You’re walking down a city street at dusk when you see movement in a nearby alley: a flurry of grayish-brown hair and pointy ears searching for dinner. As you get closer, you realize that it is a coyote. But coyotes are larger than the average city creature, like mice, squirrels, and pigeons, so what are these predators doing in big cities from Los Angeles to New York City, and how do they manage to survive?
CoyotesCanis latrans) used to be found only in the grasslands and deserts of central and western North America. But in the 1800s, the amount of open land soared as European-Americans and other settlers transformed the landscape through widespread logging and agricultural development. This created more open habitats in the eastern states, and the coyotes moved away, expanding their range. At the same time, humans tried to exterminate Wolves Y cougars, which decreased the coyotes’ food competition, according to Kathleen Kerwin, a program associate with the Rutgers University Wildlife Conservation and Management Program in New Jersey.
Coyotes spread across the US, and as humans expanded their cities, coyotes learned to adapt to their new urban excavations. It’s difficult to estimate how many coyotes live in a given area at any one time, as they are generally elusive, Kerwin told Live Science in an email. “But we do know that some coyotes thrive in urban settings because they can take advantage of small patches of habitat and are not picky about what to eat.”
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Kerwin and his colleagues recently published a report about the coyotes of New Jersey. These eastern coyotes are sometimes called coywolves or coydogs, as they were once interbred with wolves and dogs. However, this mixing occurred many generations ago, and today coyotes are kept with their own species.
Coyotes are part of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, dogs and foxes. Coyotes can grow to about the size of a medium-sized dog, weighing 20 to 50 pounds. (9 to 23 kilograms), Live Science previously reported. Coyotes are extremely versatile, a valuable asset when trying to make it big in a big city.
In urban settings, coyotes seem to prefer patches of wooded and shrubby habitat, as well as parks and golf courses, where they can find shelter away from people, Kerwin said. They are generally not particularly fussy about where they lie down at night, sleeping outdoors or under cover of greenery.
Coyotes are social animals and can be found in pairs or family groups known as herds, even in cities. Herds are typically made up of a pair of alpha males and females and their close relatives, according to the Cook County Coyote Project in Illinois. However, coyotes often travel alone or in loose pairs, unlike a pack of wolves, and they can also be solitary.
During the coyote breeding season, from January to March, a mated couple will retreat to a den to raise their cubs. “Den sites are generally in pre-existing spaces, such as a hollowed out log, an abandoned burrow of another animal, or a rock crevice, and can be very difficult [for humans] to find even in urban areas, “Kerwin said. Coyotes can even use den sites near buildings and roads, or in parking lots, according to the Cook County Coyote Project.
Urban settings often provide coyotes with the same types of food that are available in more natural settings. Most of their diet is made up of rodents, rabbits, Fruit and deer, according to Kerwin. However, urban coyotes can also take advantage of food left by humans, which can lead to conflict.
“Coyotes will lose their fear of people if they start to associate them with access to food like garbage, small pets or livestock, or outdoor pet food,” Kerwin said. These easy meals can make the naturally shy coyote bolder and show aggression towards people.
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Coyote attacks on humans are rare, but they do happen. For example, a coyote attacked and injured five people in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a 3-year-old girl, in February, before the animal was captured and euthanized on March 12. the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
People are often divided on whether to live with or kill these wild predators. For example, a neighborhood in Seattle was destroyed after three members of a coyote family – a mom, a dad, and three cubs – were killed by the Wildlife Services, a federal agency, in 2016. according to Seattle-based radio station KUOW.
Coyotes will do their best to avoid people. Naturally, they are most active at dawn and dusk. However the Cook County Coyote Project and others have found that coyotes in urban areas increase their activity at night when fewer people are around. Many urban species do this to avoid humans and traffic. However, the coyotes will also take advantage of the hours of the day, so the inhabitants of the city should not be alarmed when seeing them during the day. according to Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
The easiest way to prevent coyotes from becoming too familiar with people, and thus reducing the chances of aggression, is to stop feeding them intentionally or not, Kerwin said. “Also, if you see a coyote in your neighborhood that doesn’t run away, it’s a good idea to wave your arms or yell at it loudly, to reinforce its fear of people.”
Kerwin added that if a coyote becomes aggressive, he should immediately call the police or animal control.
Originally posted on Live Science.