St. Petersburg’s urban coyotes: Native, beneficial, adaptable, resourceful, and not that interested in meeting you.
“She just showed up! Right over there. She was really interested in our dog, Bruiser. And Bruiser was interested in her.” Marly Kinzer laughed. Living five minutes out of downtown St. Petersburg, she hadn’t been looking for coyotes. But, by living near a lake, and three wildlife preserves, she should have been. The female coyote had appeared early in the morning while Marly sipped coffee. She noticed her dog running back and forth along the fence line without barking, so she went outside to see why. Marly found a coyote playing with her dog.
“At first, I thought it was just a stray dog. You know, your mind tries to explain things. Then I realized why Bruiser wasn’t barking. The coyote wasn’t barking! She and Bruiser visited at the fence, then rested in the shade at the corner of our property. Then the coyote left. The entire episode was the coolest thing.”
Coolest thing indeed. Coyotes are a national native predator found in all the United States except Hawaii. They are opportunistic, highly adaptable, and resourceful thriving in urban environments. Coyotes can find food and shelter in a variety of habitats. In urban settings, they thrive by scavenging, hunting rodents, and preying on small animals like rabbits, squirrels, and feral and free roaming domestic cats. Coyotes control rodent populations, Muscovy duck populations through egg and duckling predation, snake populations where snakes are abundant, and to some extent, they regulate the number of feral cats. Depending on their location, and their access to natural food sources, a coyote will eat what is necessary to thrive and survive, including fallen fruits from trees, bits of char and meat from your grill, human food waste left outside unsecured, and the tasty bits in your garden.
In Florida, urban coyotes typically consume:
- Small mammals: Rodents, rabbits, and other small mammals that thrive in urban areas.
- Birds: Including ground-dwelling species, such as quail and wild turkey, and occasionally waterfowl when they have access to wetland habitats.
- Reptiles and amphibians: Snakes, lizards, and frogs.
- Insects: Grasshoppers, beetles, and other invertebrates, when food is scarce.
- Fruits and vegetables: Residential gardens and fruit trees, or as part of the contents of compost piles or garbage.
- Carrion: Roadkill or other deceased wildlife.
- Human-related food sources: Unsecured garbage, pet food left outside, and songbird suet cakes if they contain animal fats.
- Feral and free-roaming domestic cats: Because they fit the definition of natural prey for coyotes.
The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services publication of October 2021.
“… a free ranging cat is any cat that spends time unrestrained outdoors regardless of ownership status. The term ‘feral cat’ is a type of free-ranging cat, but one which is unowned, has limited or no interaction with people, and frequently avoids or exhibits aggressive behavior toward people. Free-ranging cats are associated with a number of sociological and ecological conflicts. They impact people directly through the spread of parasites and diseases, damage to gardens and property, and noise nuisances. Cats also cause conflict through their direct and indirect impacts on native wildlife through predation, competition, spread of disease, and impacts on species survival (e.g., nest failure, injury, behavioral changes).”
Outdoor cats, both feral and pets, are vulnerable to coyote attacks, especially during the dusk to nighttime when coyotes are actively looking for food. Given the risks posed by coyotes, and the negative effects of free-roaming cats on our local wildlife and environment, owners should keep cats indoors, provide them with safe outdoor enclosures if kitty is inclined, and walk them on leashes for a safe and secure adventures. Thus, eliminating an encounter with a coyote, as well as adverse effects on local wildlife, environments, and private properties. The simple act of keeping your cat a house cat is supported by a myriad of studies including:
- A study conducted in Tucson, Arizona, found that coyotes were responsible for 42% of outdoor cat deaths in the area (Grubbs and Krausman 2009).
- The American Bird Conservancy estimates that free-roaming cats, both feral and owned, kill hundreds of millions of birds and over a billion small mammals each year in the United States. Cats that hunt at night are not only at risk from predators like coyotes but also contribute to the decline of native wildlife populations. (SRL supported by the USFW - Macmillan - 2013)
- A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that cats allowed to roam freely outdoors were nearly three times more likely to die from trauma or infectious diseases than indoor cats (Rochlitz 2003).
Feral cats are domestic cats that have either been born in the wild or have become wild after being abandoned or lost by their owners. In the state of Florida, The FWC’s policy on feral cats is “to protect native wildlife from predation, disease and other impacts presented by feral and free-ranging cats.” If you are a local cat lover, and feline defender, read Florida’s Domestic Cat Policy page.
FWC makes clear their intention to support domestic companion cats when domestic companion cat owners do their due diligence not only for their cat, but for the community at large. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission work to manage and mitigate the impacts of feral cats on the state’s ecosystems. “The FWC does not support or endorse the use of TNR programs on Commission-managed lands (emphasis, author's) because our primary purpose is to manage for the well-being of wildlife.”
TNR's (Trap-Neuter-Release) purpose is not to support the well-being of local wildlife. It's the Release part that makes this clear.
Cat owners can reduce the risks associated with free-roaming cats, such as predation by coyotes, spread of diseases, and negative impacts on local ecosystems. Pinellas County Municipal Code of Ordinance. You can look up your county here. Additionally, you can spay or neuter your kitty proactively creating a healthier, happier housecat.
Native urban coyotes weren’t urban in the beginning. Feral cats weren’t feral in the beginning, either. Both species adapted to lousy human choices, poor human planning, and disinterest in both their needs and status.
Coyotes are a wildlife balancing predator. Eating species that live so successfully their numbers do harm to the larger environment. Feral cats hunt for sport, and are a domesticated non-native species. It’s not their fault. They are a hybrid in mind and behavior. And they’ve evolved into a species that meets a wildlife balancing predator’s definition of food. And it’s not the coyote’s fault they did. Free-roaming house cats act and look just like a feral cat to a coyote. And free-roaming house cats risk injury, illness, trauma, kill wildlife, and cause personal property damage and environmental injury just like feral community cats. Where TNR doesn’t work, coyotes may just pick up the slack.
Fear and loathing about our native urban coyotes, because of these facts of nature, is unnatural. And unnecessary. You can scare coyote away with a plastic water bottle filled with a handful of pennies. Coyote Shakers work because native urban coyotes aren’t domesticated, on any level or heredity.
You can report coyotes in question online at Coyotes | FWC (myfwc.com) (scroll to the bottom of the page).
Coexisting and balance are natural for nature. Coexisting and balance aren’t natural for humans.