September 18, 2000
Humans feed coyote problem
Confident and bold, the two coyotes strolled through a Pacifica neighborhood every afternoon at 5.
A couple of coyotes cruising the neighborhood is cause for concern. But for wildlife experts, more concerning was why they were doing it: The coyotes were heading for the home of a misguided animal lover who had been leaving loaves of bread for them.
Wildlife experts have fielded complaints from Scotts Valley, San Ramon, Portola Valley, Marin County and other parts of the Bay Area where more and more people are encountering coyotes after new homes are built on the animals' natural habitat.
What those complaints have in common is that the problem is fed -- literally -- by people.
"In every area with a conflict, someone is feeding the coyote or unknowingly creating a fast food restaurant in their yard," said Mary Paglieri, executive director of the Little Blue Society, which operates an urban wildlife information network. "It's our responsibility not to create free food opportunities for these animals. It's pretty unrealistic to expect coyotes to change their behavior."
Coyotes are intelligent, highly adaptive animals and opportunistic feeders, Paglieri told concerned residents at a forum in Scotts Valley last week.
City leaders invited Paglieri and other wildlife experts to discuss how to co-exist with coyotes after fielding a large number of calls about coyote sightings and lost pets this summer.
The carnivorous canines weigh 20 to 30 pounds, and stand 23 to 25 inches tall at the shoulder. Generally tan, with long pointed muzzles, large ears, long legs and bushy tails, coyotes look like shepherd-type dogs.
Coyotes are most active in the wild between dusk and dawn, but have been found in urban areas feeding at any time, day or night.
Coyote-human encounters generally increase in the spring when pups are born, and the summer when coyotes teach their young to survive on their own. Litter sizes vary, depending on environmental conditions, presence of other coyotes in the area and the availability of food.
In suburban areas where people feed them and leave cat food out, the population density of coyotes is higher than in the wild,” said Jim Nee, an agricultural commissioner for Santa Cruz County and a consultant with Little Blue Society.
In the wild, 90% of coyotes’ calories come from rodents The rest of the time, they eat carrion, prey on small animals or forage for fallen fruit and berries. In urban areas, coyotes are drawn to garbage cans, pet food and fruit trees. They hunt rodents attracted to spilled seed below bird feeders and prey on cats and small dogs.
"They are feeding themselves and feeding their families the only way they know how," said Steve Karlin, executive director of Wildlife Associates in Half Moon Bay. “We as humans are the more intelligent species and we have the ability to adapt to live together with these wild animals.”
Adapting means a variety of things -- from closing garbage cans to fixing leaky sprinklers.
Attacks on humans are rare, but Paglieri advises never leaving small children unattended in areas known to be frequented by coyotes.
Coyotes that have become too comfortable with humans may become assertive, like the one living near Pat Small's Scotts Valley home. It approaches her husband every morning when he goes outside to get the newspaper.
Paglieri recommends that people in similar situations scare the curious coyote away with a blast of water from the garden hose, by rattling an empty soda can refilled with pennies or by opening an umbrella quickly in its direction. Yelling, screaming and waving your arms also will help the animal understand you don't want to socialize, she added.
If challenged by a coyote, Nee advises, people should stand their ground, face the animal, raise their arms to make themselves look as big as possible and make noise. If you have something to throw at it, do so, he said, but don't run away. That will only cause the coyote to chase you.