Let Loose the Coyotes? Chicago Embraces Rat-Hunting Predators

By Jennifer Welsh | November 16, 2010 2:59 pm

The coyote to the right was caught on video running loose in the middle of Chicago at 3:00 am on Monday morning. The police didn’t seem to know what it was doing there, but Brad Block, a supervisor for the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control told Chicago Breaking News that the coyote  is let loose in the city to monitor the pest population:

The animal has the run of the Loop to help deal with rats and mice. He said no one has called today to complain. “He’s not a threat…. He’s not going to pick up your children,” Block said. “His job is to deal with all of the nuisance problems, like mice, rats and rabbits.”

Block told Chicago Breaking News that the animal is outfitted with a GPS collar to track its whereabouts while it hunts mice, rats, and any other small tasty animals. Treehugger though, believes that these coyotes are actually part of the Urban Coyote Ecology and Management project, run out of Cook County:

As far as a coyote being released on purpose to eat up rodents… well, that’s probably more a tactic to keep city residents calm about their furry neighbors. Instead, the animals-as-pest-control is likely more a happy side effect of letting the coyotes do their thing to find out more about them.

The program is supposed to be monitoring the animals and how they fare within city limits. About 250 coyotes in the area have been radio-tagged and are being monitored, according to the Urban Coyote website:

Originally known as ghosts of the plains, coyotes have now become ghosts of the cities, occasionally heard but rarely seen. Although a relatively recent phenomenon, coyotes have become the top carnivores in an increasing number of metropolitan areas across North America. This includes one of the largest urban centers in the Midwest — the Chicago metropolitan region. However, compared to other urban wildlife, we know very little about how coyotes are becoming successful in landscapes dominated by people.

With human urban areas continually encroaching on wildlife habitats, this becomes an important field of study. Last year, Chicago Breaking News reports, a coyote had taken up residence in a park in Chicago and had to be removed after becoming accustomed to people’s handouts. And there has already been coyote roadkill in Chicago.

Related content:
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Discoblog: Citizen Scientists Take Charge of California’s Roadkill
80beats: Are Wolves Interbreeding Themselves to Extinction?
Gene Expression: Coywolves; hybrid wolf-coyotes in New England?
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Bone-crushing super-wolf went extinct during last Ice Age
Not Exactly Rocket Science: City mockingbirds can tell the difference between individual people

Image: Urban Coyote Ecology and Management, Video: WGN-9

  • Dave

    I mentioned on another blog, we have TONS of them in the Chicagoland area. Obviously most of them are around the ORD ground and forest preserves. Word was, and I don’t know if it’s true, that it was part of an effort to control our deer population issues. For years now you see them wandering around in our residential areas… especially if you live within a couple miles of a forest preserve.

    That said we don’t really have any issues with them aside from them occasionally killing neighborhood cats and dogs.

  • http://www.marklaflamme.com Mark LaFlamme

    Is this made up? I get visions of the coyote stopping at the Acme store to buy new gadgets with which to trick his prey.

    Mark LaFlamme
    Author of “Box of Lies”

  • Lauren R

    This is not made up, we see them frequently just south of the loop, they go up and down the rail lines (Metra, Amtrak, etc.).

  • marti williams

    They are becoming more frequently seen in a lot of urban areas. They are great scavengers…and we provide a lot of food to scavenge….

  • Jennifer Guinn

    So, we are euthanizing cats (who don’t kill other pets, but do kill rodents) left and right, especially in urban areas, and we are then adding coyotes? What, are they supposed to take care of the cat and dog overpopulation? What do we do when THEY overpopulate from all the easy pickings of domestic cats and dogs? Which is more likely to carry rabies, cats/dogs or coyotes. I don’t have anything against coyotes per se, but I wonder what is the real motivation behind introducing them to urban areas. I mean, there are many other species of animals that have alot harder time with their habitat being taken by humans, like foxes, just to name one.

    • Smart

      COYOTES HAVE NOT BEEN INTRODUCED. Coyote populations have undergone very natural and large scale RANGE EXPANSION. There is a large study going on in chicago, famous actually, if you live there you really should know about it.

  • Paul

    People would be surprised at what wildlife lurk within our cities. I used to work for the railroad. Some railroad tracks cutting through the center of cities are little more than a strip of isolated wilderness winding the asphalt jungle. I have taken trains into Chicago and St Louis. I saw raccoons, foxes, opossums, hawks and other wildlife that people think only live in the country.

  • Pyre


    Uh, cats don’t kill rodents in large amounts while coyotes do. Granted, a large amount of feral cats would decimate bird populations, so I guess if you don’t like birds and prefer to allow our large population of rats to continue, then by all means. Coyotes are many times more efficient killers of rodents. You must have missed the part where the population is radio-collared and controlled. Like any other non-native population, there is always the dark side of control (Relocation, killing, if necessary). Foxes are a terrible example of habitat loss. They readily adapt to new environments and human suburb style settings are actually a huge breeding area for foxes. As far as rabies goes, any unvaccinated animal is as likely to have rabies as another. Around Chicago, skunks are the primary carriers, so I wouldn’t worry about a rabies outbreak in the middle of the city.

    Please learn basic facts about animals

  • sherparick

    Well, this another good argument for keeping your keeping your cat in, espescially at night and not letting your dog run loose.

    Actually, although the population has now gotten so large that coyotes have become quite noticeable, they moved into the Chicago area a generation ago. I remember visiting a friend in Lake County whos subdivision had cornfield (now of course itself sub-divided) in the late 1980s and watching coyotes come out in the field in the moonlight.

    Coyotes tend to suppress the population of foxes, raccoons, and feral cats, since they will feed on them as well as rats. Significantly, they will also prey on fawns and adult deer weakened by disease and malnutrition, which is useful. And the deer population in the Chicago metro region, as it is most places (even where hunting is allowed) is close to or exceeds the carrying capacity of the local environment.

    In Germany they have a practice of leaving out bait with anti-rabies vaccines for foxes and it has been useful innoculating the population and reducing the incidence of rabies. Something we should do here because even without coyotes, raccoons, foxes, rabbits, cats, feral dogs, etc. all can carry rabies and all live in close proximity to humans in the urban/suburban jungle.

    Also, lets be realistic, both coyotes and mountain lions (who are also spreading into populated areas), are a danger to humans, particularly if they lose their fear of us. We might think we are something special and the Apple of creation’s eye, but to the rest of the animal life on this planet were are either a threat or prey, and large amount of protein in a convenient package.

  • debbeamon

    Coyotes have long lived/lurked outside our urban areas (at least 40 years in my personal experience), just because of human encroachment, their loss of habitat. That anyone thinks coyotes (or wolves or really, dogs for that matter) can be let off their leashes and do our bidding is laughable. Remember the Starling? Remember all the other species we have thought it would be beneficial to introduce into areas not their native ones? Do we really need to go there, with all that’s going on? The coyote is the “trickster” in many Native American tribes’ beliefs. I happen to revere coyotes, but there’s a reason they’re called “tricksters”, and they’ll suffer and die there, but finally have the last laugh on Chicago.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.trowbridge Dave Trowbridge

    Pyre’s (#7) point about bird populations is worth emphasizing. A 1999 study in San Diego found a correlation (positive) between coyote and bird populations, due to the reduction of the feral cat population.

    “The study also found that in small canyons where the coyote was absent, there was an increase in mid-sized predators such as cats, and a drastic decline in diversity or elimination of scrub-breeding birds. But in the larger canyons where coyotes were still present, the
    scrub-breeding birds were also present.”

    Also, Google “mesopredator” and “apex predator” for more related to this.

  • sharon, israel

    If you did not kill the cats you would not have any problems with mice. The problem is that the Chicago people are stupid and cruel. Cats make mice go away and add beauty to any city.

  • mari

    I don’t have a ready opinion/answer to this coyote introduction in cities per se although it appears they are already there, albeit on the outskirts.

    However, coyotes are vectors for giardia (a parasite passed through fecal contamination of water) in the Western portion of our country. A friend in Montana caught it twice – every camper there knows to boil stream water etc.

    Now, on the East Coast urban foxes carry giardia according to my vet who said he sees 6-7 new cases of giardia in dogs in his practice per week. Why do I bother to mention this??? Last winter I came down with giardia from unknown sources. I had to research the symptoms on the internet, go to my GI doc, ask for a test (he thought I was nuts until the test results came back positive).

    Just one more possible public health problem from the introduction of coyotes, although rats are probably (ugh) a bigger problem.

  • Jonathan

    I attended a presentation on urban coyotes given by Chris Anchor, Wildlife Biologist, Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Chris has worked with the coyote population in Cook County for many years.

    I would like to contribute a few items for consideration. Several posters have made statements that are misleading or downright wrong. I would encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to visit the website at the bottom of this message.

    1. The idea that coyotes were INTRODUCED to the Chicago Metropolitan Area to control the rodent/mice/deer population…is downright silly. There is no need to INTRODUCE these animals–they subside in Chicago, have subsided in Chicago for many years, and will continue to be part of the urban fabric into the forseeable future. They do not need us to introduce them to Urban environments; they choose–and have the skills–to thrive here. Anyone who has an opportunity to look at maps of radio-collared coyotes (see link below) will be stunned by the number of coyotes in the CMA and their habitat. (Chicago residents: There is probably a coyote on your property as you read this message. If coyotes can survive around the drainage basin at the Schaumberg IKEA, they can probably make it in your neighborhood.)

    2. That said, the ubiquity of the coyote population in the CMA should demonstrate that coyotes and humans (and their pets) live side-by-side comfortably. The idea that coyotes will eat humans is bilgewater. On the contrary, 99% of coyotes are afraid of humans; it’s the 1% that is intentionally fed by the local ignoramous that ends up biting said ignoramus. If you do not leave food outside and shield your compost pile you (and your pet/small child) will probably be fine. You are more likely to be bit by a stray dog or cat than by a coyote.

    3. Coyote do not control the deer population–they cannot take down deer. While they do attack fawns (and slow down the deer population a bit), they are not the wolves you’ve seen on the Discovery Channel. In contrast, it is true that coyotes have dramatically altered the range and number of red fox living in the Chicago area. For further reading, please see:
    http://urbancoyoteresearch.com/index.htm or http://urbancoyoteresearch.com/UrbanCoyoteManagementPDF.pdf Happy reading.

  • Bruce in Denver


    I grew up on a farm in western Iowa, and farmers who kept several cats around the farm, always had much less of a rodent problem getting into their granaries. So cats who are not pampered house pets will catch plenty of rats and mice. I’ve observed it for myself. I have a farm cat from Iowa at my home in east Denver Colorado in a dense urban neighborhood since this last summer. He’s brought in more dead mice from outside than birds. (He’s also killed a few juvenile rabbits too) So even though I like the idea of GPS tagging coyote’s so their urban setting behavior can be tracked and studied closer, I do not buy into the nonsense that increasing coyote populations is necessary to reduce the rodent population in urban areas. Coyote’s will go for the easier prey first, abandoned house cats and small dogs every time.

  • Bruce in Denver

    #14 Jonathon.

    Thanks for providing that good information about coyotes. There have been enough Wolf and Mountain Lion introduction programs in several western states, that it’s easy for people to just assume, coyote introduction is going on in the Chicago area also. You’re right about the deer too. Hell, in Iowa, the Mountain Lions introduced into the state won’t even hunt deer, they go for the rural farmers pet dogs and cats instead! So more deer-auto accidents every year, AND if you’re a farmer, you have to keep a pack of hounds instead of just one or two dogs.

  • Robert

    I recommend the idiot releasing these coyotes into populated areas and saying “He’s not going to pick up your children” go read this website: http://varmintal.com/attac.htm

    It documents numerous attacks on children and even deaths from coyotes.

  • Mike

    I used to Live in Chicago near the Argyle L Stop until the summer of ’04 and my apartment backed onto a graveyeardwhere I observed/heard a fairly large and active pack of coyotes ( I know they typically aren’t “pack” animals the way wolves are, but there were somewhere between 6 and a dozen visible together and apparently cooperating from time to time) between those guys and the falcons nesting in the eaves of the old Uptown theatre down the street, I never saw a single rat in a neighborhood overflowing with restaurants and the kinds of rat-attractive trash they tend to make

  • Burnsy

    Don’t worry, Chicago is prepared for this. They’ve lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on coyote meat. And when wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

  • Jerry

    Please people, think of the roadrunners.

  • Different Mike

    “If you did not kill the cats you would not have any problems with mice. The problem is that the Chicago people are stupid and cruel. Cats make mice go away and add beauty to any city.”

    Are you kidding? You must of not have seen many feral cats. “Add beauty to any city” lol OK cat lady.

    How are Chicago people stupid and cruel for having Coyotes? How are these cats any different? How are Coyotes any more dangerous than the coon and possums that we already have in the area? I’ve seen rabid racoons infect many dogs in my area of Chicago to where they had to be put down…. how are Coyotes any worse than that?

    I think these Coyotes are fine, i’ve seen them around my neighborhood and nobody has had any problems with them that we havn’t had already with the other animals in the area. If you can’t watch your pets or let cats roam the neighborhood its your own fault for not paying attention if they attack it as there is already PLENTY of danger before Coyotes returned to this area.

  • john

    Why they are doing this intro and other wildlife intro’s is so we can eliminate hunting then eliminate gun use. Why would you need a gun if the animals are keeping themselves under control-not over populating per say.
    the us goverment thinks they have the “answer” to controling animals, diseases, people. But nature always is smarter and unpredictable. Here in Colorado, western slope, a friend witnessed the divsion of wildlife killing hundreds of Elk because one elk in the herd had wastings (spelling?) disease. Now why would you kill all animals in the herd when some probably would not get the disease therefore the good genes wouldn’t be passed on to better the Elk populations. Humans think they are “God all Mighty!”

  • Willie

    And just how many have been dispatched to the neighborhood where that rat Rahm Emmanuel now resides?

    And, they’ll need a few dozen more when Axelrod gets back to Chitown.

  • davefromoregon

    Out here, we have lots of coyotes in the city, no rats, and lots of lost cat signs. As someone mentioned, they have adapted to people over the years.

  • Pyre

    Don’t forget while you’re wondering how much of a danger coyotes are that pet and stray dogs tend to injure and kill more people per year, and these are the kind that we keep in the house.

    25 fatal dog attacks so far in 2010. Good thing we don’t keep coyotes in our houses.

    #16. 2 people in the history of record keeping as a fatal attack from a coyote. Perhaps we should re-evaluate what kind of pets we keep.

  • Timfromtexas

    No, they are the future human population control experiment. With humans multiplying like rabbits and rodents and the country turning into a police state, they will be a great weapon in crowd and population control

  • Hal P.

    I agree with #19.
    The collars should have sound effects of the Road Runner blasting away from the Wiley one.

  • Jennifer Welsh

    Hi all,

    Glad to see we’ve started a little discussion here. I want to thank #13 Johnathan for re-iterating some of the important points I made in the actual article. The funny part was that the animal control claimed that they were introduced on purpose, while that just isn’t true!

    The animals ARE a part of the Urban Coyote Ecology and Management project, as both Johnathan and I mentioned, and they were already in the cities and suburbs. By tracking them, we get a better idea of where they range, which would hopefully help us keep an eye out for areas where keeping a pet outside might not be a great idea. Each coyote has a specific territory, so it’s easy to know where they are likely to be.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, all!


  • A. Lurker

    Props to you in Chicago! Our neighborhood here in Denver has at least one coyote and we have lots of foxes; mice in the garage are a thing of the past and they’re beautiful animals to live with. High order predators are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

    The Loop is a richer place for having invited the World back in. Keep it going. (Gosh, how I miss that town.)

  • Alan F.

    I live within sight of Los Angeles City Hall and occasionally see coyotes on my morning walks or at dusk. My neighbor across the street just gave me a photo of one in the vacant lot next to my house.

    While they do kill the occasional small dog (which we call “coyote bait”) or cat, they also do an excellent job of keeping the opossum population under control. They were here first, and I am happy to share my neighborhood with them.

  • Wile. E. Coyote

    As a coyote, I’m getting a kick out of these replies. Seriously, we coyotes are native to north America, not an introduced species, and we take pretty good care of our ecosystems. We hunt rats and mice, possum and raccoon, without mercy. We also take out feral cats and rabbits, both species introduced to this country, both doing enormous damage if not controlled. We do not eat the songbirds out of bushes and trees. We will kill smaller dogs but as a service to all. Their yipping is offensive. As for humans, you neither taste nice, nor do we have the capacity for swallowing you whole, which is the whole joy of little rodents. Hmm, crunchy. You should watch out for your own dogs, half wolf, and evolved to roam in packs and take much larger prey than us coyotes.

  • http://globalglassonion.blogspot.com/ rjs

    someone’s going to learn some lessons about unintended consequences…they’re a real problem in NE ohio; killing a number of puppies & cats; i had 6 of my cats taken by coyotes over the past 2 years…

  • Marion

    @ 31 — Keep the cats inside, I don’t want your mangy feline crapping in my yard and yowling all night.

  • Toothen Klaw

    Why not up the ante and bring in some wolves from Upper Michigan and Minnesota?

  • hahaha

    The legacy of daley …

  • Bonbon57

    Introducing wildlife into urban areas? Really? Excuse me, weren’t the animals here first? Urban wildlife is essential to our eco-system. If you don’t want them around you control the feed source. Urban wildlife only thrive where there is a good food source.

  • HP

    (Late to the party.)

    Just in the last few years, I’ve seen plenty of coyotes (and signs of coyotes) in suburban Cincinnati and southwest Ohio valley. Unfortunately, most of the coyotes I’ve seen have been reduced to bloody smears along the side of the Interstate, but I have seen a few actively hunting, especially after a snowfall at dusk.

    Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the reintroduction of the “painter” (i.e. Puma concolor ssp.) that once ruled the Ohio Valley. The urban deer are out of control, and there’s no way to reasonably cull deer that live in urban and suburban areas.

    As a long-time cat owner and ailurophile, I must say that there are plenty of reasons to keep your cats indoors at all times, and coyotes are way down the list. I’m confident that the primary predator of outdoor domestic cats is still the deadly Five-Door Hatchback. Keeping cats indoors will automatically add five years to their life — more, if you give them plenty of exercise and play time.

  • http://www.coyoterescue.org Mama coyote

    I get so tired of people yelling “rabies” in the same breath as coyotes. Please read this 2008 study on rabies. http://www.coyoterescue.org/JAVMA-rabies.pdf

  • http://www.lioneltrainssets.com Jonh Constanteik

    Lionel may be a name in design trains for a long period.They’ve a lot of several dimensions and styles for everyone. Along with the company dating again on the early 1900’s, they may be nevertheless a widely used selection for a lot of. They’ve had their share of problems, nevertheless they are still here and here to stay.

  • plutosdad

    Wow I was just thinking about this (I live in Chicago). I saw a hawk carrying a pigeon out my back door recently, and was wondering if we should import cats to eliminate the rats.

    I’ve read Moscow is overrun with wild dogs, and they like having them because they keep the rats down. Which is weird because there are signs all over here saying to pick up after your dog because the feces attracts rats.


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