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Watershed Wildlife | Coyotes

A coyote in the redwood understory of Fern Ravine.


Coyotes are intelligent, social, and adaptable canines living throughout North America. Native to our region, they inhabited the arid west and California long before European colonization. Recently, sightings within the Sausal Creek Watershed have been noted in Fern Ravine, Bridgeview Trail, and Dimond Canyon.


As integral members of our local ecosystem, coyotes play a vital role in maintaining ecological balance. They help control the populations of small mammals like rabbits, ground squirrels, skunks, and raccoons. Referred to as “omnivorous opportunists”, they also feast on insects, reptiles, amphibians, fruits, and occasionally birds and their eggs. In fact, they will scavenge almost anything, including human trash and household pets if we’re not careful!


They use their keen sense of smell and hearing to seek out prey in thick vegetation or forests, but favor open habitats where they can stalk and chase, using stealth as their primary hunting strategy. They possess the speed, strength, and endurance necessary to tackle prey as large as adult deer.


Suitable habitat for a coyote looks like an interspersion of brushy and open areas, with access to drinking water–hence their presence near the creek and Fern Ravine wetland. They seek cover in natural cavities and rock crevices, or might excavate a den, or flex their resourcefulness by moving into someone else’s–taking over a skunk or fox hole. Inside, the den may be up to 4-5 feet wide and 50 feet deep!


The name "coyote" stems from the Mexican-Spanish variation of the Nahuatl word "coyotl" and holds significance as a trickster in various Indigenous cultures. Their taxonomic name, Canis latrans, translates to “barking dog” in Latin, reflecting their nightly serenades.

 

The voice of the coyote is quite distinctive. They call to their family members with various howls, high-pitched yaps, and occasional dog-like barks, showcasing the most diverse range of vocalizations among North American mammals.


Coyotes are active yearlong, mostly crepuscular (active at dawn or dusk) and nocturnal, but can occasionally be seen during daylight hours. They generally live in family groups and establish home range territories 3-31 square miles in which to hunt and raise their pups.


Coyote mating season is upon us, they typically breed from January to March, and after a gestation period of about 63 days, their young are born in the spring. From May to September, when adults care for their young, coyotes can display heightened aggressiveness, particularly toward domestic dogs.


Here are some tips to ensure a harmonious coexistence with these wildlife residents:


1️⃣ Admire from Afar: If you encounter a coyote while hiking, maintain a safe distance. Respect their space and avoid approaching them. Back away slowly.


2️⃣ Leash your Pets: If you’re walking your furry friends, keep them on a leash. This not only protects your pets but also prevents any unnecessary stress for the coyote. Don’t leave small pets unsupervised outside, and bring them in at night.


3️⃣ Avoid Feeding: Resist the urge to feed coyotes. Feeding disrupts their natural behaviors and can lead to dependence on human-provided food.


4️⃣ Haze them Gently: If a coyote approaches too closely, try to haze them by making loud noises, clapping, waving your arms to look bigger, or blowing a whistle. This helps them maintain a healthy fear of humans.


5️⃣ Secure Trash: Ensure your garbage makes it into a securely sealed trash can to discourage coyotes from scavenging for human food.


–Kate Berlin



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