Coyotes are native to California and found in habitats throughout the state all year long. These omnivores feed on a varied diet that includes fruits, berries, insects, mice, voles, birds, amphibians, reptiles, young deer, and even domestic livestock. Coyotes do humans more good than harm and benefit both urban and rural areas by keeping rodent numbers under control, but they are definitely opportunistic feeders. Encounters with humans are infrequent, but there are unusual instances where coyotes become a nuisance or even a menace. Recent coyote encounters in Central Contra Costa County have given Canis latrans some bad press, but from a sustainability mindset, coyotes play an important ecological role in helping to maintain healthy ecosystems and species diversity.
According to CA Fish and Wildlife, coyotes are intelligent, adaptable, and resilient but will lose their instinctive fear and caution around humans and venture into neighborhoods to forage when there’s access to human food and garbage. They have been known to prey on unprotected animals such as outdoor cats and small dogs. Nextdoor and other social networking sites post footage of these visitors coming into backyards, typically at night but also during the day.
Local residents became alarmed when news spread about coyote attacks occurring in the Lamorinda area between July 2020 and March 2021. SEE STORY HERE. It was discovered that a single coyote was found responsible for attacking five people in broad daylight on separate occasions in the East Bay, including a little girl who was walking with her mother and sibling in a stroller. The coyote was euthanized.
No one wants pets, children, or anyone else threatened or attacked by wild animals. California Fish and Wildlife maintain that coyotes are normally timid creatures and fearful of humans, however, human intervention and rapidly shrinking natural territories and hunting grounds of coyotes have forced the behavior patterns of both prey and predator animals to change. Lindsay Wildlife Experience, in Walnut Creek, has a "Living With Coyotes" page on their website and emphasizes that coyote attacks on people are actually quite rare, but we have to consider that animal populations are made up of individuals just as human populations are. The recent attacks in and around Moraga were highly unusual and the result of one particularly aggressive individual that likely lost its fear of humans, perhaps from being fed, inadvertently or on purpose, or by having some other type of human interaction.
ProjectCoyote.org maintains coyotes are “the most persecuted native carnivore in North America. They are poisoned, trapped, aerial gunned and killed for bounties and contests. An estimated half a million coyotes are slaughtered every year in the U.S. -- one per minute.”
Coyotes have had to learn to live alongside human in residential areas, and we are learning to live with them as well.
Co-existing Alongside Coyotes
Respecting and appreciating wildlife usually means not taming or feeding them or treating them like pets. If you do come into contact with coyotes, the best thing to do is deter and reinstill fear in them (through yelling, chasing, waving arms, etc.) so they don’t become habituated to humans. The Humane Society provides these tips on "Coyote Hazing" (not to be confused with fraternity hazing).
California Fish and Wildlife encourages people to “be good stewards of wildlife” by practicing the following:
"Coyote country" precautions
- Never feed or attempt to tame coyotes. The result may be deadly conflicts with pets or livestock, or serious injuries to small children.
- Do not leave small children or pets outside unattended.
- Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
- Trim ground-level shrubbery to reduce hiding places.
- Be aware that coyotes are more active in the spring, when feeding and protecting their young.
- If followed by a coyote, make loud noises. If this fails, throw rocks in the animal’s direction.
- If a coyote attacks a person, immediately contact the nearest Department of Fish and Wildlife or law enforcement office.
Stash Your Food and Trash
Allowing coyotes access to human food and garbage is reckless and deadly. Coyotes primarily hunt rodents and rabbits for food but will take advantage of whatever is available, including garbage, pet food, and domestic animals.
- Put garbage in tightly closed containers that cannot be tipped over.
- Remove sources of water, especially in dry climates.
- Bring pets in at night, and do not leave pet food outside.
- Avoid using bird feeders as they attract rodents and other coyote prey.
- Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, poultry, and other livestock.
- Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.
- Ask your neighbors to follow these tips.
Please respect and protect wild animals. Keep them wild.
One more thing -- about that yelping in the hills…
We hear intriguing choruses of coyote yips and yaps coming from the surrounding hills and wonder what these vocalizations mean. Are they signaling potential mates? Communicating to pack members? Calling their young? Yes to all the above, but If you’d like to know how to interpret the various howls, growls and yips of these “song dogs,” check out THIS ARTICLE.
Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash