When we think of coyotes, most of us picture one standing on the edge of a cliff, howling at the moon, with a mountain range in the distance, but more and more coyotes can now be found slinking around suburban communities as the sun sets behind backyard fences and shingled rooftops.
The coyote is a canine species that is native to North America. It looks much like a cross between its relatives, the Gray Wolf, Red Wolf and Eastern Wolf, though quite a bit smaller. Coyote can live alone, in mated pairs or in large packs, they can live in a tiny woodlot or lay claim to an entire forest and they hunt both at night and during the day.
They will eat just about anything—mice, rats, rabbits, snakes, turtles, fish, birds and other animals, deer and other larger animals on occasion, berries, grasses and other plants, insects, eggs and even roadkill and garbage. Coyote might be interested in the contents of our compost bins but they certainly aren’t interested in us. As for pets, coyotes have been known to make off with small domestic animals that have been left unattended outside but cats and dogs are not the preferred prey species for coyotes. In fact, research has shown that coyotes are more troublesome for fruit and vegetable farmers than anyone else. Apparently, they love watermelon and cantaloupe.
Like most animals, coyotes prefer to den in nature, and the more secret and secluded, the better, but today coyote can be found in most rural, suburban and even urban areas, such as parks and even large backyards. The cause of this migration from the woods to the streets? Habitat loss. As residential and commercial development causes the destruction, fragmentation and alteration of natural areas, coyotes has been forced to broaden their habitat into more suburban and urban areas, just like the birds, squirrels, raccoons and rabbits that we find flitting, scampering and hopping around our neighbourhoods. When it comes time for an adult coyote to make its den or for a younger coyote to find its own territory, it will first wander into the suburbs, where there is more potential habitat and less perceived danger. If those territories are occupied, as they often are, coyote will move deeper into an urban area.
The suburbs may not seem suitable for a species such as the coyote but they are not just only surviving in their new habitats—they are thriving, thanks to an abundance of food, such as gardens, garbage and the rodents that they attract, and the absence of predators. Coyote specialists have found that urban coyotes live just as long as those coyotes in forested areas. They even suspect that the sharper and shrewder of these coyotes are teaching the upcoming generations how to live in these suburban and urban areas.
For the most part, coyotes are quite timid, nervous creatures and, because we are more of a threat to them than a prey species, they tend to be wary of humans. In the last ten years, there has only been one reported incident here in Halton of a person being scratched or bitten by a coyote.
“Studies have shown that ‘aggressive’ or ‘problem’ coyotes are almost always being fed by someone in the neighborhood, which alters their behavior and encourages them approach humans for food,” says Brenda Van Ryswyk, Natural Heritage Ecologist at Conservation Halton. “If everyone treats urban wildlife as wild and never fed them, there would be much fewer conflicts.”
Even though most coyotes want to keep far away from humans, people still get nervous when they notice that a coyote has migrated into their community. Often, after the appearance of a coyote, people ask why this species isn’t killed or, at least, trapped but neither of these options is proven to work. Coyotes are quite difficult to trap and research has shown that if a coyote is trapped and moved, it will usually return, become a problem somewhere else or be replaced by a new coyote. Research has also shown that if coyotes are being killed, other coyotes in that area will respond by producing larger litters. Most municipalities prefer to let coyotes live and, instead, educate residents about to live in harmony with them.
If you do find yourself with coyote on your property, there are some things you can do to discourage them from hang around.
- Dispose of compost, garbage and recycling in secure containers
- Do not leave compost, garbage and recycling outside the night before
- Do not dispose of meat, dairy or egg products in compost
- Pick fruit from tree as soon as it is ripe and remove fallen fruit from the ground
- Clear away bushes or weeds close to your home where coyote might seek cover
- When coyotes are in your yard, make loud noises or spray them with a hose
- Install a fence at least six-feet high and six-inches underground on your property
It is unlikely that you will ever find yourself in conflict with a coyote but, if you do, here is how you should respond:
- Pick up small children and pets
- Wave your arms in the air and shout loudly
- Use horns, whistles or other objects to make noise
- Throw small rocks, large sticks or other objects at the coyote
- Spray the coyote with a garden hose or a water gun
- Back away slowly—never turn your back or run away
From an ecological perspective, coyote play an important role the biodiversity and integrity of our ecosystems—especially as they keep populations of deer, rabbits, rats, mice, geese and other animals in check. Not to mention, some wildlife specialists say coyote are just the beginning. This migration from natural areas to suburban and urban areas started with some of these smaller species and now it has moved on to larger species, such as deer and coyote. Soon, specialists say, species such as bears, wolves and cougars will start to make the same move.
The best approach we can take to deal with the migration of coyotes and these other species into our communities is to protect their natural habitat. That way, they don’t need to migrate at all.
Last modified: October 17, 2018