Diet & Characteristics
Coyotes are generally not a threat to human health and safety. Coyotes are among the most commonly seen wild animals in Arizona. They occur throughout the community wherever substantial open areas remain (mountain preserves, golf courses, larger blocks of undeveloped land, etc.).
Coyotes have varied diet including rodents, rabbits, deer fawns, antelope fawns, snakes and lizards, other small wild and domestic animals, mesquite beans, fruits and vegetables, pet food, and any garbage they can find. Adults weigh between 20 and 30 lbs and measure 18-21 inches tall and 42-50 inches in length. Their ears are usually carried more erect than a dog’s and the distinct black patches at the base and tip of the tail also help distinguish coyotes from dogs. Coyotes have dark fringes on coat, generally gray with a rusty tint on the neck and flanks. Tail is carried lower than a dog’s. An average litter contains four to five pups.
Coyotes are born in dens which, in an urban environment, can include inside storm drains, under storage sheds, in holes dug in vacant lots, parks or golf courses, or any other dark, dry place. They typically den where thick, dense vegetation obstructs view of the entrance and makes human entry difficult. The young are fairly independent at one month old.
Food requirements increase dramatically during breeding season. They tend to travel and hunt singly or in pairs. They may form groups as the population density increases or where food is abundant. Family groups remain together during the summer and into the early fall.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if a coyote approaches me?
The most successful methods of frightening a coyote away from a person are for that person to appear as large and threatening as possible. Making aggressive gestures towards the animal (moving arms and legs), shouting in a low voice, throwing rocks, sticks or objects at the coyote, maintaining eye contact and moving towards active or populated areas are proven techniques of either making the coyote flee, or ending the encounter.
What should I do if the coyote keeps approaching me?
Even if the above methods do not appear to be working, continue to exaggerate them. Do not turn away or run. Keep constant eye contact with the coyote and continue to move towards other people, a building, or an area of activity.
Coyotes are moving through my yard a lot recently. Why?
Regular coyote presence in your backyard is a result of a nearby food source. The coyote may be finding a meal in your yard, your neighbor's, or at a house down or across the street from you. Like it or not, someone in your neighborhood is feeding coyotes. Talking with your neighbors about recognizing and removing the following coyote attractants will reduce the potential of having coyotes in your backyard:
- Pet food stored or fed outside
- Accessible garbage bins and composts
- Fruit fallen from trees
Coyotes are very adaptable and though the majority of their diet consists of small rodents they enjoy apples, berries and other fruit, birds, eggs, fish and small crustaceans. The above food sources attract rats and mice as well, which is the mainstay of urban coyote meals. Even a poorly maintained bird feeder will attract wild mammals.
How can I discourage them from my backyard?
It is crucial to understand the importance of a unified neighborhood effort. If there is a regular coyote food source in one yard on your block, there will be coyotes active throughout the neighborhood. Therefore, the elimination of any potential food source is essential. High fences flush to the ground discourage them from entering yards. It is of equal importance to recognize that an indifferent attitude towards a coyote in your yard has a similar effect as feeding. Consider the following from a coyote’s perspective:
- Out of 20 visual encounters with people around houses, 1 resulted in a fed steak supper watched by the resident, 1 resulted in a compost and mouse meal watched by the resident, 16 encounters were met with indifference and 2 encounters were negative experiences in which the residents chased the coyote off the property and down the lane.
If a coyote is in your yard it is imperative that you make the animal aware it is not welcome there. Coyotes are most likely to be frightened by aggressive gestures, loud noises and large forms. Coyotes have been scared off properties by people waving hockey sticks or brooms at them, people throwing stones, balls or tins at them, people clanging pots and pans in their direction, or by having the following home made coyote deterrents thrown or moved in their direction
- The Coyote Shaker: A juice tin containing forty pennies, wrapped in aluminum foil and sealed with duct tape.
- The Can Clanger: A group of different sized tins and cans connected to each other by string.
The combination of the light reflecting on the foil and tin, the noise made by the clanging of the tins and the aggressive gesture of shaking / throwing the tins provide several deterrents which effect the coyote’s visual [reflective light], aural [sound of metal] and motion [fear of being struck] senses simultaneously, thereby scaring the animal to move on. Don’t stop at your property line. A coyote in your neighbor’s yard is the same thing as having one in your own.
How can I keep my cat safe?
The only way of ensuring that your cat is safe from coyotes is to keep it indoors permanently. The more time your cat is outdoors the greater the risk it faces, not only from coyotes, but from raccoons, cars, domestic dogs, feline AIDS, leukemia, parasites and other illnesses and diseases as well.
How can I keep my dog safe?
- The most common conflict between coyotes and dogs is with cat-size or smaller dogs. To ensure your pet is safe the best action is to supervise it at all times it is outside and make sure your pet is off leash only in enclosed areas.
- There have been reports of coyotes taking small dogs from not only the direct vicinity of their owner, but directly off the leash. If you notice a coyote when walking your dog, either gather your dog in your arms if possible, or keep it as close to you as possible while using some of the deterrents noted above and move towards an active area.
- If your dog [of any size] is off leash, ensure your dog has immediate recall response, not only to eliminate potential contact or conflict with coyotes, but other dogs and people as well.
- If there is a den with coyote pups nearby, even large dogs may be attacked.
How can I keep my small dog safe on leash?
As mentioned above there have been occasions when coyotes have taken small dogs [less than cat size] directly from the leash. If there are regular coyote sightings in your neighborhood, in addition to the advice and deterrents mentioned above, the following precautionary measures can be adopted to reduce the risk of injury to your pet:
- If you are uncomfortable making aggressive gestures or throwing objects at a coyote keep a shrill whistle handy when walking your dog. The whistle may not scare the coyote directly] coyotes hear the same daily sirens, car alarms, horns etc. as we do], but it will alert other pedestrians in the area of your need for help.
- Walk your dog [on leash] in high pedestrian traffic areas such as relatively busy streets, jogging trails and park paths where help is nearby.
- Coincide the walks with times and locations of activity such as around schools at arrival, dismissal, break or lunch periods, along transit routes or transit connection routes as the work day begins or ends or around parks when activities / sporting events [nightly softball or soccer games] are held.
- Dog walk with friends and family.
- Avoid long stretches of bushy areas or paths and roads along abandoned properties.
- Make sure your dog is ahead of you while walking. If it stops to sniff or scratch behind you while on an extendable leash, keep an eye on it.
How can I prepare my child for potential coyote encounters?
Responsible parenting means keeping your children informed about all the dangers of living in an urban society. Coyotes do pose a risk to children, and kids should be made aware of what behavior [see above] has proven effective if they come into contact with a coyote. It is also important to keep the risk coyotes pose in its proper perspective.
Why should I not feed coyotes?
- A Fed Coyote is a Dead Coyote: Coyotes who associate people as a food provider invariably end up having to be shot for displaying aggressive behavior. After one incident involving the shooting of a coyote, as a result of the animal nipping a child, a post mortem revealed roast chicken in the animal's stomach.
- Feeding Coyotes is a Crime: Per Section 7-2-6 of the Paradise Valley Town Code [Feeding Wild Coyotes], it is a misdemeanor to feed wild coyotes and violators are subject to a $250 fine if convicted.
- Wildlife service permittees will remove animals for a fee.
- Homeowners are not required to obtain permission from the Arizona Game and Fish Department to remove coyotes from property. However, self-help tactics should be attempted first in all cases involving property damage. If these remedies are not sufficient, lethal removal of the animal may be the only option available.
In an emergency, call the Arizona Game and Fish Department office at 602-942-3000 (8 a.m.-5 p.m., Mon. -Fri. excluding holidays). After hours and weekends, a radio dispatcher is available at 623-236-7201.
Also call Game and Fish if any of the following occur:
- There is a threat to public safety.
- The animal is injured or sick.
- Severe property damage has occurred.
Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel will not remove a free-roaming animal. However, they WILL respond 24/7 to an emergency situation. If you are bitten by a coyote seek medical attention immediately.