Urban Coyotes: A Quick Rundown

Parks and Wildlife spoke at a local meeting of the Audubon Society on Monday, January 8, 2007. The following is an informal synopsis of my notes.

Brett Johnson spoke after the club news, and even keeping up a brisk pace he didn’t even quite get through his presentation by about 9.30 when the meeting concluded. Afterward he stayed to speak with individuals who were eager for more. His talk and presentation were very detailed, and also very matter-of-fact about the presence of coyotes (by the way, he always pronounced it “ky-ote”) in our urban midst. His view was very much like that of feral cat groups, in saying that they’re here to stay and we just have to live with ‘em.

What are they like?

They’re not all that big, not usually as big as a German Shepherd: about three feet long, nose to rear, average weight 30 pounds (ranging from 21 pounds to 44), but lean and muscular. Occasionally people will report a coyote when they’ve seen a wolf/dog hybrid, and believe it or not, it’s hard to tell the difference. (I thought I Mr. Johnson told us that there are no coyote/dog hybrids, but the internet says there are. Perhaps I misunderstood something.)

Coyotes are omnivores. Of course they eat animals smaller than they are – they’re not keen to take on a mountain lion, for instance – but oddly, they are also partial to the Mexican Plum tree and pomegranates.

People who hear them in the area often think there are more of them than there are because they have 11 different vocalizations and can sound like a crowd, but there are generally no more than 6 at the most, a mated pair and offspring. The offspring will move on as they get older, of course, and the pair will breed, January to May, with a 63-day gestation. There are loner males and (nonreproductive) females, who travel a lot, while a loose associated pack will show territoriality.

Where do they live?

Coyotes travel the “environmental corridors” – places that connect developed areas, like stream beds and parks – which means they generally aren’t going to turn up in your yard if you live in the city…generally. You may recall that a coyote caused a big stir when it turned up in Central Park in 1999. The second one appeared on March 22, 2006. They are, literally, everywhere, and that could be your own yard. They range from 1 to 4 miles a night, and are active from about 10:00 pm to midnight.

Should I be worried?

You know that people are wary about rabies. There have been practically no coyote rabies incidences for years in the area. Three occurred in 2001, and only one in 2006, in Ellis County.

In fact, skunks and raccoons are a greater threat. But if there is a worry, Texas Parks and Wildlife will get to work when a coyote situation escalates, in the following order:

  • There are increases in observation.
  • They approach humans.
  • There are early morning or late afternoon sightings.
  • They’re seen chasing pets in daylight.
  • They start attacking pets on the leash or near their owners.
  • They chase adults, especially at midday.
  • They’re seen midday in children’s areas, parks, etc.

This is the trigger behavior for lethal control. The state will come out and trap coyotes, and take them away. They will tell people they are being relocated. Where they are being relocated to is coyote heaven. Put another way, a trapped coyote is a dead coyote. This only makes sense, anyway; where are they going to go? Who would want them? – and if they were transported to a wild area, they’d be going into another pack’s territory. Parks and Wildlife killed over 16,000 coyotes in Texas in 2004. This isn’t to say they automatically come in and clear an area, although some authorities do, and when that happens, it’s the same as clearing an area of feral cats – more come in to fill the vacuum.

Texas Parks and Wildlife is urging cities to create management plans; Austin has one, but as of this writing, Dallas doesn’t.

What should I do?

For future reference, the local reporting hotline is 972-234-9453. You may also report sightings of bobcats and mountain lions, should you find one in your back yard.

Incidents of attacks on humans often follow hand feeding. Yes, occasionally somebody will be curious or interested or dumb enough to feed them. They don’t “take” to us; they don’t make good pets. Even such things as feeding the ducks in the park can make a place attractive to coyotes: Which brings this around to us, who take care of feral cats. We have cats living permanently outdoors, eating food that may be attractive to coyotes, and there’s nothing to be done about that. In my opinion, we have had a range of experience now at SMU that, given this information, we shouldn’t be too worried about coyotes. Not to say that they won’t be around again – they will. But short of rounding all our clients up and making them live in Moody Coliseum for good (see “vacuum” issue above), we can’t protect them any better. This is why we don’t leave tons of food out all the time, and why we count and watch them. If we’re visited by coyotes again, and we lose cats to them again, we’ll be sad. We’ll also be worried for the safety of the other cats. Nevertheless, we can carry on doing the best we know how to do. Life is like that. So is urban wildlife.

If you think that your area or your own yard is at risk for invading critters, there’s a cool fencing system that Mr. Johnson told us about, called a Coyote Roller; it installs at the top of a chain link fence and if a critter tries to climb over it, the roller stops him from getting a purchase. Isn’t that neat? Have a look at it on the website: http://www.coyoteroller.com/home.

by Althea Webb
Feral Cats Program,
Southern Methodist University
January 11, 2007

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