It’s not unusual to see Eastern Coyotes on PEI at any time of the year, but reported sightings tend to go up in late fall and winter as young head out on their own and breeding season begins. With an increase in sightings comes an increase in misinformation, so let’s dispel a few of the more common myths.
‘Coywolf’ – This is a made-up, fearmongering term and there is no such thing. Yes, Eastern Coyotes do have some DNA from Wolves and domestic Dogs. However, their genetics, appearance, and behaviour are primarily Coyote, not Wolf. As best I can tell, ‘coywolf’ was a term coined in 2009 when the first evidence of Wolf DNA in Eastern Coyote populations was released. It did its job as clickbait, grabbing media attention and headlines. Unfortunately, it has now become part of the common lexicon, most often used pejoratively to promote the view that Coyotes are dangerous pests in need of extermination. The correct name is Eastern Coyote, or just Coyote (and both Coy-yote and Coy-yo-tee are accepted ways to say it).
Coyotes and Foxes – Eastern Coyotes are not significant predators of Red Foxes. Research into the diet of PEI’s Coyotes has shown they eat wildlife (small mammals, Snowshoe Hare, Striped Skunk, and invertebrates), domestic animals (cats, small livestock, and deadstock), and plants (apples, berries). Additionally, Coyotes don’t “push” Foxes out of their habitats. As tracks, scat, and trail cameras across PEI show, the two species use the same areas, albeit usually not at exactly the same time. (The photo above shows two animals in the same spot on my property recently). Coyotes can kill Foxes – and I am sure in the history of Coyote-Fox interactions it has happened – but it is not a common occurrence.
Coyotes and Dogs – Coyotes do not lure Dogs away to kill them or to mate with them. If your Dog chases after a Coyote, it may very well run into the wild animal’s mate or family group and find itself in trouble. That is not the same as a Coyote intentionally luring the Dog away. And while Coyotes and Dogs have interbred in the past, that was when Coyotes were expanding their range and there weren’t many of them around. Once a population is established, Coyotes breed among themselves and not with other species.
Coyotes in Urban / Suburban Areas – Coyotes are not wilderness animals. They are common in working landscapes including farmland and our towns and cities. Major cities across North America have resident Coyote populations, and I recently saw a great video circulating on Facebook of a Coyote howling from the roof of a parked car somewhere in Arizona. It is neither unusual nor concerning to see a Coyote around built-up areas, but it IS important to remember they are wild animals: never feed or try to approach a Coyote.
Coyotes in the daytime – Coyotes are not strictly nocturnal, and seeing a Coyote during the day is not normally a cause for concern. I see people (and even local authorities) posting ‘warnings’ about Coyote sightings and think to myself what they are really saying is: ‘Coyote spotted in Coyote habitat’. PEI’s mix of woodlots, fields, hedgerows, and riparian zones is ideal Coyote habitat, and there is no time or place that I would be surprised to see one. That said, if a Coyote is showing aggression towards people or is hanging around a particular spot every day it should be reported to the Forests, Fish and Wildlife Division. If you have any questions or concerns about Coyotes, their biologists can help.
Coyotes are relatively new arrivals to the Island, but they are here to stay. We need to respect that they are wild animals and understand the rules of living with them. If you encounter a Coyote, first and foremost do not run. Waive your arms, yell, throw something towards it if you can, and back away slowly.
It’s rare for Coyotes to show aggression towards people, and it’s important to keep it that way. Feeding Coyotes or otherwise making them comfortable around humans is a recipe for trouble. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the best thing we can do for Coyotes is make them afraid of us. That’s all part of PEI untamed!