The big picture follow-up

Wow, only hours after writing about corridors yesterday,  I got to see just how functional they are, locally.  While walking along the greenway on the way back from Park Road Shopping Center, some friends and I were crossing Hillside.  As we popped out of the woods, I glanced sideways down the road to see a coyote in the middle of the street.  After it saw us, it turned tail and ran into the woods.

A coyote!  In Myers Park!  Now before you get yourself all worked up,  keep reading.  I realize that by writing this observation down, I run the risk of neighborhood over-reaction.  I sort of picture an angry mob running down the road with pitchforks and torches screaming for the dead animal.  So none of that Frankenstein style coyote panic, please.  Let’s get back to the cool part.  A coyote!  In Myers Park!  I saw that with a smile on my face.  Seeing that one run away yesterday made my afternoon.  The presence of the coyote there says quite a bit about the functionality of these greenway habitats.  They’re not just pretty parks, they are real habitat corridors that allow all sorts of animals to use them.

So what’s the coyote doing here?  You mean aside from stealing babies?  Oh wait, those are the dingos.  Never mind.  Actually, any coyotes on the greenway are likely doing very similar things to what they do in the wild.  Coyotes tend to be opportunistic omnivorous feeders.  Since it’s very hard to follow them or ask them what they’ve been eating, the easiest way to figure out their diet is to check their scat.  There are whole suites of biologists out there studying mammals by looking at their poop.  It’s not glamorous, but it is incredibly informative.  If you ever find some coyote scat, you’re likely to find some surprising things in it- like seeds and the remnants of berries and insect parts, as well as bits of birds, mammals and lizards.

One study of coyotes in urban parts of Western Washington found that up to 50% of the diet of the coyotes in these urban habitats came from fruits.  About 40% of their diet came from small mammals, normally voles, chipmunks and squirrels.  All three of those mammal types are found around here, too (I’ve found voles up on Selwyn, in fact).  Being that coyotes are opportunists, human waste also made up a small proportion of their diet.

Quinn, T.  1997.  Coyote (Canis latrans) food habits in three urban habitat types of western Washington.  Northwest Science 71:  1-5.  

You should note that babies don’t, apparently, make up ANY of the diet of coyotes in the urban areas that were studied.  That should make you feel a good bit safer, I’d hope.

So why don’t people have more coyote sightings?  Part of the reason is that the coyotes know that you’re around.  Other people have found that coyotes do use corridors quite readily as foraging habitat and that they will move between fragments by crossing roads (like the one I saw), but that they usually alter their activity patterns to avoid people.  In urban areas, coyotes are more crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) than they are in more wild areas where they have wider patterns of activity.

Tigas, L.,  D.H. Van Vuren and R.M. Sauvajot.  2002.  Behavioral responses of bobcats and coyotes to habitat fragmentation and corridors in an urban environment.  Biological Conservation 108:  299-306.


So that one little coyote (like the wagtail) is part of the bigger picture, too.  Its presence is a sign that these greenways into the heart of the city really are working.  The more natural and stable we keep those habitats, the more time the coyotes will spend eating fruits, berries and squirrels, too.

As a final note on the coyote sighting:  my mother was with me when we saw it.  She was surprised that it was a coyote, thinking it was a small dog.  Coyotes are not very big (and they don’t walk on their hind legs like Wile E. Coyote from the old Roadrunner cartoons).  They are beautiful, small, wild animals.  Watch them and enjoy them.  No need to hoist any pianos into the trees to drop on them.


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
This entry was posted in conservation, ecology, mammals, predation. Bookmark the permalink.

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