I live in an area that has many urban coyotes. Am I afraid? Not really. I am cautious and stay alert. In fact, after researching more about coyotes for this post, I have come to realize that coyotes are very successful predators in most of North America.
In Los Angeles, where I live, coyotes do not stay in the hills and wooded areas. They are also in the suburban and urban neighborhoods. Coyotes are very good at adapting to living among and around humans. We have made the habitat very attractive. They are shy by nature and are extremely good at hiding in plain sight. With the increased use of outdoor cameras and camera doorbells, we are getting more photos and videos capturing these elusive wild animals. This scares a lot of people. These animals should be respected but we can live among them safely. I think it helps to understand them a little.
The scariest element about coyotes is probably their hunting habits. Coyotes adjust their hunting habits to the food available. Coyotes prefer freshly killed meat but will eat carion when fresh meat is not available. In the fall and winter, they will eat fruit and berries as well. When hunting small animals like mice, they will hide and pounce individually. They are great at jumping fences so the average backyard fence in suburban Los Angeles is not high enough to deter a coyote. This means you do not want to leave cats out roaming freely or small dogs unattended in a backyard. They rarely attack humans but a small child in a yard alone could be a target. So, you want to keep an eye on small children. When coyotes are hunting larger prey like deer, they tend to hunt in packs. So, often when you see one, there will be others. When I see them and I am walking a small dog, I pick the dog up and hold it close. Keeping your dogs on leash is important because the last thing you want is your fearless chihuahua to run up to a coyote. If they are on leash, they are much easier to scoop up. I see them most often early in the morning on walks or at sunset.
When coyotes live around populated areas, they tend to be more nocturnal because human activity is naturally terrifying to coyotes. In less populated areas, they will hunt during the daytime. They sleep in quiet rocky areas away from people and household pets.
At night, I can often sometimes hear them howling. It is often at dusk and later. This is how coyotes communicate with each other and defend their territory. It often sounds like there are more coyotes than are actually there. The sound can scare some people because they mistakenly think it is a sign that the coyotes have killed something. This is very unlikely. Hungry coyotes don’t brag about killing something by howling. This would call attention to the competition and coyotes are more discreet. They are usually just communicating with each other. The sound is nothing to cause alarm.
They usually run away as soon as they see you. This is a good thing. You do not want to train them to be complacent around humans. Many experts recommend making yourself appear large and to be loud and intimidating when you cross their path. Carrying a can of pepper spray or bear spray gives me a little extra self defense. Just make sure it is legal in your area. Laws vary regarding pepper sprays. An airhorn or whistle can come in handy too. I keep a whistle on my carabiner that holds my poo bags so it is always handy. A flashlight at night is a good deterrent too. There are also coyote vests that you can put on smaller dogs that work well. The spikes on these help defend against attack.
In the spring time, coyotes have their litters of pups so they do more hunting and can be more protective of their dens. Packs of coyotes in the wild are usually up to 10 coyotes plus the pups. In suburban areas, the packs are smaller at around 5-6 members within the pack plus the pups. Dens are usually located the quietest, most remote places that the coyotes can find away from people and domestic pets. They generally prefer places that can be obscured like under tree roots or fallen logs. It is best to leave a den undisturbed as coyotes can be dangerous if cornered and/or protecting their young.
There is always a possibility of disease such as rabies, distemper, parvovirus, parasites, worms, fleas, and ticks in wild animals as well. So, keeping your yard clean and unattractive to coyotes should be a priority in most areas. Coyotes are present in every state in the United States except Hawaii.
Hazing is the recommended management of urban coyotes. Hazing trains the coyotes to stay away from humans. Hazing can be done by being loud with noisemakers like whistles, yelling, throwing tennis balls, etc. Never feed coyotes. If you have a coyote that is fearful, stays away from people, and isn’t bothering anything, hazing and leaving the coyote alone is the best protocol. Removing a well behaved coyote is not recommended because it may be replaced by a transient coyote that is much more aggressive. When a coyote is removed, it is always replaced by another.
At home, I do not leave cat or dog food outside as it may attract coyotes. Coyotes also do not like flashing lights. So installing motion detector outdoor lighting can help keep them out of the yard. Taller fencing and coyote rollers can also help keep them out of the backyard. Coyote rollers can be attached to the top of tall fencing and it works by rolling when the coyotes jump up on it and they can’t get a good grip to make it over the fencing. It is a deterrent - not a guarantee. Keep your yard clean and secure your trash cans if stored outdoors. Coyotes are not picky eaters and will eat trash if they can access it. They can also be attracted to dog feces so keeping the yard clean and scooped is important to not attract coyotes. Keep hedges trimmed to reduce shelter for hiding coyotes.
In the rare cases that coyotes have attacked people, the people were often feeding the coyotes. Please don’t do this. It is not safe for you or the animal. Once a coyote attacks humans, Fish and Game wardens will get involved and will trap and destroy the animal. So, although the intent is good, it can have a horrible outcome for you and the coyotes. Talk to your neighbors. Education and community efforts can go a long way to protect your neighborhood and also the wildlife in the area.
In the event that the coyotes are causing a nuisance, threatening people, killing livestock or family pets, California state law does allow hunting or trapping of the coyotes. Unlike mountain lions, coyotes are not a protected species. The firearm laws prevent discharging a firearm in suburban or urban locations however. Trapping can be very tricky too as the animals are hard to trap. The best solution is keeping them away in the first place by keeping the yard, clean and bright.
Coyotes do play an important role in the ecosystem so it benefits all of us to learn to co-exist peacefully with them. They naturally hunt rodents, rats, squirrels, and other small animals that are often considered nuisance animals to humans. For over 100 years, we have waged war on wild predators in this country. Coyotes have been extremely adaptive to this hunting pressure. They shift their diet based on what is available and they will even increase reproduction and breed at earlier ages when their numbers are reduced. Removing coyotes from an area is not effective because roaming loner coyotes quickly replace the coyotes that have been removed. Wolves can and do keep coyote populations in check where wolves have been re-introduced but we have hunted the wolf population to near extinction levels. Wolves do not tolerate competition so they are natural enemies of coyotes. Another natural predator of coyotes is the mountain lions or California pumas. Car accidents are now the leading cause of adult coyote deaths.
This is a very interesting article that discusses the reasons to not kill coyotes.