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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wild, wild life

Check out a pack of seven coyotes in a field in Damascus this morning (video-ed from inside a nearby house):

The scene from that house is always full of critters, but usually a little more serene.

Comments (14)

Not seven of 'em at once, but in the last several years in my Southwest Portland neighborhood I've seen coyotes many, many times, sometimes in pairs. We used to have a possum problem, and to a lesser extent, a raccoon problem too, but I haven't seen a possum or a raccoon in years. I wonder if there's a causal connection going on there.

G Joubert:

No need to wonder about a connection. But add cats and a few dogs to the list along with possums and raccoons. For some reason, the local press didn't seem interested in publicizing the story of an adult black labrador that was attacked on the field outside of Robert Gray Middle Middle School a couple years ago. The dog was on a leash, and the older woman who was walking it had to throw snacks she was carrying at the coyotes to divert them. She paid $5,000 in vet bills.

There are at least two dens on the southwest side of the hill below the "KGON" tower, beneath Fairmont. Various numbers of coyotes have been in the woods for close to 10 years,now. But the numbers are increasing and they are not fearful of human contact now. Ask your mail carrier, and he or she will tell you the frequency of their sighings. After all, they travel the local roads all day. And the "urban coyotes" (that's the precious name they go by these days) are active during the day along with the night. They sniff around garages and are not scared away by the local dogs who are, by law, restrained in their yards.

If you look up during the afternoon, you may also see the groups of turkey vultures that have now become a regular feature in this area. The circle in groups of three, four or five over the den locations looking for a leftover. The dens are near the small creeks that drain the hill. We hear the group yowls and yelps often during the night. And although the headlines make a big deal of cougar sightings in outlying regions, we have had them in our backyards occasionally over the years, too. After all, they prey on the coyotes.

Now, here come the "They were here first" comments, along with, "They're here because they are being forced out their habitat by urban sprawl." This is a joke. They're here because the food supply is plentiful (cats, etc.) and they are protected. They have virtually no predators -the few cougars are not enough to affect their numbers, and likely more cougars will follow. This is what happens when you foolishly ignore a problem - or even "celebrate" it - instead of resolving it. The problem grows. But this Portland, after all. There used to be controls, but the authorities took too much heat from a wildlife conservation group years ago when a den was eliminated out by the airport.

Now for all the comments in praise of "urban coyotes" ...

Well said PDX Lifer! This is a problem that is getting worse and worse in some areas that are even very urban. Something has to be done, I think it's time to eliminate a more dens...but there will be just a few crazy Porllanders who will howl in protest and then it won't happen...

I have been saying for a long time that a child will get seriously hurt by some coyotes IN Portland...it's going to happen.

Great video! I get a lot of pleasure from the critters that live in or visit my yard. I'd be ecstatic if I saw a coyote! As for "problem" animals, it seems that I hear a lot more about dogs attacking people and cats killing songbirds than coyotes attacking children.

Good grief, destroying the dens won't work! Coyotes will have bigger litters if competitor dens are destroyed, and smaller litters if they're under food stress. Since you can never find all the dens, and since the remaining coyotes will have as many pups as there is food, destroying even 85% of the dens won't make any difference in the population in the long run.

Unless you get medieval on their asses, not only destroying dens, but also setting traps and poison baits, and shooting survivors within city limits, all of which will never ever happen, the only effective and humane way to reduce the coyote population is to take away their food, and let nature take its course.

People must keep pet food inside all the time. Most coyotes don't want to pick fights with healthy dogs and cats. They end up in fights over bowls of pet food, and only target the dogs and cats when they can't fight or escape. They know if your dog or cat is old or sick the same way we can identify a geriatric or severely ill person. People must keep their old, declawed, or sickly dogs and cats inside, particularly at night. Most "lost" cats in SW PDX are in a coyote's belly somewhere.

During the July heat wave I was driving through Washington Park when I saw a squirrel jump out of the trees and onto the road. Within a moment, a coyote leapt out of the trees and snatched the squirrel in its jaws before bounding across the road and disappearing.

It was a sight to see.

Good point, anonymous. "take away their food" translates into "keep your cat indoors or in your yard under supervision."

That's a good idea in any case if you want your cat to live long and prosper.

Anonymous' comments are pretty spot-on. If you really want to educate yourself about coyotes and how to co-exist with them here in the city and elsewhere (because, say what you will, PDX Lifer, they're here to stay!) Bob Sallinger over at the Portland Audubon Society has great info: http://www.audubonportland.org/backyardwildlife/brochures/coyote/urbancoyotes

"Take away their food" does indeed mean watching out for your small pets (cats and dogs), but it also means making garbage, compost, pet food bowls, etc., inaccessible. Somehow people who keep chickens in coops have figured this out. However, as to a coyote-proof fence, I don't believe it exists. Here at the bottom of the Alameda Ridge, I've seen a coyote in my back yard pretty much levitate and sail over a 6 foot fence that was up a 3 foot rise with no effort at all.

And, yes, I'd so much rather live with urban coyotes than with a lot of peoples' ill-trained pit bull-like dogs...

Now, here come the "They were here first" comments

Actually, Doris' link proves this to be incorrect: In western Oregon, they were rare prior to the 1940's.

But they are highly opportunistic, and can adapt to many different situations.

I've witnessed both Urban coyotes, and those in the wild that aren't much influenced by humans. The former are pretty common in my neighborhood, as I'm up against Forest Park, and as others have observed, people continually provide a food supply for them. They are also pretty bold and at times seem to hold their ground against humans until really pushed. The latter are much more shy and usually want nothing to do with me - if I even manage to see them first.

The answer has already been revealed here - make life as hard for them here as it is in the wild, and both their numbers, and therefore the chance of interaction with humans will delcine to match those in the wild.

I say collect them up and let them roam downtown Portland in the middle of the night. They can enforce a new "sit-lie" law.

Jon, you're absolutely right: they've adapted ridiculously well to life among humans. In Chicago, they're so secretive that one den was only discovered with the help of Webcams, as the coyotes were too smart and too wily (no pun intended) to allow themselves to be seen. In other places, where they know they aren't at risk, they're absolutely blatant: about fifteen years ago, I watched one in the middle of downtown Dallas at 5 in the morning, acting as if he owned the place.

Now, if you want to read something scary, there's also what happens when coyotes don't have wolves and big dogs to keep their sizes down. Within the last five years, Fort Worth has been capturing some real monsters, including one that weighed over sixty pounds. Apparently the coyotes are doing what Americans have been doing for the last century: remove any factor that prevents further growth, and offer lots of high-protein food in the form of garbage, roadkill, and pet food, and they're just moving into the predator size formerly filled by local wolves. Something to look forward to, eh?

what happens when coyotes don't have wolves and big dogs to keep their sizes down

You're apparently not aware of this?

Actually, I wasn't, John, and thank you for passing that on. It still helps confirm the situation: coyotes don't reach these urban coyote sizes in areas where wolves or (again) large domestic or feral dogs will hunt them if given the opportunity.

Add Rose City golf course and Rocky Butte as coyote habitat, with at least a couple of them around. Heard from my neighbor a few months ago that one was standing in a tee box at the golf course around 11:00 in the morning - and was in no hurry to leave.

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