Monday, April 15, 2013


If you were to choose sounds that best represent the “Wild West,” the howl of a coyote would certainly be in the top 10, if not number one on the list. Whether it’s the song of a lone coyote or the frenzied yipping of a small pack, their voice elicits strong emotions from anyone who hears them. Indeed, coyotes are some of the most admired, hated, respected, feared, romanticized and misunderstood wild animals in North America.
            Unlike wolves, their larger canine cousins, coyotes have a remarkable ability to adapt to human activity. Equally at home in urban areas, agricultural regions and remote wilderness, coyotes are similar to people in many ways. Both clever opportunists and formidable predators, they are omnivorous and will eat almost anything that is made available to them. Like indigenous people of the Sonoran desert, their favorite foods include mesquite beans, cactus fruit, cottontails and quails. Unfortunately, some coyotes in rural areas have, like humans, developed a taste for lamb, beef and venison as well, and are thus perceived as serious competitors for food.
            Although there are no official population estimates, urban wildlife specialist Darren Julian of the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) says that there are more coyotes per square mile in suburban areas of Phoenix than in the surrounding desert regions. “They are especially common near golf courses and lake communities, or in neighborhoods where there are greenbelts. These areas support a lot more prey animals, such as cottontails, doves, and small rodents,” says Julian. “There is no true drought experience in the suburbs, so there is plentiful food year round for all kinds of urban predators, which includes owls, bobcats and foxes, as well as coyotes.”
            The abundance of prey near irrigated lands, whether agricultural or suburban, makes these ideal places for coyotes to raise families. April and May is prime time for coyote pups, so both parents are hunting for three or four, rather than just themselves.  At about six months of age, pups will be out hunting on their own.
Photo by Ruth Anne Kocour
Coyotes are usually seen trotting through the neighborhood alone, but occasionally travel in family groups of up to five or six, especially in the fall when pups are still being schooled in the art of hunting. Fall and winter, from September through January, is also when they are most vocal, since there are more rowdy “teenager” coyotes, and individuals are often calling to keep track of each other.  Things are a little quieter when they are denning with young pups in spring and early summer.
            Many people fear coyotes, but the coyote has much more to fear in humans. AZGFD records show that between 30,000 and 40,000 coyotes are killed by hunters each year in Arizona alone, primarily for recreational purposes.  This is a sharp contrast with the reverse statistics, with only 2 fatal and fewer than 200 documented non-fatal attacks by coyotes towards humans in the entire United States and Canada over the past 30 years. Although coyotes do occasionally prey on small pets and livestock, those numbers are in the low hundreds each year for Arizona.
            The best way to avoid unwanted interactions with any wild animal is to not provide them with food. This means that pet food and small pets should not be left unattended outdoors, and birdseed or other food sources that attract prey species should not be made available near your home.
            Otherwise, consider yourself lucky if you see a coyote on the trail or in the neighborhood. They are part of a healthy ecosystem, helping to keep rodent populations in check and providing the bonus of a little night music.  If you can’t hear them at night out your window, you can listen to them howling on-line here: Wild Coyote Sounds 

Learn more about urban coyotes at these websites:

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Kathy! Excellent information I wish everyone knew. Mostly I wish people would remember "a fed animal is a dead animal". They end up becoming a nuisance and are ultimately hunted down an killed because of someone thinking they are helping them by feeding them :-(