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A Candid Conversation About Urban Canids

There is far more wildlife living in our cities than many humans realize. Meet a couple University of Minnesota researchers studying urban foxes and coyotes!



Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band, The Urban Hillbilly Quartet, on their website.

This episode was produced by Stina Neel, edited by Parker Seaman aka Strongthany, hosted by Ian R Buck, and transcribed by Tom Fendt. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn.

Many thanks to our guests James Forester and Geoff Miller.


James: [00:00:00] So if you’re out walking in the woods and you start hearing a podcast, you’ll know it’s us.

Stina: [00:00:05] And it’s not the podcast in my ears? It’s a wild podcast.

Ian: [00:00:11] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota, I am your host, Ian R Buck. It’s often easy to think of wildlife as something that primarily exists outside of the cities, only occasionally visiting our urban spaces. But many species make their homes among us, often without humans really knowing that they are there. Producer Stina Neel connected with researchers at the University of Minnesota, who have been studying populations of foxes and coyotes in the Twin Cities. Let’s listen in on her conversation with them!

James: [00:00:52] I’m James Forester, I’m a professor at the University of Minnesota and the Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology Department, and I’ve been here since 2010. And while most of my work has been in more rural areas, I studied moose up in, uh, the Arrowhead area and elk in Yellowstone, places like that, I’ve become increasingly interested in, uh, urban wildlife. And so a few years ago, one of my, uh, my postdoc at the time, Nick McCann, was chatting with me about some ideas he had about, um, a proposal to put in to study some urban wildlife, and after talking about a few different species, decided that coyotes and foxes would be really interesting to study in the Twin Cities metro area. So Nick wrote up this, uh, proposal, and I helped edit it, and we submitted it to LCCMR and ultimately were funded. And that’s what brought Geoff onto the project in 2019. And, um, yeah. And then that, uh, that funding went, uh, over a period of three years. And then we’ve just submitted a revised proposal to kind of build off of that, those preliminary data and find out more about these, uh, really, really curious, uh, urban carnivores.

Stina: [00:02:05] Real quick, what’s LCCMR?

James: [00:02:07] That is the legislative-

Geoff: [00:02:10] Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Stina: [00:02:13] You can always put it in the show notes. And then, Geoff, can you introduce yourself?

Geoff: [00:02:17] Yeah. So I’m Geoff Miller, I’m a PhD candidate in the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Department at the University of Minnesota. So I came in on the project in 2019 to kind of be the boots on the ground for this project. So actually getting out, locating these animals to study, setting out traps for them, and then actually collaring and then tracking these animals throughout the course of the project. And then the data that’s generated from, uh, this tracking project will be used in my dissertation and is is being used in my dissertation. There’s still a little writing left to go, but, um, we’re making some headways.

Stina: [00:02:55] Yeah. So let’s, um, let’s get like, a brief overview of the study. So it’s red foxes, gray foxes, and coyotes.

James: [00:03:04] The original project was that, um, we have in the current iteration, dialed it back just to be red foxes and coyotes, simply because, I mean, gray foxes are hard to find. I mean, in the first study, I think we collared two of them. Um, we have by accident, essentially, caught one this year, and we had an old collar that we put on it. But, um, but we’re not actually targeting the gray foxes this year.

Geoff: [00:03:31] They’re just biologically much harder to get a bead on. So they have smaller territories than the other species of canids do. So in an urban area where you have a lot of private land, you might not even know where these gray foxes are unless somebody tells you that, “Oh, we have a gray fox using our neighborhood.” So it’s a lot harder to kind of find them and study them.

Stina: [00:03:54] I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gray fox. I’ve seen coyotes, I’ve seen red foxes. I have never seen a gray fox.

Geoff: [00:04:00] Yeah, they’re a little more elusive. So they’re also much more active at night. So they’re more strictly nocturnal than coyotes and foxes are.

James: [00:04:09] And an arboreal, semi-arboreal canid, which is kind of interesting. They can climb trees.

Stina: [00:04:17] Oh! Okay, so how many coyotes have participated and are participating right now?

Geoff: [00:04:25] Yeah, so for coyotes in the first iteration of the project, we had 17 participants. Uh, we captured one that we actually let go without a collar, collected some basic data on him as well. But in this iteration, we just started this past fall, um, we captured an additional 18 coyotes. So that brings our total participant pool up to 35 individuals. And then since we’ve collared them, one of those actually either his mate or another pack mate chewed off his collar. So we’re down to 17 current participants.

Stina: [00:05:00] When that happens, when they lose a collar or it’s chewed off, do you all find it or do they shut down its history?

Geoff: [00:05:07] Yeah, we yeah, we usually find it. Um, sometimes it’s a little more work than it should be. So we lose some. For example, a red fox we think died in a culvert and we just couldn’t get into the stormwater system and get that collar back. But the vast majority we’re able to actually get the collar back.

James: [00:05:26] These collars have, um, a sensor on them. And so if they remain without moving for a period of time, I think it might be eight hours. Um, they have little accelerometers in them. Uh, they send us a notification of the mortality. So we know there’s been a mortality or it’s dropped off, and then we go to recover it.

Stina: [00:05:45] When you do lose individuals, do you think is it primarily like vehicle strikes?

James: [00:05:50] It’s a mix and it depends by species.

Stina: [00:05:51] Okay.

James: [00:05:52] So I think one of the interesting outcomes of the first study was the really different sources of mortality between coyotes and foxes. And first of all, we didn’t lose that many foxes. I think it was maybe a handful of them, 4 or 5, something like that. In the first study.

Geoff: [00:06:08] We lost a handful of coyotes.

James: [00:06:11] That’s what I mean, yeah, of coyotes. And and that was sort of a mix between cars, which are sort of a super predator in a way, they don’t they don’t really care, they just take out a lot of wildlife. And I can’t remember the other sources of mortality there. But the really shocking, I think finding was that our red foxes were just, all of them, were dying. I mean, I think how many, how many even…

Geoff: [00:06:34] Survived the end of the battery life of the caller?

James: [00:06:37] Yeah.

Geoff: [00:06:37] Um, so just to kind of break down the numbers, we had three that we think were killed by coyotes based on the evidence at the site. So that was like the number one cause where we could actually assign, um, like some of them, we get to them too late to do a necropsy, which is basically an autopsy for an animal. So for the ones that we could assign a cause to, the most common one was possible coyote attacks. We had one get chased by a dog, which apparently stressed it to death is kind of what we found. Um, so there’s four caused by other larger canids. We had one that was, uh, a really mangy fox. Um, so it ended up being euthanized by Minneapolis Animal Control. And then we had another that was a vehicle strike. And then actually, kind of the most surprising one was we had two that drowned, which we really didn’t expect drowning to be a significant contributor, but one drowned in a uncovered pool and another one drowned in a lake. We think maybe they were possibly chasing aquatic, uh, birds. So ducks into these water bodies and then couldn’t get out of the pool or couldn’t get out of the lake in those cases. So basically, foxes have danger coming from all directions in these urban environments. So they have a pretty tough life out there.

James: [00:07:52] Yeah.

Stina: [00:07:52] I think like probably the most shocking thing to hear about that is, well, I’m disappointed, but not surprised, is that like the human impact is so big on the lifespan of these animals?

James: [00:08:03] It is. And in fact, one of the coyotes that we lost, uh, it was actually hunted. But the reason, like many of our animals don’t get hunted because we’re, uh, especially in the first study, we’re studying primarily the, the urban area. But there was one animal that we’d actually collared on campus, and it was pretty cool. It had sort of stayed around in the fairgrounds area and sort of roamed around campus and some of the nearby neighborhoods, and this this would have been in on the midst of Covid. So it was probably in 20, 2020. Yeah, probably in 2020, is I’m guessing when that was. But I was teaching a class on animal movement and was incorporating some of the locations from this animal because it was local. And the students, you can see it and then, you know, this animal just it was, I was living in the midway at the time and it just went from up sort of north where campus is, all the way down very close to my neighborhood, as if to say hi. I mean, it was bizarre, right? It was like within a few blocks of where I was living, and it was just really weird. Stayed around there for like maybe a day, went back up north and then just booked it for Wisconsin and I think went 60 miles in like a span of like-

Geoff: [00:09:09] As the crow flies. So…

James: [00:09:10] Yeah, as the crow flies across, you know, the Saint Croix everything. And um, in a span of not very long,

Geoff: [00:09:17] it was like,

James: [00:09:18] a few days, right?

Geoff: [00:09:19] Yeah. Like a week probably.

James: [00:09:20] And then ultimately was harvested by somebody that was was out hunting coyotes, which, and they were great. They, you know, brought us back the collar and we were able to download all the data and everything.

Stina: [00:09:30] So you said there’s the second iteration of the project. So there’s the first one with the original one with the findings that we will post in the show notes. And then there’s a secondary one that just started this year, last year.

James: [00:09:41] That’s correct. Just started in July. And this is you know, so it’s funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. And this funding was actually instituted as part of a constitutional amendment in Minnesota. And we take some of the, you know, fractional portion of the proceeds from the, from the lottery and actually put it towards natural resources in the preservation and conservation management in the state. And anyways, the new version we wanted to we found all these really curious interactions. I mean, these these animals are doing wild things like in, in the midst of, of the human, uh, basically matrix right? They’re, denning under people’s decks, you know, they’re, you know, places that you would have no idea. There’s a coyote, there’s coyotes, like having, you know, sleeping in the woods just a few paces off of a jogging trail. We see all these kinds of interesting ways that these animals kind of find a way to make a living amongst us. Right? And it made us wonder. One, there’s these really strong interactions between coyotes and red foxes. And we’ve already talked about these coyotes coming in. You know, they kill a lot of our red foxes. They certainly will chase them away. There’s a lot of that interaction amongst the species. And we were kind of wondering if there was kind of a human shield effect going on inside the cities where the foxes might kind of retreat behind the human shield, and the coyotes might stay out in the maybe the larger green spaces in the, in the urban areas. And that was the way they kind of partitioned space. And we wondered if that changes across a gradient of urbanization. And so Geoff sort of folded this into his dissertation and started looking at ways that we could expand outward. And so right now we’re expanding outwards towards Saint Cloud. So we’re going to try to incorporate Saint Cloud as a smaller urban area. And then the sort of rural areas in between along the Mississippi corridor to try to get an idea of how the interaction between the space use patterns, the diets, and also the interactions between the species might change across that gradient.

Stina: [00:11:40] Yeah, like, I’m thinking about, it was during the winter when we had real snow and I was biking from here to my house over in Lindale. So I took the Greenway and I’m like, this is like night time, but not that late, and I just see this like flash of kind of brownish gray next to me, and it’s like kind of running alongside me a little bit and then looks over and then cuts off like goes north. And I was like, “I think that was a coyote. That was not a stray dog.” Like, is that is that something that you found, like, are they using the same trails that we’re using?

Geoff: [00:12:08] Yeah. Um, so coyotes like a lot of animals, just when they’re moving through the environment, they want to use the quickest way from point A to point B. A lot of the time that’s going to be our walking trails. They also use a lot of railroads. Those are other good linear features that they can follow to get in between green spaces they might want to get to. But one thing you said there, I think is kind of a important thing to highlight is you said this was getting close to nighttime. What we see with a lot of our urban coyotes is they actually shift from what’s kind of natural for, uh, coyotes. The these are visual hunters, so it’s beneficial for them to be active during the day, what we find in urban areas, so here, also in Chicago, also in LA, is these animals are kind of shifting their activity to be more nocturnal. So um, they’re going to use these trails. They’re going to use kind of trails along railroads as well. Uh, river corridors are good movement corridors for them. They’re going to use these corridors, but the vast majority of their activity is going to be dusk, dawn, and then during the night. So they really kind of hunker down during the day when people are most active. And then when there’s a little break in activity starting right around dusk, they kind of start to hit the streets. And really they’re kind of preferences for the landscape really kind of widen as soon as people go to bed. So that’s when they’ll start to move into those areas where we wouldn’t necessarily expect to see a coyote.

Stina: [00:13:33] And, there is, so on the Twitter, there’s probably like, I think it’s your highest tweet, of the map that has the color coding of different animals in their, their territories, and it’s so distinct. I did not realize that there is almost zero overlap. They are right next to each other.

James: [00:13:50] Territorial animals. Yeah.

Stina: [00:13:53] Um, so that was something that was surprising for me as just a curious human. But what did you all find either in the first iteration or what you’re finding now? What are some surprising things?

Geoff: [00:14:05] Um, so not necessarily surprising, but some of the most important findings, I think, or some of the findings that really stood out to us, were some of the strategies that Coyotes display to kind of coexist with people. So James talked about that coyote that was within a few paces of a walking trail in Minneapolis. And the way that it did that, is, it was tucked into a little bit of brush right on the precipice of a really steep slope. So by selecting this area that really people aren’t going to want to scramble up and down a cliff and kind of risk life and limb, by selecting those areas, they’re really kind of effectively distancing themselves from people. So that coyote in particular would just nap away for hours at a time that was like one of his favorite spots to sleep. And meanwhile, hundreds of people would walk by walking pets, and I would occasionally stop by to watch this coyote. And I would see, like, pets kind of pull at their leash to try to like they knew that the coyote was there, but I don’t think I ever saw anybody notice the coyote, which is pretty astounding. Um, so that’s one strategy they use. Another really interesting strategy we found is that a lot of our urban coyotes tend to use wetlands as a major habitat type, uh, in which they can kind of rest undisturbed during the daytime. There are a couple reasons that we think wetlands are kind of especially important for coyotes. For one, we do spring and summer field work figuring out what these animals are doing during kind of the most important season for them, which is when they’re raising pups. So I would go out and document kind of clusters of GPS points we got from the tracking collars. And what I was finding is as soon as the pups are mobile enough to get out of the den we find a a kind of majority of the urban animals are kind of shuttling their pups into wetlands. And as somebody who had to walk into these wetlands and see what these environments were like, you can see why that would be a good strategy for them if they want to avoid people. I think this is a really important result because it shows the value of these habitats, not only for coyotes themselves, but for actually mitigating some of the conflict between people and coyotes during this really crucial time of the year for them. So without wetlands where they can, they can safely keep their pups, we might see an elevated, elevated level of occurrences of these negative interactions between people and coyotes. So more escorting behavior where they’re following dogs and making sure dogs are people walking, their dogs are getting out of their territories and away from their pups. So we think this is really kind of a vital ecosystem service. Oh, another thing that sticks out about coyotes is there’s so much variability in what these animals treat as a home range, how many other animals they’re associating with. So how many members are there in their pack. So just to kind of highlight a pretty extreme example of this. So we have same age class females. So relatively old female coyotes one would use like a quarter mile squared area. She did this for months. She didn’t leave a quarter mile squared. Another female coyote we tracked, she would occasionally go down to Saint Anthony Falls and then back all the way down the river corridor to Hidden Falls. So that’s like Highland Park area of Saint Paul, six miles in one night. So you have one animal that’s moving back and forth. If it was going to go round trip, it would be 12 miles and another one that never leaves a quarter mile squared. So just a crazy amount of variability in the strategies these animals are using in urban landscapes.

James: [00:17:43] And on average, there are about roughly nine square kilometers for a coyote. And I think red foxes are about the same. But the yeah, the variation is really big. The standard deviation is like six square kilometers. So it’s like plus or minus, quite a large amount that incorporate all of our animals. I’ll bring up one more, uh, kind of surprising result was one of the things that we were really interested in was trying to see if there was any difference amongst these animals in terms of the diseases they were exposed to, and also any exposure potentially to different heavy metals that might be in the in the environment. And also to see if these urban animals were consuming a lot of human food. And my thought initially was, yeah, they will be. And because, you know, there’s, you know, we throw away a lot of, uh, a lot of garbage. And the animals certainly get into it. What we found on that front was, I think, pretty interesting. Um, in terms of heavy metals, there was maybe a handful of them, uh, one of which was arsenic. But then. But the what I’m thinking about actually, um, cadmium was one, uh, were some of the.

Geoff: [00:18:49] Nickel.

James: [00:18:49] Nickel. Yeah. And these were all positively associated with more animals that had more impervious surface within their home ranges. They tended to have higher levels of these, of these metals or other substances in their, in their hair. So we’re measuring that, we’re measuring that from their hair. And I don’t think, you know, like the maximum level of arsenic that we measured wasn’t something that would would have been considered toxic by human standards at least. Um, you know, if you look at the levels that are considered exposure to arsenic, they’re lower than that it was maybe 0.6. What? I’m going to get the numbers wrong. 0.7, I think, uh, parts per million, whereas 1 to 2 is considered exposure in humans. But the point is that there was this really very clear linear association between those contaminants and, and the amount of impervious surface. What I was interested in was the disease exposure, though, and we didn’t have enough animals to really get an idea about the gradient. But just overall, these animals were exposed to parvovirus, they’re exposed to canine distemper. I think all of them were exposed to parvovirus. They had antibodies in their blood for that. Um, you know, it’s something that we vaccinated our, our domestic pets for. Um, same with, with distemper, um, and still very high rates of distemper amongst these animals, which can be fatal for, for canids, especially their young. So that was kind of across the population. But then, you know, you’re also seeing high incidence of Lyme Disease exposure. And so this is really indicating some of that they’re, maybe sentinels for some of these diseases that might interface with our pets as we’re out and about in the landscape, or us in the case of Lyme disease. And, you know, Geoff and I were talking earlier about avian influenza is still, you know, this repeated problem that’s coming through. We haven’t detected that or I don’t know if we even tested for it last time because it wasn’t as big a thing.

Geoff: [00:20:36] But we have some fox carcasses that we could test for avian influenza. Yeah

James: [00:20:42] Because it’s definitely causing sort of wreaking havoc across, uh, lots of lots of animal species right now.

Geoff: [00:20:49] I can go on to another kind of interesting effect of coyotes on foxes, which is what I’m primarily interested in in my dissertation. So coyotes and foxes are kind of these natural enemies. They’re, they have like similar habitat needs. They eat a lot of the same things, and since coyotes are larger, they kind of have this top down effect. They want to displace foxes wherever they can and kill them in some cases. So like I said, we documented three of those killings. And I guess the interesting thing we found was when we do these analyses, looking at which habitat types are most important to these animals, one of the things we found was so coyote territories almost invariably centered around green spaces. They would include these these commercial areas, these residential areas, but primarily they’re centered around these green spaces. Whereas foxes, we found almost across the board, they were centering their territories in residential areas. So they’re really using neighborhoods as places where they can exist kind of apart from coyotes. So even though coyote territories include residential spaces, the time that they spend in those residential spaces is actually much lower, and that foxes can kind of leverage that and reduce their risk of exposure to these negative interactions with coyotes. And this is actually there’s a pretty direct example of the benefits that foxes kind of receive from being in these neighborhoods, neighborhoods going on right now. So 58% of the fox dens that we’ve documented over the course of the project have been either under somebody’s deck, under somebody’s shed, or generally under another human structure in a residential area. And meanwhile, coyotes, they’re going to have all the dens we documented were in green spaces. So we actually had a couple of examples of why they might be choosing to have dens in this, in these locations. So we got sent two videos from residents where the video kind of starts off with them hearing a fox barking, and then moves on to them investigating what’s going on. And in one of the cases, a coyote is at somebody’s deck trying to get under their their deck where there’s a den full of Fox kits. And this Fox was actually it had its back to the person. And so clearly it was more afraid of the coyote than it was of the person and was barking at the coyote. The person came out, chased away the coyotes, might have saved those kits lives. So we had another, another one get sent to us, which was a similar scenario. The person knocked on the window to scare the coyote away, but again, it was a coyote trying to get at a den. So by associating with people, you see this pretty direct shielding effect, especially during the spring, that these animals can kind of leverage to coexist with both people and coyotes in this landscape.

James: [00:23:42] Why don’t you talk about how you’re going to test that hypothesis and how it changes?

Geoff: [00:23:46] Oh, yeah.

James: [00:23:46] This is really cool.

Geoff: [00:23:46] Yeah. So one interesting method for getting at kind of how animals perceive fear or perceive risk in their environment is through what’s called audio playback experiments. So in this case, what we’re what we’re going to be doing is we have these trail cameras. So typical wildlife trail cameras that we had to kind of hack into, and then we hooked those up to a speaker system. And what happens is when those cameras are triggered, the speaker system will play back a sound that we want to gauge an animal’s response to. So we’re baiting in these coyotes and foxes. And what we’re doing for foxes is we’re playing back audio of human voice and audio of coyote vocalizations. And we’ll get kind of a ranked response of do they fear people more or coyotes more in this environment. So we can get at kind of the driver of maybe some of this landscape partitioning that we’re seeing. So is that driven by actual foxes fearing coyotes or is that driven instead by something we’re not measuring, like do foxes just like the number of rabbits they find in neighborhoods? For coyotes we’re also doing the same set of experiments, except we’re primarily focusing on human voice and seeing how coyotes responses to human voice, how that changes across an urbanization gradient. So we can see, do they fear people a lot more in rural areas? Which is what I would would suspect because they’re hunted. So by getting kind of that full picture of who, who fears who, where on the landscape, we can kind of get at what’s driving these movement patterns that we’re seeing.

Stina: [00:25:27] So we’re big audio nerds. So I do have to ask, uh, what kinds of things are what kinds of things are the human voice saying?

Geoff: [00:25:35] Uh, so to kind of control for variability, we have to have something pretty standard, standardized. So we didn’t want it to sound too aggressive or too quiet, too passive. We wanted it to also. Be somewhat similar to the vocal signature of the coyote playback that we’re doing, so we don’t get some like, jump scare effect in there. Actually, uh, the treatment that we’re using is just like pretty loud playback of audiobooks being read. So it’s, it’s we went to an open source, uh, audiobook library and just pulled a lot of boring clips of people talking about, uh, Germanic literature and stuff.

Stina: [00:26:19] Oh, that’s wonderful.

James: [00:26:21] So if you’re out walking in the woods and you start hearing a podcast, you’ll know it’s us.

Stina: [00:26:26] And it’s not the podcast in my ears. It’s a wild podcast. That’s so good. I guess, yeah, so Streets.MN is enjoyed by folks all over the state, or at least we hope, that is exciting that you all are doing stuff in the Saint Cloud area. That is audience that we don’t have a huge number for yet, but maybe we will now. So what are things for Minnesotans outside of the Twin Cities should know about their coyote neighbors? Are there are you already noticing big differences between the urban, suburban, and rural coyotes? Or is that more of findings that we’ll see in the future?

James: [00:27:03] I’d say it’s probably going to be findings we’ll see in the future. I mean, we’re just into the first few months of having most of these animals on the air. What I think people should just generally think about, with respect to coyotes especially, is that these animals are pretty liberally hunted, I would say, in, in rural areas. And that’s um, that’s the regulation that’s on them at the state level. But I would say, you know, if certainly if animals are, if these animals are sort of showing aggressive behaviors or taking livestock, obviously this is a really good reason to to remove those animals with some kind of lethal control. But I’d really encourage people to to think about them as being a really important part of the ecosystem, because really, these animals are out there, they’re specializing on small mammals that could carry things like Lyme Disease or other things that might affect us as humans. And that’s a, they’re an important part of that, that ecosystem. So I would say just keep that in mind. And generally they tend to be pretty innocuous animals.

Geoff: [00:28:02] Yeah. And just to kind of piggyback off of that, a lot of the lethal control efforts for coyotes are just futile efforts-

James: [00:28:11] In terms of overall control.

Geoff: [00:28:12] Overall control. Like it might fix a issue you’re having temporarily, but coyotes are one of the most resilient animals in the animal kingdom. So the US government had bounties on coyotes throughout much of the 20th century, and during that time, coyotes expanded from the prairie states and the desert southwest to the eastern seaboard, north to Alaska, south to the Panama Canal. They’re now across the Panama Canal, and this is all in the face of our best efforts to keep them from doing any of that. So I think coexistence is really the key here, finding out how to coexist with these behaviorally complex animals that, they’re hard to understand, which makes them hard to manage. And I would just encourage people to try to find long term solutions rather than temporary solutions in management of these of these animals.

Stina: [00:29:10] Right. And I think like for, for urbanites especially, this is like everyone who has a dog, I’m like, “Please keep your dog on a leash.” The last thing you want to do is have your dog run off the trail and go visit a sleeping coyote.

James: [00:29:21] Yeah, that’s true. I mean, and also to kind of understand what what are the behaviors of these animals that are living amongst us. You know, a friend of mine that used to live right down in this area used to run along the Mississippi River. And he called me up one day and he’s like, “James! I was out on a run today, and with my dog, and this coyote zipped up and was like, right behind us.” And this is that escorting behavior that Geoff was talking about. And he was really freaked out by it, I mean, legitimately, right? Because they seem very big, even if they’re, you know, only about 30 pounds or so, but they’re, you know, they’re substantial animal and they’re, you know, showing aggressive behavior probably because they’re defending their, their den site. But the point is that realize that they’re not really out there to get you. They’re just trying to manage their own space. And you just want to try to keep keep your distance and yell at them, shake, shake something at them can to try to get them away. But just realize that you can use some of these mitigation measures to keep them, um, away from you. I think one of the popular ones that folks suggest is they call it the garbage bag method, where they people just take a black trash bag and just like [makes a whooshing noise] just like opening it and like, flapping it at, uh, at coyotes. It’s something you can just carry in your pocket. It’s apparently very effective at, uh, at scaring off coyotes. Another one would be an umbrella and carrying a small umbrella that would provide a physical, you know, disruption also opening and closing it. This sort of flapping notion is very disruptive and unusual for those animals. It can scare them away. So there’s lots of things you can do to kind of get animals away from you if they’re kind of causing problems.

Geoff: [00:30:57] Throwing innocuous things is also a good move. Not many things in the animal kingdom can throw things.

James: [00:31:02] Projectiles.

Geoff: [00:31:03] So that is pretty unsettling for a lot of animals. So that’s a good move too. Just to add some context to James’s story about the guy running along the Mississippi Parkway. So I followed up on that location where that incident happened, and about 20 yards off of that trail, there was a den. And later we documented pups emerging from that den.

James: [00:31:24] It was a really useful sighting, actually. Yeah.

Geoff: [00:31:27] So that just goes to show, like if you can understand the way that these animals are interpreting this landscape, they have a lot at stake when they have these young, vulnerable pups in these dens. So if you see a coyote come after you like that, you probably know that you’re in an area where they’re being defensive around a den and kind of staying away from those areas and kind of keeping the stress level low for these animals while they’re in this really vulnerable time period is pretty crucial for trying to coexist with them in urban landscapes.

Stina: [00:32:01] Yeah. So avoidance. My personal favorite is the hazing. What a great what a great term for that. That was that was one of my questions was actually like what are your favorite? Um, what are your favorite hazing methods? If you have a coyote that’s a little too curious. I think this is more of a thing in like suburban, suburban and rural. I dog sit out in Victoria all the time in the morning, I’ll see this one coyote and I just give a big like, “Yah!” and just kind of like yell some gibberish, but. Oh, uh, do you think the trash bag is your favorite?

James: [00:32:29] That’s, uh, that’s been highly recommended by folks that study hazing methods for, um, for coyotes. I mean, you know, this is one of those things you have to use your best judgment, right? That these animals also can get rabies, you know, so there’s acting very strange, especially during the day. Um, you see other signs that it’s unwell. Just you really want to be careful around these animals and, you know, use, use good judgment to not not get close.

Stina: [00:32:53] Right, like a car horn would not do anything in the Twin Cities.

James: [00:32:56] Probably not.

Stina: [00:32:57] ‘Cause that’s a very common sound.

James: [00:32:59] And, you know, some folks suggest things like whistles, you know, other auditory things, and they can work. But having that physical thing of like the black trash bag or the umbrella, it, because it adds in the visual and the sound, I think that that’s, and also the fact that it’s very unusual is, uh, tends to be pretty effective. And I think, Geoff, you had some suggestions of maybe a website folks could go to for-

Geoff: [00:33:21] Yeah.

James: [00:33:22] Hazing methods.

Geoff: [00:33:22] The Humane Society of America publishes hazing methods for coyotes, and they’ll give you pretty good guidance on what tactics to use in what scenarios. So I would recommend checking that out if you’re curious about hazing methods.

James: [00:33:35] Yeah. Because I think what you just said is really important to keep in mind. These animals are among us, and you don’t want to haze an animal that’s not causing a problem. Because if an animal, you know, these animals have to make a living. And so if you see a coyote in a park running across a, you know, running through the forest, don’t haze it. You know, if it’s, uh, you know, approaching you and seems aggressive, that’s a good time to do that. And so it’s trying to decide when and where and try to decode what these animals are doing before you try to really try to push it somewhere else.

Stina: [00:34:09] Right, like avoidance is so much easier. I can just take a different path or-

James: [00:34:13] That’s right.

Geoff: [00:34:14] Right.

Stina: [00:34:14] Really swing around.

James: [00:34:15] And to that point, I mean, like during the the denning season, hazing is going to be really ineffective, probably quite disruptive to these animals. And so that’s a, that’s a time of the year when if people just know like, okay, this sort of like late spring, early summer sort of period of time, if I see coyotes out, this is probably what’s going on. I just have to be aware and give them space. And I think that if that’s probably a better move than, um, trying to stress them out.

Stina: [00:34:41] Right. And then let’s see. So we love citizen science here at Street.MN. And I was looking at on your website there’s a link to report sightings. Can you talk about a little bit of that of like you said you had a sighting and then later you found out that there was a den really close to a trail? And has citizen science really been helpful?

James: [00:35:00] It’s been vital.

Geoff: [00:35:02] Yeah, a huge amount of our intel on the animals that we include in our study comes from people just telling us where they’ve seen an animal. Um, so I can’t get out and track animals everywhere in the metro. That’s just a physical impossibility. So having people report, especially foxes in neighborhoods, is pretty vital to being able to track any of those foxes, because we can’t walk through people’s private property and figure out where there’s fox tracks or fox scat, which is our method we use to find animals in public areas. So people can go to our website we have a way to directly report sightings through our website. We also have an iNaturalist project where people can go on iNaturalist. We actually have it so that most of the coyote and fox observations that are just casually reported by people in the metro who don’t even know about the project get funneled to our project anyways. But a lot of people go to our iNaturalist project and directly report sightings there as well.

James: [00:36:08] Yeah, and that, you know, iNaturalist is really interesting because we do get a lot of a lot of data from there. And one time for our course I was running, I was kind of curious how well those documentations would identify where coyotes were or where they spent their time. And so I, basically did what we call a resource selection function. It basically decides, you know, what proportion of the points that you have of these sightings are in landscape characteristics that are more or less common. And so basically you predict the probability of observing a coyote is essentially what what these models are for. And so I did that based on all the, all the data we had from iNaturalist and then I also built a similar model using the actual locations of coyotes that we had collared. And the outcome was almost completely inverted, right, that they were using where they spent most of their time was not the place people were reporting them. And so, um, and this goes back to what Geoff was talking about earlier, is that they’re actually really good at avoiding humans and the, the places that people tend to go. Yeah, they’ll run into them occasionally, but there’s a lot more coyotes out there than you expect.

Geoff: [00:37:16] Yeah, I always tell people if they’ve been outside in a Minneapolis green space, they’ve probably been within 30 yards of coyote and didn’t know it. So yeah, they’re out there.

Stina: [00:37:25] I think about like biking through Crosby Farm.

James: [00:37:28] Oh yeah.

Geoff: [00:37:28] Oh yeah.

Stina: [00:37:28] There’s probably a ton I think. What else?

James: [00:37:31] Oh yeah. I’m going to follow up on a thing. I forgot to mention this earlier, but this is related to their diet. This is one of the things that was surprising to me was I was really expecting these animals to have a strong human food signature. And the way we measure that is using what’s called stable isotope analysis. It looks at delta 13 C or carbon and delta 15 N for nitrogen. And those are basically ways of looking at the composition of food, because different, different plant and animal structures sort of have different levels of these isotopes. One of the things that really pops out is corn. So that’s something that has a very high carbon delta 13 C carbon value. And so it really shows if you’re if you’re eating a lot of corn, you can do it with your own hair. You clip your hair and send it in. You know, you’ll see a high corn signature, probably because we just put corn syrup in everything. There’s, you know, obviously corn in many of the foods we eat just as a, as a grain. And anyways, most animals that tend to eat on human food have that corn signature. We only had 2 or 3 animals that really showed that they were eating a fairly high amount of what we think is human food, and most of them were really eating a natural diet, as far as we could tell. And so that that means that these animals are living amongst us, but they’re still eating a fairly natural diet, which was, to me, very surprising. Maybe it shouldn’t be, given the number of rabbits and squirrels I see in my yard. But, you know, like there’s plenty of food out there for them that they don’t have to come in and eat our garbage. But that’s just something that I was kind of surprised about.

Stina: [00:39:03] Would you say that that kind of shows off the strength of the ecosystem that we have, that they they don’t have to rely on going through my compost bin or anything?

James: [00:39:13] For sure, I think that if you look at a map of the Twin Cities, it’s a really cool city. I think from an environmental standpoint, in the sense that you’ve got these rivers running through with green spaces, you’ve got lakes dotted all over the place, lots of parks and other natural areas. So yeah, I think that is a sign that we have a city that is well integrated with some of the natural areas around it. And from a, I think from a citizen science perspective or just really a human experience, one of the reasons I’m very curious in urban wildlife is, you know, trying to understand this and excite people about this, that they don’t have to go to the wilderness to see wild things, like you can go in your own backyard, you can go in the park that’s right around the corner. And if you sit and watch and are quiet and pay attention, you can see some things that will just blow your mind. And I think to me, that is the most, um, exciting part of this is, is really just talking with people and getting them to realize there’s “Wait, there’s a predator in my backyard?” You know, and like, “Yeah, there is! And it’s really cool!” So that that’s pretty exciting to me. And as we understand how these animals move through our landscape, I think we learn a lot about sort of how they’re adapting to the spaces that we build. And, you know, kind of realizing that at the end of the day, we are wildlife. We’re just wildlife that makes roads and cars and houses and, you know, so we’re all kind of interacting together. And so trying to understand those systems and how those other species respond to us is really critical. And, you know, we’re also in the process of starting a project to look at how deer move through these systems as well, and what diseases do they pick up along the way, which can also impact us? Sars-cov-2 being one of the dominant ones.

Geoff: [00:40:56] Yeah, I feel like being out in these spaces trying to catch these animals. You get a really good idea of how much wildlife actually lives right in the urban core. So if I were to list the species that I’ve seen while being able to look up and see the Minneapolis skyline, I’ve seen otters, beavers, like all three of the canids that we’ve studied, actually all three species we’ve documented within a half mile of US Bank Stadium. So that shows you how urban these animals are. They’re right here in the city.

James: [00:41:29] There are fishers that are not so far away that are, you know, coming through this area as well.

Geoff: [00:41:34] Yeah. We have along the river corridor, mountain lions move through. So we not only have these animals able to move through along these green space corridors, but we actually have these resident animals here within the city, which it’s really cool to be able to look up and see the juxtaposition between these human built landscapes and wildlife actually adapting to those landscapes.

James: [00:41:59] And to be clear about the mountain lions, they’re not residents in here. They’re dispersing from probably the Dakotas.

Stina: [00:42:05] Yeah, like when we we had that mountain lion that came through, I think, like some people were scared right away. And I was like, “Oh, they’ve always been here. There’s probably one in Afton.” They’re like, they’re all over or they’re passing through. It’s fine. They’re not going to get you. They’re not going to get your dog. You’re going to be okay. Just to kind of give like a little bit of a sneak peek. This is part one that I’m probably going to do for parts of different human wildlife in urban spaces. So I think we’re thinking deer, bears and raptors I think was the other one. Big birds. But not _that_ big bird! Um, so yeah. So stay tuned for that. Or if you want to be involved, if you are interested in deer, I know I think is it U of M and then also Bemidji.

James: [00:42:51] Yup. Bemidji is um they’re just started I think last winter, they started looking at how deer are responding to an urban bow hunt. And so that’s a that’s a pretty interesting, interesting project. In fact, one of our former undergrads is is working up there. So, um, the project that we have here going, this is primarily focused on looking at how basically how deers get Covid and transmitted amongst themselves. And they are still carrying Covid in their population, um, probably from re-infection from humans, which is like one of those things you just you wouldn’t know that until you looked. But we have, uh, deer collared up at Elm Creek, Carver Park and down, um, uh, on in Shakopee. So we’re working with a bunch of collaborators in that project to kind of understand both how these animals move in these urban, suburban areas, and ultimately, we’re going to be looking at how they spread across or move across the Twin Cities metro area.

Stina: [00:43:55] That is. Those were all of my questions. I am so excited we got through all of them. I was really excited. Thank you both so much for for-

Geoff: [00:44:03] Yeah, you bet.

Stina: [00:44:03] Coming to the home studio and-

James: [00:44:06] A good excuse to get a bike ride across town in so-

Stina: [00:44:08] Yeah!

James: [00:44:08] Got a little exercise.

Stina: [00:44:11] This is something I’ve been nerding out for, I mean, every time we go camping. I’m like, “Ian the coyotes. Ian, do you hear them? They’re right there.”

James: [00:44:21] Oh, my. Yeah. I mean the the number of times that people have called me or that my, some of my undergrads will be like “James!” they’ll send me a, like a recording via email and be like, “Listen to this!” And it’s like just the coyotes yipping outside their, their window, you know, it’s just like, yeah, they’re they’re out and about.

Coyotes: [00:44:48] [coyote yipping noises]

James: [00:44:49] Yeah, well, thanks for having us, we really, really appreciate it.

Stina: [00:44:51] Oh. Thank you.

Ian: [00:44:54] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn Podcast!

The show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivative license. So feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it, and you are not profiting from it.

The music in this episode is by Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet.

This episode was produced by Stina Neel, edited by Parker Seaman aka Strongthany, transcribed by Tom Fendt, and hosted by me, Ian R Buck.

We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn.

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Until next time, take care!

About Christina Neel

Pronouns: she/her

Christina moved to the Twin Cities from the Florida Keys in 2021 and fell completely in love with the area. She works as a City and Regional Planner and spends her days biking, singing, and hanging out with her cat named California. Events Committee volunteer

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"