first hear their call, you are delighted, but, after hours of clockwork repetitions, you
find yourself approaching insanity.
Birdwatchers should appreciate coyotes; studies have shown that songbird
abundance and nesting success is much higher in areas they frequent. While a coyote
would not hesitate to kill and eat a songbird, such meals are uncommon. At the head
of their menu are small rodents (almost half of their diet) and fruit (a quarter). Deer
and rabbit make up most of the remainder.
The real reason for the correlation between songbird and coyote abundance is
another correlation. A 2015 Journal of Mammalogy study showed that, whereas feral
cats are far less common in rural areas where coyotes roam, in suburban yards, they
are 300 times more abundant. But cat lovers need not hate coyotes, for cats make up
only two percent of coyote prey. The cats simply avoid the coyotes. (Cats should be
kept indoors in any case.)
What about us? Should we be concerned about coyote attacks? The evidence
suggests not. One study shows that during 2016, in Toronto, there were no cases of
coyote attacks on humans and one attack on a pet, compared with over 1000 pet
and human bites carried out by dogs.
Clara MacCarold offers the following suggestions about how we should interact
Do not let pets run loose. Cats and dogs left outside, even in yards with fences,
with these highly intelligent animals:
Do not feed coyotes. Feeding coyotes—even unintentionally—may cause them
to lose their fear of humans and ultimately consider people or their pets as possible
prey. Avoid leaving out pet food or garbage at night. Coyotes also may be drawn to
the squirrels and other rodents that gather spilled seed from bird feeders.
may be at risk for coyote predation. While electric fences can keep pets in, they do
not keep coyotes out. When walking dogs in parks, keep the animals on leashes.
Do not run from coyotes. Most coyotes try to avoid people, but may not if they
have become accustomed to humans. If you are approached by a coyote, try yelling,
waving your arms or throwing something. Running away is a behavior that might
make you appear to be potential prey.
Recently, I set a new record, and I’m sharing the
experience with you. It began when my boss at Buffalo
Spree, Elizabeth Licata, asked me to stop by the office.
“Oh dear,” I thought. “They won’t be needing my
columns any longer.” I drove down to the office,
worrying all the way. When I arrived, Elizabeth’s
greeting floored me. “Where are we going?” she asked.
It turned out that some time before, Elizabeth had
suggested that we go out on a bird hike together, and
the time had come. I knew that she was a good bird
watcher herself, and I’m sure she expected me to add to
her knowledge about avifauna.
I wondered where we would go at noon in the middle
of October, not an especially interesting time for bird
watching. I sorted through some possibilities: Forest
Lawn, very quiet at this time of year; Tifft Nature
Preserve, Amherst State Park, few birds there either;
Iroquois Wildlife Preserve, too far. All I could come up
with was Broderick Park on Unity Island at the end of
West Ferry Street. We could see some gulls and terns
there. So, off we went.
I pulled into the parking lot, and we walked across the
sidewalk to the river edge. It was a beautiful day, one of
those unusual ones with not a cloud in the sky. The sun
was bright and warm: it was shirt-sleeve weather.
Unfortunately, that did not correlate with bird numbers.
We looked out toward Canada over an attractive but
barren Niagara River. Not a gull, not a tern, and, in the
park, not even a house sparrow or rock pigeon. Zero
All I could think of was a recent outing when we turned
up a rare shorebird: a whimbrel. Scott Meier had found
it at the Bell Slip along the Lake Erie shore. I suggested
we go there and Elizabeth agreed. I give her credit: she
wasn’t even complaining.
Sadly, the Bell Slip proved no better. No whimbrel and
no other birds there, either.
We sat on a bench to digest this wonderful experience.
By this time, I would have been more comfortable if
Elizabeth had fired me. Then, we finally got our first
bird: a cormorant swam by, giving us a good look at its
snake-like neck and yellow bill.
I took Elizabeth back to her office. “At least I set a new
record, I said. “That is the first bird hike I have ever
heard of when the total number of species and, in fact,
the total number of birds, was one.”
A good sport, Elizabeth simply smiled. At least I still
have this job—for now.