More Calgary coyote sightings? Experts say yes — but not due to more animals

·4 min read

A recent coyote sighting outside the CBC building in Parkdale prompted inquiries to the City of Calgary as to whether sightings of the wild canine are up and whether the pandemic is a factor in those reports.

The answer was yes to both.

"I would agree to all of that. We did look a little bit into that in the spring as well, and my sense was that it's because people are home, they're seeing more wildlife in their neighbourhoods. So that was one reason for it, but we also did see some behavioural changes," said Chris Manderson, urban conservation lead for the city's parks department.

Manderson says the city has been tracking 311 wildlife calls — coyotes, bobcats, moose, bear, deer — since 2005. And just to be clear, he says, these reflect sightings, not population numbers.

But, out of those numbers, some trends have emerged, he says.

Generally, Manderson says, calls for deer and moose sightings spike in June, bear and bobcat calls go up in the fall, and coyote reports increase between January and March.

"They will tend to call about the species that stands out for some reason for them," said Manderson, who adds that the reason a particular animal stands out is due to their behaviour at that time of year.

"So it's kind of interesting to see how there's a bit of a seasonal variation in that."

Shelley Alexander
Shelley Alexander

Manderson says that in the early part of the summer, deer and moose are with their calves, prompting more interest from people.

For fall sightings, he says, that's when many young animals, such as bobcats and coyotes, reach adolescence and disperse or "get kicked out of the house and sort of find their own way in the world," said Manderson.

He says these animals will be more active and spotted roaming around the city at this time of year.

Then, between January and March, coyotes are mating, which means they are more active, prompting calls.

"People are worried if they see a coyote. They're much more likely to call in about a coyote than they are, say, a squirrel, for example, or a hare or a feral rabbit," said Manderson.

So far this year, there have been 1,569 reports of coyotes to 311. For all of last year, there were 1,429.

Shelley Alexander
Shelley Alexander

Behaviour changes

During this year of the pandemic, the city has seen a slight increase in coyote reports, Manderson says.

He believes that's because more people are at home, or out in the parks, and are now observing what has always been there.

But he has also noticed changes to animal behaviour based on changes in human behaviour — in particular with the coyotes, when schools shut down in the spring.

"When schools were closed, there were a few observations of coyotes hanging out in spaces like schoolyards, where normally they would never go anywhere near them," said Manderson. "That was because that was a space that people had not occupied, so they were starting to move in."

But as the kids moved back, the coyotes moved out.

D.L. Draper
D.L. Draper

University of Calgary geography professor and coyote researcher Shelley Alexander plans to study the way coyotes have been changing their movement patterns due to the restrictions placed on Calgarians' work and play habits during and after the pandemic.

Alexander expects that as fewer people commute downtown and fill up parking lots, these spaces will be more frequented by coyotes, prompting more unusual sightings.

"They're basically doing the same thing we are, right, in terms of we change our movement patterns during the pandemic with respect to where we feel it's safe to go, how often we go there. And we have a network of paths that we use and many of us had to adjust those. And in response to that, you have all sorts of wild animals changing how they are using those landscapes," said Alexander.

She says coyotes can be found everywhere in the city, they just tend to avoid people.

"If they don't perceive a high volume of people or risk of being, you know, threatened or run over, then they'll use those areas to move from one patch to another or to find a food resource," said Alexander.

And as people return to more normal behaviour, so, too, will coyotes, she says.

Shelley Alexander
Shelley Alexander

"So there'll be a readjustment period when people start to reclaim some of those areas. But, particularly with coyotes, they're so adaptable, they'll know they'll have to respond," said Alexander.

Meanwhile, Alexander says, dispersal time for coyotes is also when conflicts between coyotes and people, and their pets, may arise, so she cautions people to be aware of potential encounters.

"Most of these are younger animals that are leaving the family and so they're entering new areas and they may be very hungry. They may be quite frightened. They're in territory that's not familiar," said Alexander.

She is reminding people to keep their pets on a leash and be vigilant about not leaving out any food sources around their yards such as birdseed, garbage, dog food or crabapples.

That way, she says, they will keep moving until they find more natural food sources.