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Monomoy Island’s Coyote Conundrum

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

MONOMOY ISLAND'S COYOTE CONUNDRUM

As coyotes make their way into new parts of North America and prey on species unadapted to this wily predator, humans are handed a whole new set of puzzle pieces to work out. And when humans have paved the path for coyotes to enter these new territories, how much responsibility do we hold for the damage they do to prey species populations? This question is currently playing out on Monomoy Island.

by Ivan Kuraev
November 2016

 

As I searched for Piping Plover nests and chicks on Monomoy – the daily routine of my job as shorebird monitor – I could walk any stretch of the island, on any day of the week, and see coyote tracks running the length of the beach, or imprinted in the mud along the edge of a marsh. These tracks were a sign of how regularly coyotes visit Monomoy, and what brings coyotes to an offshore barrier island is their search for food and territory.  They swim through powerful currents and waters famous for Great White Sharks, then wade across the shallows and sandbars that separate Monomoy from the rest of Cape Cod. I became very accustomed to seeing signs of the coyotes’ visits during my time on the island, but I am still bewildered by the journey they make to get to Monomoy.

According to records kept by the State Department of Environmental affairs, coyotes started breeding in Central Massachusetts in the 1950’s. Using farmland, suburban backyards and even city parks as green corridors, coyotes have successfully expanded their range and established themselves all along the Eastern US.

In Massachusetts they occupy every county with the exceptions of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard (though there have been many unconfirmed coyote sightings on the Vineyard since 2010. On Monomoy, the first coyote den was found by Fish and Wildlife staff in 1998.

The coyote’s ability to adapt has allowed this predator to colonize our continent. Coyotes did not exist beyond the prairies and deserts of Central North America before 1700. By eliminating the larger predators that control coyote populations – bears and wolves – people have provided coyotes with new breeding range, and left for them a reserve food supply in the form of our own food trash. There is little risk for coyotes in exploring new territory, and competition for space pushes mature coyotes to leave their parents and claim their own territories every year.

This is why coyotes have spent the past eighty years moving East, and why they swim to Monomoy. Coyote stragglers and pioneers stake their claim to the island, and here they find an abundance of voles living in the dry wrack line and dune grass, Fowler’s toads, sea robins – a fish that feeds in very shallow water and can easily be caught by a quick enough mouth – and of course, birds.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative
© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

Monomoy is a unique haven for common terns, piping plovers and American oystercatchers – birds that fail to reproduce in many areas on the mainland, but thrive on the island. Absent of people, the island Wildlife Refuge provides some species of birds better reproductive success than anywhere else in Massachusetts. Monomoy is one of the few remaining wilderness areas in the Northeast, along a coastline that is almost exclusively developed and trafficked by people.

Thousands of common terns have settled on Monomoy to breed in a dense, cacophonous colony. These ground-nesting birds are attracted to remote barrier islands because they are absent of mammal predators, and given how scarce good breeding habitat is in the Northeast, it is advantageous for the terns to invest their nesting effort into a single, uniquely perfect area of land.

The downside of nesting in groups is that a large colony of terns, along with their eggs and chicks, creates a large aggregation of easy prey. By literally placing all their eggs in one basket, the terns attract potential predators to a virgin island. 

Common terns have evolved effective defenses against native predators who might visit their colony. Should a fox, skunk or raccoon walk through the colony in search of tern eggs, the birds will swarm the mammal, pecking and pooping on it, and drive it out of the colony. They will do the same to peregrine falcons, red-tailed hawks and bald eagles, and their group-defense strategy works a treat.

Coyotes are still an unfamiliar predator to these birds and significantly more imposing than raccoons and skunks, against whom the terns have evolved a successful defense system. When a coyote passes through a tern colony, swarming behavior by the terns can escalate to a point where the entire colony – more than 20,000 birds – will leave its nesting grounds for twenty minutes or longer, exposing chicks and eggs to the cold. This can be deadly to an entire population of terns.

Coyotes are not a native part of this ecosystem, and their intrusion on Monomoy poses a serious threat to the reproductive success of native breeding species. In 2006, the stomach of a coyote killed on the refuge contained 69 common tern chicks, which it likely ate in one night. In 2009, the stomachs of two coyotes contained 75 tern chicks between them (USFWS 2016, Appendix J).

In an effort to mitigate the damage coyotes cause to native birds, the Fish and Wildlife Service has established a practice of killing coyotes found on Monomoy. This is done only during Spring and Summer, when the predators pose a threat to nesting shorebirds. In April, contracted hunters use dogs to search the island for denning coyotes. The goal is to destroy any coyotes that have made dens on Monomoy and kill their pups, who are usually born in March.

David Warren, who works for the USDA’s Wildlife Services division, hunts coyotes that visit the island during the summer months.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative
© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative
© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

In July I spent an evening with David, and he told me a little about his routine hunting coyotes.

David spends part of his summer living on Monomoy. The island is usually uninhabited by people, and the only permanent structure on the Monomoy is a lighthouse at the South end of the island. Built in 1849, the lighthouse is the only building that remains of Whitewash Village, abandoned by its residents in 1876.

David has outfitted the lighthouse with a propane-powered fridge, a stove, and decorated one wall with mammal skulls that he has found on the island. Just before sunset, he and I walk to a dune that he uses as a lookout.

David’s hunting routine begins at dusk, when he sits on the ridge of the dune and scans the landscape with binoculars. His rifle is positioned in a stand to keep it steady, in case he has to take a long shot.

Perched on his lookout, David waits for a glimpse of a coyote that might be stalking the overgrown dune slopes.

Every night, David also sets up leg-hold traps that are baited with sardines, cat food, or coyote urine to attract the predator’s curiosity. These traps are padded and articulated, which means that they don’t break a coyote’s foot when triggered, don’t cut a wound, and don’t cause the animal to dislocate its limb as it struggles to escape.

David checks his traps at least once every twenty-four hours, so he can quickly shoot a coyote that may be caught in a snare.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative
© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

As I describe David’s work, I can’t help but feel that I am writing about a practice that is brutal and inhumane. No matter what precautions are built into the design of a leg-hold trap, a coyote caught in the trap will still panic and exhaust itself trying to break free.

It seems paradoxical that a protocol of killing animals should be implemented on a Wildlife Refuge. Aren’t these places designed to protect wildlife? I think this feeling may resonate with many people, especially because it is so easy to sympathize with coyotes – they are intelligent, social, playful, curious. However, this paradox should be considered in light of the very difficult choice that biologists who manage the Monomoy Wildlife Refuge must make every spring.

Coyotes have very recently expanded their historic range, which never included Massachusetts, and the native bird species they depredate on Monomoy have not yet adapted to the impact of coyote predation. Being preyed on by coyotes is, on an evolutionary timeline, completely new to these birds.

If coyotes are allowed to hunt and even breed on Monomoy, their presence may reduce the populations of native piping plovers and American oystercatchers, and could completely wipe out one of the largest common tern colonies on the East Coast. The prospect of such damage makes the choice to kill coyotes on Monomoy more comprehensible.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

Tern and plover populations declined during the 20th Century because the habitat they need to breed – open beaches and sparsely vegetated dunes – has been taken over by people. Just as these birds love the beach for nesting, people love for it for sunbathing, playing beach volleyball and developing oceanside property. It is easy to think of human effect on beach ecosystems as unnatural – in the literal sense of the word, beachfront homes and ocean pollution are made by man, not by nature. Establishing a wildlife refuge where birds may thrive free of human-made obstacles to their reproduction makes sense in this frame of thought.

A coyote is obviously different than a plastic bag floating in the ocean or a backhoe on the beach. It is a wild animal, and the coyote’s arrival on Monomoy seems like a natural process that shouldn’t be tampered with by people. However, there is strong evidence that coyotes would never have made it to the East coast without the influence of people.

There are numerous examples of invasive animals introduced by people to North America, which are now thriving all over the continent and damaging native ecosystems. In 1890 and 1891, a Bronx drug manufacturer named Eugene Schieffelin released a hundred European Starlings in Central Park as part of an effort by a group named The Acclimatization Society to introduce all birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays into America. By 1950, starlings could be found all over the US and south into Mexico (Mirsky, 2008). Starlings have been implicated in the spread of 25 avian diseases that have have killed native North American bird species (Pimentel et al. 2000).

The brown, or Norway rat is another obvious example; likely originating in Asia, the rat is living commensally with people in cities all over Europe and the US, and has decimated ground-nesting bird populations in New Zealand, while similar black rats have taken their destructive toll on the Seychelles and the Galapagos (Harper, Bunbury 2015).

Introducing completely new, invasive species isn’t the only way that people can affect wildlife populations. By modifying habitat, we promote the success of select animal species, while placing others at a disadvantage. Animals that are uniquely advantaged by human presence will expand their natural range and in that process threaten local, specialist species, who may need a specific habitat or source of prey to survive.

For example, crow and raven populations are increasing worldwide due to urbanization – crows love to eat our trash, and thrive around human-built structures. American crows can now be found in habitats they didn’t occupy before human development, like ocean beaches and deserts around Las Vegas (Marzluff 2001). Crows prey on shorebird eggs and chicks along Atlantic beaches, and ravens are driving down desert tortoise populations in Nevada. In central California, ravens and Steller’s jays are predating on the nests of marbled murrelets, a species that nests only in the upper canopy of old-growth coniferous forests (Percy, Golightly 2007). Marbled murrelet populations are crashing, in large part due to corvid predation.

In Northern California, barred owls are taking over territories formerly occupied by the declining spotted owls, because the old-growth forests that spotted owls prefer have been heavily logged. Because barred owls are less particular about the habitat they will use for breeding, and are more aggressive than spotted owls, they have further advanced a decline of spotted owls that was first initiated by people.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

Coyotes seem to thrive where people are present, and human influence has allowed coyotes to populate areas well outside their historic range. In his book about coyotes on Cape Cod, Suburban Howls, biologist Jonathan Way describes the effect of human presence on coyotes, “many of the things we most cherish about comfortable suburban living, such as lush woods surrounding properties and open grassy yards teeming with wildlife, are also some of the key attributes that make suburban areas perfect coyote habitat” (Way, 124).

Coyotes have taken advantage of the habitat people have created, and used it to expand their range throughout the US. However, their success isn’t limited to rural and suburban areas; coyotes are also thriving in cities.

In 2010, a coyote was seen in the Holland Tunnel, which connects New Jersey with downtown Manhattan (Rovzar 2010). In April 2015, a coyote was seen on the roof of a bar in Queens and later that same month, NYPD officers from the 10th precinct spotted a coyote running through Chelsea, a busy neighborhood in Manhattan (Bittel 2015). Coyotes have successfully denned and reared pups in Van Cortland and Pelham Bay Parks, both in the Bronx, and are likely establishing territories on Long Island.

Because coyotes are nocturnal, they can hunt and roam city parks and alleys when most city residents are asleep, and New York’s large supply of rats and squirrels provides them with an interminable food supply.

I spoke with to Kate Iaquinto, wildlife biologist at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. It’s hard to understand that coyotes are here on the East Coast because of people, I said to her. Wild animals are not the same as pollution or litter, and even invasive animals appear to be a part of the natural world.

“A lot of people have a simplistic vision of natural selection,” she replied, “and they think, ‘well the coyotes made it here because they’re awesome,’ but it’s not quite so simple.”

If people are the reason why coyotes have come to Monomoy, and if we are to blame for the damage that coyotes inflict on native bird populations, what should we do about it?

Because Monomoy is an island, it is sensible to kill every coyote that swims there and continue the practice indefinitely, with good success. But what about all the mainland beaches that are home to nesting threatened shorebirds?

What happens when coyotes reach Long Island and start eating black skimmer eggs, or preying on the least terns that nest all along the peninsula? It seems laughable to try and shoot or trap every coyote on Long Island.

In his recent New York Times editorial called “Stop Killing Coyotes,” science writer Dan Flores described a coyote adaptation known as “fission-fusion.” When adult coyotes are killed, surviving coyotes go into colonizing mode.

“They have larger litters. If alpha females die, beta females breed…In full colonization mode…coyotes could withstand as much as a 70 percent yearly kill rate without suffering any decline in their total population” (Flores 2016).

Outside the bounds of an island, killing coyotes is not an effective conservation practice. But, there are alternatives.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

Because coyotes are intelligent and observant predators, taste aversion and negative conditioning seem to hold potential as effective measures to protect nesting birds from coyote predation. On a mainland Refuge, it may be useful to leave dummy plover or tern eggs and bodies, laced with a repulsive or mildly toxic chemical, for coyotes to find before nesting season begins. Resident coyotes will then learn to avoid similar birds and eggs in the future, and through territorial behavior keep away straggler coyotes who have not developed the aversion.

In a taste aversion study conducted in California, sheep carcasses were laced with lithium chloride, which causes symptoms of poisoning in coyotes but is not lethal, and left for the predators to find and eat. When lithium chloride bait was removed and replaced with poison-free sheep carcasses, wild coyotes continued to avoid the bait for nine weeks, or as long as the study was able to continue. It is unknown how long the effect lasted after that time, but the practice certainly shows promise as an effective way to diminish coyote predation. A coyote’s curiosity, adeptness and memory may give us an advantage when it comes to predator control.

As David Warren and I get ready to leave our lookout dune, having spotted no coyote, I ask Dave if he ever feels proud of the coyotes he’s hunting when they avoid his traps, or when they run to cover before he is able to fire a shot.

“Oh yea,” he laughs, “Oh yea. My wife says to me, ‘So they outsmarted you again, huh Dave?’”

As he says this, Dave smiles, slings his rifle over his shoulder, and starts down the sliding sands of the dune and back toward his lighthouse hunting lodge.

The Monomoy Common Tern colony had a banner breeding year in 2016, and reached its largest recorded population of 10,505 pairs. In April, before the birds arrived on Monomoy, two adult coyotes and eight pups were killed in their den on the island. The decision to do so was a big part of what allowed the terns to have such a productive year.

However, during the summer months, Dave wasn’t able to shoot or trap the two coyotes that visited the island almost every night. I saw their tracks on my bird-monitoring walks every morning, running parallel to mine.

They outsmarted us, again.

© Ivan Kuraev / Urban Coyote Initiative

Related Articles

A coyote pup sits in tall green grass

It’s Coyote Pupping Season! What You Need to Know to Coexist

A coyote pup sits in tall green grass
© Morgan Heim / Urban Coyote Initiative

IT'S COYOTE PUPPING SEASON! WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO COEXIST

Urban coyotes become more defensive about their den sites during the spring. Here’s what you need to know to avoid conflict.

By Jaymi Heimbuch

Urban coyotes tend to make the news a lot during the spring. More sightings, more interactions with dogs, more following of people walking or cycling through parks and trails.

The reason is that it is denning and pupping season, the time of year when coyotes are both more active around and protective of their den sites.

Though there is more possibility of conflict during pupping season, we can continue to coexist with coyotes if we all understand the reason behind the change in their behavior and how to alter our own routines to ensure we all have enough space.

Two coyote pups sit at their den site, peeking out from tall green grass
Coyote parents warn away any intruders from their dens to protect their pups. Help avoid conflict during pupping season. © Morgan Heim / Urban Coyote Initiative

What to expect during coyote pupping season

Coyotes mate in mid-February and are ready to give birth by mid-April. During this time, both when nearing birthing time and once the pups are born, coyote parents are more protective of their denning areas and more active in hunting food. Their level of activity and protectiveness rises even more as the pups begin to venture out of the den in early summer.

Because of this change in coyote behavior, urban residents, especially pet owners walking through coyote territory, tend to have more interactions. Coyotes that usually avoid any confrontation with humans or dogs will display more territorial behaviors, warning passers-by with vocalizations or even following them. And coyotes that would normally scamper off when chased by an off-leash dog will more likely stand its ground.

The reality of coyote attacks

This doesn’t mean that a dog is more likely to be attacked during pupping season. In fact, the Urban Coyote Research Program found that in their study area of Chicago, “Dogs were more commonly attacked during the winter months than during the spring and summer which corresponds to the breeding season of the coyote.” The confrontations may be more frequent but they aren’t necessarily more injurious.

Coyote attacks on humans are rare, and there have been only two fatal attacks in modern history, in 1981 and 2009. Urban Coyote Research reports, “In almost a third of the reported attack cases, it was known that coyotes were being fed (either intentionally or accidentally) near the attack site. One victim was bitten while feeding a coyote and another was bitten by a coyote that was being fed by her parents.” So it appears there is often a human cause to the bites in the first place.

For comparison, around 4.5 million people are bitten by domestic dogs every year. It is the fifth most common reason why parents take children to the emergency room. From 1979-1996, dogs killed 279 people. So, if it helps assuage fears of neighborhood coyotes, a child is far more likely to be bitten by a domestic dog than by a coyote when out playing in the neighborhood.

That said, it is only smart to know about coyotes and their behavior so that you can continue to coexist peacefully with these wild urban residents.

A litter of four adorable coyote pups sit together at their den among green shrubs and trees
Urban coyotes adjust their litter size according to the resources available in their area. They may have only one or two pups or as many as six or more depending upon the food supply and other pressures. © Morgan Heim / Urban Coyote Initiative

How to avoid negative experiences with coyotes:

As Bay Nature notes, “When a pet goes missing, urban coyotes can quickly develop a bad rap. But many wildlife experts say it’s not the coyotes who need better management — it’s us.”

The fact is, most negative coyote interactions are preventable. When residents act with the reality of urban wildlife in mind, it is easy enough to coexist. Here are tips for how to be proactive and responsible when among your coyote neighbors.

Be aware when you’re in coyote territory

If you’re an urban resident, you may be in coyote territory and not even realize it. That territory could be in a public park, along walking trails, or even your very own back yard. If you are aware of the presence of coyotes, you are most likely to be prepared to avoid any conflict. Pay attention to reports of coyote sightings in local media and on neighborhood message boards. Keep an eye (and ear) out for coyote activity in your area.

Keep pets on leashes during walks and supervise them when outside

No one wants to have a bad experience, neither us nor the coyotes we encounter. For the most part, we just want to go our separate ways. Unfortunately, territories cross and intolerance happens, especially when there is something we each want to protect. What often looks like aggressive behavior by a coyote toward a dog is actually defensive behavior, a coyote just alerting the unwanted visitors that this is their area and they’d rather be left alone.

The video below shows both irresponsible (and in some ways cruel) behavior by a dog owner, and defensive submissive behavior by coyotes who just want the dog to leave:

Smaller dogs are more likely to be taken by coyotes than larger dogs, so small dog owners need to be particularly alert. Following leash laws is one of the easiest ways to keep your pet safe. So too is supervising dogs when out in the yard, especially an unfenced yard. When small dog owners acknowledge that their pet looks like food to a larger animal and take steps to protect them, rather than being stubbornly resentful toward coyotes for being coyotes, their small dog is much more likely to lead a long, happy, coyote-free life.

Pet owners who understand when they’re in coyote territory and how to behave when in coyote territory can prevent negative interactions from happening. Be a smart, alert, and proactive pet owner and avoid conflict for you and for other pet owners.

 

Do not leave food out

Leaving food outside is an open invitation to all sorts of wildlife. The same trouble begins for any species, be it deer or raccoons, coyotes or bears — when they get used to a free and easy source of food, they become habituated and even aggressive about getting their usual meal. Cleaning up food from your yard goes a long way in keeping coyotes at bay. This includes pet food, birdseed, compost piles, fallen fruit and anything else that might look like a meal to a coyote. Remember, coyotes are omnivorous and will enjoy a feast of overripe fruit with as much zeal as they will a feast of rotund rodents.

Don’t run away

If you like coyotes, the nicest thing you can do is keep their fear of humans intact. If you dislike coyotes, the smartest thing you can do to avoid them is keep their fear of coyotes intact. If you encounter a coyote in an area where it is unlikely there is a den, and it is too close for comfort or approaches you, do what is known as “hazing” or simply scaring it away. If you have a small dog with you, pick it up. Yell and wave your arms, snap your jacket or pop an umbrella, flash a flashlight at it, toss sticks toward (but not at) the coyote, and in general act a little crazy.

Do not chase a coyote, since this may cause the coyote to turn around and chase back. And when you are trying to scare a coyote off, don’t run away or turn and walk speedily away as this could trigger a coyote’s instinct to give chase. Stand your ground while still acting like your version of a lunatic until the coyote leaves.

Hazing during pupping season isn’t always productive (or safe)

While hazing usually works to frighten off a coyote, it doesn’t always work during the spring when there is a den and pups to defend.

As Project Coyote points out, “Be aware that you may encounter a coyote who is trying to haze you away from his den by acting anxious and/or assertive. He may attempt to escort you to a safe distance by hunching his back and walking towards you, or by vocalizing (barking or “huffing”). Please leash dogs and pick up small pets and leave the area calmly.”

UCRP notes, “If a coyote seems intent on defending a certain area, particularly around pupping season, your best bet may be to alter your route to avoid conflict with a normally calm animal.” They suggest avoiding an area or reporting the coyote so that trained professionals can properly haze the coyote without causing too much stress or using ineffective tactics that would only further habituate coyotes to humans.

Hazing by trained researchers has been successfully used before to encourage urban coyotes to move den sites away from areas where conflict was likely. In the case of Coyote 748, a coyote collared and monitored by UCRP, “Through calculated hazing efforts by our research team, coyote 748 was encouraged successfully to move his den to another location which we anticipated would cause less public conflict. Success! Pups were confirmed in May.” The situation was a win for everyone involved.

The more everyone in a community is aware of and proactive about coyotes, the fewer incidents there will be overall. Peaceful coexistence is possible when everyone takes part. Indeed, it is the only real solution. Coyotes have proven to us time and again that they aren’t going anywhere, so learning to live together is our one single option. What better time to start than spring when the next generation is on its way.

A coyote pup walks through dry grass.
Urban coyote pups have a big learning curve in order to make it to adulthood. © Morgan Heim / Urban Coyote Initiative

Related Articles

An urban coyote runs toward a leashed dog and dog owner.

What To Do If You Encounter A Coyote While Walking Your Dog

An urban coyote runs toward a leashed dog and dog owner.
© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ENCOUNTER A COYOTE WHILE WALKING YOUR DOG

By far, the biggest source of conflict between urban coyotes and humans centers around pets.

By Jaymi Heimbuch

 

Many urban residents see coyotes or have interactions with coyotes while out walking their dog. Coyotes are rarely interested in humans, but add a dog to the mix and their interest is piqued. Larger dogs may be viewed as competition or threat, while smaller dogs may be viewed as potential prey.

When it comes to urban coyotes, what most parks officials will tell you is that keeping the peace isn’t about managing coyotes, it’s about managing people. If urban residents know what to expect and how to alter their behavior to avoid interactions with coyotes, conflicts can be dramatically reduced.

Four basic rules for walking dogs in coyote territory

1.  Keep your dog on a 6-foot leash.

This length is long enough to let your dog have some freedom but not so long that you can’t easily control your dog should you need to, especially at a moment’s notice. Retractable leashes are of little help to a dog owner, since it is very difficult to reel your dog back in if they are pulling on a long line way ahead of you.

2.  Avoid areas known to have coyote activity, especially during breeding and pupping season.

If there are signs posted or you’ve heard neighbors report coyotes sighted in a certain area, make the common-sense decision to avoid walking your dog in those areas. This is especially important during pupping season when mother and father coyotes will be more defensive of their den sites.

3.  Stick to trails and open paths, and avoid areas with thick brush.

Going off trail, following game trails, or heading into areas where there is thick brush lining the path increases your chances of running into a coyote. Staying on trail in open areas gives you plenty of time to spot and react to a coyote.

4.  Avoid walking your dog at sunrise and sunset hours.

Coyotes are naturally active during the day, though urban coyotes usually switch to nocturnal behavior. Either way, they are often active at twilight hours. If you’re walking your dog during sunrise or sunset, be aware that it increases your chances of an interaction with a coyote.

If you follow these simple rules, you’re way ahead of the game in enjoying a quiet walk with your dog with little chance of seeing, let alone interacting with a coyote. Truly, the most important rule is simply following all leash laws. Even if there is an area of open space where dogs are allowed off leash, unleash your dog ONLY if your dog has a solid and reliable recall. This simple behavior alone would send the number of dog-coyote conflicts plummeting.

Unfortunately, not everyone is going to abide by leash laws, nor will many people stop using retractable leashes that allow a small dog to wander a dozen feet or more away from their owner — far enough for a coyote to feel minimal threat from a human while eying the small dog as a possible meal. Large natural areas that welcome off-leash dogs are also welcoming to coyotes, and thus create the possibility for dog-coyote interactions and conflict.

In these areas and situations with a higher likelihood of running into coyotes, it is important to know what to do if you come across one.

An urban coyote stands under a sign telling dog owners to keep their dogs leashed
Keeping your dog leashed during walks is a smart safety strategy in general, and particularly when walking through an area with coyote activity. © Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative
A man urges his leashed dog along as they are followed on the street by an urban coyote
The best way to avoid conflict between your dog and a coyote is to stay vigilant and know how to react when you see one. © Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

What to do if you and your dog encounter a coyote

1. Leash your dog.

Pick up and carry small dogs. It is important to have full control over your dog so that they do not run toward, away from, or otherwise engage the coyote.

2. Stand tall and assertive.

Coyotes are wary of humans and your presence is usually enough to drive off a coyote. Maintain eye contact. Do not turn your back on the coyote and do not run. Running away can trigger a coyote’s prey drive and may cause him or her to chase you.

3.Haze the coyote until it leaves the area.

This may come easy to some but to others seem abusive or unkind. But every coyote advocate will agree, the kindest thing you can do for a coyote is to scare it away, especially if he or she is overly curious about dogs. Keeping up a coyote’s natural fear of humans is the only way to keep urban coyotes alive, for a coyote that becomes too brazen is sure to end up euthanized.

Outside of pupping season (between the months of August and January) haze the coyote by yelling, stomping your feet, shaking a jacket or noise maker, popping an umbrella, flashing a flashlight, tossing rocks or branches at the ground near the coyote and anything else that will frighten the coyote off. If the coyote freezes, or runs a little way away and turns to watch you again, continue hazing and moving toward the coyote untilhe or she leaves the area entirely. Then calmly and assertively walk out of the area.

If it is breeding and pupping season (between the months of February and July) you may be near a den and considered a threat. It is important not to haze coyotes as normal, because coyotes will defend their den site and you’ll only be escalating a situation, causing undue stress on the coyote and potentially forcing a coyote to act out defensively. During these months, the best thing to do is to slowly and calmly walk away without ever turning your back on the coyote. Stay tall and assertive as you leave the area, even if it means walking backwards. Coyotes will sometimes follow you for a distance to escort you out of their territory, and turning your back may invite them to come in closer to hurry you on your way. Maintaining eye contact and an assertive posture keeps things balanced by letting the coyote know they do not have the upper hand while still respecting the coyotes defense of their den site.

4. Report overly brazen coyotes.

If a coyote comes too close, follows you for too long, acts overly assertive or does not respond to hazing, report the coyote to city authorities. The coyote may have become habituated to humans or is being fed by someone, which can result in aggressive behavior. It may be that the coyote can be hazed by city officials to reverse its behavior or, as unfortunately is often the case, may have to be removed.


The media is rather one-sided when it comes to coyotes, reporting with sensationalistic fervor all the instances that coyotes have conflicts with pets, but ignoring the instances where an encounter is harmless, or a coyote is actually defending itself or territory against an intruding dog, rather than being the aggressor. This results in myths and misconceptions about life among coyotes.

While there can be misunderstanding about what is happening during an encounter, what is readily apparent is that the best thing for humans, dogs and coyotes living in the same area is to minimize the possibility of an encounter. Play your role in maintaining a coyote’s fear of humans, and by extension, maintaining distance from pets.

More ways to keep your pet safe

In addition to knowing what to do when your dog is on leash, you can also take steps to keep coyotes away from your neighborhood and your pets safe at home. These step include:

  • Do not let your pet outside alone, especially at night.
  • Do not keep pet food outside.
  • Haze coyotes every time you see them, regardless of if you have a pet with you (unless it is during pupping season).
  • Avoid having any attractants in your yard, which means picking up fallen fruit from trees, cleaning the BBQ grill, securing lids on trash cans, covering your compost piles, and removing anything else that might be a food, water, or shelter source for coyotes.
A coyote laying near a trail watches as a man and dog walk toward it.
The best way to keep your dog safe from a coyote is to follow leash laws and pay attention to coyote alert signs.© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

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An urban coyote heads down the road in her usual morning patrol of her city territory.

10 Fascinating Facts About Urban Coyotes

An urban coyote heads down the road in her usual morning patrol of her city territory.
© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

10 FASCINATING FACTS ABOUT URBAN COYOTES

Urban coyotes are present in practically every city across the United States. For many cities, the appearance of coyotes has happened only within the last few decades, and residents are still trying to get used to their new neighbors. Though there is a rise in awareness that coyotes are around, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding among city residents about coyote behavior and their role in urban ecology. Here are ten facts about urban coyotes that will clear up common misconceptions and shed more light on this adaptable canid.

by Jaymi Heimbuch

 

1.

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 due 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 due. 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.”

There is still a lot to learn about how coyotes use urban landscapes, which inevitably varies depending on the building density of different cities, the quality of green spaces, and many other factors. But one thing is for sure: the more researchers learn about urban coyote territories, the more it becomes apparent that coyotes make use of the most surprising places, even those that at first glance seem like an ecological desert.

2.

Urban coyote dens are surprisingly hard to find

Though coyotes may be denning in the middle of an urban park, in old storm drains or even under sheds, it is still not likely you’ll stumble upon one while strolling down the street or hiking through a preserve. Coyotes do their best to hide their dens and will often have multiple dens and multiple entrances to a den to help conceal their activity. These dens are usually tucked away in shrubbery or the wooded patches of parks, washes, culverts, golf courses, preserves and similar spaces.

Coyotes avoid residential and commercial areas when they can, and instead seek out whatever remaining fragments of natural habitat are available, which usually is well away from the eyes of humans. Though this is where they prefer to be, they’ll use what they can get. Eastern Coyote Research notes that urban dens have been found “in culverts under heavily trafficked roads, basements of abandoned houses, and directly behind a drive-in movie screen” and according to National Geographic, “one GPS-collared coyote named 748 and his mate even raised a litter of five healthy pups inside a secret concrete den in the parking lot of Soldier Field Stadium, home of the Chicago Bears.”

However because coyote parents want to keep their pups protected and hidden from threats, once humans disturb a den the coyote likely will move pups to a new location. So even if you find a den one day, the family may not be there the next.

An urban coyote stands on a rock wall overlooking a city park
Coyotes manage to fit right in within cities, often hiding in plain sight as they make themselves at home. © Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

3.

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.

4.

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).”

“I was surprised we didn’t find any cheating going on,” study co-author Stan Gehrt, told Science Daily in an article. “Even with all the opportunities for the coyotes to philander, they really don’t. In contrast to studies of other presumably monogamous species that were later found to be cheating, such as arctic foxes and mountain bluebirds, we found incredible loyalty to partners in the study population.”

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.

5.

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.

An urban coyote stands in the middle of a road at night illuminated by the orange glow of the streetlight
© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

6.

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.

7.

Urban coyotes reduce the presence of feral and free-roaming cats in natural spaces, which helps protect songbirds in parks.

While the issue of cats and coyotes is a sensitive and controversial one, there are aspects of their interaction that may come as a happy surprise. In a 2013 study, urban coyote researchers collared 39 feral cats. They found that while urban coyotes tend to stick to parks, wilderness preserves and other fragments of green habitats, the cats steer clear of coyotes’ turf. The felines keep out of these small patches of wilderness and thus aren’t predating songbirds. Songbirds aren’t really on a coyote’s menu, so they have a better chance to thrive when coyotes are present and deterring mesopredators such as cats. Other studies in California showed that coyotes reducing cat activity in habitat fragments resulted in an increase in the nesting success of songbirds in those habitats.

Stan Gehrt, the study’s lead author, told Science Daily, “Free-roaming cats are basically partitioning their use of the urban landscape. They’re not using the natural areas in cities very much because of the coyote presence there. It reduces the cats’ vulnerability to coyotes, but at the same time, it means the coyotes are essentially protecting these natural areas from cat predation.”

Coyotes have a clear impact on how free-roaming cats use the urban landscape, but the exact scope of the ecological benefit still needs more study. Urban Coyote Research Program points out, “Within cities, domestic cats may be the most abundant mesocarnivore in some parts of the urban landscape. [F]ree-roaming cats have been reported to depredate native wildlife and, in some instances, appear to have reduced or even extirpated some populations. However, data on the population ecology of free-ranging cats, and especially aspects that relate to potential predation or disease risk, are needed. This information gap is especially true for cats inhabiting urban landscapes, where their numbers can reach inordinately high levels and the systems are already stressed from other anthropogenic effects.”

8.

Urban coyotes help control the populations of other sometimes problematic urban wildlife like rodents, deer and Canada geese.

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. Unfortunately, these species are not beneficial when they become overabundant. Canada geese can wreak havoc on baseball fields and golf courses, deer can easily become a nuisance in yards and gardens of residential housing and spread disease-carrying ticks, and 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. Deer fawns are also a prey source for coyotes, and coyotes can take anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent of fawns in various populations. Because coyotes rarely ever take adult deer, they don’t cause a reduction in populations, but they do help to stabilize or slow the growth of deer populations in urban and suburban areas.

The same goes for Canada geese; the presence of coyotes is highly beneficial to slow the growth of goose populations, which helps out managers of parks, golf courses, sporting fields and other grassy areas that geese graze in abundance. Urban Coyote Research Program writes, “By placing modified video cameras at the nests, this project was able to identify coyotes as the major predator on the nests. Thus, coyotes are serving as a biocontrol for urban geese. Because egg contents are not detected in coyote scat, the extent of coyote predation on goose nests could only be determined by placing cameras at nests. As with deer, coyotes do not take enough adult geese to reduce the population, but they can slow the population increase through egg predation.”

The predation of coyotes on deer and other species is often controversial, but it is important to remember that what we are witnessing is the return of an apex predator to an ecosystem. When apex predators are present, an ecosystem is more balanced and more diverse. Humans have cleared out other predators like wolves, cougars and bears from their historic territories but the coyote is now filling in this blank in the food web. What we are witnessing with coyotes taking up residence in urban and suburban areas is the return of an apex predator to an ecosystem, and watching what happens is a fascinating area of study for urban ecologists.

9.

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.

An urban coyote stands in a regal pose on a city sidewalk.
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

10.

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.

Citizens 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.

This is not to say that removal of problem coyotes isn’t necessary. If a coyote has become so bold that it begins targeting pets as prey or biting people and the coyote’s behavior is beyond being solved by hazing techniques, then removal is the only solution left to animal control officers. Unfortunately, this typically means lethal removal. Relocation is not an option because it doesn’t fix the problem behavior, and actually puts the coyote in danger as it  can be hit by cars as it tries to return back to its home territory or can be injured in fights with the resident coyotes of territories it passes through. Targeted removal of a specific problem animal is a very different issue than the indiscriminate removal of any and all coyotes.

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

Two urban coyote researchers study samples in their science lab.
Interested in more urban coyote information? Support the researchers who are on the ground studying these fascinating and adaptable canids. It is through their work that we learn how to avoid conflicts. © Morgan Heim / Urban Coyote Initiative

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An urban coyote stands near a coyote alert sign in a city park

10 ways to help your neighbors be coyote aware

An urban coyote stands near a coyote alert sign in a city park
© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

10 WAYS TO HELP YOUR NEIGHBORS BE COYOTE AWARE

Is there conflict over coyotes in your neighborhood? To really get a handle on coyote problems, the most straightforward and least expensive route is to be proactive. That starts with educating the entire neighborhood about coyote ecology and coexistence.

by Jaymi Heimbuch

 

Large quantities of concrete make up our suburbs and cities, yet these places are still part of nature and many wild animals try to eek out a living among the manicured lawns and lush city parks. That means we humans need to understand how to live alongside our wild neighbors. Typically, problems with urban coyotes begin with humans who are not quite sure how to coexist.

With coyotes, a little bit of seemingly innocent behavior such as letting one’s dog interact with a coyote or leaving scraps out to feed them are the start of much more serious problems. Even something as simple as a lack of awareness about attractants in one’s own yard, like bird feeders and compost piles, can be at the root of coyote problems.

Whether drawn closer to people by accident or on purpose, once a coyote is habituated to human presence to the point of becoming a problem animal, this individual and nearby coyotes may very well be doomed. The suggestion most people put forward to handle coyotes is to either kill them or relocate them. Neither of these strategies are long-term solutions, especially on a large scale. First, relocation is illegal in most states for wildlife disease control reasons, so if a coyote is trapped it is euthanized. Second, coyotes are territorial and when a territory opens up because the resident coyotes were removed, more coyotes quickly move in. Unless targeting a specific and known problem coyote, removal is generally expensive, ineffective and sometimes even dangerous for pets which can often accidentally be caught in traps.

A neighborhood worried about coyotes can’t necessarily eliminate the issue by attempting to eliminate coyotes.

To really get a handle on coyote problems, the most straightforward and least expensive route is to be proactive. Educating the entire neighborhood about how coyotes work and how to avoid problems with them is the quickest solution to coexistence. And this education should begin the moment a neighborhood spots its first coyote.

To this end, we have 10 suggestions on how to help your neighbors become more coyote aware, reduce the amount of fear and misunderstanding about coyotes, and reduce the potential for negative interactions.

A coyote walks along a park sidewalk as neighborhood residents and their dogs look on
Neighborhoods can coexist with resident coyotes as long as everyone knows the right behaviors and boundaries for living together. © Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

1. Hang coyote awareness flyers

Let’s start with the most obvious way to help get information out to neighbors: hanging up some one-sheets.

There are many sources for PDFs that can be downloaded and printed out – we have several listed below – or you can design your own based on the science offered by urban coyote researchers and the specific circumstances of your area.

For instance, your coyote-awareness one-sheet can address both how to handle coyote encounters and also list areas in your city with known coyote activity, or places where dog owners need to be particularly vigilant when walking. Or perhaps your one-sheet will list both facts and information as well as a website for a neighborhood alert so people can post their coyote sightings and provide a heads up for others, or dates for upcoming coyote awareness and coexistence events.

One neighborhood took this action to the next level by distributing lawn signs that include a QR code that smart phone users can use to link to online information about the area’s coyotes.

Whether you select a flyer from the list below or design your own, distributing one-sheets is a quick way to get a little extra information out to all your neighbors.

2. Host a coyote hazing workshop

Key to reducing conflicts is educating people about how to be alert, proactive and keep coyotes away when they encounter one. A coyote hazing workshop allows neighbors to see a demonstration of techniques that work to scare off coyotes, and gives them a chance to practice the techniques before actually encountering a coyote.

Here is footage from a recent coyote hazing workshop for dog owners, held by Project Coyote in San Francisco at a park where dogs and coyotes have had conflicts. The videos can be embedded in websites and can be shared with neighborhood message boards, and of course they are also helpful for gathering ideas and material for hosting your own coyote hazing workshop to promote coexistence and safety in your neighborhood.

You can even arrange a coyote hazing workshop through the Humane Society.

Also available is a downloadable coyote hazing brochure from Project Coyote that can be handed out to attendees and distributed around the neighborhood to folks who couldn’t attend.

3. Hold a movie night

Make it extra fun to learn about coyotes by hosting a moving night. It can be held at someone’s home (maybe even a backyard outdoor movie night to be closer to your wild neighbors!) or at a local community center, theater or library. Make some popcorn, set out some snacks, and sit back to enjoy interesting and educational films about coyotes. There can be a Q&A or discussion afterward, or perhaps invite a local coyote expert to answer questions.

Two films that we recommend for a movie night include:

Still Wild at Heart: a one-hour documentary about the urban coyotes of San Francisco. Coyotes arrived in the city around 2001, and are now found in every neighborhood from Ocean Beach to Telegraph Hill. Viewers are sure to see their city mirrored in the experience of San Francisco, and find a new appreciation of the adaptable canids. There is a shortened 30-minute version called American Coyote that focuses on the expansion of coyotes into urban areas and how we can coexist with the species.

Meet The Coywolf: a popular episode of PBS Nature that explores how western coyotes spread out to the east, how they picked up wolf and domestic dog DNA along the way, and how they are adapting to living in and around the cities of the east coast. Anyone living east of the Mississippi will be interested in learning about the specifics of what is now a hybrid but might just end up being considered a new species of canid by scientists in the near future.

4. Hold a workshop for dog owners

A coyote hazing workshop is great for all community members, but there is enough specific information that dog owners should know about coyotes that it is worth holding a special workshop.

Things to cover include why coyotes tend to show more interest in walkers when they have a dog with them, when dogs and coyotes are more likely to have conflicts (such as during pupping season, or if you have a small dog), what to do with your dog if a coyote is spotted, why it is a bad idea to let your dog “play” or chase coyotes, and more.

Many myths that worry dog owners can be dispelled in a workshop, such as the notion that coyotes lure dogs into traps so the pack can attack (they don’t – this is typically the result of a dog chasing a single coyote and the family coming to that coyote’s rescue) and that a coyote following a dog and owner is stalking them (they’re often just ensuring the unwelcome visitors leave their territory). A workshop is also a great place for dog owners to have their questions answered and to share ideas and strategies for safety while walking.

The hazing workshop footage covers some information for dog owners. You can also find a good deal of information in our article, What to do if you encounter a coyote while walking your dog.

A man and his dog look at an urban coyote standing under a leash law sign
© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

5. Host a noise-maker craft party for neighborhood kids

Teaching kids about their wild neighbors, from the backyard birds and squirrels to raccoons and coyotes, is a wonderful way to both connect them to nature as well as prepare them for how to behave around these critters. A craft party is a perfect opportunity to teach children in a light-hearted setting how to scare off a coyote if they see one. The event instills confidence, not fear, about these canid neighbors.

The easiest noisemaker craft is an aluminum can filled about a third of the way with pennies and duct tape over the opening. You can come up with fun ways to decorate the outside of the cans, such as painting them, covering them with animal stickers, or drawing coyotes on paper to wrap around the outside of the can.

If you’re looking for extra inspiration, this article on 9 easy noise makers is a great start. It includes plastic water bottles filled with bells, and a paddle with buttons on strings that bang like a drum when you twirl it. You can figure out ways to make this even louder by using an old pie tin or cake pan and pennies, and the tin can be decorated just like the aluminum cans.

6. Take part in neighborhood message boards

Online neighborhood message boards, such as those on nextdoor.com or Facebook groups for neighborhood associations, are used to report the latest happenings including the latest coyote sightings. This often sparks debate and opinion about how to respond to the presence of coyotes.

Be the voice of reason in what can easily become a screaming match. Make suggestions about coexistence and proactive steps to prevent problem coyotes, and back them up with solid scientific data and researched facts while linking to reliable sources for more information. Some of the sources you can use include:

When you respond, remember that honey works better than vinegar. Calm, rational, well-written responses will always do more for urban coyotes, even if it seems like no one is listening. You might change minds without knowing it by reaching individuals who are keeping up with the message boards but perhaps are not taking part. And who knows, through your level-headed and well-researched responses, you might just change the minds of even the most vocal anti-coyote neighbors.

7. Write an op-ed for the local paper

If coyotes are a source of concern for your town or city, consider taking your neighborhood message board comments to the next level by writing an op-ed about coexistence for your local paper.

List the science-based information that demonstrates how and why coyotes are here to stay, and outline strategies neighbors can use to minimize any possibility of conflict, from removing attractants from their yards to being vigilant while walking their pets to hazing coyotes if they see any. Just like with message board comments, a well-researched article with a calm and welcoming tone works best to reach the highest number of people.

Some well-written op-eds about urban coyotes that can be used as inspiration include:

An urban coyote runs around with a newspaper in its mouth
© Jaymi Heimbuch / Urban Coyote Initiative

8. Hold a coyote-smart backyard planning party

When it comes to backyard planning, you can go beyond the perfect deck and herb garden. Get the neighborhood together to talk about how to make their yards as unattractive to coyotes as possible. This keeps everyone’s pets a bit more safe, and reduces the possibility of conflicts since coyotes will have little reason to hang around.
Topics to cover include cleaning up attractants, how to close off compost to coyotes (which can actually be harmful to coyotes and other wildlife), how to close off openings under decks, sheds and foundations that might look like warm places to den, and even how to install motion-activated sprinkler systems to frighten off curious coyotes.

Coyotes are omnivorous and opportunistic eaters, so attractants include ripe or fallen fruit, ripe garden vegetables, spilled bird seed, dirty barbecue grills, bird baths and ponds, pet food dishes left on patios, and anything that might attract rodents since coyotes love to feast on mice, rats and other small animals.

A backyard planning party will not only help people learn ways to keep coyotes out, but it will also likely provide neighbors with a ton of coyote information they didn’t yet know. After all, not everyone realizes that coyotes enjoy fruit or that trimming the shrubs to reduce hiding places can be a helpful deterrent.

The Humane Society’s Coyote Management and Coexistence Plan template offers not only a checklist for a backyard audit but also several other documents your neighborhood or city may find useful for smart management.

9. Organize a lecture about urban wildlife

It is always helpful to bring in an expert, and sometimes a known expert is the only person a perturbed neighbor is willing to listen to. If your neighborhood as coyote activity, organize a lecture that discusses coyote ecology, myths and facts, and how to be coyote aware.

Seek out an expert from a local college, nature organization or wildlife rescue center who is knowledgeable about coyote behavior, especially urban coyote behavior. It may be worth coming up with a list of questions and interviewing the expert beforehand to ensure they really know their stuff before bringing them on as the speaker.

Set up a side-table near the door to provide take-home materials for attendees, which they can hand out to neighbors who couldn’t make it to the event. This will help spread the word even more as well as give neighbors something to reference if they have questions after the event.

10. Print and distribute copies of this booklet

The booklet “Coyotes in Our Midst: Coexisting with an Adaptable and Resilient Carnivore” is filled with information about coyotes, dispels myths through science, and provides a great deal of advice. It is a thorough review of everything the average person needs to know about coyotes and can be extremely helpful for educating your community about these wild canid neighbors.

This is a more expensive option, since printing a booklet can get pricy. But if the neighborhood comes together to cover printing costs, or prints a few copies to put out in local cafes, libraries, office waiting rooms and other central locations, it could end up being very helpful.

You can also simply provide a link to the downloadable PDF on one-sheet flyers handed out at gatherings, or in any neighborhood message boards you might frequent.

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