Urban coyotes in Chicago.
December 2, 2014 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Crittercams have given researchers an unprecedented window into an urban coyote's lifestyle, with 91 video clips of the animals hunting, eating, and avoiding people. Among other behavioral adaptations, urban coyotes in Chicago are nocturnal, have learned how to cross busy roads, are rarely hit by cars, maintain larger (if more fragmented) territories, and even successfully raise pups in secret dens.

From DNAinfo Chicago:
Stan Gehrt, a professor at Ohio State University who has been studying coyotes around Chicago for 15 years, said he didn't expect to find coyotes living so well in the U.S.' third largest city.

"There's basically no part of the Chicago area that they can't exploit," he said.

[...]

"It doesn’t take much for a coyote to stay hidden. They just have to be willing to tolerate a large number of people walking within a few yards from where they're resting, and trust their cover, and trust that we’re pretty oblivious to them. [...] We are constantly making coyotes smarter and smarter because they learn from us. They're the one animal that has been so successful without any help from us whatsoever."
Gehrt notes that the clips show no evidence that coyotes are regularly hunting pets.

See also: Cook County Urban Coyote Research Project.
posted by automatic cabinet (47 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've seen these guys in/near alleys on a few occasions. Always at odd hours of the night. It never felt dangerous because I know they're more afraid of me than I am of them and they were never close or approaching me or anything. It always feels... eerie, I guess? Like you know there's this invisible thing going on all the time 24/7 that's briefly revealed itself to you at this weird hour of the night, but you're not sure what you've just seen exactly.
posted by sparkletone at 7:12 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Fun fact: the first I became aware of the existence of Chicago's urban coyotes was at a metafilter meetup when DirtyOldTown showed us the pictures of the coyotes he had taken by his house the night before. This post really brings it full circle.
posted by phunniemee at 7:13 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I once saw a coyote on the lake shore trail, just south of the 31st street harbor, around 6am. I was heading north on a run, and s/he was coming south. I was just starting my day, while it looked like s/he was just finishing his/hers.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:18 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am OBSESSED with Chicago's urban coyotes, thanks for this post!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:19 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I saw coyotes in a very urban part of Seattle once, looking healthy and vigorous. They seem to do well not just in suburbia (with all of the tasty cats and purse dogs to eat) but also in fully concrete environments.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:23 PM on December 2, 2014


"Gehrt notes that the clips show no evidence that coyotes are regularly hunting pets."

Also, honestly, if they're helping control the rodent population and the rabbit population, MORE POWER TO THEM. We don't have urban coyotes where I am yet, but we have recently-migrated-in urban foxes, and while at first people were like "ACK! VARMINTS!" everyone pretty rapidly realized the foxes want zero to do with humans and they eat ALL THE MICE. Well, enough of the mice that fewer of them want to live in your basement. See also: hawks. The urban environment is really more pleasant with a few predators around to control the fast-breeding prey species.

I can't imagine why they'd want to eat pets when there's all those tasty squirrels and rabbits and mice and garbage. (Really I don't even begrudge them the garbage ... better a few coyotes than a bunch of rats.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:36 PM on December 2, 2014 [14 favorites]


Ah-oooooooooooooh
Coyotes of Chicago
Ah-ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 7:36 PM on December 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


My neighbor here in Hyde Park said that they use the Metra line (which runs just behind our building) and it's associated greenery as a habitat and highway of sorts to travel through the city. Public transit FTW.
posted by ghostpony at 7:43 PM on December 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've seen them a few times out here in the 'burbs. There were a pair of them I saw a couple of times heading for the hill behind our apartment building, where I assumed they were staying. I also saw one standing on just to the side of the on-ramp to the tollway. Just standing there hanging out, didn't seem to be on his way anywhere. That was kind of weird.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:48 PM on December 2, 2014


We have coyotes in the suburbs of Seattle, too. I have photographs of one taking a nap in my back yard a couple of months ago. After an hour he sauntered off. There are notices on telephone poles all over of missing cats and small dogs (I lost a cat a few years ago), so I'm pretty sure they are snacking on the opportune pet. Here they have been bred not to howl, since that isn't a survival trait. We have had problems with rabbits and mountain beavers, so a few coyotes keeping down the populations are okay. There is a 300 acre state park nearby that I assume is their main hangout.
posted by Xoc at 7:49 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


We have plenty of coyotes out here in suburban Houston. I love listening to them sing to the trains on fall evenings.

I have to say, watching that little guy look both ways before crossing the street was a joy!
posted by blurker at 7:54 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Xoc: "There are notices on telephone poles all over of missing cats and small dogs (I lost a cat a few years ago), so I'm pretty sure they are snacking on the opportune pet. "

We had a pair of nesting hawks here who were attacking and attempting to carry off small dogs; local vets mocked owners who claimed their dogs were attacked by hawks at first until someone caught it on video. There are a LOT of things in the urban environment who will eat the stray unattended pet!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:57 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of disappointed. I was promised videos of coyotes hunting and eating people.
posted by Lyme Drop at 7:58 PM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm in a county next to Cook and I've had coyotes on my driveway, in my backyard, and I almost hit one with my car the other night as I was leaving the office. They're everywhere.

I've been told that they follow the train tracks in and out of the city. Coyote highways!
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:59 PM on December 2, 2014


Oh wait, let's also not forget the Chicago coyote that wandered into a Quizno's (and took a nap in the cooler).
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:02 PM on December 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


My second or third year living in Evanston I was leaving for work really early and I saw a yellowish dog across the street, gliding across the lawns on Asbury Avenue. It had what seemed like half a tail. And then about a mile later it occurred to me it might be a coyote which.. I had no idea! When I got to work I googled Evanston coyotes and whoa. Yes, they most definitely are a thing and wow, people have strong opinions about them.
posted by Glinn at 8:20 PM on December 2, 2014


Coyotes are consumate survivors. They're the only large predator in North America whose numbers and range have expanded over the last 300 years.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:32 PM on December 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think this is the right place to link Chicago Wildlife Watch -- turning critter cam monitoring into a web game! (I've found lots of squirrels so far, but some weird other critters here and there.)
posted by Wulfhere at 8:41 PM on December 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


with 91 video clips of the animals hunting, eating, and avoiding people.

I feel like there's some unfortunate grammatical ambiguity here.
posted by nicolas.bray at 8:55 PM on December 2, 2014 [16 favorites]


Out in California, there were coyote squatters who moved into a burnt-out home (auto-playing news video). I'm not sure what happened to them, but word was that they would be evicted when the ruined home was demolished, if they weren't scared off by the increased public attention to their temporary residence.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 PM on December 2, 2014


I'm kind of disappointed. I was promised videos of coyotes hunting and eating people.

You're thinking dingos.
posted by bswinburn at 9:30 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not ambiguous Nick, THEY'RE HUNTING AND EATING PEOPLE!
posted by evilDoug at 9:31 PM on December 2, 2014


Also, Dingo's in Chicago?
posted by evilDoug at 9:33 PM on December 2, 2014


San Francisco coyotes say hey.

(I can't quite decide if I am delighted by or terrified of the notion that we are making them smarter.)
posted by rtha at 9:48 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Cats and dogs are on many international menus. I was told by someone who spent time in a gulag, house cat tastes like rabbit. Dog is also a culinary fave, easier to stew a small one. Coyotes and raccoons überalles!
posted by Oyéah at 9:51 PM on December 2, 2014


As someone who lives on an island where the only natural predators are coyotes and birds-of-prey (barred and great horned owls, bald eagles, red-tailed and cooper's hawks, ospreys), it's interesting how well our local feral cats survive vs. how poorly small domestic pets fare. A friend had one of his dachshunds snatched from his yard in the late evening by coyotes, and there are lots of stories of cats being visited by eagles (and coyotes too, of course).

Our resident feral cats keep the rodents at bay and we couldn't be happier about that, and they don't seem to be denting the songbird population. There aren't really enough coyotes out here to keep the rats, voles and mice under control by themselves. Now if we could only teach the cats to distinguish between the invasive grey squirrels and the smaller native red squirrels, we'd be alright...

Coyotes are impressive animals.
posted by maxwelton at 11:06 PM on December 2, 2014


Back in the late eighties I struck up a conversation with a bartender that who did 'ghost tours' in Chicago. He told me about an abandoned warehouse that was said to be haunted by native American spirits who 'howled like wolves late at night', terrifying the locals with their ungodly yowling. Some of the neighbors wanted cleansing ceremonies, some wanted exorcists. When his ghost tour guide buddies got up the nerve to check the place out, they found the place lousy with... actual coyotes. That was the first I'd heard about the urban coyote population, but since then I've seen pairs wandering around the near north, just strolling on the sidewalk like tourists.
posted by biddeford at 12:08 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


The presence of wildlife in Chicago always weirds me out. Yesterday I saw a rabbit hunkering down from the cold in an alley. Just in the middle of an alley. No grass, no trees, only blacktop and a rabbit. Weirdly ominous thing to see at night.
posted by deathpanels at 1:30 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


So, these urban coyotes seem pretty savvy. One might almost say they're...wily.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 1:31 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


In Toronto they have coywolves.
posted by Jode at 4:03 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Not gonna lie, kinda jealous!
posted by Drexen at 4:47 AM on December 3, 2014


Footage of the animals hunting, for instance, reveals that they eat a surprisingly large amount of wildlife, such as songbirds and rabbits, instead of the suspected people food and garbage. (One video sequence showed a coyote burying a squirrel carcass for later use.)

"Despite how urban they are, they're eating natural foods ... That's the most amazing thing about what he's finding," Kays said.


I was relieved to read this. The first thing I thought of when I read "urban coyote" was "Oh great, they'll be scarfing down all kinds of poisonous crap now" but no, fortunately coyotes know what they like and maintain a specific wildlife diet, even in downtown Chicago. Plus, all that hunting must be a real boon for job creation at the nearby Acme Corporation.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:56 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Needs Oculus support.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:17 AM on December 3, 2014


Also, pretty glad to see all 3 links in the FPP emphasising that coyotes rarely, at best, attack pets. To be honest I'm more skittish about the ill-tempered giant schnauzer my neighbor loves to let bound around with impunity than I'd be of any coyote.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:19 AM on December 3, 2014


Over the summer, we were at the Akron Zoo, and saw a coyote. He ran around, and seemed a healthy weight: skinny, but not emaciated.

The next day, back home in a very well settled, urban part of Cincinnati, we were on a walk, and saw two coyotes crossing the street (Delta). One of them was extremely...um..."fluffy." Upon my return home, I explained to the cats just why it was a good idea they were indoor only. Kind of the opposite of what I expected.

(Not to say that one of my cats, when agitated, couldn't take on an obese coyote; just not two of them.)
posted by MrGuilt at 5:48 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane: fortunately coyotes know what they like and maintain a specific wildlife diet, even in downtown Chicago.

I don't know. It could be that it's a current fad: all these urban coyotes are on some paleo diet. Was there video of them sitting around complaining about gluten?

Plus, all that hunting must be a real boon for job creation at the nearby Acme Corporation.

Well played.
posted by MrGuilt at 5:50 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Before Northerly Island (nee Meigs Field) became the site for an obnoxious and bullshit concert venue (oops, strong feelings here) it was known amongst our tribe as "Island Where Geese Shit a Lot and Attack People" (see previous threads about "Geese Are Assholes", etc.). Suddenly, a few years ago. the geese started acting a lot more subdued and humble, and there were a lot fewer of them. We of the Sloop Tribe worship the coyote and accept him (and her coyotes!) as our totemic beast.
posted by Chitownfats at 5:52 AM on December 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


How do I get coyotes in my city? I feel like all these tasty pigeons are just going to waste.
posted by orme at 6:01 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


@Jode...we watched that nature documentary...Chicago gets mentioned at about 40 minutes in. I grew up on the northwest side and coyotes were not super rare to see. There are tons of deer and other small animals for them to feed on.

I do now wonder if we have a Coy Wolf population in the woods that run along the North Branch of the Chicago river, Bohemian National Cemetary, Northeastern College, the multiple public golf courses and bike path that heads north to the Botanical Gardens.
posted by zerobyproxy at 6:28 AM on December 3, 2014


JSTOR Daily also recently ran an article that talks about urban coyote research in Chicago (and a video about the Gotham Coyote Project, who have even more urban coyote-related media for you.)
posted by ryanshepard at 6:55 AM on December 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


They're the only large predator in North America whose numbers and range have expanded over the last 300 years.

The JSTOR article linked to above also notes that fishers are in this category:

In 2000, the same year that Gehrt tagged his first coyote, near O’Hare airport, Roland Kays strapped a few motion-sensitive cameras to trees in a forest fragment between the cities of Albany and Schenectady. The patch is bisected by the interstate, which you can take to get to the mall or airport a few miles away. Kays, then a curator at the New York State Museum, was hoping to catch a red fox on his camera “traps,” or maybe a coyote. To his astonishment, the SD card recorded a low, limber predator with dense brown fur: a fisher. “Fishers weren’t even on my mind,” Kays says. “I never thought they’d be there.”

For one, fishers weren’t common. The animals are native to the continent’s northern forests, and overzealous logging and trapping for the fur trade nearly wiped them out of the U.S. and much of Canada by 1940. Trapping bans took hold around that time, and fishers are now recapturing original territory in the most crowded swath of the United States: the northeast.

As more fishers turned up on cameras and tracking forays, Kays realized they were thriving, able to find enough space and cover near malls, split-level colonials, and areas of 1,134 people per square mile. But the species had been described in countless scientific texts as requiring deep evergreen forests. Either scientists’ assumptions about fishers were wrong, or the weasels were themselves changing to take on the suburbs.

posted by ryanshepard at 7:03 AM on December 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


About ten years ago, a series of annoying construction detours had me on a deserted Boston-suburb road late at night. As the road made a sharp turn, there was suddenly a young coyote in my headlights, trotting down the middle of the road in the same direction. I followed it for over a half mile before it finally veered off the road into the woods. It was pretty cool.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:29 AM on December 3, 2014


Foxes have just lately moved into our neighbourhood here at the edge of town - actually, I'm sure they were around before but now we seem to have a family who've established a territory and are actively patrolling it. The nightly song-fest seems to be coming from the stretch of woodland along the railroad tracks - the railway property blends in to a scruffy little community golf course, so I'd imagine it's pretty much a fox family's idea of prime real estate. I spotted one the other night who stopped to look both ways before crossing the road, so they appear to be wily enough to survive our sparse evening traffic. We're well-stocked with rabbits, and I'll thank the foxes if they make a dent in that population - those little long-eared bastards have eaten more out of my garden than I have.

I did upgrade the lighting in the back yard though, and the chihuahua doesn't go out there alone at night... I'm sure the new neighbours would love Mexican food.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 7:53 AM on December 3, 2014


I actually run a Facebook page about coyotes and coywolves.

They're everywhere. There is a resident famous coyote on the campus of the University of British Columbia. Carter the coyote has her own page at UBC Coyote, where you can watch Carter snacking on squirrels and casually weaving her way through the campus crowds, paying no attention to the nearby humans. I hope it ends well for her; habituated coyotes often get shot because people are paranoid about possible attacks. She seems to be well-liked by the students, though. Some students have created artwork about the coyote.

We have urban coywolves in southern Ontario where I live. They look like big coyotes. They have 25% wolf DNA and roughly 10% dog DNA, and contrary to the myths our media likes to spread, they are not more dangerous than any other coyote.

I saw one at night on the railway tracks near the bayfront, running between trains.
posted by quiet earth at 8:27 AM on December 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Arizona coyotes and bobcats say "hi" from Tucson, where they trot up and down the roads in the center of the city in broad daylight.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:59 AM on December 3, 2014


Coyotes are somewhat common in the Boston suburbs now, but I had no idea just how many of them there were in my town until I stumbled onto a Facebook page from a guy who lives about a mile and a half from me who put an infrared camera with a motion-sensor trigger in his yard. He has photos and videos of groups of coyotes (sometimes a mother with pups, other times just a little pack). He also gets plenty of deer visits, the occasional fisher, and a bobcat. And we're only about 15 miles outside of Boston, close to Rt 93 and Rt 128, so it's not like we're out in the sticks.
posted by briank at 10:09 AM on December 3, 2014


I want foxes instead of the coyotes we have now. Where do I sign up?

I suspect it's the other way around, with coyotes eating foxes if they can catch them.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2014


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