Do Coyotes Live in Your City?

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Healthy populations of coyotes live in many, if not most, major cities. This coyote makes home in a cemetery in Chicago. Photo by Steve Sorensen.
Healthy populations of coyotes live in many, if not most, major cities. This coyote makes home in a cemetery in Chicago.  Photo by Steve Sorensen.
Healthy populations of coyotes live in many, if not most, major cities. This coyote makes home in a cemetery in Chicago. Photo by Steve Sorensen.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Coyotes are a subject of conspiracy theories.

On Labor Day weekend I drove to Chicago hoping to see a coyote. Not the place you’d expect to see one? Think again.

My daughter lives in Chicago. A few years ago, as she was driving on I-90 in the city, she dialed me on her cellphone. “Dad, guess what I just saw?” My first guess? A coyote. I nailed it. (The guess, not the coyote.)

I’ve seen photos of coyotes in cities before, but anecdotal information accompanying city-slicker song dogs is not always easy to confirm. I wanted to get my own photo so before heading west I contacted Tim Davis, a coyote hunting friend in Chicago,. He told me exactly where to go.

I arrived at St. Boniface Cemetery at 5:40 AM on Sunday, September 4, packing my camera. At dawn I pulled out my iPhone and started playing a coyote pup distress call from Varmint Al’s website (www.VarmintAl.com). Al’s calling sequence lasts only a minute. I doubted the volume was loud enough, but after the third play I glimpsed a coyote coming. It was unmistakable.

Exactly then, a passerby on the sidewalk where I was standing asked, “Looking for the foxes?” I shushed him with my hand. He whispered, “Sorry,” and kept on walking. I began clicking.

Yes, coyotes live in Chicago. More than 2,000 of them have settled into urban niches in places like Graceland Cemetery, four blocks south and quadruple the size of St. Boniface. Eastward, along the lakeshore, there are more. Remarkably, at Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears) a pair of coyotes raised a litter of five in the concrete parking lot. (Coyote births happen in February and March, long after football season is over.)

Are coyotes in your city? If they’re in urban America, why wouldn’t they be in small towns? Are they in Olean or Jamestown, New York? What about Warren, Pennsylvania or smaller places like Tionesta? It’s a sure bet they’ve been spotted, but why set up shop in small towns when so much good coyote habitat surrounds municipalities much smaller and more rural than Chicago?

Most urban coyotes use a limited territory so they avoid exposing themselves to people. Their diet consists of rodents, pet food, table scraps, Canada geese, and anything they can get their jaws around, including a cat or small dog on occasion. Urban folk often aid coyotes without knowing it, and many of them (like my sidewalk passerby) think they’re foxes. Or stray dogs.

In rural areas coyotes are less dependent on people. Your pets are less vulnerable. Your garbage is seldom a target of coyotes. Woodland rodents are easy pickings so coyotes don’t have to risk of being near people to pursue prey. If they come around, it’s likely well after dark when you won’t see them. Of course, coyotes aren’t reading this column, so they might take your pet, rip into your garbage, or show up when or where they aren’t expected. One passed through my yard one evening a few years ago.

Coyotes fascinate me, partly because they’re the subject of conspiracy theories – many people still believe coyotes have been stocked by game departments in the East. False. If it were true, every state must have stocked them. Including Indiana, where I saw a road killed coyote on my way to Chicago. Do you still think coyotes were stocked? Then it must have happened eight decades ago because I have a picture of a Pennsylvania coyote taken in 1938.

Even some biologists say misleading things about coyotes. I read one article about urban coyotes where a biologist said the canines have “evolved” to live in cities. No, they haven’t. Just like millions of people, they have adapted to city life. I’m not as adaptable. I’ve tried city life, but all my settings are stuck on rural.

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When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).