Coyote sightings are on the rise in Ottawa. Here’s what to do if you see one
The number of coyote sightings in Ottawa has nearly doubled from 2019 to 2020, according to the City of Ottawa’s By-Laws and Regulations Department.
There were 221 complaints reported in 2019, rising to 438 in 2020 and 476 in 2021. There have already been 33 such reports in the first three weeks of 2022.
The National Capital Commission (NCC), meanwhile, reported 53 sightings in 2019 and 47 in 2020, dropping to 33 in 2021.
These figures come with a few caveats: a number of reports have been made by different callers regarding the same animal, some of the calls are from residents seeking general coyote information, and others are about a deceased coyote found on a road.
They are more afraid of us than we are of them.— Jason Pink, National Capital Commission
Roger Chapman, director of municipal and regulatory services for the city, says the number is often highest between January and March when snow covers the animals’ usual food sources and they are forced to look elsewhere for food.
What to do when dating
The city and the NCC partner in much of their work around coyote tracking and collaborate on a blog about how to coexist.
NCC senior conservation officer Jason Pink said centuries-old wildlife recommendations also apply to coyotes.
“It’s pretty much the same when you meet a coyote [as] when you encounter a bear,” he said.
This means people should leave animals alone whenever possible. If, however, someone is being followed by a coyote, they must scream and appear larger. They can also throw objects in the general direction of the animal.
“They are more afraid of us than we are of them.”
Although we hear of a few rare cases of attack, coyotes are generally more dangerous to pets than to humans.
Earlier this year, an Ottawa police investigation found a string of suspicious cat deaths were perpetrated by coyotes.
Pink said owners should always keep small dogs nearby and on a leash.
In the event of a coyote encounter, owners should pick up their dog and back away, facing the coyote. They should never turn their backs and run, he said.
‘Tools in your toolbox’
Lesley Sampson, founding executive director of Coyote Watch Canada, some experts recommend wearing a whistle to deter animals, but Sampson says unfamiliar sounds are more effective.
Urban coyotes, she said, are accustomed to a wide range of sounds, including machinery, car horns and even whistles. Often the best way to deter them is to use a stimulus they’re not used to, like shaking a tin can full of coins or opening an umbrella.
There’s also a technique she calls the “trash bag method” which involves filling a bag with air before breaking it open to make a scary noise.
“It’s like anything – it’s better when you have tools in your toolbox,” she said.
Sampson said the animals are easier to track in the snow.
The telltale footprints help volunteers at the wildlife nonprofit keep tabs on urban families of coyotes who need ‘aversion conditioning’, the practice of using natural deterrents humanely to remove an animal from an area.
Surprised to see this dog/wolf/coyote on my morning run.
Pink said coyote numbers in Ottawa don’t appear to be increasing, but there may be more sightings because the animals adapt to city life and become more active during the day.
Stan Gehrt, principal investigator of the Urban Coyote Research Project based in Chicago, Illinois, said cities in eastern North America have seen an increase in urban coyote populations in recent years.
Gehrt said no one knows for sure why this is happening, but he cited a decline in the market value of pelts overseas that has deterred coyote hunting and trapping in rural North America. The resulting rural population boom may have pushed young coyotes to urban centers.
Keeping a healthy distance from this urban population is key to coexistence, Sampson says, because the main cause of conflict is when people feed animals.
“They get to know the different hotspots where people are constantly leaving food. You take care of that, and a lot of encounters and conflicts go away,” she said.
“They are capable, intelligent and creative foragers and hunters. They don’t need our handouts.”
Ottawa morning8:08Coyote sightings on the rise in Ottawa