Urban Coyotes

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 15, 2010

The message light was blinking on my phone when I arrived at the office this morning. As a wildlife damage biologist working in the metropolitan area of St. Louis, I receive hundreds of calls every year about wildlife, including problems with deer, raccoons in the garbage, bats in the attic, geese, skunks, rabbits, squirrels, foxes … the wildlife seen in urban areas seems to increase every day. In fact, before the day was done, I would take a report on feral hogs in downtown St. Louis!

The message was from a man reporting coyotes howling in his subdivision the night before. He wanted to know if he should be concerned. Calls like this are not unusual, as coyotes are becoming more and more common in urban areas all across North America, and Missouri is no exception.

Historically, these adaptable animals lived in open grasslands and prairies, but they have flourished in the habitats that humans have created. In urban and suburban areas, many people enjoy their encounters with coyotes and, by taking a few common sense precautions, avoid the negative impacts coyotes might otherwise cause.

Education is crucial to human and urban coyote coexistence. When coyotes begin showing up in your backyard, managing potential problems should begin with untangling facts from myths. People should become aware of basic coyote behavior and biology, and understand the differences between true threats and coexistence. Our relationship with coyotes is directly affected by our behavior. Coyotes react to us, and we can choose to foster mutual respect or a lack of respect.

Biological Behavior

One of the keys to the coyote’s success is its diet. A true scavenger, the coyote will eat just about anything, including: foxes, groundhogs, mice, rabbits, squirrels, fruits, vegetables, birds, insects, carrion (dead animals) and common household garbage. Although coyotes rarely kill adult deer or take enough Canada geese to impact those
urban wildlife numbers significantly, their predation on fawns and depredation of goose nests may help slow the growth of those populations. Under normal circumstances it appears that coyotes cause little conflict in urban landscapes and can even be viewed as an asset instead of a liability.

A high reproductive rate and rapid growth of offspring is another reason for the coyote’s success. They breed in February and March, and after about 60 days females give birth to four or five pups, which are born in some type of den. In urban environments, dens can

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