Living with Urban Coyotes
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are a member of the dog family. Canis latrans means "barking dog." This highly adaptive species was originally considered native only to the western two thirds of the United States, but landscape alterations and the elimination of large predators have allowed it to expand its range throughout North America. Until the 1940s coyotes in Oregon were considered somewhat rare west of the Cascades.
Thick dense fur can sometimes make coyotes appear larger than they really are. In Oregon coyotes typically weigh between 22 and 30 pounds.
Their primary diet is made up of small rodents, but coyotes are opportunistic and will consume a vast array of foods including birds and insects, fruit and vegetables, human garbage and compost, outdoor pet food and small free-roaming pets.
Coyotes are monogomous and can found as lone individuals, pairs or can develope packs similar to wolves. Typically only the dominant pair breeds and produces one litter per year.
Breeding occurs between January and March with a gestation period of 62 days. Litters range from 4-7 pups and young will remain with the parents until late summer learning how to hunt.
Coyotes are at home in a variety of habitat types and will den in burrows, under downed trees, in thick brambles and culverts.
While coyotes are most active between dusk and dawn, they can be seen at any time of the day.
Generally shy and wary of humans, they can also be quite curious and will often observe human activity from what they perceive to be a safe distance. They will protect active dens from predators including other coyotes and dogs.
Despite widespread efforts to reduce coyote populations, coyotes have managed to survive and thrive in and among human populations.
Sightings in and around Portland began in the 1980s and have increased over the past 15 years. While most frequently sighted near natural areas, coyotes have also been seen deep into the urban interior.
By providing accessible garbage cans, compost bins, outdoor pet bowls and free-roaming pets, humans have inadvertently promoted urban coyote populations.
Coyotes typically do not present risks to humans and with a few behavior modifications we can learn to coexist and appreciate the animal that Navajo sheep and goat herders referred to as "God's dog."
Coyotes and Humans
Unless habituated to humans, coyotes are generally shy and wary and present a minimal risk to humans.
There has only been one human death attributed to coyote predation in the United States. This occurred in California in the 1970s when a coyote that had been deliberately habituated to human handouts preyed upon his human feeder's three-year-old child.
In Oregon the only documented "attack" on a human was a provoked situation in which a man was bitten while attempting to beat a cornered coyote to death with a 2x4.
Those incidents that have occurred nationwide most often fall into the category of nips, bites and scratches rather than predatory attacks and almost always follow situations in which the coyote has been deliberately habituated to human handouts.
Coyotes and Pets
Coyotes are opportunistic and will prey upon freeroaming cats and small dogs. The best prevention is to keep pets under control either indoors, on a leash or within a fenced yard.
Regardless of whether coyotes are present or not, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is less than two years.
Outdoor cats face potential death from cars, disease, parasites, abuse and dogs, in addition to coyotes. The only way to truly protect pets is to keep them contained or under direct control whenever they are outdoors.
Realities of Coyote Control It is illegal to relocate a coyote in the State of Oregon. It is also illegal to hold a coyote in a captive situation in the State of Oregon.
The only alternative for coyotes that need to be removed from a specific location is euthanasia.
Coyotes are notoriously difficult to "live trap." There are three common methods for eliminating coyotes in urban and suburban environments: Leg hold traps, neck snares, and sodium cyanide devices.
None of these devices is selective in what it captures and all present real risks to pets and non-target wildlife.
While coyote control can be effective in eliminating specific individuals, it will not help reduce local populations. Coyotes have a compensatory, density dependant breeding rate.
Killing coyotes disrupts population structure causing more coyotes to breed and have larger litters. Coyotes will also quickly fill into vacated habitat from adjacent areas. For these reasons eradication efforts frequently lead to increases in local coyote populations.
Reducing Human-Coyote Conflicts
Never deliberately feed a coyote or other wild mammal.
Securely cover garbage cans and compost bins.
Remove fallen fruit from yards.
- Eliminate opportunities for rats to breed in and around your yard.
- Never deliberately approach a coyote and teach children to respect all wildlife from a distance.
- Keep house pets indoors and allow only controlled access to the outdoors (fenced yards and leashes). Always keep pets in from dusk to dawn when coyotes are most active.
- To prevent coyotes from entering your yard consider removing unnecessary brush, installing a motion-sensitive lighting system, or installing a coyote proof fence. To be effective fences must be at least six feet tall, have no openings greater than four inches and should extend flush with the ground.
- If you do not want coyotes around your home, let them know that they are not welcome. If you see a coyote, shout and make noise, wave your arms.