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Coyotes

Coyote
Coyote at Tommy Thompson Park - photo by Bert Vanderzon

Residents of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) share their greenspaces and waterways with a great diversity of wildlife. Coyotes (Canis latrans) are a relatively recent addition to this mix, having expanded their range over the last century in response to an increase in agriculture and forestry operations, as well as the extirpation of wolves from the area. While some people welcome these wild neighbours, others fear them. The information below provides unbiased information on coyote ecology and human-coyote interaction. Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) works to protect and restore wildlife habitat, however it is not in our mandate to manage wildlife. TRCA works closely with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), who manage the province’s wildlife to ensure it is healthy today and available for future generations to enjoy.

If you live in Toronto and are concerned about coyotes in your neighbourhood please contact the City of Toronto by dialing 311.

If you live outside the City of Toronto , within the GTA and are concerned about coyotes please contact the MNR at 905-713-7400.

Description

The coyote is a small relative of the grey wolf. Adults typically weigh between 10 and 22 kg, but thick fur makes them appear heavier. Coyotes vary in length from 1.1 - 1.4 metres, and in shoulder height from 58 - 70 cm. They have grey, buffy or reddish- grey fur on top and on sides, lighter underparts, a pointed nose with a rufous top, a grey patch between the eyes and a bushy, black-tipped tail.

Communication

Coyotes communicate with a broad range of vocalizations including yaps, whines, barks and howls. These sounds are most often heard during twilight hours and are most intense during late winter and spring when courtship is underway. One animal typically initiates the vocalizations, but is quickly joined by others.

Every February, Toronto and Region Conservation hosts Hoot and Howl events in natural areas across its jurisdiction. A guided nighttime hike follows a slide-show presentation on owls and coyotes. Event leaders call out to these wild creatures in the hope that they will hoot or howl back. Information on these and other events is available on the TRCA Web site (www.trca.on.ca/events/calendar).

Habitat

Forest fragmentation and grey wolf extirpation in settled areas allowed the adaptable coyote to significantly increase its range and population size. This species now inhabits almost all rural areas and many cities throughout North America. It is found in all terrestrial habitats on the continent except the barren tundra of the far north and the humid southeastern forests. Coyotes often build their dens in old woodchuck holes, which they expand to about 30 cm in diameter and about three metres in depth. Although less common, coyotes also build dens in hollow trees and dense brush piles.

Diet

Coyotes are opportunistic feeders that consume a variety of foods including garbage, fallen fruit, birdfeeder seed, garden crops and pet food. However, their diet is comprised mainly of small mammals including rats, mice, shrews, squirrels and rabbits. This natural rodent control is beneficial to city dwellers and farmers alike.

In rural areas, coyotes prey on poultry, sheep and calves. And although very uncommon, some urban coyotes prey on domestic cats and small dogs. The number of such incidences falls well short of the number of pets killed in attacks from other pets or by vehicle collisions.

Human-Coyote Interaction

Ample food and den locations and an absence of predators ensure that the coyote is here to stay. Relocation of coyotes from the GTA is not an option. Research demonstrates that animals relocated from urban areas will typically return, become a problem elsewhere, or perish as a result of being transferred to an unfamiliar area. And as long as suitable habitat remains, other coyotes will move in.

With a greater awareness of and respect for this species, people and coyotes can comfortably coexist. Fear for personal safety is ill-founded as attacks are rare and usually the result of an animal being fed. Feeding causes coyotes to lose their healthy fear of humans and is therefore greatly discouraged.

Coyote
Coyote pup at Tommy Thompson Park - photo by Ann Gray

A number of measures can be taken to keep coyotes wild, and pets, livestock and people safe:

  • Give them space. Help protect and restore natural areas.

  • Discourage their visits to residential yards by installing motion-sensitive lighting, keeping meat products out of compost bins, remembering not to leave pet or human food outdoors, and storing garbage in secure containers.

  • Reduce contact with coyotes by avoiding the areas they frequent, especially at key activity hours — dawn and dusk.

  • If you encounter a coyote, stay calm and let him move on. Do not approach. If you feel threatened, make a loud noise or sudden movement to scare the animal off. Most likely, a coyote that stops to stare is only curious and has no plan to approach or attack. On solitary walks, carry a personal alarm, flashlight and umbrella you can open and close to frighten off a coyote if one does approach.

  • Prevent attacks on pets by leashing dogs in parks and natural areas, keeping cats indoors, and fencing yards near ravines and parks.

  • Prevent attacks on livestock by keeping young animals in barns, putting bells on sheep and installing electric fencing, set low to the ground. Some farmers have also found that keeping a donkey with their livestock helps to deter coyotes.

  • Contact your local animal services centre if you observe an injured, orphaned or sick coyote.

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