From the multi-agency event in Magnolia last night, there’s practical advice you can put to use right now. And ASAP might be a good time to do it, as we seem to be coming up on a critical time in the coyote calendar:
When we arrived at Blaine K-8 in Magnolia, expecting an “open house” as billed — which usually means you wander between tables, gathering info — we instead found at least 100 people seated in the dark, watching a state wildlife expert present a slide show about urban coyotes.
He did it with humor, grace, and a minimum of audience heckling.
First item of note: It’s almost mating season for coyotes. Seems that after Valentine’s Day, they’re in the mood for love, particularly in late February. And because of everything that’s attendant with looking for, competing for, and finding coyote love, they are a little more aggressive than usual at that time of year.
Once all that business is taken care of, the females dig dens in March, and pups are born in April, usually 4 to 7 per female.
So, you’re thinking, here come more coyote mouths to feed. Does that mean every cat is in their crosshairs as cat=chow? Another interesting stat here — it wasn’t much consolation for an audience member who hollered “They ate 2 of MY cats,” but the presenter had stats from a study analyzing the stomach contents of coyotes. Almost half of what was found, he said, consisted of small rodents, aka pests — particularly rats and mice. Several other food sources followed, and at the bottom of the list, comprising 1 percent of what the study found, was “cats.” Without coyotes, the presentation stressed, we might have a much-worse urban-pest problem: “They’re really good for eating rats, mice, voles, even rabbits” — and he added something else that will make some people happy — “and they love Canada goose nests.”
Food, however, can be their downfall. For emphasis, this slide:
And some items on the list of what comprises “unintentional feeding” may surprise you; it surprised us.
Leaving pet food outside — heard that one before. Next on the list: Fallen fruit. Coyotes will scarf that up. Third: Bird seed on the ground. If you’re going to feed the birds, get an elevated feeder of some sort.
What’s wrong with coyotes eating this type of thing, you wonder? It’s the main thing that brings them out of the greenbelts and close to your home, making them “less wild” and putting them in the line of danger even more than posing a risk to you and your pets.
And about that risk – not as much as you suspect. “Are they a threat to people? Rarely,” said the presenter, noting that only 2 people have ever recorded coyote bites in all of Washington state’s recorded history, while in King County in 2006 alone, 297 people reported domestic-dog bites that broke the skin. (He wasn’t dog-bashing, just offering something for comparison’s sake.)
But here’s a key point: Keeping them wild, and afraid of humans, is an important aspect of coexistence, to keep them where they are safest, in the greenbelts, not living behind your house. So if you see one, here’s the evasive action to take, more toward that end than out of any risk to your own safety:
–Make yourself look larger. If you’re wearing a jacket, pull your arms up so it almost looks like wings. Stretch your arms out.
–Make aggressive gestures toward the coyote.
–Yell at it: GO AWAY, COYOTE!
–Throw sticks or rocks at it if it won’t take the hint.
–But don’t run — like domestic dogs, they love to give chase, and that’ll just get them going right after you.
To simplify this for kid-teaching advice, it was boiled down to eight words: BE BIG, BE MEAN, BE LOUD, NEVER RUN. With a supplement: Teach kids about the role that coyotes play in our cities (eating pests, etc.).
The rest of the presentation included an explanation of why trapping’s not a good idea — more relevant to the Magnolia residents who just went through the controversy involving the Discovery Park coyote — and an exhortation for keeping cats indoors, not just to keep them out of coyotes’ bellies, but because of other threats (cars, people, other cats, etc.). The most notable part of that presentation was this LOLcat-esque slide about the joys of housecathood:
OK, maybe you had to be there. Rounding up literature as the presentation ended, we learned about the Puget Sound Cats Indoors Coalition, with 12 participating agencies. Its brochure does not appear to be available online, but you can find an abundance of similar information elsewhere, including this fact sheet about converting an outdoor cat to a happy indoor cat.
Also distributed, a coyote fact sheet from Project Wildlife, which you can see here.
And since the state expert starred in last night’s presentation, we’ll once more mention an excellent “Living with Coyotes” link on the WDFW site — find it here.