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Climate and Environment

LA Explained: How To Live Safely With Our Coyote Neighbors

A coyote climbs over rocks with its nose down at night. Lights along the coast are visible behind it.
A California coyote above Santa Monica Beach
(Jason Klassi
Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Just glance at NextDoor and you’ll see that coyotes are a subject of concern. They’re the animal version of L.A. earthquake Twitter — when you see one strolling, it’s time to pull out the phone and share it with the world.

It used to be that seeing a coyote was pretty rare, but as we’re building and taking over land, these wild animals have had less places to go.

“Gone are the days where coyotes are coming from the hills for a drink,” said Niamh Quinn, a human-wildlife interactions advisor with the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“I think that people need to know that coyotes are everywhere, like literally everywhere. Just because you don't see coyotes doesn’t mean that they're not in your neighborhood.”

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They’re far less cherished than our local mountain lions, earning a bad rap for years of snacking on pets and catching people off guard at night. They can also get more aggressive during mating season, from January to March. But they are still our permanent neighbors. And since the population isn’t going anywhere (seriously, it’s illegal to relocate wildlife), it’s time to get to know their habits and behaviors.

Where do they live?

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that there are between 250,000 and 750,000 in the state. Coyotes are native to the state and broader North America. (If you’re curious, the Spanish name “coyote” comes from “coyotl” in Nahuatl, meaning trickster.)

Quinn says they’re often found in the open spaces around us, like nature reserves, nurseries, railway lines and on Southern California Edison’s easement land.

That’s because coyotes are remarkably adaptable. They don’t need the large roaming areas that mountain lions do. The canine’s average range can be up to 60 square miles or, in the case of a local coyote named “lazy legs,” down to just one.

“Coyotes can absolutely thrive in urban environments,” Quinn said. “In fact, they might even have smaller home ranges in the urban environment because there are so many resources for them.”

That’s why it’s common to see them near school yards, for example, or hanging out near neighborhoods with a lot of backyard space.

Quinn’s research tracking 20 collared coyotes across the county shows how distances can vary.

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What should I do if I see one?

  • If you’re in the city of L.A., report problems to L.A. Animal Services.

  • For the county (and those in unincorporated L.A.), report issues through the county's online form or by calling 626-575-5462.

Just seeing a coyote doesn’t mean you should dial up 9-1-1. Oftentimes, it’s a brief encounter where you’ll lock eyes with the animal before it disappears behind the bushes or runs down the street.

Most coyotes will keep their distance because they can be scared of you too. But sometimes, ones that are comfortable with urban living can become habituated to humans.

If the encounter gets aggressive, that’s when you should report it, says Ken Pellman, a public information officer with the L.A. County Agricultural Commissioner/Weights and Measures Office. He says your first step should be to contact your local leaders. If you’re in the city of L.A., problems should be reported to L.A. Animal Services. For the county (and those in unincorporated L.A.), you can report issues through the county's online form or by calling 626-575-5462.

“If they become aggressive, that’s when there's definitely a concern. And that's when our department will take action,” Pellman said, adding that the department will euthanize them if necessary. “We'd rather not have to do that, but when it comes down to it, we're gonna protect human life.”

If you get bitten by a coyote, report it to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife at 888-334-2258. And of course, if you need immediate medical attention, call 911 first.

You can see where coyote sightings have been over the last 30 days, by looking at UC’s Coyote Cacher data.

How common are coyote attacks?

Officially, it’s not that common for people.

The L.A. County Department of Public Health gets only a handful of reported attacks on people, but that’s likely an undercount. Bites on people have increased over the years, according to county records. Since 2013, at least 70 people have been bitten in the county. If you live near Elysian Park, next to Dodger Stadium, take heed — almost a quarter of those attacks have been in that location.

The department estimates only 5 to 10% of bites get reported. The county saw a jump in reports in 2022, compared to earlier pandemic years, which could be due in part to more people being outside again.

Over a decade, these numbers may seem small. But Quinn says it’s important to take coyote attack risks seriously. A few cities, like Torrance, have a controversial plan to catch and kill coyotes where “increased coyote behavior is reported,” while others only get involved when dangerous behavior happens.

Your interactions with wildlife are dependent on your local government’s management and your personal safety choices. Quinn says she’s told folks repeatedly how important it is to keep animals inside.

“It's not really a wildlife issue I don’t think anymore,” Quinn said. “I think the majority of it is actually more people management now.”

No one has devised the perfect coyote management plan, she added, so balancing coexistence is a challenge. Coyotes have killed two people that we know of — one person in Canada, and one child here in Glendale, in 1981, when 3-year-old Kelly Keen was grabbed by a coyote in her driveway.

Every year, they’ve been known to attack small children across the state.

It's not really a wildlife issue I don’t think anymore. I think the majority of it is actually more people management now.
— Niamh Quinn, human-wildlife interactions advisor, University of California

Animals do get attacked very frequently. While L.A. County Public Health records bites on people, UC’s Coyote Cacher data already has multiple reports in the last 30 days of animals getting hurt.

Coyote safety tips for outdoors

  • Bring a walking stick for your safety when you’re strolling around 
  • Keep your pets on a leash (and pick them up if you come across a coyote)
  • If you do see one, keep eye contact (it’s thought to help maintain dominance)
  • Don’t offer the canines any food (it’s illegal to feed wildlife!)
  • Shouting at the coyote and appearing dominant may help
  • If necessary, you can throw things near the coyote (just not directly at them — that’s considered harassment and is also illegal)

Coyote safety tips for home

  • Bring pets indoors overnight and don’t them stay outside unsupervised
  • Don’t leave food or water sources out
  • Keep your trash cleaned up and closed tightly
  • Throw out any fallen fruits from trees on the ground
  • Take in things like bird feeders and baths at night (it can attract rodents, a coyote’s main food source)

Some experts say you should make yourself appear large, wave your arms around and use noise makers to scare coyotes off — part of a tactic called “hazing.” It’s not clear how effective that is on urbanized coyotes, but it’s worth a try. At home, you can also install tall fencing but between local height laws and a coyote’s agility, this won’t be foolproof.

Can I scare them with another predator's urine?

Urine-based repellents usually won’t work, Quinn says. Some scents can even attract curious coyotes more as they've gotten used to people. It’s best to stick to practical methods — like shutting doors and windows, or installing alarms — to solve your coyote issues or do some deep studying before trying things out. Or, check out our guide to safe pest deterrants.

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