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