Everyone finds conversations about coyotes to be interesting and useful, since these slender-nosed and very wild members of the dog family make fairly frequent appearances throughout Inner Southeast neighborhoods.
At the May Woodstock Neighborhood Association online "ZOOM" meeting, members had some diversion from ongoing thoughts about the coronavirus and normal neighborhood news when an invited coyote expert gave an online hour-long presentation.
Zuriel (Rasmussen) van Belle, Director of the "Portland Urban Coyote Project", specializes in studying human and carnivore interactions. She talked about the various characteristics of coyotes – who were once considered fairly rare in North America, but now prowl many large cities in addition to the countryside, and might even be seen occasionally in your own backyard!
"The cry of a coyote can have an eerie sound," remarked van Belle. "They can be set off by the sound of sirens, and it can sound like ten to fifteen coyotes because of the overlapping sounds, but it usually it's just three or four."
A Western Coyote weighs only between 15 and 40 pounds, but looks heavier because of its thick fur. They are very adaptive and opportunistic, which is why they can live well in urban areas where they eat rodents, berries, and sometimes garbage.
Coyotes' family patterns are stable. They form a monogamous pair, staying together for life, and produce four or five pups between March and May. The pups leave the family in the summer – living in burrows, dents in a tree, or under highway overpasses.
Identifying coyotes can be tricky because they can look so much like some types of dog. But it is easier to spot them if you know that they always walk and run with their tails DOWN instead of up, but not dragging on the ground. Their scat varies in appearance, and differs from that of dogs, because it often contains signs of berries, fruit, or animal fur, and is narrow and tapered in shape. It is frequently laid in the MIDDLE of a trail.
Even though coyote attacks on people are quite rare (they prefer rats and rabbits), they do bite – so when encountering them on a trail or in a yard, humans are advised to make a lot of noise by yelling, blowing a whistle or air horn, ringing bells, shaking a can full of pennies or marbles, or clanging pots and pans. (You would have to be quite well-equipped to do all that on a trail, of course.)
"Because coyotes love fruit, they might be attracted to a fig tree or berry patch," remarked van Belle. "And they do like small animals, but it is not TOO common for them to attack and eat cats. They are not a major part of their diet." Still, they are opportunistic and hungry, and she does advise keeping cats and small dogs inside when coyotes are around – particularly at night.
"Coyotes are extremely curious, so when walking your dog [in an area where coyotes might be] it is good to carry something to make noise," reminded van Belle.
The Portland Urban Coyote Project encourages people to report coyote sightings, because it helps the project amass interesting and important data about where, when, and how many are in various urban or rural areas. They have repeatedly been spotted in Oaks Bottom and near the lake at Reed College, among many other places.
"We have been floored by how much the community has helped with reporting," exclaims van Belle. "The practical application of our project is to use this reporting as proactive management to prevent conflict between humans and coyotes."
For more information about this wild canid amongst us, and a tutorial and maps about times of day for coyote sightings, go online – www.portlandcoyote.com
However, looking at their map, many sightings we are aware of in Inner Southeast are not marked. BEE readers should report coyotes they see to the website, to add to the data.
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