A woman in Fernandina Beach, Florida, says she is “very very” concerned about coyotes in her neighborhood. Just outside her bed and breakfast establishment, she has seen packs of as many as three coyotes, often mistaken for dogs. After one of her cats went missing not long ago, she keeps the remaining cats inside overnight.
Coyotes have been documented in all of Florida’s 67 counties—in fact, in all states in the U.S. except Hawaii. Coyotes have been seen in major metropolitan areas, including New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, often making headlines when they’re spotted. Their presence shouldn’t be a surprise because coyotes easily adapt to urban environments.
Most coyotes avoid detection by being night creatures, building dens in the scrubby brush and old-growth trees that surround the edges of neighborhoods. There have been repeated sightings in the brush near railroad tracks and alongside runways at airports. A biodiversity specialist says, “No matter how many traps are set, coyotes will keep coming back. They return quietly. Unless you’re hiding in the bushes, you won’t see them. They’re wily animals and come out only when they’re ready to hunt for food.”
Coyotes in the Wild West
Back in the 1800s, coyotes roamed the Wild West. They were the scourge of ranchers and farmers, as they fed off livestock when no other food was ready at hand in the wild. With its wide-open plains, the West offered ample wildlife and livestock for their diet. Along the way, packs of coyotes killed large predators such as wolves and mountain lions so successfully that these mortal enemies began to dwindle in the plains. As a result they started expanding in western states and moving eastward. Hunters and ranchers who have attempted to eradicate coyotes with guns, poison, and leg traps have only worsened the problem. Their efforts have unwittingly affected larger, stronger competitors of coyotes, but seem to have done little to challenge the clever coyotes, known for their intelligence and ability to thwart humans
Coyotes are now established in every state and province in the United States (except Hawaii) and Canada. They are also moving into Mexico and Central America. While they don’t breed like rats, they do well at raising litters. Even as their numbers grow, coyotes are becoming stealthier and more difficult to control. “You can’t get rid of coyotes,” says one researcher. “It doesn’t work. In suburban areas, they have been seen raiding dumpsters, scouting neighborhoods at night in search of outdoor pets, and even wandering into restaurants. Only rarely do they attack people, of whom they have a healthy fear.”
The best advice for urban dwellers plagued by coyotes is to keep food, trash, pet food, and pets inside, especially at night.