Coyotes are a natural part of Canadian ecosystems who typically have little interest or desire to be near people. But our actions can influence their behaviour and for those who are already wary of wildlife due to (social) media sensationalism or misunderstanding of who coyotes are, this can lead to frightful encounters.
Here’s a few basic facts about coyotes in North America:
- They’ve been around for a long time. Coyotes are not an invasive species and play integral roles in ecosystems across Canada.
- Some coyotes have some wolf DNA just as some dogs do; this does not significantly change their behaviour or proximity tolerance (how well they put up with people close to them) around humans.
- Coyotes are omnivores and scavengers. They’ll happily eat fruits and veggies, small rodents, carrion (other animals who have died from various causes) and anthropogenic things like pet food, bird seed, organic waste items and more.
- Coyotes are family oriented with both parents rearing pups and providing for them – this is part of what makes their social structure so important.
- Coyotes are genuinely curious. They will sit and watch people and other animals in their environment and even follow them. This does not mean they’re bold or unafraid, they’re simply inquisitive. You can even see coyotes sometimes playing with dog toys or other items that have been left outdoors.
- Coyote populations aren't out of control and don't need human intervention to manage them. In fact, there is evidence that persecuting coyotes through hunting or trapping could increase their reproduction rates.
Seeing a coyote near your home can be alarming if you’re not used to them, but they truly do have little interest in people. It’s our actions that can change that. Here’s a few things to consider:
- Look for attractants. Whether it’s actual food being left out or given to coyotes, items left out for other animals (including birds, squirrels, raccoons or pets) or natural food sources, they will attract coyotes and other wildlife.
- Coyotes learn in similar ways to our dogs: if a behaviour is rewarded with food (approaching people, going into backyards), they will try again or continue that behaviour; likewise, if the experience is negative (chasing them away, throwing objects toward them, yelling and waving arms), the behaviour is less likely to continue. Coyotes don’t want to be around people, but if we teach them there’s a benefit they’ll take more risks. That’s when we need to implement both enforcement of feeding by-laws and aversion conditioning techniques.
- Dogs and cats chase wildlife and can be perceived as a threat. While they’re our family members, four-legged companions represent an experiential and actual threat to most wildlife. In a media analysis where conflict between dogs and coyotes were reported, more than 90% of the dogs were off leash. Being a good pet companion means being aware of local wildlife, roaming and leash laws, and taking more responsibility for our roles in conflict.
- Communities can and do coexist with coyotes and other wildlife. Properly implemented coexist programs work, and the proof is in the pudding. Communities like Oakville and Niagara Falls in Ontario have driven conflict rates down significantly and kept both pets and coyotes safe by bringing the community together and exploring the roles we can all play. Groups like The Fur-Bearers and Coyote Watch Canada are proud to help facilitate this or provide educational resources.
It can be frightening to see wildlife and it is reasonable to be concerned for our families. But we also need to be aware that most conflict is human-driven and that it’s with our actions that we can prevent it and truly coexist.