Dealing with Coyotes in an Urban Setting

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

On average, about one percent of the diet of local coyotes comprises of cats, including feral ones, according to Cathy Schoonmaker of the Mountains Restoration Trust.

The biggest portion of coyotes’ food (39 percent) comes from different small, but wild, animals, such as rabbits and varied rodents, while about 30 percent of the flexible predators’ diet tends to be fruit, including peaches, berries and figs, according to Schoonmaker.

Trash and dog food account for another 6 percent, while the remainder comes from various sources, including reptiles, insects, chickens, wild birds, vegetables and scavenged deer carcasses killed by mountain lions.

Based on these figures, humans via their gardens, fruit trees, pets, pet food and trash provide a sizable portion of coyotes’ nutrition.

Coyotes are often seen on streets in Pacific Palisades.

Coyotes are “habituated to people,” said Schoonmaker during her presentation at the Marquez Knolls Property Owners Association’s annual meeting. They’re “not scared of us anymore.”

To address this issue, she recommends five tools and techniques not only to safely co-exist with coyotes, but also to makes homes and neighborhoods less inviting to them.

The first tool is education, which simply means gaining a greater understanding of both the animals and the specifics of what invites and deters them from entering backyards and neighborhoods. Schoonmaker described coyotes as omnivores that tend to be about the size of medium dogs, weighing between 20 to 35 pounds, but often seeming bigger and heavier due to their fur. They can be active both day and night, and they often hide in bushes or other spots that they perceive as safe.

Negative interactions with people tend to happen either when people approach coyotes with food or more commonly when people or dogs stray too close during denning season, which is between March and July, she said. Coyotes may even attack big dogs during this time if they perceive them as a threat. 

Although coyotes may be drawn to human-occupied areas for food, they prefer natural areas like creeks and woods when choosing a home and moving from place to place. Coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions are the same. Humans are dangerous to all three animals both through automobiles and substances like rat poison, which travels up the food chain to kill all three. Schoonmaker recommends not using anti-coagulant rodenticides, which also kill owls and hawks.

There are other safer ways to reduce wildlife incursions to homes, like removing attractors and adding repellents. Repellents, for example, like cayenne pepper, ammonia and vinegar, deter coyotes from entering a space. Motion-activated noises and lights such as the Critter Getter, may also steer coyotes away. However, the noxious substances must be varied and re-applied, while motion detectors must be regularly moved, as coyotes become accustomed to them after a while and are no longer deterred.

“Coyotes are really smart, so you have to move the detectors around to different locations,” Schoonmaker said. “They clue in and they catch on.”

Unlike repellents, which encourage coyotes to move along, attractors invite the animals into yards, and so should be removed. Attractors may include outdoor pet food or small spaces under decks or within bushes. Ripe fruit on trees or in vegetable gardens should be picked quickly, while hiding spots should be sealed. For decks, a barrier, such as chicken wire, can be installed in an L-shape or buried deeply around the base of a deck, so coyotes won’t dig underneath it.

However, if one neighbor seals up a deck, the coyotes may move to the next-door neighbor’s deck, so it’s important for residents to work in concert. These barriers also have the additional benefit of keeping out skunks.

These changes are also part of habitat modifications in general. Other helpful modifications include putting rollers atop solid 7- to 8-ft.-high fences (not chain link) as coyotes can easily jump 6-ft. fences or climb chain-link ones. Bird spikes on fences can also keep coyotes away.

Bird feeders, trash cans, compost bins, pets and chickens can also be removed or further guarded to prevent coyotes from using them for food. In addition, trimming trees three feet from the ground while also removing ivy and debris, such as wood piles, can reduce denning options.

A last aspect of deterring coyotes from both homes and neighborhoods is hazing, which can be particularly effective if the entire neighborhood takes it up. Hazing involves being loud and aggressive toward coyotes, so they will learn to avoid humans.

To safely haze, Schoonmaker recommends, if possible, first picking up any small children and dogs, while always retaining two car lengths between yourself and the coyotes. Then, make some noise. Carry loud shaker cans on walks or other items like party store tubes that make noise when waved around. Pick up pine cones to throw. Change out your arsenal so the coyotes don’t get habituated to anything, and if you didn’t happen to carry anything, yell and stomp your feet. Throughout the encounter, maintain eye contact and never hide.

“Be big, be loud, raise your hands,” Schoonmaker said. “It makes you look bigger. It makes you look mean. It’s okay to scare them; it’s okay to push them out of your area. The goal is to frighten them away and to get them respectful of people.”

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