Coyotes on the move: La Jollans report increase in wild canines in urban areas

Coyotes reportedly have been making their way into residential areas in La Jolla more frequently lately.
(San Diego Humane Society)

Wildlife experts advise residents to take steps to protect their small pets and avoid attracting coyotes to their property.


A recent increase in coyote sightings in urban areas of La Jolla has some residents nervous, especially about the safety of their pets.

Sightings have been reported near Bird Rock Elementary and Muirlands Middle schools, near the La Jolla Bike Path and in other residential areas, even during the daytime, when coyotes typically aren’t seen.

Wildlife experts say the biggest risk from coyotes in urban areas is to small pets.

“We lost a cat to a coyote attack a few weeks ago,” David Gray, who has lived in La Jolla’s Muirlands neighborhood since 1995, told the La Jolla Light.

He said he has seen a coyote in his backyard twice, despite 6-foot fences, and his wife saw two while out on a walk. He said he’s also seen coyotes near the La Jolla Bike Path and the adjacent hillside.

“We had a neighbor walking their dog and [a coyote] walked in front of them,” Gray said.

The rise in sightings has been “very recent,” he said.

“We are used to [hearing them] at night, but now they will leave their territory for a few hours in the morning and go more into neighborhoods,” Gray said.

Commenters on social media reported a coyote in front of Bird Rock Elementary and a pack of them seen “multiple times in the past few weeks” near Fire Station 13 on Nautilus Street.

“First time in 25 years we have had coyotes living and hunting this close to Nautilus,” one person said. Some said they’ve found coyote feces in their yards.

Coyotes typically are seen in canyons and wild spaces, but more have been spotted recently in urban areas of La Jolla.
(Bradford Hollingsworth)

Jim McCaughan, a state-licensed wildlife trapper, said coyotes may expand into new territories to find prey, which often consists of rats, snakes and mice.

“They hunt in an area and when they deplete that area of prey, they go to another area,” McCaughan said.

They may go further if they have pups in their dens, he said. “Just like with a human baby, you do what you can when they are asleep.”

The pupping season is usually in the spring, though it can last six to nine months, he added.

If the same coyote or coyotes are seen multiple times in the same area, there may be a den nearby.

“We are used to [hearing them] at night, but now they will leave their territory for a few hours in the morning and go more into neighborhoods.”

— La Jolla resident David Gray

Coyotes often are attracted to houses where pet food or scraps are left out, McCaughan said. “What happens in a lot of areas is people feed the puppies because they think the puppies are too skinny or malnourished,” he said. “But after a few months, they aren’t puppies anymore and [people] can be bitten.” If bitten, call 911, he said.

To a lot of people, coyotes in urban areas aren’t new.

“Coyotes are excellent urban adapters … [and] they are also attracted to the abundance of other urban adapters, like the California ground squirrel,” said Scott Tremor, a San Diego Natural History Museum mammalogist. “Finally, they also are attracted to our trash as they forage within our refuse.”

Most urban sightings are near canyons, Tremor said. However, “when densities are high and closed off by streets or homes, they can be found moving through the urban matrix.”

The type of coyote (Canis latrans) seen in La Jolla is found across the San Diego region, he said.

McCaughan said coyotes are like wolves in that they live in packs with a pecking order. “They are about 60 pounds, but I have seen ones as large as 120 pounds,” he said. “There is no hibernation season, so they eat and grow year-round.”

Coyotes have an upside in that they help control the population of rodents and snakes, McCaughan said. “It’s like having a hawk or an owl in your yard.”

But since coyotes likely are looking for food when seen in urban areas, “small pets are on the menu,” McCaughan said.

He advises not leaving small animals outside in an area where there are sightings.

Also, “walking a small dog by yourself is not a good idea, because they will snatch the dog right off the leash,” he said. “Carry a broom or something large that they might see as a threat.”

“Small children would only be at risk if they are by themselves or have food on them,” he added. “Otherwise not.”

To try to keep coyotes away, “do not leave food or water sources outside,” McCaughan said. Dog doors should be lockable, he added.

He advises having motion-activated lights on the property to scare coyotes away and using an air horn to drive them away when they are seen. In extreme cases, he recommends sprinkling adult male urine around the property.

“Coyotes are afraid of alpha males and adult males, so if they think there is one on the property, they might stay away,” McCaughan said. ◆