Altona Coyotes – Wild in Suburbia

Hurray – eastern coyotes are seen regularly in Altona Forest!

We are excited to see or hear them because they are the apex predator for the area and a sign that the ecosystem is healthy. Let’s be honest – it’s their forest much more than it is ours. They have been in Altona Forest long before we arrived and remain despite our encroachment on their habitat.

A few hundred years ago, it was not the coyote who was the apex predator here, but the eastern wolf and the cougar. Sadly human intervention and development pushed these animals out. Coyotes moved into the region to take the place of the former apex predators and rebalanced the ecosystem.

The eastern coyote, found throughout much of southern Ontario, is a hybrid between the western coyote and the eastern wolf. They vary in colour and size from the western coyote, but their behaviour is very typical of coyotes.

Dedicated members of the Altona Stewardship Committee collected scat swab samples in 2012 to contribute to the coyote DNA studies being conducted by Dr Ruthledge of Trent University.  The testing results showed that at least one of Altona’s coyotes shares DNA with eastern wolves and at least one other is closely related to coyotes. These samples are consistent with eastern coyotes being genetic mixes of wolves and coyotes with varied levels of lineal hybridization.

Coyotes are intelligent, adaptable hunters and are skilled at managing human changes to their habitat. For example, they were once mostly diurnal hunters but have acquired nocturnal behaviour due to human presence in their habitat.

Coyotes are ‘opportunistic feeders’ which lends to their adaptability. They eat fresh meat, carrion (dead animals), fruit and vegetables. Their prey includes squirrels, rabbits, voles, birds, mice and rats. They are adept at keeping rodent populations in check. In doing this, they help control the diseases pests carry. The range of a coyote is determined by the amount of food available in his territory – and he will often travel along fixed trails he marks with urine.

Please don’t approach or feed coyotes; it never ends well for them. Either through habituation to human contact (which makes them food-dependent, fearless, aggressive or nuisances), illegal poisoning or other means, the handsome coyote is always the loser.

This recent sighting near a backyard makes perfect sense: food provided for birds draws squirrels, voles, rats and field mice. These natural food sources (prey) draw the coyote as well.

Image

A mid-winter mouse hunt

Protect your pets because a coyote cannot differentiate between food sources – it’s unfair to expect them to. Don’t let your cat wander near the forest or remain in your back yard unsupervised if you are near the forest. Ensure that your fences abutting the forest are in good repair and have no holes under the edges before letting your dog stay unattended in your yard.

Walking your dog in Altona Forest:

  • Keep your dog on leash at all times (it’s a rule for the use of Altona Forest and meant to protect everyone);
  • Carry a flashlight at night to scare off coyotes;
  • Clean up after your dog. Coyotes are attracted to dog feces;
  • Do not let your dog chase a coyote. Coyotes can attack if they are chased or threatened and can injure your dog. Coyotes very rarely have rabies but can have mange, so why take chances?
  • Keep pet food/food off the trails (it will draw coyotes).

Most of the suggestions above are taken from MNR – please see the Province of Ontario’s website for further information

Image

A hasty retreat

Resources:

Research Notes: Begin your reading here

Altona Coyotes – Wild in Suburbia  © 2014 Natasha G

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2 Responses to Altona Coyotes – Wild in Suburbia

  1. Great article! I love coyotes!

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