Perhaps lured by the smell of sizzling meat, a coyote strolled through the propped-open door of a Quiznos in downtown Chicago last spring. The docile thirty-pound canine walked past the counter and lay down on a stack of Diet Pepsi in an open cooler, where it quietly remained, even as a large crowd gathered at the front window. An hour later an animal control officer arrived with a catch pole and removed the animal.
No one knows where that coyote came from. Chicago Animal Care and Control catches ten or fifteen in the city center every year, but usually closer to a likely home — a lakefront park, an isolated trash dump, the railroad tracks. This coyote would have had to weave through a half mile of bumper-to-bumper traffic and harried shoppers and soapbox preachers to reach the Quiznos.
Suburban coyotes often do better than their country cousins. Rural coyotes have a 30 percent chance of making it through their first year; urban coyotes have a 60 percent chance. In rural areas the leading cause of coyote death is hunting or trapping; for urban coyotes it’s cars. Thus, suburban towns with slow traffic and large parks and preserves are likely places to see coyotes.
At least once a week airport workers see coyotes trotting along the O’Hare runways, and airplanes have hit twenty-three over the last fifteen years in Illinois alone. Recently two jets had to temporarily abort their landings because a pack of coyotes was hunting on their landing strip. All of these odd intersections of coyote and human lives point to the shrinking habitat that we share. And while most of the two thousand or so coyotes that live in Chicago remain unseen, the number of encounters with people is increasing.
The coyote’s arrival into our “territory” is less an intrusion than a natural migration — from the once plentiful fields and woodlands, to the islands of available habitat which dot Chicago’s westward sprawl. By necessity, they are moving from the disappearing “country” to the suburbs and the city. The network of forest preserves and parks and the green corridors that connect them aid this movement. Like goldenrod, starlings, and people, coyotes adapt well to changing and disturbed environments. They flourish on the edges of bio-communities, which are divided and multiplied by each new road, highway, subdivision, golf course, and Wal-Mart that we build. It’s getting edgier all the time.