By 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.