When coyotes come calling

This coyoto was spotted in rural Winters last month. Coyotes are native to this area, and have recently been seen coming closer to homes and ranches. Photo by Pawarun Kangvanwanich

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What would you do if a coyote walked up to your home in the middle of the day? That was the situation in which Winters resident Melissa Marshall found herself. She and her husband Michael Sears live on a ranch on Pleasants Valley Road, where they enjoy observing nature’s cycles.

“We’re adapting to this natural landscape and not trying to impose too much of ourselves upon it,” Marshall says. But one coyote started acting strangely.

“What surprises me is seeing this coyote in the daytime. We noticed that this coyote comes actually quite close to the house, and just stands here and is surveying the territory.”

This coyote began to stalk her two small dogs. It never attacked them, but would walk into their yard and watch her pets. Melissa became concerned and was not sure what to do. She did not want to approach the wild animal, but her dogs were in danger.

“As much as we want to respect the natural order of things, they’re also my dogs.”

Marshall reached out to the community for solutions, but did not find a viable solution. She did not want to harm the coyote, as some people suggested. She also would never let the coyote hurt her dogs. Marshall needed an expert’s advice.

Peter Tira, information officer for California Fish and Wildlife, provided information on how to protect pets while also respecting the coyotes and their habitat.

Tira explained that it is actually somewhat normal to see coyotes out during the day. Coyotes are usually only spotted during the mornings and evenings, but it is not unusual for them to be outside in the daylight. It is still not safe to ever approach a coyote.

Food is often the main factor that draws coyotes to towns or ranches. Coyotes will eat pet food, garbage and even the scattered seeds from bird feeders. This situation is not good for humans or coyotes.

“They get emboldened, and that’s when problems occur,” Tira says.

When coyotes feel comfortable being close to humans, it means that pets, the coyotes themselves, and even small children are at risk of injury or death.

California Fish and Wildlife suggests that people who live in prime coyote habitat never store pet food outside and secure their garbage cans.

In the wild, coyotes mainly eat fruit and small rodents. Keeping rodent populations under control is one of the most important roles that coyotes play in the ecosystem. Tira suggested that one way to discourage coyotes from approaching households is to make sure that there are no shrubs around the building that could be housing rodents.

“You need to take precautions with your pets,” Tira explained. “(Coyotes) are opportunistic predators, so they will take pets for food.”

If you see coyotes in your neighborhood, small dogs should never be let outside unattended, and all cats should be kept indoors. If you have small livestock like chickens or rabbits, make sure that they are completely secured. He also advised not to try to get between your pet and a coyote if it attacks, as he has seen people become badly injured from coyote attacks.

For the most part, coyotes try to completely avoid humans. They only start coming close to houses when a source of food is readily available.

Tara said the good news is that removing food sources from around the property will encourage coyotes to look elsewhere for food.

Tira pointed out that after the rainy winter in 2016, there’s no shortage of food for coyotes in nature. He recapped that, as with all wild animals, it is in everyone’s best interest to let coyotes hunt for themselves.

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