Coyote Week: National Park Service Provides Insight On Los Angeles Area Urban Coyotes : One Surprise Is They Sometimes Cross Freeways

It is no secret that urban Los Angeles is now “coyote country” as the formerly rural predators have adapted well in very urban areas. Urban coyotes pose a threat to pets and livestock and rarely turn aggressive to humans.

It is really not a new issue. Urban coyotes were in the Pacific Palisades decades ago and made occasional even more urban forays. Now, however, the numbers and range have increased.

Coyote in Field
They look a lot like pet dogs but are distinctly wild.Urban coyotes are now under close study. Coyote in Field by U.S. Forest Service (source) is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Many agencies are working to better understand them and our interactions with them. . Organizations including The National Park Service (NPS), Cal State Long Beach, UCLA, and Project Coyote all study the wild dogs.

Of course, perspectives vary. On the one hand are researchers who try to understand the animals and their dynamics. On the other are coyote advocates and coyote haters who wish to destroy them on sight.

white wolves in green grass
Wolves are significantly larger and once kept coyote numbers lowe r.Photo by patrice schoefolt on

To begin with, what is a coyote? Coyotes (Canis latrans) are wild dogs and are thus closely related to the small dogs they sometimes eat. Although very closely related they are not actual wolves. Coyotes weigh up to about 50 pounds, about one third the size of the largest wolf. Live Science says:

“The species was originally only found in the prairies and deserts of central and western North America. Humans helped facilitate their expansion in the 1800s both by creating more open habitats through logging and agricultural development, and also hunting out wolves and cougars, which are natural coyote competitors, Live Science previously reported. As humans took over more and more countryside, coyotes adapted to live in cities. Today, coyote populations are thriving in big cities from Los Angeles to New York.” (Links in original)

Like domestic dogs they are far more omnivorous than wolves. Human habitation means food waste, fruit trees, unsecured pet food, badly guarded pets and assorted edible garbage. This brings them into close contact with humans and gives them the ability to live in cities side-by-side with us. They also eat insects, which are abundant. Wolves eat meat, up to 20 lbs a day, and they are less likely to eat vegetable matter.

photo of a cougar near a log
Cougars are ambush specialists and kill and eat coyotes. They also kill them to eliminate predatory competition .Photo by Nicky Pe on

NPS has taken a new step to study the urban coyote more closely. The agency has resumed a study on coyotes, focusing on urban coyotes. The study has watched 145 coyotes. The first 143 were in more rural areas.

NPS recently caught and collared a female in Westlake (C-144) and C-145, a male in SilverLake. They are both adults and the female is raising 5 or more pups. The two areas are both heavily urbanized.

NPS says:

“C-144 is believed to have one of the most urban home ranges of any coyote ever studied and has already surprised biologists by crossing the 101 Freeway several times, near where it intersects with the 110 Freeway. Decades of coyote, bobcat and mountain lion research in the Santa Monica Mountains have demonstrated that the 101 Freeway is a near-impenetrable barrier further to the west. It’s unclear whether C-144 is crossing directly over the freeway or is finding alternative methods like bridges or underpasses.

C-145, captured later in May, is a male estimated to be between four and eight years of age with a home range in the Silver Lake neighborhood. He has made extensive use of both residential areas and the natural habitat in the area, but thus far has not crossed any of the freeways that surround the neighborhood.

Based on a limited analysis of GPS data for the two coyotes, researchers found that more than half of the recorded locations are in developed areas, such as along roads and in high-density residential areas. The remainder of the recorded locations were in landscapes defined as altered, such as vacant lots or parks. Whereas 77% of locations from the previous western Los Angeles County study were recorded in natural areas, defined as at least one square kilometer of natural vegetation, zero of C-144 and C-145’s GPS points met that definition.”

black trash bin with full of trash
Edible food waste keeps urban coyotes close. Photo by Markus Spiske on

NPS has studied more than 400 collared bobcats, ( Lynx rufus) 100 mountain lions (Puma concolor) and 145 coyotes. Neither bobcats nor mountain lions have penetrated this far into the urban matrix. Mountain lions do move into the fringes of the city near the Hollywood Bowl but are not located deep in city areas, This suggests that coyotes, like dogs, go where we go, like it or not.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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