Coyote sightings in the landscape increased significantly in September. Staff and visitors reported seeing coyotes running through the collections, along the roads, and even peacefully sunning in open areas. Although seeing them in the daytime is unusual, coyotes typically do not pose a threat to humans. That said, visitors should never approach coyotes in the landscape and should call the Arboretum Ambassador if you feel unsafe.

Seasonal Diets and Walking Hazards

Although the city environment may not seem “natural”, it actually provides good coyote habitat. Patchwork yards, parks, and lots emulate the fragmented habitats that this species prefers elsewhere. These urban areas also offer diverse food sources that omnivorous coyotes require for good nutrition. During the winter and spring, coyotes predominantly depend on urban mammals including rabbits, mice, voles, squirrels and rats. However, in late summer and fall, they heavily supplement their diets on the abundant fruits, vegetables, and berries.

Coyote searching for a winter meal

This seasonal diet change directly coincides with increased coyote sightings. Unfortunately, it also coincides with increased staff and visitor complaints of un-bagged dog poop on Arboretum roads. However, it is coyotes, rather than inconsiderate dog owners, who seem mostly blame. At night, coyotes use our roads just like we do, as an easy route from one place to the next. The very obvious (and annoying) middle of the road scat likely serve as territorial markers. They may warn interlopers away from high density sources of fruit and berries. While ill will towards humans is easily imagined as a secondary motive, supporting evidence remains inconclusive.

For the few visitors who care to know the difference, coyote scat holds evidence of diet change. During winter and spring, their scat appears narrow, tapered and filled with animal hair. This reflects their dependence on small mammals during the colder months. In late summer and fall, however, coyote scat can appear much more like dog poop. The difference is the easily discernible remnants of fruits, berries, and their seeds.

Reacting to Coyotes

Regardless of your interest in (or lack of) in coyote behavior, diet, and scat, seeing one is no reason to panic. Coyotes generally shy away from people and will likely quickly leave the area. However, if a coyote directly approaches you, raise your arms, raise your voice, and do not run away. Instead, throw sticks or rocks at the coyote until it runs away. While this hazing may seem cruel, it is essential that coyotes fear humans. This is especially important in urban habitats where coyote and human interactions are common. When people treat coyotes like dogs instead of wildlife, coyotes begin confidently approaching humans. These habituated coyotes attack people more often than their shy counterparts. They are correspondingly more likely to be killed, a loss for both parties.

Just passing through. A coyote photographed by a research camera. Dr. Thilina Surasinghe

However, even non-habituated coyotes may harass dogs and their walkers. Coyotes view dogs as either potential meals, potential competitors, or an amusing nuisance. Regardless, hostile interactions can be traumatic for both pet owners and wildlife. Protect your pet and yourself by always leashing your dog within the Arboretum landscape. Do not approach coyotes with your dogs.