Coyotes have become more common and more concentrated in urban areas. From Baldwin Park to Baldwin Hills — and even further into South Los Angeles — coyotes have found there are simply too many benefits in terms of food to be ignored while living near humans.
As they have connected humans with food supplies, coyotes also can consider household pets to be food. That’s a definite concern for pet owners, especially as many coyotes have gotten used to humans and no longer fear many actions that would traditionally send a coyote fleeing.
Coyotes are medium-sized canids which inhabit most of North America. In Southern California they are often the subject of negative media attention, but serious conflicts with humans are rare…despite the recent footage of a coyote attacking a little girl outside the family home in Los Angeles.
In order to reduce the likelihood of a negative interaction with a coyote, residents should be careful not to feed wildlife either intentionally or unintentionally.
Researchers believe there has been an expansion of coyote density — and coyote sightings — in both Los Angeles and Orange counties. Various studies are divided, however, whether coyotes have always been in the Southland or if they’ve moved westward to expand their territory.
“It doesn’t really matter where they come from, because they’re not going anywhere soon,” said Niamh Quinn, a human-wildlife interactions advisor with the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. She believes the increase in sightings is because of coyotes’ shrinking habitat (wildfires that destroy their natural surroundings) and, of course, plenty of food.
“If they’re not increasing in density, they’re at least increasing their range across cities,” she said.
In Torrance, for instance, there’s a coyote management system. Two years ago, city officials began posting messaging throughout its parks telling residents how to report coyote encounters, how to haze and scare off coyotes, and what not to do when they see a coyote.
They’ve established a 24-hour hotline and even hired a part-time coyote management expert to better manage the encroachment of coyotes not only there but in surrounding South Bay cities.
No one quite knows whether the coyotes in extremely urban areas are establishing their home ranges exclusively within the developed area, or whether they are simply passing through on their way to natural habitat patches like Griffith Park or Elysian Park near Downtown LA. What is true is that coyotes are persisting within home ranges that have high human densities and little natural habitat.
In the Los Angeles Basin, Justin Brown has become the expert on coyote troubles. He’s a biologist with the National Park Service (NPS) and he said he “heard it all.”
“I have people coming in telling me that their neighbor’s feeding them,” Brown said. “Some have called me saying where the coyote’s coming up behind them, chasing them and their little dogs as they were walking down the street.”
Brown said he heard of a case where a coyote sleeps in a person’s yard everyday.
“If you’re having conflicts in your area, they’re coming into your neighborhood for a reason: There’s some sort of [regular] resource they’re finding and they know it’s there for the taking,” Brown said.
Since 2020, NPS researchers and volunteers collected scat (coyote poop) at 27 sites, most of them in Los Angeles. The tracking included spots in Griffith Park, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Beverly Hills, Culver City and Baldwin Hills.
Brown said that, despite having coexisted with them in Southern California for so long, much about urban coyotes remains a mystery like pack size or how many may live nearby. That’s where the poop study comes in. The overall goal is to better understand how they’ve managed to carve out such a comfortable spot in the hybrid ecosystem we share and adore.
Brown said it’s surprising what they found among the coyote scat. Coyotes apparently eat a lot of fruit–not simply what humans throw out–but from some of the non-native, ornamental plants that canvas LA. Researchers have found purple figs from Ficus trees, Pyracantha berries, and dates from our ever-present (but non-native) palm trees.
“Most people don’t realize that when they have a fruit tree in the backyard, the coyotes are definitely taking advantage of what falls to the ground,” Brown explained. Coyotes don’t always stick to the food pyramid. Brown said they’ve found baseball leather, stuffed animal parts, a finger puppet, bits of broken glass, a condom and even a discarded bag of dog poop.
Naturally, urban coyotes have gotten used to human and pet food, but other common meals include rats, gophers, chickens, feral cats and, unfortunately, sometimes the family cat or small dog.
As far as the feral cat diet, Brown believes most of the cat remains found in urban coyote scat point to colonies of these non-domesticated felines which are increasing in number each year. Brown’s advice? “Don’t feed feral cats. They’ll return to the food source and coyotes know that.”
The American Kennel Club has some tips to protect your pets from coyotes:
–Consider a “coyote vest” for your outside pet. It’s designed with 1-inch spikes around a collar and the back, protecting those areas coyotes like to attack.
–Supervise pets when they are outdoors (if you’re unable to erect a coyote fence around their play area). If you put one up, make sure the fence is at least six feet tall.
–At night, provide motion-based outdoor lighting. Coyotes investigating your backyard will be surprised by the sudden light and will quickly learn the backyard and your pet(s) are off limits.
–Be sure to pick up things that could attract coyotes. Pet food, leftover scraps and even dog poop can attract coyotes. Convincing coyotes not to connect your pet(s) with the food they get can be an important step in keeping your immediate property free from coyotes.