Yesterday a colleague (who studies salamanders) asked me about whether potential neighborhood coyotes were to blame for a domestic cat that was found dead in a nearby yard. He described the scene of finding the pet, and given that it was an urban, residential area, we narrowed down quickly potential predators. Since coyotes are so frequently blamed for missing pets, he asked if I thought this was the case. I will spare the details, but to me, it didn't sound like a coyote was responsible for this cat's death. One interesting thing about predatory animals is that different predatory species may rely on different methods to kill and consume their prey. In this way, without actually seeing the predatory animal kill their prey, we may be able to gather clues about which predatory species did the killing! The scene my colleague described did not sound like coyote kills that I've heard about, read about, or seen. It sounded to me like perhaps a predatory bird- possibly a great horned owl- was the predator in this case. Most people don't imagine that great horned owls will, or can, hunt domestic cats. But they can! The Cornell Ornithology Lab has a great online resource where you can read about basic life history traits of many different species of birds, as well as learn cool bird facts. Here you can find information about prey that great horned owls will take.
Coyotes are often blamed for missing pets, and while this is sometimes the case, they may not always be the culprits. The Cougar Network has put together a very nice guide which describes the differences between canine (either domestic dog or coyote) kills and wild cat (such as mountain lions or bobcats) kills. Here you can learn about tell-tale signs of domestic dog or coyote kills in case you ever find an animal that has clearly been preyed upon and you want to try to figure out which predatory species is responsible (though mountain lions generally avoid urban areas so keep in mind that they are not likely responsible for missing pets). If you live in an urban area or near a natural park and are worried about your pet's safety, the best thing to do is not let your pets outside unattended. Outdoor cats will be at risk for being attacked by the natural predators that manage to survive in and near Los Angeles. We cherish our pets and so we should also be aware of the risks the face outdoors. However, it's quite amazing that predatory animals like coyotes, great horned owls, raccoons, and even bobcats manage to persist in and around a metropolis such as Los Angeles! Thus, we should regard our amazing nature with respect, and protect our pets by keeping them indoors when possible.