Ask A Scientist: Coyotes in the Trash Cans

Backyard Coyote asks, “Is it bad that coyotes are eating out of my trash cans?

What a great question, Backyard Coyote! Coyotes are omnivores, which means they like to eat both animals and plants. They are also what scientists call “generalists,” which means that they are NOT picky eaters! Coyotes like to eat all sorts of foods like rats, gophers, birds, and fruits, but that doesn’t mean that the food we put in our trash cans is good for them. Some coyotes like to pick out leftovers from our garbage cans because it’s less work than hunting a gopher. But while gophers have all sorts of nutrients that keep coyotes healthy, our leftovers don’t have the good stuff that keeps wild coyotes in good shape. Actually, our garbage can sometimes make wild animals sick because it has bad stuff like toxins, mold, and bacteria. Also, if coyotes learn that they can find easy treats near people’s yards and homes, they might begin to associate people with food, which makes them less afraid of us. This can sometimes lead to scary interactions between people and these usually peaceful wild animals. If you see coyotes eating your garbage, you can help them out by better securing your trash cans: keep garbage cans closed and don’t put trash out where it is easily accessible to wildlife until the night before garbage pick-up day. Though we may think that coyotes eat our trash because they are hungry, I promise you that they are INCREDIBLE hunters. Thanks so much for looking out for the coyotes!

-Tali, the coyote scientist

Tali Caspi is a PhD student in the Ecology Graduate Group at UC Davis. She is studying the behavioral ecology of urban coyotes in San Francisco.

Main image [provided by Tali Caspi]: A coyote is leaping in the air to pounce on some prey.

Want to learn more? Check out this article from the National Geographic to learn more about why you probably shouldn’t feed wildlife.

If you have any questions about animals for our scientists, you can submit them here.

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