Citizen Science

Citizen Science Teaches People to Coexist with Urban Coyotes

March 15, 2016

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That stray dog you just passed in your neighborhood? It’s not a dog.

Across the country, coyotes are thriving amongst urban and suburban environments, often undetected. The medium-sized predator (in dog terms: the weight of a whippet, but with more hair) can find all that they need to survive in an urban landscape.

“I moved to Portland and one day while driving saw a coyote run across the street in a fairly close-in urban area,” says Zuriel Rasmussen, researcher for the Portland Urban Coyote Project. “It’s amazing that such a relatively large animal can go unnoticed most of the time.”

It is promising for the future of wildlife conservation that mid-size predators like coyotes can flourish in our cities. However, not everyone feels the same way about coyotes moving into the neighborhood and there can be very serious conflicts between people and coyotes.

It’s important that people learn to live with coyotes and that coyotes do not lose their fear of humans. That’s where the Portland Urban Coyote Project and other similar projects come in. They are using citizen science to learn more about the habits & habitats of urban coyotes and to teach people how best to react when they see a coyote nearby.

Coyote. Photo © Angela Calabrese
Coyote. Photo © Angela Calabrese

First and foremost, Rasmussen warns, “Don’t feed the coyotes!”

Why Is the Portland Urban Coyote Project Important?

In an urbanizing world, not only will more people live in cities: more wildlife will, too. Including predators. People will need to learn to live with predators, perhaps even some larger than coyotes, in the city.

Learning to live near coyotes and avoid conflict is an important step for people, pets, and wildlife.

“Most importantly, the first thing is for people to understand what to do when they see a coyote,” Rasmussen says. “It’s a relatively low risk; not necessarily scary. You should help keep the coyotes afraid of humans. Clap your hands and yell. Don’t shoot them.”

Participants in the project learn about coyotes from a quick tutorial and the information gathered on coyote distribution can be used in community outreach.

Coyote pups. Photo © Zac Garrett / Flickr through a Creative Commons license
Coyote pups. Photo © Zac Garrett / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

“We have partnered with Portland Audubon and one of the big things we are doing is to be a resource,” Rasmussen explains. “With the sightings map, we can track which areas might benefit from targeted education, like a neighborhood that has sightings all of a sudden and learns that coyotes are in the area. We can have a meeting at the community center.”

If you know that there are coyotes in your neighborhood and you’re concerned, you might also clear up anything in your yard that might attract rodents (e.g. brush, trash, outdoor pet food) since they are a staple of coyote diets.

What Can You Do to Get Involved?

If you live in the Portland Metro area and you see a coyote, report it.

Live elsewhere? Urban coyote projects are becoming more common; there might be one near you.

Wherever you live, I recommend the Coyote Tutorial; it’s interesting and it only takes about five to ten minutes.

If you would like to improve your chances of seeing a coyote in the city, your best bet is to get up early. The Portland Urban Coyote Project has had sightings reported at all times of day, but coyotes are often seen by people who get up early, such as joggers.

“Keep a safe distance,” Rasmussen notes. “If the coyote sees you, then scare it away.”

Coyote in the neighborhood. Photo © Bruce Wyman Play
Coyote in the neighborhood. Photo © Bruce Wyman Play

As you can see from the map, coyotes are all over the city. However, there are more sightings in cemeteries, golf courses, and natural areas (any area not used much by humans) — especially open, grassy fields.

Spread the word. Coyotes are in the city to stay. Whether you’re excited to see them around or wish that they would stay away, learning to live next door is going to take some adjustment.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa Feldkamp is the senior coordinator for new science audiences. She loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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12 comments

  1. Coyotes in our area have killed countless numbers of our cats, mine included, and dogs. Some while dogs where being walked on leashes proving they have no fear of humans here.
    Our city did nothing for years while the problem got worse and now they don’t know what to do.
    The only thing they say is keep your animals in. Really?? What about the dogs that have been taken on leashes, or when dogs are taken getting out of a car with a person right there? Or the dog taken while people were bringing in groceries and the coyote came in the front door and took the dog?
    Still waiting for answers.
    Barbara
    Huntington Beach CA

    1. Hi Barbara, That is very sad to hear. Most of the advice that I have seen is about keeping coyotes afraid of people from the start. Arizona cities have some of the most detailed info on living with coyotes (https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/livingwith/coyotes/) – it sounds like one of the most important things that people can do in a situation where coyotes have become bold is to make loud noises whenever they see a coyote – scare them away every time. I will check to see if Zuriel has other tips. Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this! How about coexisting with the new hybrid, the “coywolf”? We have those here in NW New Jersey. Is the advice different for these larger creatures, which I am told are “aggressive”?

    These animals can be up to 5 feet long, and can eat a large animal, including even occasionally an adult deer!

    1. Thank you Cherwyn! I have not seen any info on this yet, but it is something to keep an eye out for and coywolf behavior sounds like a good topic for a new citizen science project.

  3. There are very good reasons why our ancestors hunted them and got rid of wolves and coyotes. They are killers and they eat dogs, cats, pets and children. To think we can coexist with these predators is just stupid.

    1. Hi Kim, Thank you for the comment. I believe that if our ancestors were able to survive and multiply without killing off all of the wild predators, we should be able to do better with modern technology – potentially living and providing for ourselves without killing any wild predators.

  4. Hello, I live in Bothell, Washington, just north of Seattle, in a very populated area. We have coyotes all over the area in large numbers, and often see 3 or more running in packs at night or early morning. However, we don’t have a wild rabbit population anymore! Lately, I’ve seen babies running around in daylight. Rather amazing!

  5. How poor this earth would be without it’s wildlife citizens! I live in Australia and in my garden I have possums, bandicoots, echidnas and a huge variety of birds. I treasure these creatures and it pains me to see them carelessly killed on the roads, randomly shot with arrows and rifles or worse. Our respect for wildlife, whatever it be, is poor and we need to think ahead and see how much these creatures contribute to our lives rather than detract from them.

    I would LOVE to see bobcat and coyotes in my neighbourhood – even bears!

  6. I saw a picture, once, of a coyote walking across the George Washington Bridge in New York City. They are survivors!

    1. I am always impressed by the urban survivors among wildlife. That must have been an incredible sight.

  7. First, I just want to commend the Portland Urban Coyote Project for their work. I wish there was a coyote coexistence conference or symposium where all the similar organizations could come together and collaborate and share the information they are learning about urban coyotes and what they are doing in their communities. So much of the advice being given is based on coyote behavior in rural areas of the country and just does not apply to coyotes in the city in the same way. As they adapt to city living, their behavior changes and therefore so must humans change their behavior.

    I think “Wary” is a more accurate term over “fearful”. As a consequence of living their daily lives in such close proximity to humans, coyotes do not “fear” us as in they will or should run away anytime they see us but rather they are “wary” of humans. I think it’s a bad idea and very dangerous to be telling people to scare a coyote away anytime they see one because they will eventually get used to that and will take more & more effort to scare them away. When that starts to happen everyone will say how bold the coyotes are when really, they are just used to seeing us everyday. That does not mean they are a danger. We need to differentiate between “habituation” and “food conditioning”. Coyotes will become habituated to seeing humans but that does not mean they are dangerous when they don’t run away. If people see a coyote in a natural area like city park or other urban forest area, they should just avoid they coyote and walk the other way. If a coyote is on one’s property or one feels in danger or the coyote is too close, then is when they will want to scare it off. Also, if it is during pupping season when there may be a den nearby, it’s really important to tell folks just to avoid the coyote because no amount of trying to scare it off will work when one is getting close to their den. It’s also dangerous for people with dogs to be trying to scare away coyote because a coyote may interpret that as a challenge from the dog. Best to just avoid them and walk away when you see them unless they are too close or on your property.
    I’d like to get in touch with folks from PUCP. . .