Living with Coyotes

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coyote on street

Photo credit: David Hepworth/Flickr

Maybe you have seen one from your car, or when out running or hiking, while taking out the trash, or walking your dog. If you live in Southern California, particularly the Los Angeles area, then you are no stranger to coyotes. The Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control estimates there are between 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes living within the entire state, and according to Kevin Brennan, a wildlife biologist and coyote expert with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, coyote populations in the state range from “12 to 20 times greater density in suburban settings than [would] naturally occur in the wild”. (Kim, 2013)

A Brief History of Coyote Management in California

coyote in nature

Photo credit: U.S.F.W.S.

According to LA Animal Services, “Prior to 1994, the Department of Animal Services did routinely trap and euthanize coyotes. The focus at that time was simply to remove problem animals.” It eventually became clear this management tactic was not accomplishing much in regards to “controlling” the overall coyote population or reducing the frequency of negative interactions with humans. Thanks to scientific studies examining wild coyote populations, Californians’ understanding of coyotes began to evolve in the 1990's. Public opinion began to change regarding urban coyote management, and the hunting and trapping laws also changed. It became clear that just removing “problem” animals was not the answer.

In 2014, Project Coyote, an animal rights group based in San Francisco, petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to put an end to coyote-killing competitions in the state and succeeded! As of April 2015, it became illegal in the state of California to give prizes in hunting contests for non-game animals, which includes coyotes, bobcats and many more species. In an interview with NPR to discuss the ruling, Camilla Fox, founder of Project Coyote, stated that “killing a sentient creature for the purpose of a contest, derby or tournament for essentially fun and prizes - there's something that's just very fundamentally wrong about that”.

This sentiment has not been echoed by everyone in California. Hunters, trappers and farmers across the state maintain that coyotes only kill their pets and livestock, and they insist by killing coyotes they are helping to keep the ecosystem in balance. However, biologists have found that large-scale, adult coyote culling can actually increase the overall coyote population in a given area because more pups are able to survive due to less adult competition. Additionally, coyotes play a huge part in keeping small mammal and reptile populations in balance – about 80-90% of their diet is comprised of rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, lizards and snakes. They also consume a large number of insects and other invertebrates, as well as fruits, berries and seeds. Recent National Park Service studies examining the stomach contents of CA coyotes revealed they “primarily eat wood rats, rabbits, gophers, insects and fruit”. (Scauzillo, 2015)

Despite these facts, the public fear surrounding coyotes is pervasive. There are 21 states in our country including Nevada, Texas and New Mexico, where coyote-killing competitions are still legal and take place annually, with ever increasing popularity. Unfortunately, these competitions continue without updated population studies or ecosystem impact studies, potentially to the detriment of future wild coyote populations.

Coexisting with Coyotes

coyote in nature

Photo credit: National Park Service

We have come to understand that the main reason coyotes are able to be so adaptable to the changing landscape is largely because of the human presence, not despite it. From mountain towns to urban and suburban neighborhoods to cities -- everywhere humans settle down, we bring water, food sources and shelter for the coyote and many other wild animals.

Many people inadvertently draw coyotes to their yards and neighborhoods. Some of the ways we accidentally attract coyotes include: providing shelter for coyotes by leaving crawl spaces or other gaps open around a house or property; providing a food source by planting certain types of vegetation like fruit trees, or by leaving food for domestic animals like cats and dogs outside overnight; providing a water source for coyotes by having a pool or fountain easily accessible. These things can accidentally attract the coyote, and many coyotes become dependent on these human-provided luxuries. The coyote is simply adjusting to the ongoing drought, as well as having its habitat encroached upon by people. However, increased daily exposure to humans can cause the coyote to acclimate and lose its fear of people, which is when they can become dangerous, particularly when residents begin to feed the coyote pups at a young age.

coyote in nature

Photo credit: National Park Service

There are no documented cases of coyotes “eating” children, and very few confirmed coyote attacks even within Southern California, but many people remain fearful. Seth Riley, the NPS wildlife biologist heading up the coyote research team in southern California, said in an interview with the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in August that “the vast majority of coyotes present no threat to people.” He went on to say that from 1996 to 2004, “he and other scientists tracked 143 coyotes near the Santa Monica Mountains, from Thousand Oaks to Agoura Hills. There was not one incident of coyotes attacking humans”. (Scauzillo, August 2015)

This does not mean that negative interactions between humans and coyotes do not occur – of course they do. However, Project Coyote put it best – “coexistence between people and their domestic animals and coyotes is an active process that requires community involvement”. One of the ways to diminish negative interactions with problem or “nuisance” coyotes is to participate in coyote hazing. There are various hazing methods that can be used to deter coyotes and change their behavior, hopefully teaching further generations of coyotes a healthy fear of humans rather than comfortability. Check out Coyote Project’s Coyote Hazing Field Guide for more detailed information on coyote hazing.

The Los Angeles Department of Animal Services no longer traps and euthanizes problem animals within city limits, unless they represent an imminent threat to public health and safety. It is illegal to trap and release coyotes, opossums, raccoons, ground squirrels and other native animals elsewhere. If you contact a trapper for “nuisance” animal removal, then that animal will most likely be euthanized per the California Fish and Game Commission regulations. For more information, visit www.fgc.ca.gov/regulations/current/mammalregs.aspx .

Identifying a coyote

Southern coyotes typically will have reddish brown to golden fur, a long, slender snout and bushy, black-tipped tail. Adults weigh only 30-40 pounds on average, slightly smaller than their northern relatives. They are active during the day and at night, with most sightings around dawn and dusk. For more information on coyotes, check out our species information page.

Ways to Discourage Coyotes

  • DO NOT FEED COYOTES OR COYOTE PUPS!
  • Do not try to pet or approach a coyote.
  • DO NOT leave small children or pets outside unattended!
  • Feed your pets indoors and/or bring inside before dusk.
  • Fence in your backyard to help exclude coyotes from entering your property.
  • Pick up rotten and ripe fruit from trees.
  • Secure your garbage cans – most animals are opportunistic.
  • Close off crawl spaces under your house, garage, sheds, etc.
  • Rabbits or chickens outside? Make sure their “home” is properly secured with hardware cloth, including a portion buried down at least one foot to prevent coyotes from digging into it.
  • If followed by a coyote, make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks or tennis balls in the animal’s direction or squirt water at the animal with a hose.

Additional resources