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1873 - Santa Barbara lawyers Charles Fernald and J.T. Richards purchase Rancho San Francisco for $33,000 (75 cents an acre) in a sheriff's sale [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Mar 7, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugI have often seen coyotes on my street early in the morning or even in the late afternoon, and I always thought it was a gift to be able to observe nature in action so close by.

The thought crossed my mind also that it was unusual to see this animal in daylight, and that food or water must be scarce. Poor little coyote!

That was until I started to do research for this article.

The attacks on dogs and cats have increased tremendously – even dogs that are on a leash. This is becoming frequent, especially in California. There was even a child who was killed, and it seems that the coyotes are becoming less wary of humans in our suburban environment.

coyote5They have been chasing joggers and bicyclists, clearly losing their fear of humans. That is never a good sign with wildlife, as they can be unpredictable. They follow the river bed in Valencia as well as the paseo system, so they have easy access to all neighborhoods. They can jump or climb over high fences and do so in broad daylight.

When a species is making all those changes, we have to understand the underlying reasons.

We are making their life too easy. They do not have to hunt, as they can empty our garbage cans, eat the cat food – and even the cat. They eat all of the fallen fruit under the trees and the berries under the bushes.

coyote3I did not think the bird feeder could be a problem, but it is. Coyotes eat birds, squirrels and even the mice and rats that are attracted to the bird feeder at night. They can drink from the bird bath or the fountain and have been known to chew on irrigation lines.

So please avoid feeding them, because it changes their behavior and brings them too close to our homes and pets. Avoid leaving cat and dog food outside, and keep the materials from bird feeders off of the ground as best you can.

Coyotes have adapted well in densely populated areas, while avoiding contact with humans. One coyote even took up residence in New York City’s Central Park for a few days; how got there is a mystery to me.

It is important to take some precautions. Do not leave your pets unattended outside. A large dog will be OK, but a cat will never be, even during the day.

It is easy to recognize a coyote kill compared to killing by a dog, because the coyote only consumes part of the body. Often it eats the soft belly tissues and leaves the rest.

What do they eat? They are carnivores, so any animal with meat on its bones will do – even carrion, although they prefer fresh meat. Fruits and vegetables are also important in their diet.

Exactly what is a coyote? The coyote looks like a skinny German shepherd, but the tail is bushier with a black tip, and it is held horizontal or down, not up like a flag.

Their hearing is acute and the position of the ears is used to communicate mood and rank in the pack. They also have a good sense of smell, and they mark their territory with their urine.

coyote1Coyotes are not gregarious animals. When food is scarce, their territory can be 15 square miles wide. In area where food is plentiful, like suburbia, they can form a pack of up to 10 coyotes and don’t behave as territorially. A territory can become as small as one-quarter of a square mile in the suburbs of Los Angeles – and this is where were are living.

If you have never seen a coyote close up, I am pretty sure you have seen its scat on the trail. Coyote are canids and use their droppings to mark the area where they have been. The scat, or dropping, is usually displayed right in the middle of the path. (A cat, on the other hand, hides its scat.) The scat often has a pointed end and can contain hair, berries and grass, revealing the coyote’s diet. Scats are brown to light grey and become bleached out by the sun after a few days.

Breeding happens in late January or February. The pups are born in March or April, and the mated pair remains monogamous for a few years. The parents dig a den away from human activity and have four to seven pups.The pups come out of the den at about three weeks, and at 35 days they are totally weaned.

The pups are fed by both parents for the first few months. When they are juveniles, the males will be the first ones to leave the pack at six to nine months of age. The females can remain with the parents longer and will form the pack. They usually hunt in pairs.

One of the special sounds of the night in California is the howl and yipping of the coyote. Many nights, I have lain in bed trying to follow what I imagined was a run for the kill, listening to the yipping grow very shrill. Actually, it could have been simply the calling for the pack, and when the pack is together, the howls get higher and higher. I was not right there, but it sounded like the Wild West was knocking at my door.

We are lucky to be able to experience this, so close to home.



Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.




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  1. truthpurveyor says:

    Ms. Vandersandt has provided great advice here about not feeding coyotes and other wildlife. Fed wildlife is often “dead” wildlife, because the animals start coming too close to humans and someone kills them.
    —Also, before letting your pet out to do its business, check your yard first. Clap and talk loudly to scare away wildlife.
    —One note: Vandersandt mentions a child being killed…that was back in the 1980’s and the parents were feeding groups of coyotes. The circumstances of the toddler’s death were murky. Coyotes generally fear humans and run away.

  2. Project Coyote says:

    For information about coyotes – and corrections to some of the information in this article – please visit http://www.ProjectCoyote.org/resources

  3. SCV says:

    I often see coyotes in my apartment complex in the evening and at night. One even was stalking my cat without the poor kitty even noticing. Now I keep my cat inside, but I still see cats in my apartment complex on McBean (Skycrest) whose owners let their cats and kittens outside. There is a widely spaced iron fence surrounding the complex that can easily be penetrated by a coyote. Is there any way we can warn cat owners to not let their cats out? It makes me sad seeing small cats out who could easily be the coyotes’ next snack.

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