The Life Around Us

by Katherine Chilton

Photos by Kathy Chilton

The cottontail lives in our front yard under the spirea bushes where it has plenty of food, some water that collects on the top of our well housing, and significant protection. It ventures out most mornings, perhaps to vary its diet and look for the occasional carrot I put out for it.

A family of raccoons seems to be living in the street drain next to our sidewalk. I seldom see them, but they leave footprints on the steel bin in which I store birdseed. I painted a portrait of one and placed it on the tree that shades their cavernous home.

In the 48 years that we have lived here, I have seen ground squirrels only in the past 6 years. They seem to have taken over the place in spite of our dog that romps in the backyard and my efforts to block their ubiquitous holes. I had read that they do not like coffee grounds, so I regularly poured our used grounds down their holes. This caffeine boost may be why they use our trees, deck, windowsills, and fences as an active playground.

Audacious coyotes trot down our street gripping a prize neighborhood chicken or cottontail in their mouths. They have ventured onto our front porch. Fences seem to be no obstacles for them. We are gifted with multi-voice concerts in the evenings and early mornings. Most of the ones we see are robust. but once in a while we see a thin, mangy one. We hope that the plump ones are consuming mice.

Photo by Kathy Chilton

We do have field mice that somehow squeeze their way into the house during the first cold night of fall. Our catching traps allow us to release them under the tree the Cooper’s hawk favors – giving both creatures a chance. There are deer mice in our shed and we are wary of them and their relationship to hantavirus – yet another reason to have a supply of masks.

We are learning much from the ABQ Backyard Refuge Program, especially about the care and planting of beneficial native plants.

Coexisting with Our Urban Coyotes

By David Parsons

Photo: David Parsons

I’m a Wildlife Biologist. It makes my day to see coyotes on my morning walks and bike rides in the North Valley. And it’s always a special treat to hear their chorus howls in the evening from our back porch on Decker Avenue near the Candelaria Nature Preserve. Not everyone views our urban coyotes in the same way I do, though. This is often due to the myths and assumptions humans make about coyotes, their behaviors, and intentions: “I saw a coyote during the day, he must be rabid!” or “Those coyotes were trying to lure my dog away so they could kill her.” False assumptions about coyotes underlie a perception that coyotes are naturally aggressive when, in fact, most of their behaviors are rooted in concern for their families or just their innate curiosity. Lack of accurate science-based knowledge about coyotes can lead to false assumptions and unnecessary fear of our wild canine neighbors.

In the 21st century, multiple encounters with urban coyotes occur in towns and cities of all sizes across the nation, including large cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, and even New York City. Intensive research on urban coyotes in Chicago revealed an estimated 4,000 coyotes make their homes in the city! As author Dan Flores states in his fascinating book, Coyote America, “close encounters with coyotes have now become the country’s most common large-wildlife experience.” Urban coyotes are here to stay, and it is up to us to learn how to peacefully coexist with them.

Coyotes are family-oriented animals that live in groups (sometimes called packs) consisting of a dominant breeding pair and often multiple generations of offspring. They establish and defend territories containing a den site and enough space to provide a sustainable source of food for the group. They defend their territories through aggressive encounters with interloping coyotes who are not members of the group. Many animals considered “pests” by humans are “food” for coyotes, such as rats, mice, squirrels, and rabbits. Thus, coyotes provide important ecological services by controlling the populations of these pest species, some of which can transmit diseases. Recent scientific research has shown that even in urban environments, coyotes mostly prey on similar species as in more “wild” environments, though they also often supplement their diet with fallen fruit and pet food left outside.

Perceived “conflicts” between coyotes and humans most often result from uninformed people presenting irresistible attractants. Most seemingly aggressive encounters in Albuquerque’s open spaces occur with people walking their dogs. Coyotes perceive dogs as canine invaders of their territories and may respond with aggressive behaviors. These behaviors are most pronounced during denning season when pups are born and reared, from April through June. It is important to keep your dog on a short leash especially at that time of the year. Other close encounters are caused by leaving pet food outside and garbage unsecured. These attractants are easy to remove.

Aggressive or close encounters with coyotes can most often be averted through human reactons referred to as “hazing.” The most simple methods of hazing are shouting, waving one’s arms, and throwing objects in the direction of the coyote. More detailed information on hazing and coexisting with urban coyotes can be found at projectcoyote.org.

Urban Animals, at times a Problem: What to Do

Occasionally animals such as bears wander into neighborhoods looking for food. New Mexico’s Department of Game and Fish have a special federally trained team to capture bears and transport them to different locations where hopefully there will be more food. They will also trap and relocate mountain lions, bobcats, and, occasionally, beavers. These are considered fur-bearing animals and protected by state law. Racoons, on the other hand, are euthanized when trapped. You can reach the Department of Game and Fish by calling 505-222-4700 if one of these animals has become a nuisance.

Black Bear. Photo by Jethro Taylor / Flickr Commons

Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico is a licensed volunteer organizations that rescues and rehabilitates animals. These include birds, squirrels, lizards, prairie dogs, porcupines, rabbits, and other small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. For more information on what to do if you find an injured wild animals, see: https://wildliferescuenm.org/found-animal/. Removal of live skunks from under a house or shed requires the homeowner to contract with a private pest control firm. Larger mammals as bobcats, foxes, coyotes, some skunks and injured or abandoned racoons are taken to the Espanola Wildlife center where they will be monitored and rehabilitated if possible.

The City of Albuquerque has an Environmental Health Department. There are five different divisions, one of which is the Urban Biology Department. Its major function is disease control. They trap mosquitos at 22 different locations from Alameda Road to Isleta Reservation to look for any carrying the West Nile Virus. Since the virus for heartworm is also mosquito born, they work to educate the public to use heartworm medication prophylactically for their dogs. People are also counseled not to leave pets outside. Another role is to meet with citizens who are concerned about or in conflict with wildlife. For example, people might worry about coyotes patrolling their neighborhood or porcupines in their tree. Once they know more about the animal’s characteristics, fears can be alleviated. They share strategies to discourage various urban animals from entering one’s property if that is a concern, i.e., decreasing spaces skunks can inhabit. One can learn more by checking out their website. There is a useful list of commonly found animals in our region and what to do in response at: https://www.cabq.gov/environmentalhealth/urban-biology/urban-wildlife/common-wildlife-and-how-to-respond.

Bats are handled differently. When injured or dead, they are referred to a bat biologist who then checks for rabies. Most are free of rabies and are released if rehabilitated.