Volunteers with Edmonton’s Urban Coyote Project have just started a new season of field tracking and already numbers are up significantly compared to last year.
Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a biological sciences professor at the University of Alberta, has been leading the project for the last 12 years.
“When the volunteers see a coyote during the day in a residential area that let’s them get as close as 40 metres, we consider that to be a coyote that is too bold around people,” she explained.
Self-described nature lover Cheryl Locicero started volunteering with the project after seeing multiple coyotes in her community.
“Then I started to see coyotes at our bird feeder. They would eat both the seeds and they’d dig and dig and dig and get the mice,” she said.
One day, she opened her front door and found a bold coyote had gone after her pet.
“It was at the base of our tree and our cat was way up the tree, terrified, of course.”
That incident crossed the line and she found out about the project and decided to volunteer.
She’s not alone. Locicero is one of 63 volunteers in 43 neighbourhoods taking part in Year 2 of an intervention program.
The program has volunteers report coyote sightings and, if the animals get too close, haze them.
“They chase the coyote while shouting at it or shaking a can full of coins and throwing at it — in its direction — a tennis ball that’s weighted with sand and tied with flagging tape. So this is an object that won’t hurt a coyote in any physical way,” St. Clair explained.
“The goal of all this is to make coyotes more wary around people, more fearful around people in residential areas.”
Last year, for three months between February and May, 70 volunteers in 25 neighbourhoods reported seeing 64 coyotes.
This year, volunteers reported seeing 20 in just the first week.
“We’re right in the thick of breeding season right now when coyotes do tend to be out and about and kind of ramped up on hormones, a little bolder than they might normally be,” St. Clair explained.
She also said the coyotes are currently low on natural food sources, which drives them to seek out alternatives, things residents might not even realize are attractants.
“That includes garbage, but also spilled bird seed and pet food if it’s out, fallen fruit, compost,” she said.
But in those 84 sightings, volunteers have only needed to haze the coyotes five times.
“My experience is that most of them will react and be afraid or run, or at least get out of the area if you stand your ground,” Locicero said.
“What we don’t want to do is pursue coyotes in natural areas. When they’re acting in perfectly natural ways at large distances from people,” St. Clair said.
This phase of the project will last for the next three months and more volunteers are welcome to join in.
Locicero said she’s enjoyed taking part in the program so far.
“You just go around and you observe places that might be drawing coyotes into the neighbourhood,” she explained.
Locicero said she can now distinguish coyote trails, even if she doesn’t spot the animal itself.
St. Clair said once the data has been collected, it will be compiled into a public report.
“We hope to be able to say, with data, how coyotes respond to this treatment. Do they act more wary around people? Do the reports of bold coyotes decline?”
More information is available on the Urban Coyote Project’s website.