While it may be a bit disconcerting having wild animals roaming our streets, the following information is made available from the Humane Society.
Both coyotes and foxes are members of the canid (dog) family. Coyotes look similar to medium sized dogs, and are often confused with Huskies. Foxes are slightly smaller, and have long bodies and relatively short legs. Coyotes and foxes are both opportunistic: they can exploit a wide range of habitats, feast on a variety of natural and human-supplied foods, and, if necessary, adapt their activity periods to times when humans are not active. Despite being one of the most successful urban mammals, many people are surprised to see a coyote or fox in their backyard – and that surprise often leads to panic. The good news is that there really is not much to worry about.
Q: I just saw a coyote/fox during the day – doesn’t that mean he is rabid?
A: It is actually not unusual to see a coyote or fox out during the day. Coyotes and foxes will venture out during daylight hours in search of food. Both animals are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will hunt for food as the opportunity presents itself –regardless of whether it is day or night. Additionally, both coyotes and foxes eat squirrels, and squirrels are only active during the day. So if you see a fox or coyote outside during the day, he is most likely in pursuit of a squirrel, small rodent, or other daytime food source.
Sometimes people are frightened because a coyote or fox exhibits a “brazenness” that is alarming. This does not necessarily mean that the animal is sick. Coyotes and foxes may habituate to humans because of food sources being constantly available (i.e. cat food left on porches) or repeated contact with no negative consequences.
You can teach a bold coyote or fox to be wary of you and other people by using negative conditioning. Make loud, scary noises by banging metal pot lids together when the animal is nearby, or spray the animal’s hindquarters with a hose. Call your local animal control officer (Multnomah county 503/988-7387) or police non-emergency (503/823-3333) if an adult coyote or fox seen in the daytime is acting at all sick or showing abnormal behaviors such as partial paralysis, circling, staggering as if drunk or disoriented, self mutilating, or exhibiting either unprovoked aggression or unnatural tameness. While waiting for animal control personnel, keep people and companion animals away from the animal.
Q: Will coyotes/foxes attack my children or companion animals?
A: Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor local and state health departments have classified coyotes or foxes as a human safety risk. Coyote attacks on people are extremely rare; ironically, that is why they are highly publicized the few times they do happen. On the other hand, according to the CDC, over 330,000 people visit the emergency room each year for treatment of a dog bite-related injury, yet we do not usually banish these dogs from our homes. It is essential to put risk in its proper context, which is why, statistically speaking; the risk of Coyote harm to humans is practically nil. While this may be true … It is best to watch your small children, as a coyote may attack it if they have become accustom to human presence or humans feeding them.
Most, if not all, of the few coyote bites that occur nationally each year are directly related to coyotes being fed by humans, whether intentional or not. As a result, it is important to take proactive measures and ensure that there are no human-produced food sources, such as garbage or cat or dog food, on your property that will entice coyotes with a quick and easy meal (see below for further information).
Although coyotes will occasionally prey on free roaming cats and small dogs, the fear of coyotes or foxes attacking companion animals is greatly exaggerated. Many more dogs and cats meet the unfortunate fate of being struck by an automobile. Coyotes and foxes seek out the type of prey that will give them the greatest reward with minimal risk of injury to themselves. As a result, their favored prey includes small mammals such as rabbits, mice, rats, and squirrels, as well as human-produced food, such as garbage and cat or dog food. Coyotes and foxes also eat insects, fruits, and berries. Coyotes have a serious problem with cats and do not get along well with them at all. Your cats should be kept indoors to protect them from coyotes as well as hawks.
Q: Do coyotes/foxes hunt in packs?
A: No. Coyotes and foxes do form small family groups that share territories, but both species are normally solitary hunters, although they may sometimes hunt in pairs. Interestingly, howling is often a group exercise for coyotes. However, there is no need to be alarmed if you hear the distinctive coyote howl; it merely functions as a communication between individuals or as a method for staking out territorial claims.
Q: How do I keep coyotes/foxes out of my yard?
A: You can prevent coyotes and foxes from visiting your yard by taking a few simple precautions: keep your garbage in a secure container, and only put it outside on the morning of pick-up; do not put any meat scraps in compost heaps; do not leave any cat or dog food outside overnight; restrict the use of bird seed – coyotes are attracted to both the bird seed and the birds and rodents who use the feeder; pick up fallen fruit from underneath trees; and cut back brush around your property that provides cover for coyotes or their prey. If you have a fenced-in yard, the Coyote Roller (available from Roll Guard, 619-977-6031 or www.coyoteroller.com) is an effective device for keeping dogs in and coyotes out. The Coyote Roller is a freestanding cylinder that attaches to the top of a fence, and literally “rolls” any animal off who is attempting to climb over.
Q: How do I keep coyotes/foxes out of my chicken coop?
A: Small domestic livestock only make up a small percentage of coyote and fox diets, and are usually only preyed upon when other food sources are scarce. The only way to protect your chickens is to reinforce your chicken coop so the coyotes or foxes cannot gain access. Heavy gauge welded wire should be used with another layer of finer mesh put over it to prevent coyotes, foxes, or other animals from being able to reach through. Although reinforcing a pen may be a temporary inconvenience, once an animal pen is well reinforced and maintained, there won’t be any more problems.
Q: Why can’t I just trap coyotes/ foxes out of my area?
A: Many state fish and game departments require that a person obtain a special permit to trap coyotes or foxes, and few will issue such a permit for the mere presence of coyotes or foxes in an area. That aside, human killing of coyotes for predator control has ironically been a major factor in the increase of the coyote’s home range; as coyotes are persecuted in one area, their adaptability allows them to make use of a new area. Additionally, for both coyotes and foxes, as well as most other “harvested” animals, population “control” tends to have the opposite effect; coyotes and foxes compensate for the artificial reduction in their population by breeding at an earlier age and having larger litters. In addition, more young will survive because of the increase in availability of food sources. It is much easier, and more effective, to simply remove any potential attractants from your property, which will keep coyotes and foxes at a distance, and realize that they are valuable members of your urban landscape.
Q: There is a coyote/fox den near my property – what do I do?
A: People are often surprised to discover a coyote or fox den near their property, with fox dens being the more common of the two. Again, the mere presence of a den is nothing to be concerned about. Foxes tend to start denning during the breeding season (March- April), and usually abandon the den by the end of the season. The only “problem” you may encounter is a period of several weeks when the kits are old enough to feel adventurous but are left unattended while the parents go off in search of food. The kits may look and act like puppies, and you may see them tumbling and romping in play throughout your yard. It is important that you do not feed them or initiate contact with them as this will ultimately lead to their demise. Instead, you should bang metal pot lids together to create a loud noise, which will scare the kits and teach them to associate humans with a negative stimulus.
If a coyote or fox den absolutely must be moved out of an area due to impending danger to the animals (ex: the den is located near a construction site), harassment strategies will encourage the animals to abandon their den. Place dirty, smelly, sweaty socks, or rags sprinkled with a strong-smelling household cleaner such as ammonia, into the entrance to the den. This tends to make the coyotes or foxes uncomfortable and encourages them to find a new den site. However, keep in mind that it is not an easy task to find and excavate a suitable denning site, so they may try hard to stay at their original location for lack of a better place to go. Remember, the presence of a coyote or fox den near your property does not indicate danger to yourself, your family or companion animals. The inhabitants of the den should only be encouraged to leave if there is a risk of impending danger to the denning animals.