What is a coyote?
Coyotes are wild dogs that are native to North America. In body form and size, the coyote (Canis latrans) resembles a small collie dog, with erect pointed ears, slender muzzle, and a bushy tail. The color and size of coyotes can vary regionally, but in southern California, coyotes are predominantly brownish gray in color with a light gray to cream-colored belly. Across their range in north America, color varies greatly from nearly black to red or nearly white in some individuals and local populations. Most have dark or black guard hairs over their back and tail. In western states, typical adult males weigh from 25 to 45 pounds (11 to 16 kg) and females from 22 to 35 pounds (10 to 14 kg). In the East, many coyotes are larger than their western counterparts, with males averaging about 45 pounds (14 kg) and females about 30 pounds (13 kg).
National Park Service Research On Coyotes
From 1996-2004, the local National Park Service biologists studied coyote populations near Thousand Oaks, California. This study involved the capture and radio-collaring of coyotes. A total of 128 coyotes were captured and sampled during this time.
We have found coyotes to be present and in relatively high densities in almost all of the remaining natural habitat fragments throughout the study area; which includes Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills and Calabasas. Although these animals will visit the surrounding urban areas they tend to prefer the remaining natural open space. However, many of the remaining fragments are too small to support a family group of coyotes, and therefore these groups must include multiple fragments within their home range. To use these fragmented patches coyotes are forced to travel through the interdispersed developed areas, including crossing roadways of various sizes. Some fragments have become separated by large networks of urbanization so that even residents not on the edge of natural areas may come into contact with coyotes as they move between these habitat patches. However most of the coyotes that occur in these patches are rarely seen by the citizens living around them. They tend to be very secretive, which has allowed them to persist in these urbanized areas.
Coyotes are a generalist species, they are able to take advantage of a wide range of both habitat types and food types. They exist in almost every habitat type throughout the United States and their diets can vary in these different areas. As a part of our coyote study between 1996-2004 we collected scats to identify food use in our area and we found that their diets mainly consist of native fruits and small mammals such as rabbits, woodrats, and mice. These urban coyotes however will also occasionally utilize human food sources, most predominantly ornamental or non-native fruits which can constitute up to 25% of their diet. Other items such as trash, pet food and domestic pets may also be consumed on occasion, but constitutes a very small percentage of coyote diets in our study area.
Coyotes are notoriously known in southern California for becoming nuisance animals; however serious coyote conflicts with humans are actually rare. Public reports of nuisance issues range from coyotes being seen during the day to reports of them preying on domestic cats and attacking domestic dogs to the extremely rare incidence of a coyote biting/attacking a person. However during our study we also followed 110 urban coyotes with radio collars and saw no such conflicts. We are currently looking for funding to examine more closely the behavior of specific animals that do have conflicts with humans and then in turn to use this information to identify methods of dealing with nuisance animals to help reduce conflicts between humans and coyotes.
The behavior of residents neighboring natural areas plays an important role in reducing conflicts with coyotes and other wildlife. People should never intentionally feed wildlife, and care should also be taken to not unintentionally feed coyotes as well. Residents should make sure to promptly pick up low hanging and fallen fruits in their yard, keep trash in a secure container, secure compost piles, feed pets inside, and keep small pets inside or on a leash near themselves, especially at night. Park visitors should be careful with food wrappers and left over snack items brought along. They should either make sure all of this goes back home with them, or it is disposed of properly. Although use of these human food sources is low, once a particular animal learns to associate humans with food, it may become more aggressive towards people and there will be more potential for nuisance behavior. If nuisance issues are occurring in your neighborhood try to identify areas of food availability and work toward removing the food source, which should in turn cause the coyote to quit using the area where it is being a nuisance. If confronted by a coyote make loud noises and if this fails throw rocks and act like you are a major threat to the animal by yelling, stomping and throwing things at it. Continue this behavior until the animal completely leaves the area.