What was that?
All kinds of wildlife roadkill are a predictable occurrence on Minnesota roads. It’s not unusual to observe whitetail deer, raccoons, Canada geese, and ducks as well as domestic animals and assorted vermin in or at the side of the road. Still, one morning as I was delivering my daughter to school at 50 mph (we were pretty much always in a hurry, but that’s another story), an unusual carcass caught my eye. “That’s either a yellow German shepherd – not very likely, or a coyote,” I thought. “What’s a coyote doing here in Minnetonka, of all places?”
Of all places, indeed. As it turns out, suburban Minneapolis (along with most every other North American suburban and urban area) happens to be regular habitat for an ever-growing number of coyotes. A few months later, my friend Judy mentioned that she thought she had seen a coyote skulking around her yard. Beyond her property line is woods and wetlands – again, not unusual in suburban Minneapolis. It’s the perfect place to set up coyote housekeeping, with all kinds of prey to keep a coyote family’s bellies full.
Sweet Home, Chicago
Ohio State University has done an extensive study of coyote urbanization in its Cook County, Illinois Project. At the behest of Cook County Animal Control, with funding from wildlife and forest conservation groups, OSU examined ecological characteristics, conflicts between human and coyote populations, and management implications inherent in habituation. I thought the most striking finding in the study mirrored my own experience: we co-exist with coyotes, most often completely unaware of their presence, in unexpected citified environments.
Coyotes have been spotted in such diverse urban settings as New York’s Central Park, Kansas City, Beverly Hills, Boston and Detroit. Originally dwelling in the grasslands of the more Western United States, coyotes have proven themselves to be opportunistic and adaptable. Their range has expanded to every state except Hawaii, primarily because their chief predator, the wolf, was more systematically eradicated. Because coyotes are more nocturnal, sightings are minimized, despite heightened awareness by the more sensational aspects of press coverage.
While attacks on humans are fairly rare, coyotes appear to consider free-ranging pets as rightful supplements to their regular diet of rodents, rabbits, young deer and eggs. Most of the problems with habituation appear to have a human component, though, in that some of us feed coyotes, intentionally or not. Unsecured garbage bins, food for pets left outside, and unattended small domestic animals are all part of the problem. Studies of attacks in Southern California revealed a higher frequency of human-related food as part of the equation. Once coyotes associate our homes and yards as sources of food, they are more frequently seen during the day, and so encounter us more frequently as well.
What Good are Coyotes?
Coyotes, like wolves, have been the victims of a lot of bad press. They do serve a purpose in the ecological system, one which perhaps has been distorted by human efforts at management. Urban deer populations are exploding, primarily because of lack of predators. Coyotes do have an effect by keeping the deer somewhat in check. Reductions in rodent populations are also a beneficial effect. Growth in the numbers of Canada geese has been slowed, as well, once coyotes have introduced into nesting areas.
A Live Sighting
Several weeks ago, a group of us at Judy’s home spotted the coyote she had mentioned to us earlier. Excitedly, we gathered at the patio door to see him peering around the corner of the garage next door, no more than 50 feet away. This large coyote appeared to be healthy and well-fed. Though he wasn’t particularly bold, the sighting in broad daylight was confirmation that there was more than sufficient food supply in our suburban world to entice and support a good coyote lifestyle.
As his wild animal eyes met mine, there was mutual acknowledgment. Here we both were. And neither one of us was going anywhere.
- Coyote Bites Jogger in Griffith Park (laist.com)