There are many myths about coyotes – find out how to identify them and how to keep safe.
I still remember how fascinated I was, to hear for the first time, the howling, baying and yelping of coyotes at dusk. As a child, I was told eerie stories reminiscent of Halloween tales that portrayed coyotes as chicken killing and all around blood thirsty villains. Today, I have an understanding that everything has its place in nature, and being a seeker of the truth, I set out to do exactly that.
This clever, playful and fast animal is one of our wild neighbours. Even though the coyote population is large, they are shy and elusive and are often spotted alone. What does this member of the canine family look like? The coyote face and nose are narrow, ears are long, wide and pointed, eyes are amber, and its nose is black and rather distinctive. Some helpful hints in identifying the coyotes from other canines are by the white bib like patch under its lower jaw and neck. In addition, while the coat ranges from red-yellow to tan or grey there is a distinctive dark grey or black colouring along the spine of coyotes. Lastly, the coyote’s undersides tend to be cream in colour. Like other animals the coyote’s hair colour is lighter in winter to blend in better.
The coyote is extremely adaptable to changes in its territory, whereas in contrast, other animals like bears and cougars (for the most part) retreat deeper into the forest when humans encroach into their ranges. Coyotes will even adjust what they eat and their mating patterns to ‘fit in’. Their usual diet includes mice, rabbits and ground squirrels, yet coyotes will eat reptiles, insects, fruit (laying on the ground in your yard), vegetables, bird seed (that has fallen from your feeder), pet food (left by your back door) household garbage and carrion. They also can hunt deer and farm animals; this depends on need and the easiest food source. Small pets can be vulnerable prey, so it is best to keep them in at night.
Coyote tracks are similar to a dog’s although theirs are more compact and oval with the front paws being much bigger than the back. The other difference is they travel in straight lines not like dogs that wander side to side. Indeed, coyotes run extremely fast and possess a great sense of smell, sight, and hearing. A point of interest is that their top speed is about 65 km/h, where as a Greyhound dog’s is approximately 70 km/h. In a hypothetical race, with the coyote given a head start, the greyhound could catch up, but it would take a while.
Coyotes are by nature fearful of humans, yet they become most dangerous when relying on people and populated areas for food. In Wilden they are sometimes spotted in the streets, not frequently, but it happens. If the coyote does not run away and seems aggressive, this would give reason to contact the Wildlife Conservation Office, or also if you are uncertain and have questions. Take a close look at your property. Are you or your neighbours attracting them unknowingly?
The British Columbia Wildlife Act classes them as ‘dangerous wildlife’.
A few Coyote safe tips:
- Never feed coyotes (or any wild animals)
- Keep pets inside at night and lock garbage containers
- When hiking in areas, where coyotes are seen regularly, just like in Wilden, make noise frequently, so they can get out of the area and not be surprised by you
- If confronted by one, yell loudly, make yourself big, wave your arms, stamp your feet, maintain eye contact, throw rocks, and keep yourself between the coyote and small children and pets
- Lastly, consider neutering and spaying your dogs because male dogs have been known to follow a female coyote in heat, only to be killed by the coyote pack. A non-spayed female dog can mate with a male coyote; this is another good reason to make a trip to the vet.
While stories about the coyote continue to circulate, more and more people are appreciating the role the coyote plays in keeping rodents down, as well as their value as scavenging carrion which helps keep the environment clean and disease free. Prevention of negative interaction with the coyote is the key; therefore, by following the above stated tips and learning more, we can co-exist in harmony. These amazing wild animals have a rightful place in the animal kingdom.
“These pictures demonstrate their (the coyotes’) uniqueness to blend in with the surroundings and also their boldness of just sitting there in silence as you walk by. You really don’t see them unless they move or make noises.” – Mike Houghton
– Article by Flora McLeod