Coyotes at the Mall

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.


  1. Apparently, the coyotes of San Francisco are doing pretty well . . . all things considered. One can imagine them slinking across the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County under a full moon at 4 a.m. some morning. Maybe this morning? Or cruising north from the ridge tops of San Mateo County. No respecters of boundaries, those coyotes. Up for an adventure and tired of the routine, they gallavant, perhaps with pups in tow, to the DeYoung Museum to check out the munchies. Or Golden Gate Park: an excellent place for coyote and homeless alike. We have so much in common, after all. Kindred spirits over aeons of memory. The coyote brings us back to ourself.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. Yup! Or is that – ‘Yi-iiip’? Years ago – warning, this isn’t pretty – I followed a pickup on a back road in eastern Montana. The bed was piled above the side rails with coyote carcasses. Bugged me. Later, talking to a biologist friend he shrugged, held out is hands in that what-can-you-say gesture, and replied, ‘They’re smart. Don’t worry. Cities are next.’

    And there they are. Maybe they like pigeons…


  3. This winter a pack moved into the valley behind us. Every night, and some days, we hear them whooping it up. With the heavy snowfall this last winter, we had them right up to the barn, where they picked off a few geese.
    Their populations seem to fluctuate, with a few years ago a mange outbreak severely reducing their numbers. Now that they are more numerous, we expect to see fewer rabbits, possum and fox in the area, despite the lush growth this wet summer.
    We don’t begrudge their predation, although it requires precautions, like decent fencing, and not pasturing young animals nearest the valley.
    They are one of the numerous influences on the local wildlife populations. Amongst other changes, we have seen Virginia possum for the first time, and re-introduced wild turkeys.
    Hopefully the reforestation initiatives in the area will counterbalance the influence of the growing city to he south and west, and we can continue to observe the complex patterns.

  4. I live in the city limits of Chattanooga. Many cats have served as prey for the Coyotes one of our include before I recognized they are living with us. Last week I went out at 10PM and my outdoor/indoor cat was squaling and I went over to pick him up and kicked up a coyote in my yard. Two nights ago I ran another one off. The cat in discussion is very wary and he has several escape routes like a fence to get behind but I will be more cautious for him. It is good to live with nature but sometimes surprising also. Given our location close to the Appalachians it is possible to have a Black Bear. I am glad civilization can’t beat nature back totally. TM

  5. why are there only 4 comments here?? arent people interested in the coyotes??

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