TACOMA — If you’re going to spot a coyote this year, it’ll most likely be over the next few weeks.
In Washington state, residents can encounter a coyote pretty much anywhere. The Washington NatureMapping Program notes that coyotes live in habitats all across the Evergreen State, including areas with human development.
Even though coyotes raise their young in secluded areas, they need to cover a lot of ground to find food, which may bring them to suburban neighborhoods, according to the Humane Society of the United States. They mostly eat rabbits, rodents, insects, fruit and carrion, but they will also eat pet food and human food scraps left outside. Their food-finding journey each spring makes humans more likely to spot them. The longer they are around people, the less they fear them, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
Attacks on humans are very rare and coyotes are ecologically helpful to keep down rodent populations. But coyotes may attack pets like small dogs and cats, as pets can easily be mistaken for coyotes’ natural prey. The canines also prey on farm stock like chickens. In 2019, coyotes slaughtered 16 chickens that belonged to a University Place teen.
Chances of a coyote attack increase when a human intentionally or mistakenly feeds them, according to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. They may be inadvertently drawn to residents’ outside garbage or pet food, which increases chances encounters. This can be a cause of concern for Washingtonians with cats or dogs.
Coyotes are native to North America and cover a wide range, according to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission — the canines are prevalent predators in the Tar Heel State. But despite human urbanization, coyotes have expanded their habitat over hundreds of years. Around 2.89 to 4.7 million individual canines now inhabit every U.S. state except Hawaii, according to wildlife website Wildlife Boss.
The coyote population in Washington remains loose, however, according to Jennifer Becar, communications manager with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. Estimates remain undetermined because the agency doesn’t actively monitor the state’s coyote population. However, a 2022 report from The News Tribune notes that the total state population is commonly estimated to be around 50,000 individual canines.
McClatchy News spoke with Falyn Owens wildlife biologist for the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, to learn more about these animals (and how to keep pets safe) during coyote pupping season.
What is a coyote?
Coyotes are wild canines. They weigh 20 to 30 pounds, on average, and can be found nearly everywhere, including green spaces and parks in highly populated areas like Seattle and Spokane, according to WDFW.
Reported sightings in Washington largely circulate around the urban areas of northern Seattle and northern Tacoma, according to Woodland Park Zoo’s Carnivore Spotter online resource. Sightings have also significantly increased over the past decade in general, according to 2018 reporting from The News Tribune.
“They are very adaptable and ubiquitous,” NC Wildlife Resources Commission’s Owens says. “They’re really good at avoiding people, so you’ll rarely see one.”
Coyotes are typically gray or light brown, though they can be black as well.
When are they active?
Even though we’re more likely to encounter coyotes in late spring, there’s one thing to always remember: Coyotes are always around.
They are most likely to be seen at dawn and dusk, usually preferring to rest during the day, in part to avoid contact with humans.
But when coyotes become parents to pups, which happens around late spring, they can be active almost any time of day.
“I tell people to think about it like the parent of a newborn child,” Owens says. “The parents barely sleep because the baby doesn’t have a regular sleep schedule, and they need to eat often. The coyote pups need to eat like that too.”
Still, coyotes can be seen any time of day. They are just most likely to be spotted during late spring.
Should you scare off a coyote?
Yes. Coyotes should be taught to have a healthy fear of people, which will discourage unwanted behavior and foster coexistence, according to the Wildlife Resources Commission.
Coyotes can almost always be shooed away by “hazing it.” This can include making loud noises, waving your arms or throwing small items in its direction (not at the animal).
Coyotes are afraid of humans, so any attempt to scare them off will work 99 percent of the time.
However, during this specific pup rearing season, coyotes may be near their dens and will want to protect their pups. If you’re on a hike or otherwise near a wooded area, it’s possible the coyote is spending time in that space to care for its pups.
“Their den is really just a nursery for newborn pups, and they’ll abandon it as soon as the pups are old enough,” Owens says.
“Coyotes are great parents, and they will try to stay between you and their pups. If you come across a coyote in a secluded area and it stands its ground, just quietly leave. The coyote will lose interest as soon as you’re far enough away to feel its pups are safe.”
How to prevent conflicts
Residents can deter coyotes (and keep pets safe) by following this expert advice:
- Secure garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids and take them out in the morning of pick up, not the night before. Coyotes and other wildlife will scavenge trash when it is available to them.
- Don’t feed or try to pet coyotes. Feeding a coyote rewards that animal for coming in close proximity to people. Once a coyote becomes habituated, it loses its natural wariness of people and may become bold or aggressive.
- Protect your pets by keeping them inside, leashed, or inside a fenced area.
- Install coyote-proof fencing around your home to protect unsupervised pets. Fencing should be at least 6 feet tall and provide a full barrier along the ground that prevents animals from digging under.
- Feed pets indoors or remove uneaten food and bowls when your pet is finished eating. Coyotes and other wildlife are attracted to pet food left outdoors.
- Keep bird-feeder areas clean. Use bird feeders that keep seed off the ground. Coyotes are attracted to the small animals that congregating to eat fallen seed, and will sometimes eat the bird seed directly. If coyotes are frequently seen in the area, remove all feeders.
- Close off crawl spaces under sheds and porches. Coyotes and other wildlife may use these spaces for resting and raising young.
- Cut back brushy edges in your yard, which provide cover for coyotes.
- Don’t be intimidated by a coyote. Maintain a coyote’s natural wariness of people by throwing a small object such as a tennis ball toward it, making loud noises, or spraying it with a water hose. Let coyotes know they are unwelcome near your home.
Clear fallen fruit from around fruit trees. Coyotes are omnivorous and regularly consume fruit as part of their diet.