by Kathleen Keefe
If you’re in High Park at daybreak, you may be lucky enough to hear a chorus of yipping coyotes coming from some densely wooded well-hidden thicket. Once in a while there are sightings of coyotes in High Park, but most often these shy and cautious animals are masters at living among us without being seen.
Coyotes, Canis latrans, are native to prairie grasslands. However, their territory has grown a lot since so many forests and grey wolves have been eliminated in North America. Intelligent and curious, coyotes adapt easily to life in city parks where shelter and food are plentiful and there are no predators.
Coyotes probably get into High Park by way of the Humber Valley wildlife corridor and the shore of Lake Ontario. Coyotes are recent arrivals in High Park’s long natural history, not having much of a presence until the 1990s. When coyotes are in the park, there are fewer red foxes, groundhogs and rabbits.
One reason coyotes adapt so well is their willingness to eat almost anything. In the wild, their natural diet includes mice, groundhogs, rabbits, birds, eggs, snakes, turtles, frogs, fish, fruit, plants and dead animals. In High Park they add the pickings of uncontained garbage, and very occasionally they will pursue a small dog not on a leash.
Although food is plentiful in High Park and there are no predators, coyote numbers are usually low here. Small family groups come to High Park and sometimes breed. The pups are born in the spring and can live for six or eight years. However, in our urban setting, the risk of disease and being hit by vehicles often means an early end.
Coyotes naturally avoid contact and confrontation with people. When left to themselves, they will likewise leave people alone and helpfully keep rodents in check. The very rare conflicts with people seem to be the result of humans feeding coyotes. When a coyote starts associating humans with easy food, it loses its inborn fear of people and becomes a danger to us and to itself.