IIt'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 here 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