May 092018
 

Bobcats and Coyotes are some of the most misunderstood animals living here with us in the DFW Metroplex. Because they are predators, Bobcats and Coyotes often elicit an emotional and visceral response from people. We are hard-wired to react this way to animals that can be perceived as a threat. It’s automatic.

A typical scenario might play out something like this… A person spots a Bobcat or Coyote in their neighborhood for the first time. They assume that the animals has just arrived, and that because it is a predator, it is dangerous and must be dealt with. A harried call to municipal animal control usually follows.

But, these days most local animal control departments will not routinely respond to calls about Coyotes and Bobcats. They recognize that ordinarily there is nothing unusual or threatening about a Bobcat or Coyote being observed in our neighborhoods.

Question: Are there Bobcats and Coyotes in my neighborhood?

The answer—for both Bobcats and Coyotes—is an unequivocal, yes! Coyotes and Bobcats are exquisitely adaptable and that makes them very well suited to urban living. Every North Texas neighborhood I have surveyed has Coyotes and Bobcats that are either resident or that pass through with regularity. They are living among us all the time, but are seldom noticed because of their skill at staying out of sight. These animals are highly motivated to avoid interactions with people.

Are there Coyotes and Bobcats in YOUR Neighborhood?

Question: What do we know about urban Bobcats and Coyotes?

Both Coyotes and Bobcats are typically active at dawn, dusk, and throughout the night. Low light conditions give them the cover they need to hunt and patrol unobserved by people. Occasionally, Coyotes and Bobcats will be out and about during daylight hours. There are a number of reasons for this, and it is generally no cause for concern.

Coyotes are frequently described as traveling or patrolling in “packs” but this is a bit of a misnomer. Coyotes are social animals, but they do not congregate or hunt in packs the same way wolves do. Ordinarily, Coyotes patrol and hunt singly or in pairs. They do form loosely associated packs and/or family groups in order to defend their home territory. These packs usually contain a mated alpha pair—the only Coyotes in the group who will breed. Some times transient young adult Coyotes will move in and out of existing packs until they find a situation that allows them to commit.

A family group photographed in Garland, Texas. There are 4 Coyotes in this picture.

Coyotes are also known for their howling—an unmistakable sign that these animals live near your neighborhood. Sirens from emergency vehicles often inspire Coyotes to vocalize in this way. Here is how Wikipedia describes this behavior:

The coyote has been described as “the most vocal of all [wild] North American mammals”. Its loudness and range of vocalizations was the cause for its binomial name Canis latrans, meaning “barking dog”. At least 11 different vocalizations are known in adult coyotes. These sounds are divided into three categories: agonistic and alarm, greeting, and contact. Vocalizations of the first category include woofs, growls, huffs, barks, bark howls, yelps, and high-frequency whines. Woofs are used as low-intensity threats or alarms, and are usually heard near den sites, prompting the pups to immediately retreat into their burrows. Growls are used as threats at short distances, but have also been heard among pups playing and copulating males. Huffs are high-intensity threat vocalizations produced by rapid expiration of air. Barks can be classed as both long-distance threat vocalizations and as alarm calls. Bark howls may serve similar functions. Yelps are emitted as a sign of submission, while high-frequency whines are produced by dominant animals acknowledging the submission of subordinates. Greeting vocalizations include low-frequency whines, ‘wow-oo-wows’, and group yip howls. Low-frequency whines are emitted by submissive animals, and are usually accompanied by tail wagging and muzzle nibbling. The sound known as ‘wow-oo-wow’ has been described as a “greeting song”. The group yip howl is emitted when two or more pack members reunite, and may be the final act of a complex greeting ceremony. Contact calls include lone howls and group howls, as well as the previously mentioned group yip howls. The lone howl is the most iconic sound of the coyote, and may serve the purpose of announcing the presence of a lone individual separated from its pack. Group howls are used as both substitute group yip howls and as responses to either lone howls, group howls, or group yip howls.

Coyotes howling in response to emergency vehicle sirens.

Coyotes breed in the early spring. They utilize den sites which may be located under human-made structures. Away from urban development Coyotes will excavate dens on sloped ground in places obscured with vegetation.

Coyote pups are born blind and helpless. They depend exclusively on their mother’s milk for the first ten days of life. Later the pups’ diet is augmented with regurgitated food provided by the adults. Coyote pups begin patrolling with their parents by mid summer. Observing more than two Coyotes together unusually indicates a mated pair with nearly grown pups.

The lifespan of a Coyote in the wild is typically 6 to 8 years.

Adult Bobcats are generally solitary. Their average lifespan in the wild is around 7 years.

Bobcats ordinarily breed in the spring, but in Dallas/Fort Worth Bobcats can produce litters year round. Preferred den site will be similar to those of Coyotes—especially when human-built structures are utilized. Bobcats will sometimes use the storm sewer system for denning and patrolling purposes as well.

A mother Bobcat in a storm drain.

A Bobcat kitten poking its head out of a storm drain.

A typical litter will consist of 2 to 4 kittens. The female cares for her young without the assistance of the male. Like Coyote pups, Bobcat kittens are born blind and helpless. For the first ten days they will feed exclusively on their mother’s milk. By four months of age the kittens will begin patrolling with their mother while learning to hunt. When multiple Bobcats are seen together that typically indicates a mother patrolling with her nearly grown young. The young adult kittens will disperse and become independent before their first birthday.

More information about Bobcat breeding from Wikipedia:

Bobcats generally begin breeding by their second summer, though females may start as early as their first year. Sperm production begins each year by September or October, and the male is fertile into the summer. A dominant male travels with a female and mates with her several times, generally from winter until early spring; this varies by location, but most mating takes place during February and March. The pair may undertake a number of different behaviors, including bumping, chasing, and ambushing. Other males may be in attendance, but remain uninvolved. Once the male recognizes the female is receptive, he grasps her in the typical felid neck grip and mates with her. The female may later go on to mate with other males, and males generally mate with several females. During courtship, the otherwise silent bobcat may let out loud screams, hisses, or other sounds. Research in Texas has suggested establishing a home range is necessary for breeding; studied animals with no set range had no identified offspring. The female has an estrous cycle of 44 days, with the estrus lasting five to ten days. Bobcats remain reproductively active throughout their lives.

Question: What do Bobcats and Coyotes eat?

It surprises some to learn that Coyotes are omnivores. Just like a dog, Coyotes will each almost anything that is edible—plant or animal. Coyotes’ preferred diet changes over the course of the year as different food stuffs become available. In late summer, many Coyotes feed almost exclusively on the grasshoppers that are abundant then. Later, when cold weather sets in, Coyotes will shift their diet to include mesquite and honey locust beans. The evident seeds can be found in their scat during this season. Coyotes also enjoy fruit. Whenever I absolutely have to get a Coyote in from of a trail camera, I will bait the set with apples. Coyotes love them!

Rats and other small mammals are staples during other times of the year. Coyotes rarely hunt and feed on anything larger here in the metroplex.

A Coyote eating apples.

Bobcats, on the other hand, are obligate carnivores. That means they feed almost exclusively on meat. Rats, squirrels, rabbits, and doves are their go to prey. Easy to catch and plentiful! If your neighborhood has any of these, then it almost certainly has resident Bobcats as well!

A Bobcat with a freshly captured rat.

Question: Why do Coyotes and Bobcats come into our neighborhoods?

The answer is simple. There is and abundance in our neighborhoods! People surround themselves with a bounty, and our urban wildlife has learned to leverage it to their advantage. Plenty of food and water attracts smaller animals such as rats, rabbits, and squirrels. And the abundance of these prey animals makes sure Coyotes and Bobcats follow close behind.

Of course, construction is very disruptive to urban wildlife—Bobcats and Coyotes included. But, once things settle down, our neighborhoods become very inviting places to our more adaptable wildlife.

Construction can be very disruptive to wildlife.

Established neighborhoods can be wildlife havens.

Coyotes and Bobcats also appreciate human-built structures for the same reasons we do—they are solid and reliable. Our constructs are often more safe and sound than natural dens. Creek-side burrows can flood and hollow trees can fall, but your patio deck ain’t going anywhere.

It is counter-intuitive in many ways, but the truth is that our neighborhoods can be very good habitats for resourceful animals like Bobcats and Coyotes. The proof is in the pudding. Wild animals simply will not be found in environments that cannot support them. Bobcats and Coyotes are in our cities because the urban ecosystem can provide for them adequately, otherwise they would leave or die.

It is a common misconception to believe that these animals have been desperately trapped in the city by development. Somewhat unexpectedly, there are statistics that show that many urban animals live longer, are healthier, and have bigger litters than their rural counter parts. It’s a little surprising, but it appears to be true.

Of course both Coyotes and Bobcat still need the refuge of undeveloped or parkland from time to time as well. Proximity to places like these increase the likelihood that you will have these animals in your neighborhood.

Question: Do Coyotes and Bobcats hunt and kill pets like cats and dogs?

Reports about missing pets frequently blame Bobcats and Coyotes for the disappearance. Misconceptions about Bobcats and Coyotes can cause people to assign blame to them even in cases when there is no supporting evidence. The result can be an escalation where the lone tragedy of losing a pet becomes a double tragedy when a Bobcat or Coyote is accused without cause, and public pressure compels animal control to take action. But there are many reasons that loose pets go missing, and predation by Bobcats and Coyotes is very low on the list.

In actuality, most loose pets are lost to automobile traffic. When a dog or cat is hit by a car, it is not unusual for vultures—which are also very common in our neighborhoods—to come in afterward and feed on the deceased pet. These partially consumed carcasses are frequently blamed on Coyotes and Bobcats.

A Black Vulture feeding on roadkill.

Nonetheless, Coyotes and Bobcats DO occasionally take pets. Reports indicate that Coyotes may show a preference for cats, while Bobcats are thought to favor small dogs—10 pounds or less.

Both Bobcats and Coyotes are opportunistic predators. What this means is, that if an opportunity for an easy meal presents itself, then a Bobcat or Coyote is likely to pursue it. It is simply too much to expect them to pass up an easy meal. Securing prey is a life or death endeavor for Bobcats and Coyotes—they cannot afford to let an opportunity pass.

A few years ago this news story from Richardson, Texas surfaced. After more than ten years of looking into the subject, this story provided the first unequivocal proof that I had ever found confirming that Bobcats will sometime hunt and kill pets.

This video is remarkable in many ways. It illustrates a number of unexpected behaviors from both the Bobcat and its prey. It is shocking to see the prey animals—the Yorkies—rushing toward their attacker in an aggressive manner. This kind of behavior is bizarre in terms of predator and prey interaction, and the Bobcat’s response was equally unexpected. He stood his ground confidently as the pair of dogs rushed forward. There was no hesitancy in the Bobcat’s actions that followed. The Bobcat had this situation sized-up fully prior to his attack and knew exactly what to expect.

A diminutive Yorkie

The Yorkies’ behavior of boldly running toward its over-sized attacker is not uncommon for this breed. Yorkies are known to be aggressive and overly confident for their size. Centuries of selective breeding have reduced the mighty Gray Wolf to a shadow of its former self, except in the mind of the diminutive Yorkie.

This video illustrates an important common thread about Coyotes, Bobcats, and pets. When pets are taken by these predators, it tends to be aggressive small breeds that end up victims. People with pets like these need to exercise additional caution when it comes to leaving them unattended. Experts report that fatal attacks on healthy pets larger than ten pounds are exceedingly rare.

Just remember, Coyotes and Bobcats are so ubiquitous and common throughout the metroplex that if they were making a habit out of hunting and killing our pets it would truly be a blood bath out there. The kind of encounter illustrated in the video above is the exception, not the rule.

The reason attacks on pets are rare is because earning a living as a predator is an inherently risky endeavor. A hunt can be expensive in terms of energy expenditure, and the effort can be dangerous for the predator—the risk of serious injury is always present. Taking on large and capable prey animals increases the likelihood the predator will be hurt. There are no doctors in the wild and injuries can lead to severe hardship or even death. Bobcats and Coyotes prefer to take on prey that cannot fight back. And dogs and cats are well equipped to resist.

While both of these predators can be expected to take small pets on rare occasion, neither should resort to hunting pets on a regular basis. Both Coyotes and Bobcats prefer smaller and easier prey such as rats, squirrels, and rabbits. In North Texas our communities are loaded with an abundance of all three. This is why Bobcats and Coyotes come into our neighborhoods in the first place.

Question: Are Coyotes and Bobcats dangerous to people?

People are quick to vilify Coyotes and Bobcats. They get a bad rap. I haven’t discovered evidence that it is deserved.

Coyotes and Bobcats are all around us—all of the time. Like I mentioned earlier, they can be found nearly every neighborhood in North Texas. If Bobcats and Coyotes were dangerous to people, there would be little room for doubt. Everyone would know. Nonetheless, many people remain fearful of these animals.

It is not unusual for people to overestimate that size of these predators. Bobcats and Coyotes are often described as “huge” or “the biggest I’ve ever seen.” The same is true of other creatures that can be perceived as dangerous, such as snakes and spiders. Bunny rabbits, for instance, are almost never described in this way. There is an aspect of human psychology that inclines people to perceive potentially dangerous animals as bigger and more threatening than they really are.

Because of their superficial resemblance to larger predators, such as Gray Wolves (up to 120lbs) and Mountain Lions (up to 220lbs), people often become alarmed when a Coyote or Bobcat is seen in their neighborhood. In truth, though, neither of these animals are very large or dangerous. Both can be described as medium-sized predators—with Coyotes averaging right around 45lbs and Bobcats typically right around 25 to 30lbs. For reference, that makes a Bobcat roughly the same size as a Beagle and a Coyote is similar in size to a Border Collie.

A Bobcat, at roughly 25 pounds, is very close in size to a Beagle (left). A 45 pounds Coyote is about the same size as a Border Collie (right).

Bobcats and Coyotes are highly motivated to avoid contact with people. They are remarkably good at staying out of trouble in our neighborhoods. Unprovoked attacks on people are virtually unheard of.

Question: What should I do if I see a Bobcat or Coyote in my neighborhood?

There are a couple of schools of though on the matter. Most experts advocate hazing the animals by taking some action designed to impress the animal with the idea that being close to people is an inherently unpleasant thing. Hazing techniques include yelling, arm waving, projectile throwing, and spraying with water. All of these things would be done with the intent of convincing the Coyote or Bobcat that being around people is no fun and possibly even dangerous.

My thoughts on the matter are slightly different. I am more incline to believe there is no need for any engagement at all, under most circumstances. Bobcats and Coyotes are naturally predisposed to avoid contact with people. If you do not engage them, they will do their best to ignore and avoid you.

We encountered this Coyote while on an early morning dog walk.

He went to great lengths to ensure the maximum amount of space was maintained between us.

He broke into run at his first opportunity. At no time did the Coyote behave in an aggressive way.

While it is unlikely that hazing might inspire aggression from either of these animals, the possibility is always there. It seems to me that there is little value in risking an unfortunate escalation through unnecessary engagement. My recommendation would be to only resort to hazing when that action has been suggested by a municipal animal control authority.

Seeing a Coyote or Bobcat is a rare event for most people—maybe even a once in a life time. It is ok to simply enjoy the opportunity to observe an intelligent and resourceful creature making its way in a challenging environment.

Question: Why am I seeing the same Bobcat or Coyote on a regular basis?

When Bobcats and Coyotes are seen with some regularly that can indicate that they have an active den with hungry offspring nearby. The increased demands caused by having many mouths to feed can encourage both of these animals to operate outside their preferred hours of activity. Many of you may be able to relate.

An orphaned Bobcat kitten wandering away from its den.

Once again, this is a situation that most municipal animal services will not respond to. But, many times professional exterminating and trapping companies WILL take action on these reports. These types of businesses depend on trapping jobs for their cash flow. They will take these jobs even when the owner/operator knows they should not. The result is often orphaned baby animals.

When mom disappears baby Bobcats and Coyotes will stay in the den until her extended absence impresses itself on the young. At that point the babies—if they are old enough to—will leave the den and begin to play and explore in the immediate area. This is when they will typically be noticed by people for the first time.

Later, as hunger set in, the young animals will feel compelled to leave the immediate area in search of some arbitrary comfort or satisfaction. Over the course of several days desperation will set in, leading the juveniles to wander aimlessly over sometime large distances.

These situations never end well for the young. At this stage in their life they are simply too inexperienced and not strong enough to survive on their own. This tragic set of circumstances usually plays itself out in a little under a week.

Question: Why haven’t I seen Coyotes or Bobcats in my neighborhood?

The answer is twofold. Coyotes and Bobcats prefer to avoid contact with people, and they are very good at keeping out of sight. Both Bobcats and Coyotes tend to be most active when people are not around. In places like business parks, Bobcats and Coyotes come out after quitting time. In neighborhoods they are usually most active after dark. It is not a coincidence that the color of the fur on these two animals provides extremely effective camouflage in low light conditions—a fact that can make these animals very difficult to notice, even if you are actively looking for them.

Can you find the 2 Coyotes in this picture?

Bobcats can be very hard to notice in low light.

Question: What are Bobcats and Coyotes like?

Observing Coyotes going about their daily activities is a great privilege. They take care of each other. They play. They communicate over distances with their howling. Rarely are Coyotes bold and aggressive. In my experience, they tend to behave fearful and timid when encountered. They almost always choose retreat as their first, best option.

Wild Coyotes are tribal and territorial. Many times I have stopped for a moment to have a look around, and spotted a Coyote watching me from a distant tree line. They keep close tabs on who or what is moving through their territory. When they know they have been spotted, they will melt back into the brush a disappear from sight—even when there are hundreds of yards between us.

A Coyote keeping an eye on me from the far side of a retaining lake.

I’ve gotten the drop on a number of Coyotes over the years—surprised them at close range while they were preoccupied looking for food or interacting with each other. My impression has been that this situation embarrasses the Coyote, almost like they are ashamed they were caught with their guard down. You can read it in their body language.

The Coyotes I have observed have always impressed me with how dog-like their behaviors are. Coyotes and Dogs are similar animals. They have such a close kinship that they can easily relate to each other. In fact, loose dogs will sometimes take up with wild Coyotes for short periods of time. Dogs need and seek out companionship. Wild Coyotes will occasionally tolerate them tagging along.

A Dog and a Coyote patrolling the Trinity River bottoms together

A pair of Coyotes playing on a suburban golf course.

Bobcats are different from Coyotes. They are not social in the same sense that canines are, and therefore do not have the same repertoire of submissive behaviors. Just like your house cat, they are supremely confident in their superiority.

When encountered, Bobcats generally do not flee in fear the way Coyotes do, but they DO still leave. Bobcats retreat in irritation at being discovered and disturbed. It’s easy to read by their body language their disgust with your intrusion.

I’ve actually had the wonderful opportunity to interact directly with Bobcats in a rescue/rehab facility. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Bobcats were warm and engaging animals. They sought out interaction with us and seemed to enjoy the attention.

Bobcats can be friendly and engaging.

Bobcats enjoy attention

Each Bobcat had a distinct personality. One had a preference for riding on my shoulders. Another was particularly interested in playing with my daughter. All enjoyed a nice scratch behind the ears.

Bobcats and Coyotes are wild animals that have a host of special needs. They cannot be domesticated. An attempt to keep either as a pet is doomed to failure. But they do have many of the same characteristics that make house cats and dogs so endearing to us. They are intelligent and resourceful. They are loyal and loving.

In fact, it seems to me that predators like Coyotes and Bobcats experience feelings of affection more deeply than other animals. This is probably a practical matter—it is important that these animals do not mistake their mates, siblings, and offspring for prey. Strong bonds of affection help guard against making that error.

These and many other wonderful traits are there if you look for them. You just have to be willing to try!

  One Response to “Are there Coyotes and Bobcats in YOUR Neighborhood?”

  1. Chris, thank you very much for another interesting, engaging, and well written essay on our wonderful native wildlife. It just so happens that my exurban neighborhood is in the throes of a discussion about the merits or lack thereof of coyotes and foxes, both of which are common here. I have been putting forth similar arguments to yours, but with little success. One concern, and this is a real one, is that of people who keep chickens for eggs. Coyotes will take chickens (as will bobcats, but surprisingly, no one has complained about them so far though they also are common). Foxes, though smaller, have also been observed feeding on poultry. One solution I have proposed to people is to get a dog, and keep it outside, though in a fence. Another is to protect the poultry with a stout fence, with the bottom turned outward a foot and buried a foot deep. Of course, that adds to fencing costs, and if a fence is already in place, may be impractical. Another solution is to run a foot deep trench around the outside of the fence and to bury broken glass and cobble sized stones in it, obviating a fox’s ability to dig. They’ll just go for something easier, like mice and grasshoppers.

    One neighbor even adamantly claimed that the state Fish and Game Department had been releasing foxes locally. They would have no reason to do so, given that foxes are already common, and all the land is privately owned, requiring owner cooperation for a game release. He saw no need to actually contact the department to determine the veracity of the claim, since, “Everyone knows it has been going on for years.” Finally another neighbor made the call, and of course, it never happened.

    Again, thanks for the nice article.

    One neighbor, in an attempt to show that coyotes were making off with his chickens, set up camera traps, only to find that his own dogs were the actual predators.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)