This story is part of our series, Wild Pennsylvania, which is funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation. To check out the other stories in the series, click here.
Last fall a coyote made a splash in my Pittsburgh neighborhood just by showing up. We were all surprised and a little shocked when it was seen in someone’s backyard.
Have coyotes suddenly arrived in the city? I saw a dead coyote by a local highway in 2003. He probably was not the first.
LISTEN: “When Coyotes Come to Town”
Eastern coyotes look a bit like German shepherds, but smaller with shaggier fur. Their size and presence in cities have a lot to do with how we’ve treated coyotes…and wolves.
By the early 1900’s Americans had eliminated wolves and mountain lions from most of the U.S. Then we tried to eradicate coyotes, but it backfired.
When coyote populations are under stress, they produce more pups. Without wolves as natural competitors, coyotes spread from coast to coast. In a weird twist of fate–and survival–wolves and coyotes hybridized in Ontario. That resulted in a larger coyote in the east–a third larger than western coyotes–weighing 35 to 55 pounds.
Coyotes arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1930s when our reintroduced deer population was exploding. They fill up on fawns and roadkill when they can. Mice, rats and plants are staples of their diet, but they also eat Canada goose goslings. As these foods expanded into cities, so did coyotes.
So, are coyotes something we should worry about? Are they dangerous?
Not to us humans–but we have plenty of myths, borrowed from our fear of wolves. No, coyotes won’t eat your kids. No, coyotes won’t lure your dog away to make a meal of it, but they might take a small pet if it looks easy. No, coyotes will not stay away from your neighborhood if you remove the one you’ve seen. New coyotes will arrive to take its place. That’s totally coyote.
What you want to do is train your local coyotes to be wary of humans.
Never feed coyotes. Don’t leave any food outdoors, either, including pet food or open garbage. You’ll attract mice or rats, and they attract coyotes.
Keep your dog on leash and stay with your small pet when you let it out in the yard. Keep your cat indoors.
If you see a coyote, shout and wave your arms. Shoo it away.
Coyotes are smart, and our pressure on them makes them even smarter. Appreciate them from afar. Keep them wild. You’ll be very lucky if you ever see one.
» Coyote Hazing Guidelines (PDF)
» Living with Wild Neighbors in Urban and Suburban Communities: A Guide for Local Leaders(gives elected officials and other decision-makers the tools to implement long-lasting, nonlethal solutions to community wildlife conflicts)
» Project Coyote: promoting an educated coexistence between people and coyotes
» DON’T FEED COYOTES. Their life and your safety depend on coyotes remaining wild and naturally wary of people.
» Remove attractants; pick up trash, secure garbage, and feed pets inside. Don’t leave food or pets outside at night.
» Walk dogs on leashes, especially during pup rearing season (April-Aug). Pick up your small dog if you see a coyote and don’t let pets roam
» If approached, don’t run. Wave arms, make noise and walk toward the coyote until he retreats. Be “Big, Bad and Loud.”
» Avoid areas where coyotes may be denning or feeding/hiding pup
» Appreciate coyotes from a distance.
» Share this information with family and friends.