Children and Coyotes

Somebody recently inquired about children and coyotes, specifically about how coyotes react to children. I don’t think it needs to be suggested to any parent to keep their kids far away from wildlife: be it raccoons or skunks or owls or coyotes — these can be vicious and can cause damage if they feel in danger. Proximity is sometimes the only trigger that is needed for the animal to feel threatened.

Children are more vulnerable to the vagaries of individual coyote behavior for several reasons. First, their small size makes them seem more approachable to coyotes. Second children are trustful, yet inexperienced and naive, with no skills for shooing a coyote off. Thirdly, children themselves are unpredictable in their active, flailing movements and noisiness: and this is a red flag to a coyote.

Coyotes, the same as dogs, like predictability and calm. Many dogs do not have the tempers for dealing with hyperactivity or unpredictability: cocker spaniels are especially known to bite children — mostly those in their own homes. My own large lab was lying down after a walk while a group of us adults were jabbering away as one kid bounced his basketball. No one was aware that the bouncing ball — the activity level and noise and unpredictability of where the ball went  – were driving the dog berserk, until the dog, in a flash, leaped up with a bark and punched the little boy in the stomach. This dog had never before given any indication that it would react this way. I’ve used these dog examples to help explain unpredictability and intolerance for hyperactivity — qualities I have seen coyotes react to in smaller dogs. Coyotes at rest will react by becoming tense and alert.

I once saw a coyote approach a children’s day camp. Although the coyote stayed outside the boundaries of the camp, it was definitely drawn to the noise and extreme activity level of the kids — it may have wanted to stop all the commotion. The coyote stood behind a creek and barked distressingly until the camp director went to it and shooed it away by flailing his arms, yelling at it and throwing small stones in its direction. The coyote had approached the camp because the noise and activity level were disturbing to it. Most coyotes will avoid such a site, but a dominant female, especially a mother of pups, who is monitoring her territory for safety, might do otherwise.

Most parents are very careful about protecting their children from possible mishaps, but I now have seen a parent with two children aged about 8 and 10, and on another occasion a grandparent of one 7 year old, walk their children fairly close to a resting coyote. It is not something I would recommend, even if the coyote is known to be a mild one, because wildlife has its own rules, and we don’t always know what these rules are.

Very seldom have coyotes bitten humans, but most of the bites that have occurred have been to children. Please teach your children to respect wildlife by giving it lots of space. And never feed wildlife. Feeding coyotes has been determined as the one ingredient which has caused coyotes to become aggressive towards humans.