Coyote Relationships with People

Coyote running in traffic

Human-Coyote Interest

There are some people who take a love of wildlife to a personal level, making their homes as welcoming as possible for the feathered and furry who share their neighborhood. While providing habitat is desirable, purposefully attracting wildlife can have devastating consequences for the animals themselves. It takes a community approach to keep the "wild" in wildlife.

coyote 567

Most coyotes maintain a low profile (coyote 567 napping)

Human-Coyote Conflicts

For many reasons, the popular media focuses on conflicts between coyotes and people within cities. Even so, most incidents are difficult for the public to interpret and place into the proper perspective. Many people have little idea as to what the appropriate response is to coyote news stories, and inappropriate responses can aggravate the situation. Coyote conflicts can range from relatively benign sightings of the occasional animal without additional incidents, to pet killings, to the most extreme cases of coyotes attacking people. The word "attack" is often attached to a wide variety of situations, most involving a much less dramatic incident than the word "attack" implies.

Coyotes differ from most other wildlife species in cities in that they can be considered a nuisance without any evidence of damage, simply by being seen. Perhaps because of their role as a large predator, people are sensitive to the real or perceived threat to pets or children. Indeed, most complaints regarding coyotes are that they occur near people, regardless of whether any damage has occurred. 

lost cat sign

Outdoor pets are at an increased risk of injury, although coyotes are not always to blame

Conflicts with Pets

Small dogs may be taken at any time of year but attacks on larger dogs are usually associated with the mating or breeding season when coyotes are most territorial. In some cases, small dogs have been taken while the dog was on a lead, or coyotes have jumped fences to attack a dog in a yard. Most metropolitan areas in the Midwest and eastern United States have reported an apparent increase in the number of attacks on pets. Cats roaming outside are at an obvious risk, although the coyote is only one source of potential danger among many.

Attacks on Humans

Most extreme, and relatively rare, are cases where coyotes attack people. The majority of cases involve younger children. Most attacks have occurred in the Southwest, especially southern California, where coyotes have lived in suburbs for decades. Prior to 2009, the only fatal case of a coyote attack in recent history occurred in 1981 in a Los Angeles suburb. However, in October 2009, a 19-year old woman was fatally attacked by eastern coyotes while hiking alone in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, Nova Scotia. In Midwestern metropolitan areas where coyotes are still considered a relatively recent phenomenon, coyote attacks on people remain isolated and rare.

Are all coyotes a threat to people?

It continues to be surprising to find so many coyotes living near people in Cook County, and yet relatively few conflicts have been reported. It was assumed that with an average of 350 coyotes removed each year from the area as nuisances, most urban coyotes would create problems. In contrast, only 14 of 446 radio-collared coyotes have been reported as nuisances (as defined by the local community). Apparently, few coyotes have become nuisances in Cook County, and it is likely that this is true of other metropolitan areas. It remains to be seen if conflicts will stay relatively rare or if they become more common as coyotes adjust to living with humans in this area. 
For perspective, it is worth considering that no documented case of a coyote biting a human has been reported for Cook County. Contrast that result with domestic dogs, in which Cook County often records 2,000 to 3,000 dog bites each year (including some fatalities). In 2013, for example, there were no recorded bites to people by coyotes in Cook County but 3,822 bites from domestic pets were reported (data from Cook County Animal and Rabies Control).

coyote with tracking collar

An outfitted coyote, now helping us learn about his life

What creates a nuisance coyote?

Very few coyotes that have been studied in Cook County have developed into "nuisance" animals. Those coyotes that became nuisances during the study typically became habituated through feeding by people. In other words, people were feeding wildlife and either intentionally, or unintentionally, fed coyotes.

Once coyotes associate human buildings or yards with food, they may increase daytime activities and thus are seen more easily by people. In those areas in southern California where attacks have been common, researchers have reported a higher frequency of human-related food in the diet of nuisance coyotes. This was indicative of feeding by people, or coyotes seeking food in garbage. In either case, feeding of coyotes should be heavily discouraged. A common pattern for many human attacks has been feeding prior to the incident — in many cases intentional feeding. 

Our experience has been that most nuisance calls are in response to coyotes simply being seen or heard by residents.