Thankful for Coyotes

Judy saw a coyote trotting down the street in front or our house a few days before Thanksgiving. Hurrah!

Coyotes enjoy the suburban life. Photo from chicagourbanresearch.com.
Coyotes enjoy the suburban life. Photo from urbancoyoteresearch.com.

I like to think that this means we now have our own neighborhood coyote, maybe even our own pack. We need some predators around here to control the number of rodents, especially (speaking as a gardener) rabbits.

Another suburban coyote.
Another suburban coyote. Photo from urbancoyoteresearch.com.

This may seem heartless, but I think accepting predators has to be part of the ethic of wildlife gardening. Predators are a necessary part of a healthy wildlife community. Without them, things get out of whack, and not just in the form of girdled trees and plants chewed down to the ground. Overpopulation among herbivores can lead to starvation, disease, and extensive damage to the natural flora.

Red-Tailed Hawk on our back fence.
Red-Tailed Hawk on our back fence.

Until now, the most visible predators around our garden have been hawks – mainly Cooper’s and Red-Tailed. It’s distressing when they make a meal of a songbird, though I admit to being much less disturbed when they eat a Starling or Grackle. But if hawks didn’t eat birds, there would be no hawks.

You want that toasted? Coyote at downtown Chicago Quiznos. Photo from NPR.
You want that toasted? Coyote at downtown Chicago Quiznos. Photo from NPR.

Getting back to coyotes: it’s possible that they’ve been around here for a while. For the most part, they keep themselves scarce. Though not always, as when a coyote strolled nonchalantly into a Quizno’s sandwich shop in downtown Chicago.

Our coyotes have been studied extensively, and the website Urban Coyote Research is devoted specifically to coyotes of the Chicago area. Researchers have tracked coyote activity by fitting them with collars equipped with radio and even video cameras.

Coyote pup. Photo from urbancoyoteresearch.com.
Coyote pup. Photo from urbancoyoteresearch.com.

Some urban coyotes are highly visible, but most stick to more open areas such as parks, forest preserves, utility easements, even industrial zones. They like to avoid people and hunt at night.

Coyotes are at the top of the food chain among Chicago fauna. They eat mostly small rodents. On rare occasions they have been known to hunt white-tailed deer. Researchers have found that, contrary to common belief, coyotes rarely eat pets and pretty much leave garbage to the rats and raccoons.  On the other hand, they do like to eat fruit and sometimes even grass.

Coyote with video collar. Photo from chicagourbanresearch.com
Coyote with video collar. Photo from urbancoyoteresearch.com

Coyote attacks on people are exceedingly rare – in fact, there is no recorded instance of a coyote biting a person in Northeast Illinois. When coyotes have been deemed a nuisance it is often because people leave food out for them or other wild animals such as feral cats. So don’t do that.

Coyotes are not native to this region, they arrived here from west of the Mississippi River. It’s estimated that there are around 2-3,000 coyotes in Cook County, a population that’s been stable since the 1980s.

How do you feel about wild predators around your garden?

54 Comments on “Thankful for Coyotes

  1. Hi! I agree with you! We had coyotes on our block when we lived on the east side of Glenview in suburban Chicago 12 years ago (our block adjoined a forest preserve). Some home owners feared for their small dogs which were tied up on leashes outdoors but I never had a bad experience with them.

    Then when we moved to a small densely populated town in northern New Jersey, we saw coyotes in our back yard there too (we adjoined an arboretum.) I welcome them as you do because they help control the populations of small animals, just as you say!

  2. If they would take care of the woodchucks, I’d be grateful! I have seen coyotes at nearby nature preserves and outside the city limits, although it would not surprise me if they strolled through our nabe. One problem with coyotes, though, is they drive out fox.

  3. We’re in Chicago – Irving Park. All summer, while working in the yard, I could hear, and, sometimes, see a Peregrine Falcon. He or she has a most distinctive call ‘scree-scree-scree-scree’ and swoops and flies like a tiny fighter jet. They nest on the big ugly 5 story condos all along W. Montrose.

    Hoping the PF can minimize the starlings and pigeons, so they get my vote.

    • We used to live just north of Irving Park by California, a couple blocks from Horner Park. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peregrine falcon but also not sure if I would recognize one.

  4. That’s very interesting, thanks for sharing. Predators are as much part of this planet as men (who are by far the worst predators!) so I have no problem. They all have a role to play and we can adapt and work around each other. Guess people in other parts of the world who deal with lions etc. may have a different view 😉

  5. Hey Jason,
    You are just a blogging fool these days with some really good content. Seems like I’m getting a new alert every other day. Inspired by your Fling experience, perhaps? Keep up the good work, bro,

  6. Hmm…I’ve never been asked how I feel about wild predators in my garden before. We have plenty around here, but the only ones I’ve ever seen are the flying kind — the hawks, falcons and eagles. If there were something here that could keep the raccoon population down, I’d be happy. But anything big enough to eat them would also be big enough to eat me, so maybe not.

  7. Your title sure caught my eye, and I certainly don’t disagree with your thoughts. But, I must admit I wouldn’t be looking for a coyote to visit regardless of its intentions. In general, I live and let live except for mice. Oh, and I do wish all the squirrels and chipmunks within five miles would get lost. So, I guess, I live and let live except for rodents. 🙂

  8. We saw a coyote near the river at dawn just a few days ago and I’m hoping he had beaver for breakfast. On rare occasion, I’ve ridden my bicycle in Death Valley, CA, with my husband and friends for a fundraising event; the park rangers there say to stay on the bike if there is more than one coyote within sight. Sounds like a good rule no matter where you are.

    • I guess they could be more dangerous if they are really hungry. But they say there has never been a report of a coyote bite of a human in northeast Illinois.

  9. Except for the gophers, who stir murderous thoughts, it’s pretty much live and let live around here. We see coyotes every once in a while and hear them at night.

  10. There are so many predators around my area. And it is amazing to see. Snakes for the toads and rats, kookaburras and other snakes for the snakes, goannas for rodents, birds and spiders for the insects, eagles and hawks for the birds and small mammals, wonderful blue-tongue lizards that feast on snails and slugs, echidnas for ants and termites. Like you, I’m generally pleased to see predators around the yard: I know things are in balance.

  11. Have not seen a coyote in my garden but they are definitely around the area. If not too large of a population I suppose they are fine, like most predators. I’m with Rickii though and don’t have much tolerance for gophers in the garden! I

  12. I agree with you… predators are important for controlling the balance, cruel as it may seem. We see it in the bird life here – buzzards take the mice and small rodents, while magpies, crows and jays all rob the nests of other birds.

  13. Love the coyotes. Great pictures! Have heard they are in Berwyn and I’m sure they are but I have yet to see one. I normally see them when I’m birding wide open spaces like Fermilab or Springbrook Prairie. Since my yard is more of a wildlife habitat than it is a garden, I’d welcome coyotes, particularly if they kept the feral cat away!

    • The pictures are borrowed, of course, from the Urban Coyote Research website. Ironically, feeding feral cats is a good way to attract coyotes.

  14. Great photos Jason! And yes we have them here in Naperville. In fact one sadly got away with my uncle and aunt’s small dog. We have seen an increase in their presence in this area. I agree with you in that we need predators to keep things in balance. Wishing you a lovely weekend and a Happy belated Thanksgiving! Nicole

    • Sorry to hear about the little dog. I guess with coyotes around we have to keep a closer eye on pets. We have no pets now, so it is not a worry for us.

  15. I think Jason that wild predators are needed around our gardens, especially where there are many rabbits or rats. Instead of coyotes we have foxes. They eat rats and mice during the winter. In summer we do not see foxes at all, I think they come back to woods.

  16. I have no problem with coyotes at all and think we need more predators to control our rabbit populations. But a friend who lives in the country had coyotes hunting her two mini dachshunds. The dogs were terrified to even go out to pee. I think if you have small dogs, the probability of coyotes attacking them is much greater.

  17. Well here in Nova Scotia people state that every deer track has a coyote track in it. We have a lot of white-tailed deer and a lot of coyotes and they do kill and eat deer. I can hear them howl at night and see them more in breeding season in the winter. I am weary of them. 5 years ago a 19 year old singer from Toronro was killed by coyotes while she was walking in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I also have foxes, hawks, eagles and black bears. If I go ahead with my project of a chicken coop, it better be solid and predator proof.

    • I guess the coyotes can be more dangerous in a more wild environment. Here they tend to stay hidden because there are so many people, cars, etc.

  18. I have been reading lately about wolf coyote hybrids which seen to be well established in your country now. How does that effect your thinking Jason?
    I am personally very interested in hybrids at the moment and am preparing three posts on (mainly) plant hybrids!

    • I don’t think hybrid coyote-wolves have been a distinct problem in this area, at least they are not mentioned in the websites I looked at. But perhaps that could change in the future.

  19. Neighbors report seeing coyotes and red foxes, although I have not spotted them yet. I saw a deer for the first time on my first trip to the mountains of NC with my family at age 12–it seemed magical. Don’t know if it’s a good idea, but now I’m hoping the coyotes help curb the deer population around here.

    • We have a nature preserve near us where the manager has given up trying to reintroduce native species because everything is eaten by deer. There isn’t much growing other than buckthorn. If we don’t want the coyotes to limit the deer population we should be willing to do it ourselves.

      • After a renovation and new building, the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill installed a huge deer fence around a portion of the gardens before they planted anything. The deer are definitely changing things.

  20. Coyotes are not my favorite predator. Many of my friends who live on farms have outdoor cats who have been killed by coyotes. I make sure that all of our cats are safely tucked inside every night for this reason. We must have quite a few, because I can hear them yipping nearby every night out in the fields.

    • Perhaps in a more rural area, or if food is more scarce, coyotes are more of a threat to pets. The Chicago researchers claim that here, at least, it is rare that they kill pets.

  21. We haven’t seen a coyotes lately although I’m sure they are in our area. Fisher cats, a fierce predator, have just about wiped out the rabbit population here in New Hampshire.

  22. Reblogged this on Rhymes with Linnaeus and commented:
    Coyote numbers are on the rise here in the urban corridor of Southern Ontario. With these numbers, more urban myths (hello, coyotes stalking evening strollers), misconceptions and questions grow, too. Can coyotes find a place in our urban green spaces, parks and even in our backyards? This recent post from a Chicago-area blogger of GardenInACity answers some questions and the photos are amazing. A must read if you love wildlife, even when that wildness gets pretty close.

  23. I did enjoy this, how I wish we had coyotes, they seem to be fascinating creatures. The cub looks just like a fox cub, how sweet. I loved the look on the coyotes face in the pic of the one in the store. What a stunning shot of the red tailed hawk, what a magnificent creature.xxx

  24. Amazing sightings. The most exotic I get here is a grey squirrel. vermin. We do also get close sightings of the reintroduced Red Kite however I have yet t see one as close as your magnificent Red tailed Hawk.

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