Seeing a coyote should not be cause for alarm. Like all other urban wildlife, they’re looking for food, water and shelter. However, if the coyote is approaching you or in an area that you’re not comfortable with (your backyard, a busy park), consider hazing it (see below) to scare it away. We recommend that apart from disclosing the location of the sighting to us, you keep that information confidential in order to protect the coyotes.
The Eastern Coyote is an extremely intelligent, family oriented and highly adaptive species. Since the 17th century, the landscape of Ontario has vastly changed, pushing out the natural species – bears, wolves, cougars and so on – and making a vacuum in the ecosystem. Coyotes are easily able to navigate urban landscapes and have filled the hole created in the ecosystem. There are plenty of natural food sources provided in urban settings such as rodents and rabbits.
While coyotes passing through our areas are quite common, removing an active food source is one of the necessary components in keeping them at an ideal distance from humans. Available food – either intentional or unintentional – will attract many other wildlife species including coyotes and make them more comfortable around people. Coyotes will remain in urban areas, just as many other species of wildlife have, however ensuring they’re not getting hand outs (along with education, investigation and enforcement of appropriate by-laws) will help keep coyotes wild and away from people.
Coyotes are omnivores: they eat small rodents as well as local vegetation (berries, fruits, etc.). While they may not distinguish between a cat or one of their preferred prey species (such as rabbits or rats), they do not predate on dogs. Most often, dogs are seen as potential competition for food or as a threat to coyotes, as they are canids as well. A study in Chicago – and another in Canada – indicated that less than two per cent of their food source was domestic animals (and it was undetermined whether the scat analysis included carrion – animals that had already died).
Coyotes are extremely curious and intelligent animals – they often watch the things happening around them, just as a tourist in a new city would. Young coyotes are immature and very puppy-like: children, and the toys they play with (like balls) can lead a juvenile coyote into play behaviour. If you are concerned that a coyote is paying too much attention to your small dog or child, pick them up and begin making loud noises and/or throwing objects toward (but not at) the coyote to scare it away (see Hazing). Never turn your back on any dog- domestic or wild and run. Maintain direct eye contact and slowly back away.
A coyote will not see a person as potential prey – considering their usual prey is a mouse, vole or fallen crab apple, even small adults are much too large. However, like any other species of canid (including your pet dog), they will chase something that runs from them. This is why it’s important to never run from a coyote – stand your ground, wave your arms, make loud noises and/or throw objects toward (but not at) the coyote to scare it away. Coyotes that have been fed and associate humans with a handout may exhibit “demand” behaviour such as nipping or grabbing at clothing.
Though we – residents – see the city as separate from nature, it has a thriving ecosystem that includes not only ravines and parks but streets, backyards, industrial parks and construction sites. Relocating (or killing) coyotes is not recommended, difficult to accomplish and only a band-aid solution.Trapping a coyote and euthanizing it does not address the inherent issues in a community that create conflict such as feeding, improper garbage disposal and dogs off leash. Removing a coyote opens up the landscape for another coyote or two to move in filling nature’s vacancy. Much like birds, squirrels, raccoons and other animals, they have found a permanent home in urban areas. Coyotes are beneficial to the eco-system as well; they are Mother Nature’s cleanup crew and help keep populations of rodents under control. Relocation is a problem as well since wherever the coyote is relocated will already have established coyotes in the area, and territoriality can make survival very unlikely. Attempting to remove one coyote from an area can also separate a family unit, which can lead to a lack of critical education for young pups (as both male and female coyotes raise their pups together) and sadly even starvation.
Unfortunately, no. As highly intelligent animals, coyotes will recognize that they are being fed by humans, which will result in them returning to the specific area and habituate them – or make them less cautious around people and properties. Feeding coyotes, even indirectly (by feeding birds, squirrels, etc., you attract rodents, which are a coyote’s preferred food if no vegetation is available), will encourage them to attend a specific area and become comfortable around people. Multiple studies from across North America show that feeding animals habituates them and creates a greater chance of conflict.
Feeding wildlife can – and often does – result in conflict. From birds and squirrels to raccoon and coyotes, it puts the natural ecosystem in a state of flux. It teaches the animals that people and their properties are valid food sources; we want them to rely on their instincts to avoid or disassociate humans with providing food.
Hazing is a method of negative association – when a coyote (or other animal) is in an area we don’t want it hanging around in, like a backyard, scaring it away will make it less likely to return. By consistently doing this, they will be more likely to avoid that spot in the future. Hazing can include making loud noises (yelling, not screaming), waving arms, popping open an umbrella, shaking car keys, throwing objects near, but not at, the animal and chasing. It is also commonly referred to as ‘aversion conditioning’, or ‘escape conditioning’. Hazing is only effective in the long-term if it is coupled with food removal and the other cornerstone components of the Coyote Watch Canada coexistence plan (investigation, education, prevention and enforcement). Coyotes should only be hazed if they are inappropriately encroaching on property or showing a lack of fear toward people.
Eastern Coyotes share remnants of DNA with wolves. Scientists estimate that the initial cross-breeding of the species occurred approximately 100 years ago in north western Ontario. While today’s Eastern Coyote often looks wolf-like , it remains significantly smaller (a large Eastern Coyote is approximately 40 pounds – though tall, they are quite lean). The small amount of DNA they share with wolves does not affect their behaviour in terms of how humans can safely coexist with this highly adaptable, family oriented and intelligent native North American canid.
There are several common things around homes that will often attract coyotes and other wildlife. To minimize these attractants, it is recommended that residents keep garbage, recycling and compost indoors until 6 am, keep meat and egg products separate from composting until it is set out, pick up and appropriately discard fallen fruit and berries, do not leave pet bowls (water and food) outside, close off any access to the underside of decks or sheds, clean grills, leave no food outdoors and ensure cats are kept indoors. Dogs (especially small dogs) should be kept leashed and supervised, especially at night. Overflowing bird feeders attract prey species and potentially invite coyotes to visit too. Clean up underneath the bird feeder and avoid throwing seeds on the ground. Consider putting away your feeder and naturalizing the property with indigenous flora that will encourage wildlife. Predatory birds such as owls, hawks and eagles are also attracted to prey that frequent bird feeders which puts free roaming cats and small dogs at risk of predation by these species.