Experts Weigh In: Living With Our Neighbor, the Coyote

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Two coyotes show up at the residence of Lani Hicks in Point Dume, staring down her house cat.

A recent photo on social media showing two Point Dume coyotes “stalking” a pet cat through glass patio doors resulted in 145 comments and reactions from local residents.  The comments indicate not only fear of the coyotes, but a fair amount of misinformation about how to co-exist with them.

A public webinar held last weekend with scientists and consultants invited by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife focused solely on interactions with coyotes in urbanized areas and gave the latest information on what to do.

Presenter Eric Strauss, a PhD at Loyola Marymount (LMU), began his part of the presentation by saying, “There’s an awful lot that’s known about coyotes, and some of it’s even true.”  

Melinda Weaver, also a PhD at LMU, reviewed her “Coyote Risk Backyard Assessment.” This is based on the premise that in order to keep coyotes out of our backyards, we need to remove what attracts them in the first place.

The most important deterrent is to have adequate fencing, Weaver said. Coyotes can easily jump a six-foot fence and can scale taller ones that give them toe holds, like chain-link fences. Weaver recommended an eight-foot fence with smooth sides that offers no traction.

These may not be an option in Malibu, where zoning rules restrict fence heights. According to the Malibu Municipal Code, “Fences, walls and hedges … shall not exceed six feet in height … Fencing on institutionally-zoned parcels may extend to a maximum height of eight feet if the portion above 42 inches is constructed of open/permeable, non-view-obscuring material.”

There are other options to protect your yard from coyotes: make sure pet food, water, trash and compost are not accessible. If there are fruit trees, fruit on the ground needs to be picked up—coyotes love figs and avocados and fruit can attract other animals that attract the coyotes. In addition, the seeds that fall on the ground from bird feeders attract rodents, which in turn attract the coyotes. Other deterrents include installing motion-sensor lights or sprinklers near buildings and keeping BBQ grills clean.

“The presence of a free buffet in the form of pet food or garbage can lure coyotes into yards and create the impression that backyards are bountiful feeding areas,” one expert wrote.

The experts say never leave cats and small dogs (under 25 pounds) unattended outside, because coyotes have been known to attack and kill pets. Walk dogs on a leash, particularly during coyote mating season (December-February) and pupping seasons (April-July). Spay or neuter dogs. Though uncommon, coyotes are attracted to, and can mate with, dogs. In addition, dog feces can attract coyotes to a property, so keep yards or fields clear of excrement.

If a coyote is frequently seen in the yard, make the experience unpleasant by making loud noises with pots, pans or air horns, or haze the coyote with a water hose. The same goes for walking your dog—pick up the dog and throw small stones, sticks, tennis balls or similar toward the coyote to scare it away. The intent is to scare and not to injure it. Other scare tactics include blowing a whistle or using a squirt gun filled with water and vinegar. If a coyote approaches you, keep eye contact and look big and mean.

Michelle Lute, PhD, national carnivore conservation manager for the conservation nonprofit Project Coyote, explained that coyotes have expanded their range across the U.S. into former wolf territories. Now that most of the wolves in the country have been killed off, coyotes are filling the vacuum.

She also dispelled common myths about coyotes.

“It is normal to see coyotes during the day; it doesn’t mean they’re sick or rabid, although they’re usually most active in the morning and evening,” Lute stated. In addition, she noted that “Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare.”

Coyotes are valuable to an ecosystem because they offer natural rodent control, mainly preying on rats, mice and rabbits. However, a coyote will eat almost anything if the opportunity presents itself, including fish, frogs, insects, snakes, grass, roadkill and garbage. Urban studies in LA show that less than one percent of a coyote’s diet is domestic cat and that a coyote doesn’t differentiate between a cat and a rabbit when it comes to finding prey.

Many people assume wolves and coyotes are somewhat the same but there are major differences. The average coyote weighs 25 pounds and the average North American wolf weighs 80 pounds. Coyotes are less likely to form packs than wolves, so they usually hunt individually, in pairs or small family groups.

Other coyote facts: If a coyote sees a dog near its den during pupping season, it can get more aggressive. The top causes of death for coyotes are cars and eating rats infested with rat poison. Coyotes make daily rounds of six to 10 miles. In the wild, they live six to 14 years.

Expert after expert made the statement that “Coyotes are here to stay.” As one added: “The population of coyotes is not shrinking despite some areas’ aggressive efforts to get rid of them.”