Coyote

Coyotes (Canis latrans) weigh 20-50 lbs, stand 23-26 inches tall, are 41-52 inches long, and have a brownish-red coloration to their coat and a bushy tail with a black tip. They are prevalent throughout the Bay Area, staying mostly in the hills. The females give birth to their young in April or May after a 60-63 day gestation period. The litter size is around 6 pups, who will stay in the den for 10 weeks. The mother has them fully weaned at 8 weeks and will bring them rabbits, birds and rodents to eat, which she may have hunted, or as a carrion eater, may have found the carcasses. Once they leave the den, she will teach them to hunt and how to find other food.

Coyotes live in pairs or larger family units, or in small packs, and a strong social hierarchy generally limits reproduction to the group’s leaders: the “alpha” mated pair. While loners exist, they are most often found in heavily hunted populations or when young males leave their pack.

Coyotes are predators occupying the biological niche between foxes and wolves, and as such, play an integral role in their environment by helping to maintain natural ecosystems. Omnivorous by nature, coyotes feed on a wide variety of mammals, insects and fruit, although small rodents make up a vast majority of their diet.

Their intelligence and opportunistic feeding habits allow coyotes to adapt and survive, but these characteristics also put them in conflict with humans.

Historically, society has attempted to solve human/coyote conflicts, whether in agricultural regions and more recently in suburban areas, by killing them. Despite years of poisoning, trapping, neck snaring, and shootings, coyotes in North America are now more widely distributed than ever.

Biologists have long recognized the role of coyotes in controlling rodent populations. A significant and growing body of research asserts that the presence of large carnivore species, such as coyote also preserves species diversity. One study in suburban San Diego found that by controlling the numbers of smaller carnivores, including grey fox, raccoon, and striped skunk, coyotes actually help preserve populations of native birds that would have otherwise been eaten by the smaller carnivores.

It is natural for coyotes to fear humans. It’s also natural for them to adapt to new areas and use their intelligence to determine what is safe and what’s not. Using instinct and survival skills, coyotes have learned just how close they can get to our own living spaces, find what they need to live, and stay safe. Our actions, including the food we consciously and unconsciously provide, dictate what animals will be attracted to or deterred from our yards and neighborhoods. Unsecured garbage, unfenced gardens, low shrubs and vines providing shelter for small rodents, and unattended domestic animals can be interpreted as an open invitation to coyotes to take what they need.


For more information, download this PDF article, Living with Coyotes, from the Spring 2007 issue of Tracks.

Why the Challenge?
Urban sprawl and habitat encroachment are the main reasons behind increased wild animal sightings and challenges. The loss of open space and natural habitat has decreased territories and disrupted predator-prey cycles. A reduction in natural food sources along with plentiful human provided alternatives have given deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, birds and coyote ample opportunity to flourish on unfamiliar diets.

The proximity of much urban development borders on natural habitat and ancient corridors. Wild animals don’t differentiate between undeveloped land and developed land. Coyotes will migrate to areas that provide access to food and shelter.

Coyotes are opportunistic feeders and have thrived on the ready source of human offered food in forms of unsecured food waste, bird feeders and the rodents they attract, healthy deer populations as well as unattended domestic pets.

Problems with Lethal “Control”
The coyote’s success appears to be directly related in part to lethal attempts to manipulate its population (also due to eradication of wolves and bears). As with many wild species, coyote populations are naturally regulated by available food and habitat. Lethal control, however, can disrupt the pack hierarchy, causing members to disperse, allows more coyotes to reproduce, and encourages larger litter sizes because of decreased competition for food and habitat. Lethal control also ensures that only the most resilient coyotes survive.

Coyote Encounters

Coyotes, by nature, are wary of humans and will avoid people whenever possible. Coyotes that have been successful finding food in more residential / urban areas may become more comfortable around our living spaces. Utilizing strong, consistent deterrents is critical to changing behavior patterns and minimizing encounters. If you do encounter a coyote remember the following:

  • Never feed or attempt to “tame” a coyote
  • Avoid direct eye contact.
  • Do not turn your back or run from a coyote.
  • If it’s not your yard, leave the area calmly.
  • If followed by a coyote, make loud noises and make yourself look big. Use super soakers (large-sized squirt guns).
  • If it is your yard, make loud noises (shake pennies in a jar, etc…), make yourself look as big as possible, and even spray with a hose or super soaker until the coyote leaves.
  • If followed by a coyote, make loud noises and make yourself look big. Use super soakers (large-sized squirt guns).
  • Always keep yourself between the coyote and small children.
  • Coyotes are not considered a disease threat. Although they are a potential rabies vector, outbreaks of rabies in coyotes are rare and they are not commonly implicated in the transmission of the disease to humans or domestic animals.

Deterring Coyotes

Remember – coyotes are drawn to urban and suburban neighborhoods for two reasons: human encroachment into native habitat and the availability of food. Successfully deterring established coyote populations requires action from the entire neighborhood / community. All property owners need to:

  • Secure garbage cans by fastening lids with rope, bungee cords, or chains and tying the handle to a stake driven into the ground. Put garbage out the morning of pickup, not the night before.
  • Dispose of especially attractive food wastes such as meat, cheese, and eggs with a small amount of ammonia added to the bag to deter coyotes.
  • Use enclosed compost bins rather than exposed piles. Avoid adding dog or cat waste, meat, milk or eggs, and any food containing these products, to compost.
  • Pick ripe fruit off fruit trees and keep fallen fruit off the ground. Coyotes are fond of ripe fruit.
  • Clear away bushes and dense weeds near your home where coyotes find cover and animals to feed on.

Keeping Companion Animals Safe

  • Cats and small dogs could be seen as prey to the coyote, while larger dogs could be injured in a confrontation. Make sure your pets stay inside whenever coyotes are seen or known to be in the area. Coyotes can be active both during the day and at night, and are predominantly crepuscular.
  • Fence your property or yard. The fence must be at least six feet tall with the bottom extending at least six inches below the ground. Fences can be made more effective by outwardly inverting the top of the fence or by using electric fencing along the top and bottom.
  • Spay or neuter your dogs. Un-spayed females can attract male coyotes. In addition, un-neutered domestic male dogs may be lured by the female coyote’s scent.
  • If you allow your cats to go outside unattended and there is little or no natural tree cover, you can help protect your cat by installing “cat posts.” Cat posts can be any type of long climbable wooden post (4×4 or corner posts) that stands out of the ground at least six to eight feet with a platform on top for the cat to rest on. The post will provide the cat with an opportunity to escape from a pursuing coyote.
  • Don’t feed coyotes or leave pet food outside. Coyotes can easily become dependent on human food sources.
  • Vaccinate your animals (transmission of disease from coyotes to domestic animals is extremely rare).
  • Coyotes are primarily rodent eaters and scavengers (rodents comprise 90% of coyotes’ diets). However, they can harm or kill animals kept outside such as chickens, rabbits, goats and sheep. To reduce the risk to outside animals, take the following precautions:
    • Fright devices, such as sirens and sensor lights, may help deter coyotes from closely approaching animal housing areas.
    • Use guard animals. Llamas, donkeys, and special guard dogs have proved effective in reducing or eliminating coyote predation of pastured animals.
    • Provide rabbits with a wire-covered enclosure with fencing buried below the ground. Provide an escape shelter with an opening just small enough for the rabbit to enter. (Cages are not recommended because rabbits may be attacked through the cage or die of stress as they frantically try to find cover.)
    • Make sure livestock and all pets are securely inside at night; confine livestock during birthing season.

Photo by CJ Baldwin

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