog bites reported. There has never been a coyote bite incident in Kitsap.
Not all humans fear or dislike coyotes. For many of us, the coyote is a mystical, elegant animal. There’s magic in seeing a silent coyote standing on the forest’s edge, watching us warily before trotting, light-footed, into the woods. Coyotes are the closest thing we have to wolves, to the wild equivalent of the dogs we know and love in our homes.
Some coyote pairs live together for years, hunting and raising pups together. From time to time, these bonds last for life. Coyotes breed in late winter (something to think about on Valentine’s Day.)
During pregnancy, the female digs a den under an uprooted tree or log or in a thicket or other protected area. The den usually has a small opening, but is 5 – 15 feet inside with a sizeable nesting chamber at the back end.
After 63 days of pregnancy, the female will enter the den to give birth to a litter of pups. The average litter is four pups, but this varies depending on food availablility and the density of the local coyote population.
Coyote pups are mainly cared for by their mother, sometimes with help from an older sibling. The male hunts for the family during this time. After the pups emerge from the den at 2 – 3 weeks, they’re ready to start eating regurgitated food in addition to their mother’s milk.
Coyote parents with young pups often move from one den to another in order to keep their pups safe and secret. Moving also helps limit the mess in any one house!
Young coyotes usually stay with their parents until they’re 6 – 8 months old.
Coyotes are incredibly adaptive, even to human society. In pioneer days, coyotes lived exclusively in the Intermountain West, but as people have expanded their territory, so have the coyotes. Human trash, development, and infrastructure have helped coyotes spread all over the country.
They may be quiet around people, but coyotes have plenty to say to each other. They bark and howl to signal danger, woof and growl to show threat, and they whine or yip in greeting. Group howls are often given when the family is trying to communicate with an absent family member.