If you've been hearing more yips, howls, and barks around your neighborhood and in the rocky hills and canyons, it is no surprise. February and March are primary mating months for canis latrans, the coyote – literally meaning Barking Dog, but also called the God Dog and Song Dog by Native Americans.
By May, coyote females will give birth to one to nine bushy, brown babies. Residents need to be wise during this time when there are more mouths to feed, and keep small pets and little children safe inside homes. While sharp-witted, hungry coyotes pose little harm to humans (since 1980, there have been only two known deaths resulting from coyotes as opposed to 300 from the family dog), coyotes do love the easy pick’ns of our trusting, domesticated pets.
Farmers and ranchers have long battled this much maligned creature. A friend of mine who has horses and goats keeps a loaded rifle inside her back door to “pick off any coyote crossing the fence line.” I’m told that hunting groups intentionally track and shoot dozens of coyotes an hour, to the joy of nearby ranchers, and that each year, 400,000 are killed by hunters and another 90,000 by the Fish and Game Department. But, is this having the intended effect or just the opposite?
Volunteer and naturalist, Thad McManus, who gives “Wile Coyote Talks” at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park suggests that coyote behavior studies indicate that aggressive eradication of populations has almost no impact. Often, killing off coyotes results in increasing the numbers of rodents, another pest, which may require using poisons that can also harm wanted wildlife and domestic pets.
“Coyotes are more adaptable to their environment than humans,” says McManus. “They can adjust to lower populations by having more babies in their litters. And, unlike the canis lupus, the North American gray wolf, whose dominant pack female is the only one to give birth, 70 percent of coyote females within a pack will give birth.” McManus says that the more humans try to kill off the coyote, the more the coyotes breed and adapt.
Once the range of the coyote followed the buffalo, but as the human population expanded across North America, so did the coyote. And while humans are inconsequential to the coyote, their crops and animals are not.
“Their business is survival,” says McManus. “They will eat anything: rodents, bird seed, fruit, vegetables, garbage, trash and your small pet.”
McManus says humans need to adapt to the coyotes.
The most effective deterrent isn’t killing them, but to change our behavior: keep pet food inside, not on the back porch; keep small pets inside and walk small dogs on a leash. If you have livestock, get a large dog – Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds are bred for such duty – or llamas (they will chase them off). Yell and chase coyotes off your property or path. Coyotes, like crows and ravens, are smart, and they will return to their dens and warn others and their offspring to avoid possible dangers.
“A fed coyote is a dead coyote” is the slogan used to educate people that canis latrans is a wild animal and when fed by humans (intentional or otherwise), it has the potential to become a danger. If they bite a human, they, as well as others in the area, will be tracked down and killed.
Suggested Reading: Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife, by John Hadidan, Fulcrum Publishers, 1997.