Coyotes

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are highly adaptive members of the canine family and have demonstrated an ability to survive in the most urbanized environments in cities across North America. The presence of coyotes on urban and suburban landscapes is neither surprising nor necessarily cause for concern. 

Most urban coyotes go about their lives without ever raising awareness of their presence among their human neighbors. As a “top of the food chain” predator species, they play a valuable role in maintaining healthy ecosystems by controlling other species such as rodents and Canada geese, that tend to proliferate in neighborhoods.

Coyote 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 in the city.

Coyotes and Humans

Unless habituated to humans, coyotes are generally shy and wary and pose 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 2×4.

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.

Coyote
Coyote, photo by Hayley Crews

If you see a coyote in Portland, please report your sighting to the Portland Urban Coyote Project.

The Portland Urban Coyote Project is a joint community-science project with Portland State University and Portland Audubon to help track and better understand coyote population sizes and where they live within the city.

Report a Coyote Sighting

Tips for Reducing Human-Coyote Conflicts

  • Keep pets like small dogs and cats inside and allow only safe access to the outdoors (fenced yards, leashes, or catios). Always keep pets in from dusk to dawn when coyotes are most active. 
  • 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 / around your yard.
  • Never deliberately approach a coyote and teach children to respect all wildlife from a distance.
  • 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.

 

Coyote, photo by Ray Walton

Natural History

  • 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 develop 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.

Realities of Coyote Control

It is illegal to relocate a coyote or 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-dependent 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.