Living with coyotes in Almanac country


Click on picture to enlarge and see caption.

By Kate Daly

Special to the Almanac

Missing cat posters are a common sight in some parts of Woodside, where cats disappear on a regular basis.

"We've lost cats to coyotes and cars over the years," John Demma said matter-of-factly, acknowledging that he lives along "a natural corridor" where Beach Gulch Creek meanders through acres of watershed area next to Woodside Road.

"We get mountain lions, foxes and bobcats, too," he said, but what's unnerving is seeing "two or three coyotes on the creek within 100 feet of the house."

Just down the road, his neighbor, Gina Baldwin, had a cat show up one morning "with his leg dangling." She never heard a noise, but suspects coyotes might have mauled him. She said she has seen them "at my fence taunting the dogs" when her dog was in heat.

Coyotes have been known to breed with dogs and wolves, but as they reach the end of mating season this month, coyotes are mostly seeking out other coyotes in the area.

They are on the prowl, calling to each other more than usual. Coyotes usually hunt between dusk and dawn, but can be spotted moving around during the day.

Biking through Portola Valley, Dave Boyce has seen individual coyotes on Portola Road dart by him in daylight. It's when he hears a pack of them howling at night that spooks him and gets him thinking, "I wonder if they go after people?"

In rare instances, there have been attacks on humans, but "coyotes by nature are very fearful," according to Nikii Finch-Morales, director of wildlife at CuriOdyssey, formerly called Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo.

The museum has a coyote on exhibit, a female named Sierra who was confiscated by the California Department of Fish and Game when she was just a pup. Ms. Finch-Morales said the coyote was tied up in someone's backyard being kept as an illegal pet. Sierra is "very unsocialized," afraid of dogs, and unfit to be released into the wild.

Coyotes "are wild animals, and the more wild spaces we take up, the more we have to share the environment with them, " she said.

She believes the best way to co-exist safely with coyotes is to avoid attracting them into the neighborhood. She suggested "not leaving out food or water" and securely closing garbage cans because "coyotes will dumpster dive as much as raccoon or skunks."

Coyotes "prefer meat (rodents and rabbits), but they're omnivores and will eat fruit and nuts to fill them up. They're opportunists and they're not that picky," she said.

They will eat other mammals and don't care if it's a fresh kill or road kill.

"If you have small animals such as a cat or a small dog, a Chihuahua or Yorkie, don't leave them outside unsupervised," she advised.

Ms. Finch-Morales said keeping property "uncluttered, closed and clear" is also important because coyotes are known to make dens in open storage and gardening sheds, and/or in heavily planted and protected areas.

Visit for tips from the California Department of Fish and Game on how to make yards less welcoming: put away bird feeders at night, cover compost piles, pick up ripe fruit off the ground, and install motion-sensitive lighting.

"If followed by a coyote, make loud noises," the website advises. "If this fails, throw rocks in the animal's direction."

Coyotes are territorial but can cover a couple of miles while hunting, and run at up to 40 mph. Adult coyotes have brownish gray fur, large ears, and bushy tails. They can weigh between 20 to 45 pounds and have a keen sense of hearing, smell and sight. They also dig and jump well.

The Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley recommends fencing should be 6 feet tall and 6 inches below the ground to keep coyotes out. To safeguard poultry and rabbits, the best option is a fully enclosed structure.

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Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Spay your dog & keep your cats indoors. Sheesh, these were important things to do *before* coyotes became unsensitized to people. You live in the hills and have an outdoor cat? Crazy.

Like this comment
Posted by CalCatLover
a resident of another community
on May 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

This is just one more reason people should keep their cats indoors. As much as we dislike cleaning litter-boxes, it prevents the suffering inflicted on our pets by predators, cars, bikes, parasites, diseases, and mean people. Indoor cats are generally healthier and live longer than those allowed outdoors. Love your cat and stop feeding coyotes, raptors, cougars, and feral dogs.

Like this comment
Posted by bob
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

Cats in Woodside sometimes have two families that feed them and cats are prone to taking off when they feel like it. The key thing people need to do is keep pets indoors when they are not around and at night.

Like this comment
Posted by Cat Owner
a resident of another community
on May 4, 2011 at 11:38 am

I take issue with the dogmatic (no pun intended) view (and one espoused by Peninsula Humane Society) that all cats must be indoor cats. We love our children, but we let them play on swing sets, get driver's licenses and accept that there are risks to them in the big bad world. I have had many, many cats. Some are content to live indoors and some would be absolutely miserable if they couldn't hunt gophers all day. It has nothing to do with litter boxes, it has to do with quality of life for each individual cat.

Like this comment
Posted by SBunny
a resident of another community
on May 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Comparing cats to children is silly. If your child was cat-sized, and carnivores were wandering nearby, you certainly wouldn't let your little kid roam about, would you?
Keeping rabbits outdoors, even entirely enclosed, is very stressful to the rabbits. The fear alone, from a predator even if they can't touch the rabbit, can cause the rabbit to have a heart attack. Keep your bunz indoors.

Like this comment
Posted by SBunny
a resident of another community
on May 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I forgot to mention that outdoor cats severly impact our native birds. Justifying that the cat "isn't happy" unless hunting - what about the quail chicks, baby rabbits, and other wild creatures? Domestic cats decimate the populations of our ground-dwelling animal and bird friends.

Like this comment
Posted by Save the field mouse
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Yes, too bad the domestic cats kill happy gofers, visually challenged moles and cuddly field mice that have every right to co-exhist. But coyotes can be legally hunted all year long in this state for a reason. Darwin is shaking his head in heaven!

Like this comment
Posted by Cat Owner
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2011 at 12:22 pm

You guys have seriously got to be kidding. Cats are predators. They have sharp claws and teeth for a reason. We have some who are excellent mousers and they earn their keep. Yes, they kill gophers, rats, mice, and the occasional bird or wild rabbit (those animals are called "prey" and predators eat them sometimes, including hawks, coyotes, bobcats, etc.) We've got snakes in our yard, too, and they each rodents. Shall we round them up to rescue the poor little mice?

We have a thriving covey of quail who spend a lot of time in our yard. The existence of indoor/outdoor cats over the last 25 years does not seem to have made any impact on their numbers. They are fat and thriving (although they sometimes fly into our windows and break their necks - they are not the sharpest tools in the shed, after all.)

Where do you people live. Darwin, indeed, is shaking his head. Children have competencies, as do cats. Adult cats who learned to hunt from their mothers, are very competent in hunting and maintaining their own safety. Treating them like they are mindless balls of fluff is just as ridiculous.

Fortunately, we each can create the best situation for our pets, in keeping with our own philosophy. Too bad the Peninsula Humane Society would rather keep a cat in a cage and then euthanize it rather than let it live in a loving, comfortable home where it is well-loved and well-fed, AND allowed to go outside to hunt.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Cat Owner, keep on doing it your way. But don't expect sympathy from people if your cats die a nasty death out of doors. It all depends on the cat, like you said. PHS does a great job & if the jerkoff cat owners would spay/neuter their pets, PHS wouldn't have so many. Let's not even get into the feral cat problem because I don't have time for apoplexy today.

We all know how much damage outdoor cats can do - don't pretend otherwise. They might do some good, too, but that's hard to measure given how much damage they do as well. Kind of like coyotes, but worse - coyotes are wild & have that very reason to do what they do. Cats don't have a good reason because we're supposed to be in charge of them.

Like this comment
Posted by Cat Owner
a resident of another community
on May 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Dear "Hmmm":

If you want your cat to never go outside, more power to you. If your cat is healthy and happy under those circumstances, that's terrific. But do not, for one second, think that you are a superior cat owner or that you are a more sincere environmentalist. I have probably lived with at least 20 cats over my lifetime (and, btw, every single one of them has been spayed or neutered, has received all the recommended shots, and has been well fed and well loved.) Each one is different. The most dysfunctional cat I ever met lived its entire life inside an urban apartment. The happiest cat I ever met went outside every single day of his very long life. I've know cats who never go outside by choice, and cats who are completely miserable not being allowed outside. And I would never have an outdoor cat if I lived in a location where getting hit by a car was a possibility (I live so far out, it is not a possibility where I live.) Cats have better instincts about coyotes than they do about cars.

And, yes, I would expect as much sympathy from any decent, caring person if my cat was eaten by a coyote as I would if my cat died of kidney failure.

We are on the same page about the feral cat problem - which is why I've never had a cat (or dog) who was not spayed or neutered.

Please don't assume (as PHS does) that someone who does not share their philosophy about indoor/outdoor cats is a bad pet owner.

Finally - for those who live in unincorporated county, I'm guessing many share the attitude that the stupidest thing PHS ever advocated for was cat licensing fees. What a way to discourage folks from getting their (rural) cats vaccinated for rabies! (And, before you jump down my throat, yet, all my cats are licensed and vaccinated for rabies, but I know plenty of people who stopped vaccinating their cats after that law was passed because of the licensing requirement.)

Public policy regarding pet ownership needs to take in a broad spectrum of pet owners and build consensus, not hand down self-righteous decrees from on high.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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