Edmonton

'Survival time': It's mating season for Edmonton's urban coyotes

Coyotes are fiercely protective of their partners and Edmonton's resident scavengers will have little patience for perceived predators during their annual mating season.

'Every bad coyote interaction has to do with people behaviour'

There are up to 1,000 urban coyotes roaming through Edmonton's river valley. (Getty Images)

Coyotes are fiercely protective of their partners and Edmonton's resident scavengers will have little patience for perceived predators during their annual mating season.  

Between January and March, the creatures will become more protective, defensive, territorial and hungry.

"There's a survival rush that comes into them so they're going to become really sensitive," said naturalist Kevin Cantelon in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"This is their survival time."

'They're not hunting us'

The city's urban coyote population is thriving and Edmontonians need to exercise caution around the canines, Cantelon said. He estimates there are between 300 and 1,000 of the animals prowling through the river valley.

Cantelon said attacks by coyotes are extremely rare.

"People in my neighbourhood are posting pictures of coyotes and the hysteria starts … and I kind of cringe," said Cantelon, who lives near the Kinnaird Ravine.

"They're here, we live with them … they're not hunting us. Every bad coyote interaction has to do with people behaviour."

Coyotes, often spotted walking in Edmonton's residential neighbourhoods, are preparing for their annual mating season. (Tim Johnston)

Cantelon recommends Edmontonians use common sense to avoid negative interactions with coyotes.

Coyotes are opportunistic and food can draw them out of the wilderness. All garbage should be carefully stored.

A large dog may be seen as a territorial threat, a small animal as prey. Keeping your dog close on a leash at all times is the best way to ensure its safety, he said.

"It's a get-down-to-business time of year," Cantelon said. "If there is a den in the area and your dog goes in on that coyote right at the time when it has three or four pups, it's going to stand its ground. It's not going to move."

Coyotes never stray

Coyotes are locked in a territorial battle for the right to breed but the urban canines appear to be monogamous.

Genetic testing on Chicago's urban coyotes in its Urban Coyote Research Project — the largest study of its kind — determined that bonded pairs stay together for several years.

Cantelon said that coyotes in the river valley are either already mated or they are juveniles looking for love.

"They mate for life. They're different than rural coyotes.

Even with all the opportunities for the coyotes to philander, they really don't.- Stan Gehrt

According to the 2012 Chicago coyote study, the loyalty of coyotes to their mates may be a key to their success in urban areas. 

A male coyote, for his part, is a faithful partner, diligently guarding his mate against other males and helping to rear the pups by bringing food to the entrance of the den.

"We've been able to follow some of these alpha pairs through time, and we've had some of them stay together for up to 10 years," study co-author Stan Gehrt said in a news release from Ohio State's School of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Even with all the opportunities for the coyotes to philander, they really don't."

During 2018, brazen coyotes in Calgary and Airdrie made headlines with attacks on people — including a child and a golfer — as well as pets. 

There haven't been similar incidents in Edmonton, and Cantelon urges some basic precautions for people who encounter a coyote: if the animal comes too close for comfort, make plenty of noise and commotion.  

"Make them uncomfortable, throw a stick at them and haze them to make them not welcome," Cantelon added. "And they will learn to stay away very, very quickly."

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