Coyotes are elusive creatures wrapped in the myths and legends of many cultures. They’re one of the most resilient animals on the planet, adapting to any environment. That’s great and all for coyotes, but you don’t exactly want them in your yard, right?
In truth, if a coyote is in your yard, it’s most likely looking for food and has smelled something tasty. Unsecured trash cans, pet food, food scraps, and bird feeders will all attract coyotes to your yard. If you have shade or shelter on your property, coyotes may view your yard as a rest site.
Let’s go over what attracts a coyote to your yard, and how you can keep these elusive creatures off your property for good!
3 Reasons Why A Coyote Is In Your Yard
You’re half asleep, groggily making your way outside to grab the newspaper and you see it: orange eyes, grey-brown fur, and a bushy tail. A coyote! Both beautiful and terrifying!
Cañada University tells us that coyotes are most active at dusk and dawn, so it’s no surprise that this is when they are spotted the most. The good news is, coyote attacks on people are very rare. But having a coyote in your yard is still concerning, especially if you have pets or kids.
So, what is this elusive creature doing in your yard? Seriously, they’ll live anywhere. They’re found in deserts, tundras, grasslands, dense forests, and high mountain regions, and can be found in all of the continental U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
The three most common reasons a coyote is in your yard are:
- It’s searching for food
- It’s trying to find fresh water
- It’s seeking shelter
Let’s take a closer look:
Coyotes Are Searching For Food
Coyotes aren’t like wolves. They don’t mind stooping as low as a grasshopper for a quick meal. They’ll eat fruits that have fallen off a tree, roadkill where available. Heck, they’ll even dig in the dirt for worms and grubs!
Surprisingly, the densest populations of coyotes don’t occur in heavily wooded areas. Instead, the densest coyote populations are in suburban and urban settings.
Why, you ask? Food!
The amount of food scraps, roadkill, and general garbage is way higher in urban areas as opposed to rural areas. These sources are quick, easy, and don’t expend a lot of the coyote’s energy.
Coyotes themselves do not commonly eat trash, but if you tend to leave your garbage cans outside all week without securing the lid, the smell will attract rodents and other small animals, which coyotes prey upon.
Quick tip: read about using lights to deter coyotes in our guide here.
This is true of bird feeders as well. The seed that has fallen on the ground will attract mice and other small rodents, which are quick and easy meals for a coyote.
Compost bins are another source of food for a coyote. They will prey on the mice and small rodents that are attracted to compost bins. Or, they may just dig around in there for scraps of food or grubs.
Pet food is another concern. Pet food that is left outside may not attract coyotes directly, but it will attract the animals that coyotes feed on: mice, rats, rabbits, and squirrels.
Poultry such as chickens, ducks, and turkeys are at high risk of coyote predation, especially if they’re not in the proper enclosure. The presence of these birds can attract coyotes to your yard.
Coyotes Are Finding Shelter in Your Yard
Coyotes typically mate around February or March and rear their young from spring to fall. Before the mating season, coyotes will try to find suitable dens to rear their pups.
It’s not common practice for a coyote to make their den site near humans. They’ll want somewhere quiet and undisturbed. You can read our article on the places where coyotes sleep by clicking here.
However, some properties have large acreages with abandoned buildings that are rarely disturbed. These can quickly become coyote den sites.
What happens more often when you see a coyote in your yard is it’s looking for a cool, shaded place to hang out during the day. They’ll look for shady areas under bushes, trees, porches, and decks.
In the wild, shelters like this come in the form of fallen logs, rock crevices, and the burrows of other animals. Keep that in mind, and try to think of any area of your yard that might mimic something of that nature.
Your Yard Provides Fresh Water For Coyotes
I’m sure by now you’re seeing a pattern. Coyotes are looking for their most basic necessities when they wander into your yard: food, shelter, water.
Having a stream running through your yard or a nice big pond will undoubtedly attract a variety of creatures who depend on fresh water to survive.
Coyotes are no different.
If you see a coyote in your yard slinking down to the stream or pond, it’s not a mystery. They are probably just looking to get a drink of water.
Coyotes also prey on some animals that are found near water such as snakes, turtles, and waterfowl.
What To Do If You See A Coyote In Your Yard?
Now we know why they’re in your yard. That doesn’t change the fact that a decent-sized predator is hovering around your home.
What do you do?
Actually, you don’t have to do anything. A trespassing coyote isn’t a sign of aggression or that they’re sick: they’re just doing their thing and looking for food, water, and shelter.
One thing you can do, that I won’t get into here, is use predator urine to repel coyotes. You can read that article here.
Even if you call a local authority, they don’t have to do anything either if the coyote is not doing anything dangerous or aggressive. The fact is, if you live in the city you’re probably closer to a coyote than you think.
Most times, you don’t even notice them.
Healthy coyotes will not approach humans, nor do they want anything to do with us. They like to keep to themselves and clean up the rodent population at night. Not a bad neighbor to have, eh?
The problem comes when coyotes get a little too comfortable around people. This mainly happens in urban settings where old populations of coyotes exist. For example, Los Angeles, California.
Problems can quickly escalate when coyotes begin preying on the local cat population, going after small dogs, or even stalking.
Coyotes are smart. If you take the same route with your dog each day at about the same time, coyotes will actually learn this pattern and can wait in ambush.
These types of coyotes are considered problem animals and should be reported to local authorities such as animal control or the police. In many cases, the problem coyote will have to be removed and eliminated.
According to the University of California, removal of problem coyotes can be effective at reestablishing a fear in humans, without negatively affecting the population as a whole.
As cruel as that may sound, keeping wild animals afraid of people is what’s safest for both the animal and people. To keep this fear, it’s important never to feed a coyote.
You can also use repellents, which we’ll get into, but you can read our guide on the scents that coyotes hate to help keep them at bay.
If you happen upon a coyote in your yard or while walking your pet, there are several steps you can take to avoid conflict:
- Make some noise: shout in a deep voice or yell at the coyote to try to scare it away.
- Stand tall: similar to dealing with a mountain lion, make yourself as tall and big as possible. If you’re wearing a coat, spread it open like a cape.
- DON’T RUN: Though your flight response may kick in, do not run. This will elicit a chase response in the coyote, and make it think you are prey.
In most cases, taking these actions will cause a coyote to run away.
How To Keep Coyotes Away From Your Property
Let’s talk about how to be proactive. Coyotes that wander into your yard and find easy meals will tend to come back time and time again.
Instead of waiting for this to happen, there are steps you can take to make your property less attractive to coyotes, and prevent conflicts before they happen. Check out 8 Brilliant Ways You Can Keep Coyotes Away Indefinitely for a more detailed guide.
In the meantime, here are the basics:
Keep Cats and Pet Food Inside
Neighborhood cats are not accustomed to being hunted, even by local dogs. Cats can typically outsmart a dog by running up a tree or jumping over a fence, but coyotes are different.
The presence of local cats will attract coyotes to neighborhoods because, unfortunately, cats are not really a match for a coyote. Coyotes are quick, agile, and used to catching small, fast prey.
Keep your cats inside, and if you must let them out, do it during the day when coyotes are less likely to be active.
If you feed your cats outside, pick up all food after they are fed and bring it inside. Do not store food outside unless it is in a sealed container that cannot be opened by raccoons or bears, which will attract coyotes.
Build A Fence
This is one of the most expensive exclusion techniques, but also the most effective if built correctly.
Your fence should have the following characteristics:
- Be at least 5 ½ feet tall.
- If using wire mesh, leave spaces no greater than 6 inches between.
- Bury a galvanized wire-mesh apron at least 4 inches (6 is better) below the soil.
- Extend this outward at least 15 inches in an ‘L’ pattern.
- (Optional) Install a wire-mesh overhang that slants outward. The University of California suggests 18 inches.
- (Optional) Install roller devices at the top of the fence to prevent coyotes from getting a grip and climbing over the fence (yep, they’ll actually do that if given the chance!)
Don’t Give Them Shelter
Remove anything in your yard that may provide a coyote shelter. Seal off crawl spaces beneath buildings and decking. Seal any cracks or holes you find in your exterior buildings such as sheds or garages.
Wood piles, shrubs, and low-hanging trees all provide a potential hang-out spot for coyotes during the day. You can trim your shrubs so that the bottoms are open, and do the same with low-hanging branches.
Coyotes won’t hide where they’re out in the open, so preventing access to any hidey holes will deter them from returning to your yard.
Secure Your Garbage
Contrary to what many people think, coyotes aren’t hanging around city dumpsters looking for food in the trash. What they’re looking for are the animals that do eat the trash.
Mice, rats, raccoons, opossums, and skunks are all dumpster divers.
And they’re all on the menu for a coyote.
Securing your garbage, or even better yet storing it inside somewhere, will prevent these prey animals from sniffing around your house. This, in turn, keeps coyotes away from your property and off searching for prey elsewhere.
With that being said, coyotes eat roadkill. If you throw out spoiling meat in your garbage, this will attract the attention of a coyote. Just because they don’t typically eat trash doesn’t mean they won’t.
The best practice is to keep your trash secure by storing it inside your garage or shed, or placing straps over the lids to keep them sealed.
One item that’s getting a lot of attention is the Lid Loc Universal Garbage Can Lock. It’s a simple kit that fits almost any outdoor garbage can.
Pick Fruit Before It Falls
As we stated before, coyotes are opportunistic and omnivorous. This potent combination means they’ll eat anything, anywhere, as long as it’s edible and won’t make them sick.
It’s not uncommon for a coyote to snack on fruit that has fallen onto the ground. Some of their favorite fruits include:
- Passion fruit
For a complete list of fruits that coyotes prefer, check out the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources Integrated Pest Management Program for coyotes.
Picking fruits before they fall, or soon after, is just another way to make your yard less attractive to these sneaky critters.
What Are Coyotes Good For?
Humans have been waging war on coyotes for centuries. Literally. Pioneers called these creatures ‘prairie wolves’ and tried any and every technique they could think of to wipe them off the planet.
What happened instead was: coyotes won the war. Once secluded to prairie and grassland environments, humans helped coyotes expand to touch every corner of the United States.
So, what good are these medium-sized predators, and why should we care?
According to an article in the Journal of Wildlife Management, coyotes fill a special ecological niche.
Environments that have coyotes tend to be more biologically diverse, and therefore healthy. Environments that have coyotes, and then the coyotes are removed, quickly become unbalanced (within about a year).
What happens is the prey animals (mice, rats, rabbits, etc.) tend to explode in population when coyotes aren’t present. This creates a cascade effect, weakening the environment, and making forests and grasslands ‘sick’ due to erosion, over-eating of herbivores, and lack of predation.
Sometimes foxes and bobcats can fill in the gaps. But in areas where they aren’t found, nature suffers.
That’s All For Now!
That’s all we have on coyotes for now. To recap, the reason why a coyote is in your yard is pretty basic. It includes the three necessities they need to survive:
Coyotes can wreak a lot of havoc on neighborhoods when they lose their fear of humans. This can happen when coyotes are near humans for prolonged periods.
Signs that a coyote has lost its fear of humans include: approaching people, not running away when shouted at or hazed, and becoming aggressive towards people and pets. These should be reported to local authorities.
If you’re ever in question about a coyote, ask for help! Contact a local wildlife professional near you through our nationwide pest control finder. Using our partner network helps support pestpointers.com!
Although it’s never pleasant to have these wily critters on your property, their perseverance and persistence are impressive, and if nothing else they deserve a little respect and patience.
Baker, R. O, & Timm, R. M. (1998). Management of Conflicts Between Urban Coyotes and Humans in Southern California. UC Davis: Hopland Research and Extension Center.
Henke, S., & Bryant, F. (1999). Effects of Coyote Removal on the Faunal Community in Western Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 63(4), 1066-1081.
Reed, Dakota, “The Effects of Hazing on Urban Coyotes” (2016). Undergraduate Honors Capstone Projects. 540.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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