Coyotes are remarkably adaptable animals that have grown their range and population over the past century. Recently, reports of coyote sightings in cities are on the rise. How do coyotes end up in busy city streets?
Cities provide stable cover for coyotes and relative safety when compared to rural environments. There is also no competition with large predators like wolves and mountain lions. Coyotes commonly end up in cities from losing their habitat in a rural or suburban setting.
We’ll go over all the ways coyotes end up in cities so that you can better understand why these clever carnivores are trotting across your backyard – even in the city!
What Is An Urban Coyote?
Those who live in cities and suburban neighborhoods may think that the presence of coyotes doesn’t happen where they live. Coyotes don’t just walk into people’s yards in the middle of the city!
Urban coyotes have adapted to living in urban and suburban environments. They will survive in the fragmented cover provided by parks, golf courses, and patches of forest.
Coyotes that live in cities will switch their activity levels to be more active at night to avoid people. Often they are heard, but never seen.
Even so, those who are out walking at night may come within a few feet of a coyote and never know it. These elusive creatures will do all they can to avoid contact with humans.
You can learn more about coyotes in general with this extensive list of facts about these creatures!
What Attracts Coyotes To Cities?
Many people think urban coyotes are attracted to garbage left out by people, but this isn’t the main reason. According to the University of Michigan, up to 90% of a coyote’s diet is other mammals, mostly rodents, rabbits, and deer.
Trash makes up very little, if any, of a coyote’s diet.
The reason coyotes adapted to living in cities is mostly due to us providing them with food, shelter, and relative safety.
When we say ‘coyotes adapted to living in cities,’ we don’t mean the heart of the city. An article in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology found that coyotes prefer open areas over areas that are densely populated with houses.
While you can find coyotes in the heart of cities, they’re much more likely to be near parks, golf courses, on the outskirts of the city, or in suburban neighborhoods.
Why take up residence in a city as opposed to a free-ranging forest? Let’s check out all the ways that coyotes end up in cities.
Cities Provide Stable Cover For Coyotes
Imagine for a moment that you’re a coyote running through cornfields. You spend your day gaming mice and are safely tucked away from the prying eyes of humans and mountain lions.
Then, one day, you head back to the cornfield and everything is gone. Harvested for the season.
Coyotes that live in agricultural areas have to deal with a changing environment from season to season. Those who live in rural areas have to travel far and wide before finding suitable cover.
Rural coyotes also have larger home ranges than urban coyotes, typically around 10 square miles. Coyotes patrol these territories while searching for food and may have to defend against other coyotes, especially during the pup-rearing season.
Cities provide coyotes with a stable source of cover. Big old man-made structures, porches, sheds, barns, abandoned buildings… you get the point. There are plenty of places for a coyote to hide in a city or suburban neighborhood.
Home ranges of urban coyotes are much smaller than rural coyotes. This means more room for other coyotes to move in next door.
The availability of multiple different covered areas is highly attractive to coyotes, especially during the day when they are inactive in cities and looking for a place to hide and catch some Zs.
Coyotes End Up In Cities Due To Loss Of Habitat
As humans continue expanding their population, other animals are pushed aside to make room. For most animals, this causes population declines and even local extinctions.
Not for the persistent coyote!
Coyotes that have their habitat destroyed to make room for apartments and malls have learned to go with the flow and adapt.
What was once a dense forest might be a housing plant now, but coyotes are still going to stick around. The area may not have as much of a variety of prey, but it will still be suitable for a coyote who can change their diet based on what’s available.
An article in the Journal of Mammalogy compared the effects of urbanization on several species, including coyotes, bobcats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, opossums, and mountain lions.
They found that coyotes and raccoons recovered the best from urbanization. They were recorded more frequently near urban areas than any other animal.
Their amazing adaptability has earned coyotes a spot in almost any environment, whether or not we want them there!
Coyotes Have Less Competition In Cities
Coyotes are everywhere! They can be found in every state in the continental US, as far south as Panama and as far north as Alaska. According to North Carolina State University, coyotes are on the brink of entering South America as well.
It hasn’t always been like this for coyotes. They used to be sequestered to the western prairies of the United States and Western Canada only.
Early settlers first referred to coyotes as ‘prairie wolves’ because prairies were the only place coyotes were found back then.
Unfortunately, it’s our fault that coyotes have spread so far and wide. By eliminating wolves, bobcats, and mountain lions from much of their natural habitat, coyotes have been able to strut across borders and states with ease.
In particular, the elimination of alpha predators in cities has opened the gates for coyotes to flood urban and suburban neighborhoods.
Without wolves, mountain lions, or bobcats, coyotes are becoming the top predator in many areas, including cities.
The normal competitors for rabbits, mice, rats, squirrels, and other prey animals typically keep coyote populations in check. However, without that competition, coyote populations can grow until they reach full capacity.
Food Is Easier To Obtain In Cities
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores. This means they’ll eat whatever is easiest to obtain and uses the least amount of energy. In short, coyotes are kind of lazy.
Many city dwellers who are aware of the presence of coyotes worry about their pets. A study reported in the Canadian Journal of Zoology studied the diet of coyotes in the Denver Metropolitan area, a very urban environment.
They found that a small percentage of coyote diets in urban environments consisted of domestic pets. They concluded coyotes see dogs and cats more as competitors than food.
Furthermore, the study found that coyotes ate mostly rodents and rabbits in urban environments, as well as plants. In low-density areas of cities, coyotes ate corn and deer along with rodents and rabbits.
Cities provide coyotes with a prey-rich environment because we humans attract critters to our yards and homes, sometimes on purpose.
There are many things you can do if you find a coyote in your yard, which you can learn more about in our list on the topic!
Bird Feeders Attract Coyotes To Cities
It’s not that coyotes are attracted to the bird seed itself. Instead, they are attracted to the animals that are attracted to the bird seed.
Mice, squirrels, rats, and voles are attracted to the birdseed that falls to the ground from bird feeders. This attracts coyotes who go after these animals.
Coyotes Love Pet Food
Pet owners who leave their pet food outdoors are giving coyotes a free meal each night when they become active.
Left-out pet food will also attract mice and rats, which will, in turn, attract coyotes to the yard. Water dishes will also attract coyotes to urban environments.
Coyotes Will Dumpster-Dive For Meat Scraps In Cities
Even though trash makes up a small percentage of a coyote’s diet, table scraps are more attainable in urban environments than in rural ones.
Cities have a higher population of people, meaning there is more smelly garbage to attract coyotes. Garbage is particularly attractive to coyotes when it contains food scraps.
Dropped Food Attracts Coyotes To Cities
Sometimes coyotes do not even need to dumpster-dive to obtain food scraps.
People are constantly spilling food while walking down busy streets. Pizza crusts are thrown on the ground, garbage bags spill open near restaurant dumpsters, and there’s always that kid who drops the ice cream cone on the ground.
At night, when all are asleep, coyotes go on the prowl for this dropped and forgotten food.
Coyotes Are Viewed Differently In Cities
One of the main reasons coyotes are labeled as pests and nuisances is because of their effect on livestock. Rural and agricultural communities often depend on their livestock for a source of income, food, or both.
A coyote that has the unfortunate luck of walking on the wrong property may be labeled a threat to livestock and eliminated, even if it did not plan to harm the livestock.
In cities, people look at coyotes a little differently. City folk might not be excited about having a coyote walk through their backyard, but they’re also not okay with using lethal means to eliminate a coyote simply for being seen.
An article in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration found that survey participants from Denver, Colorado, found lethal coyote management was only acceptable if there is a conflict between a coyote and a person or pet.
Otherwise, lethal control methods were unacceptable to most survey participants. These results are similar to those from other major cities across the United States.
In cities, there is less pressure on government authorities to deal with coyotes. Fewer people find lethal coyote management acceptable.
Coyotes Have A Higher Survival Rate In Cities
It seems odd that survival rates would be higher the closer coyotes are to civilization. But it’s true!
An article in the Journal of Cities And The Environment found that survival rates for coyote pups were 5 times higher in urban areas compared to rural areas.
If we look back on all the information covered so far in this article, it’s not that hard to believe. Cities provide coyotes with:
- Stable cover
- Less competition with other predators
- Easy access to food
- Less threatening humans
Coyotes are naturally going to gravitate to safer areas where they can grab an easy snack without wasting too much energy. If that means living side-by-side with humans, the adaptable coyote will do it!
That being said, there are negatives to living in a city. There are more vehicles, and vehicular collisions are the number one cause of coyote death in cities.
How Long Will A Coyote Stay In The City?
If you’ve spotted a coyote in your backyard, should you expect it to stick around its whole life or will it move on to a different area the next year?
It depends. I know, a disappointing answer, but let’s dig a little deeper into the question.
Coyotes may form packs that are more like small family groups. Each pack consists of an alpha male and female that reproduce, while the other coyotes help search for food and take care of the pups.
The other members of a coyote pack are usually the female pups from the previous year, but not always.
This is important because some coyotes are passing through cities while looking for other packs or to start their own pack. These loners will most likely not stick around very long unless they find or establish a pack in the area. Otherwise, they will keep moving until they find a new pack or an area to start their own.
On the other hand, alpha coyotes that have established a pack in the area will stick around their entire lives. Members of the pack may come and go, but the alphas will stay.
Keeping Coyotes Out Of Your City Yard
It can be unsettling to see a coyote walking through your yard in the city. We already covered why coyotes are in the city, so what can you do to keep them out of your yard?
There are a few things you can do to keep coyotes out of your yard, but ultimately, it will have to be a neighborhood-wide effort to keep coyotes out of the area in a tightly packed city environment.
Remove Food Sources To Keep Coyotes Away
The reason coyotes are in your yard is that something is attracting them. Typically, the main culprit is food.
- Pet food: Feed pets indoors if possible. If they must be fed outdoors, pick up food bowls and water dishes at night when coyotes are most active.
- Bird feeders: use a catcher tray such as Songbird Essentials Seed Hoop to prevent birdseed from spilling on the ground. This will help deter rodents from your yard, which will help deter coyotes.
- Garbage: If you place food scraps in your trash can, be sure to use a lid lock to keep the lid secure. Even better, store your garbage in a shed until garbage day. You can use specific scents coyotes hate to help mask the scent of your garbage.
Keep A Clean Yard To Deter Coyotes
Coyotes do not like to be seen by humans. They would much rather remain hidden in tall grass or under a bush.
Your yard may attract coyotes into the city by providing cover.
- Mow the grass: Be sure to keep your grass mowed. Don’t allow weeds to build up to higher than 3 feet.
- Trim bushes: If possible, trim bushes so that the bottom six inches are open.
- Remove hiding places: Eliminate brush piles and stacks of unused materials in the yard.
- Seal off denning spots: Coyotes do not sleep in dens unless it is the pup-rearing season. To prevent coyotes from moving in under your porch or shed to raise their pups, seal off the space beneath with hardware cloth or chicken wire.
Amagabeli’s Hardware Cloth measures 36 inches by 50 feet and contains ½-inch holes. The cloth is galvanized to prevent rust. Coyotes can dig, so it’s best to bury the fabric at least 8 inches into the soil to prevent coyotes from digging underneath the cloth.
A cleaner yard will attract fewer rodents as well, which will help deter coyotes. If they can’t find a source of food or shelter in your yard, they’re not likely to stick around.
You can read more about how to keep coyotes away from your yard here.
That’s A Wrap!
Coyotes may have started in the wilderness, but in today’s age, they roam both leaf-littered forests and the hard sidewalks of cities.
Now, for a quick recap –
There are a few different ways that coyotes end up in cities:
- Stable cover
- Loss of habitat
- Lower competition due to the elimination of big predators
- Different attitudes of people in cities versus rural areas
- Higher survival rates
If you’ve seen, or, more likely, heard coyotes in your part of the city, there are a few things you can do to keep them away.
When coyotes won’t go away on their own or if you’re having trouble with a particularly stubborn coyote, you can use our nationwide pest control finder to get in contact with a wildlife professional near you.
Ellington, E. H., & Gehrt, S. D. (2019, May/June). Behavioral responses by an apex predator to urbanization. Behavioral Ecology, 30(3), 821-829.
Gehrt, S. D., Brown, J. L., & Anchor, C. (2011). Is the Urban Coyote a Misanthropic Synanthrope? The Case from Chicago. Cities and the Environment, 4(1).
Ordenana, M. A., Brooks, K. R., Boydston, E. E., Fisher, R. N., Lyren, L. M., Siudyla, S., Haas, C. D., Harris, S., Hathaway, S. A., Turschak, G. M., Miles, A. K., & Van Vuren, D. H. (2010, December 16). Effects of urbanization on carnivore species distribution and richness. Journal of Mammalogy, 91(6), 1322-1331.
Poessel, S. A., Mock, E. C., & Breck, S. W. (2017, February 26). Coyote (Canis latrans) diet in an urban environment: variation relative to pet conflicts, housing density, and season. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 95(4), 287-297.
Vaske, J. J., & Needham, M. D. (2007, Winter). Segmenting Public Beliefs about Conflict with Coyotes in an Urban Recreation Setting. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 25(4), 79-98.
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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