Frequently asked questions about urban coyotes

Do coyotes and dogs interbreed (mate with one another)?

People often speculate as to the frequency of coyote-dog hybrids, or coydogs, in urban settings. Coyotes and dogs are related, and they are biologically capable of producing hybrid litters. Coydogs have been raised in captivity. Genetic surveys of wild coyotes have rarely documented evidence of dogs in the genetic makeup of coyotes, despite domestic dogs and coyotes sharing the continent for the past 9,000 years. Although it is possible, coydogs in urban settings are unlikely because:

  • Coyotes are highly seasonal breeders; dogs are not.
  • Coydog females have a shifted estrus cycle that does not coincide with the coyote period.
  • Domestic dog and coydog males do not tend to litters, whereas male coyotes do.
  • Coydogs may have lower fertility than either domestic dogs or coyotes.

What do urban coyotes eat?

Many people believe that urban coyotes primarily eat garbage and pets. Although coyotes are predators, they are also opportunistic and shift their diets to take advantage of the most available prey. Coyotes are generally scavengers and predators of small prey but can shift to large prey occasionally. The most common food item for coyotes is small rodents. Through necropsy (post-mortem evaluations), scat investigation, visual observation, and high-tech science, it seems the majority of coyotes in our study area do NOT, in fact, rely on pets or garbage for their diets. Review this topic on the page About Coyotes.

How many coyotes are in a pack? How many coyotes are in Chicago?

Our observations (during tracking, helicopter flights, and trapping) have revealed that the coyotes in our study maintain territories as groups unless living as a solitary animal. Group size in protected habitats is typically five to six adults in addition to pups born that year. It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 coyotes may reside in Cook County, IL.

What is a coywolf? Are they in Illinois?

A coywolf is a term still disputed in the scientific community. It refers to what is more commonly called an eastern coyote, which is mainly coyote with a small amount of wolf gene influence. The term coywolf is misleading because it suggests a 50/50 hybrid cross between a wolf and a coyote, which it is not. There is no evidence to support that eastern coyotes reside in Illinois and it would be unlikely that they could be differentiated by the public from the typical western coyote. Despite some opinions, facts indicate a wide-range of weights/coat conditions in coyotes and there is no significant difference between eastern and western coyote sizes. Western coyotes are what you see in Illinois.

For more information about the PBS nature special "Meet the Coywolf," please read our response here.

I have a nuisance coyote in my neighborhood. What can I do?

Please review this website; do you still consider the coyote a nuisance? Identifing the root of your issue may help resolve the conflict. If you believe a coyote is a direct threat to human safety (bold aggression such as growling, stalking, chasing), it should be reported to local authorities. Because cities vary on their response to coyotes, you may either need to contact your animal control, police department, or local DNR office. They can offer you further advice or respond as needed. Remember that a coyote that is simply present in your neighborhood is not a reason for alarm. Nuisance animals are those that are actually threatening or causing harm to you, your pets, or your property. The presence of coyotes in your yard suggests a food source; as long as it is not artificial, these animals may actually improve the ecological health of your yard by controlling other populations such as rodents and geese. If you are not comfortable with having coyotes nearby, you may have to hire a private trapper to have the animal removed. Be aware, however, that another individual or pack will likely backfill the area after removal of the target animal.

I hear coyotes howling. Does that mean they have just killed something?

No. Coyotes howl for a variety of different reasons but it would be silly more often than not for a coyote to howl over a kill. Why would they want to attract attention to their food catch? Please click here to visit our page on coyote signs for more information on howling.

I want to have chickens. Will that attract coyotes into my neighborhood?

It depends. Coyotes can be attracted to any available food source. If your chickens are unattended and wandering, it is possible that coyotes will seek them as a food source. However, with secure, all-sided fencing (must have wire top and extend into the ground), the coyotes (as well as other predators) should learn that chickens are not a food source because they never get the chance to prey on the animals. This answer, however, is based on opinion and not fact; we have no research data to prove or disprove whether coyote conflicts will arise as a result of keeping chickens on your property.

Have there been coyote bites or attacks on humans in the Chicago area?

No, there has not been a single coyote bite or attack reported on humans in northeastern Illinois. Recent media reports of coyote bites (a 49 year old man in Aurora and a 3 year old child in Columbus Park) were later proven instead to have been the result of domestic dogs. Domestic dog bites are far more common than bites by wild animals. If you see an animal that resembles a coyote, do not attempt to feed it. Whether domestic dog or coyote, animals wandering at large should not be approached. If you are not sure, call your local animal control or police department. Report any bite by an animal promptly.

site near where 441 was trapped and tracked

Coyote 441 is one of the most successful urban coyotes we have observed. This female was captured near the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago on March 10th, 2010. At the time of capture, she was a subadult in excellent condition, weighing 11 kg. A GPS collar was placed on her and we recorded her locations until November 2010 when her collar blew off (these collars are programmed to remotely fall off at a specified time).