Coyotes in Our Midst

Posted on in On Our Radar by Camilla H. Fox

Living With North America’s
Native Song Dog


When we talk about coyotes, very few questions have simple answers. What do they eat? Do they live in packs or pairs? Where are they most commonly found? The answers to these questions usually begin: “Well, it depends …” Coyotes are extremely intelligent, observant, and adaptable. This combination of traits allows them to exploit all available and suitable sources of food and shelter, while quickly acclimating themselves to shifts in availability. For instance, in late winter there is an abundant supply of Manzanita berries, and scat along the trails where these berries flourish provides evidence of coyotes being nearby. When the rodent population swells in early spring we’ll see coyotes pouncing catlike on mice in the grass. And of course, when a human neighbor leaves pet food on the back porch, a local coyote will feast on that.

As the human population spread across North America, we altered the habitat along the way. Coyotes followed and took advantage of the resulting changes. We hunted wolves, grizzly bears, and mountain lions to near extinction in places where we raised livestock and built towns, which allowed coyotes to move into the vacant niches left by these other overhunted predators.

Native to North America, coyotes can thrive in most habitats, including urban areas like Chicago, Denver, and our own San Francisco. Like other top predators, they help keep our ecosystem vital, healthy, and clean. In fact, in some environments coyotes are a keystone species. That means that other species in the surrounding biological community are dependent on them for their well-being.

In the Bay Area we have thousands of acres of open space where coyotes can find plenty of mice, berries, and other natural foods. We have also created a virtual smorgasbord of coyote treats with our vegetable gardens, fruit trees, garbage cans, pet food, and the rodents and other small animals that we attract. Thus it is no surprise that coyotes habitually visit our neighborhoods. Coyotes rarely behave aggressively toward people, but they will prey on free-roaming cats and they will put on an aggressive show when they encounter unsupervised dogs during breeding season.


Our first reaction to conflicts with coyotes is often to try to eliminate them by hunting and trapping. Communities that have followed this strategy have learned that killing coyotes is not an effective, ecologically sound, or ethically justifiable approach. Killing creates a vacant territorial niche that will soon be filled by other coyotes. Moreover, lethal measures can result in greater pup survival, thus increasing the local coyote population. When coyotes become too comfortable around people, we need to be cognizant of their intelligence and adaptability, and remove those things that attract them. We humans can do much to peacefully coexist with coyotes, beginning with applying our own intelligence and adapting to our shared environment. Once revered by Native American tribes, including the Coastal Miwok, coyotes have much to teach us about resilience and adaptability at a time of rapid social and ecological change.

Camilla H. Fox is co-author of Coyotes in Our Midst and the founder and executive director of Project Coyote, a national non-profit organization based in Mill Valley that promotes coexistence between people and wildlife through education, science, and advocacy.

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