Friday, March 4, 2011

Training urban coyotes: How to help the wildlife in Portland

As regular readers of this blog know, we have coyotes in our neighborhood. While I've not seen them myself, I have been stopped during my morning walks by panicked neighbors reporting sightings. I've heard people talking about coyotes at the store. And I've seen videos all over the news of coyotes walking around this neighborhood in broad daylight. Last night, I attended an open house held by the Audubon Society of Portland, so I could learn more about these neighborhood critters. What I learned was slightly surprising.

For starters, urban coyotes are actually beneficial. They keep rodents such as mice and rats under control. They prey on the eggs of some invasive species of birds, including geese. They make snacks of bugs and grubs that destroy our gardens. And typically they do this work during dusk or dawn, when few people are out and about. They typically avoid human contact.

The coyotes in our neighborhood, however, are not behaving normally. They are active in the middle of the day. They have become so accustomed to people that they are sleeping in the middle of the road, in the path of moving cars. They have been venturing onto porches and playing with toys in neighborhood yards. They have been playing with dogs in local dog parks. While the risk of a coyote attacking a human is extremely low, having coyotes interacting this closely with us raises that risk. It also raises the risk that the coyotes will snack on the pets or animals in our yards.

Removing or rehoming coyotes doesn't work, as they can travel up to 60 miles in a single day. Often they just come right back. Killing them doesn't work. Coyote packs only allow the alpha male and female to mate. If one is killed, the entire pack begins breeding, which causes a spike in the number of animals in the neighborhood. Killing or removing the whole pack only allows another pack to come in and replace the first.

Therefore, we have to learn how to live with these creatures, and remind them of how to live with us. The Society suggests that each and every person make loud, dramatic noises whenever coyotes are seen. Yell, clap and wave your arms. Remind them that we cannot be trusted.

Most importantly, we all need to remove food sources for the coyotes. Garbage must be picked up and secured tightly. Compost piles must be covered. Small pets must be given secure shelter at night. And absolutely no one should be providing handouts. It became clear in the Q/A session last night that some people have been providing the coyotes with food with the mistaken impression that this would protect their animals. This simply doesn't work. If you live near here and you've been leaving out food for the coyotes, watch for my visit. I plan on talking to everyone I know that is doing this; I know of at least one household.

You might wonder why this is important. The short answer is that if our coyotes don't revert to a normal behavior, something will happen. They will be seen in a school yard. They will kill one too many pets. They will pose a danger and people will call for their removal. This means they'll be killed. To protect the coyotes, and ourselves, we need to keep them away from us. We need a distant relationship.

If you spot a coyote, report it to the Society at 503.292.0304.

You can read more about this topic here.