Where are coyotes? You may be surprised (or not) to learn of their existence in our urban areas.
The UW Urban Canid Project, led by Dr. David Drake of the UW-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, aims to learn more about the coyote and red fox population in Madison. The number of coyote and red fox sightings has been on the rise in the Madison area and the UW urban canid project is using research to understand more about the complex interactions between coyotes, foxes and humans in urban areas.
Since 2014, the UW Urban Canid Project (UWUCP) has been live-trapping and tagging coyotes and red foxes. The radio-collar and colored ear tag helps to track and identify individual animals in the Madison area, including Owen Conservation Park. Previously, much of the knowledge and research on foxes and coyotes has been from rural settings. This more recent research provides crucial data on how these animals use the urban landscape. For example, the UW urban canid project has found that both coyotes and red fox are mostly active during nighttime hours. Coyotes spend most of their time in urban green spaces like the UW Arboretum and Owen Conservation Park. Red fox, on the other hand, spend most of their time in the developed landscape (i.e., in residential neighborhoods and other areas containing high numbers of humans). The UW urban canid project has also noted that people have a different reaction depending on the species. People generally find red fox cute and not threatening, whereas coyotes are met with mixed emotions (part fascination and part concern).
The mere presence of coyotes can be frightening for some people. However, the vast majority of urban coyotes live in relative close proximity to humans, are rarely seen, and cause very few problems. Generally, coyotes are more afraid of us, yet there are instances when coyotes are too comfortable around people.
Continued positive co-existence between coyotes (and red fox) and humans is possible. The UWUCP's Facebook page and website offers ways and suggestions on how to live with and manage coyotes in an urban area. A positive first step is by not feeding wildlife – pet food bowls left outside and fallen fruit or birdseed can attract coyotes. When walking your dog, you should keep your dog on a leash. If you know coyotes live or travel near your house, you should stay in the yard while your dog is outside, even if you have a fence around your yard.
One of the best ways to promote positive co-existence is to scare or haze every coyote (and red fox) you see to reinforce a healthy fear of humans in wild canids. Public Health Madison & Dane County produced a short video, "How to Haze a Coyote," that provides solutions for how we can safely co-exist and explains the process of hazing or scaring away coyotes. If a coyote has attacked a pet or a human, please contact Public Health Madison & Dane County. Please be aware that many animals may attack and kill pets, so do not assume that a coyote killed a pet unless the attack has been verified as a coyote. Other animals that will attack and kill pets, especially cats and small breeds of dogs include raptors (hawks and owls), raccoons, and other domestic dogs.
As the Urban Canid Project continues, resident reporting, through the Project's observation tracking website, is crucial. Knowledge and understanding will lead to increased awareness, tolerance, and appreciation for wild canids also calling Madison home.
Madison Parks Superintendent