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Introducing the Capitol Hill coyotes

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Like most cities, Seattle has its pros and cons, but we can all agree we love our critters. Bunnies, orcas, and bald eagles are some of our favorite neighbors, but our coyote community has called the city home since the 1920s. As they get more innovative and adaptive, coyotes could become just as familiar as that neighbor you always awkwardly run into.

Just like some of you reading this, coyotes came to the Pacific Northwest and other U.S. territories for good food and a good time. To understand why, we need to go back a century. Further colonization in the late 1800s and early 1900s resulted in more cities and people in the Wild West. This, in turn, created a bad situation for natural predators. Wolves had been trophy kills for a while, but now they were being killed to protect livestock. States all over the Southwest started their own “War of Extermination.” This war translated to government-encouraged hunting to decimate wolf populations in favor of human interest. At the same time, wolf pelts were becoming increasingly trendy and highly sought after. Populations were annihilated quickly.

With no wolves, coyotes had no competition. They stole livestock, but getting rid of them wasn’t a piece of cake. Coyotes are extremely cunning and adaptable.  They can survive pretty much anywhere. Kick them out of the forest? Okay, they’ll just go to the city! They can also repopulate without a problem. Coyote populations have packs similar to their competition, wolves, though it only includes a nuclear family of a father, mother, and offspring. When young pups are old enough, they go off to find their own territory. Get rid of one coyote, and you can guarantee there is another already plotting to take over.

Okay, fast forward to now! If coyotes have no competition, why would they want to hang out by a Metropolitan Market parking lot in Magnolia? Well yeah, coyotes did have a sweet deal, but once wolves were marked as endangered, people started to take that seriously. Animal conservation groups worked hard to bring them back. America’s relationship with wolves changed too. Over a few decades, the wolf went from an enemy or fur coat to a mighty, mystical being associated with strength, wisdom, and overall badassery. Though kind of cringe, we all know about sigma males, alpha chads, and the like; and do you know where that terminology comes from? Wolves!

From LA to The Big Apple, coyotes are everywhere. Their adaptability, diverse diet, and ability to sleep pretty much anywhere gives them the edge that not a lot of these other meatatarians have. So as more apex predators return, and more urban expansion happens, they’re going to go with the flow. According to The Seattle Urban Carnivore’s Carnivore Spotter, one was spotted by Volunteer Park this summer! 

Coyote encounters may begin to rise in the city, but there is no need to worry because nature works in a mysterious, yet intentional way. It ebbs and flows the way it’s supposed to. If you are lucky enough to encounter these scruffy, but cute, coyotes, don’t panic. Make yourself big, yell, and scare them off; that’s all it takes. Yes, they’re dog-like, but they are not dogs. Do not feed them, do not try to interact with them, and keep pets inside. 

Even though there have been instances where coyotes have killed cats or small dogs, that’s not what they actually like to do. The cool thing about coyotes is that even though they live in an urban environment, they still prefer good old GMO-free organic rats. Professional and amateur community scientists in the Seattle Coyote Study took samples of coyote scat to understand our elusive lads. The findings included a lot of berries, a lot of rats, and a few bunnies, too. If you’ve been to Cal Anderson Park late, or even around Central’s campus at night, you know how crazy the rat population has gotten. Maybe with an increase in coyote populations, we may see fewer of those guys too.
If you’d like to learn more about our urban coyotes, and/or be a part of a future study, check out the University of Washington’s The Seattle Coyote Study!

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