Coyotes in Cook County

A coyote at Yankee Woods.

Coyotes inhabit virtually every available territory in Cook County, so most of us have a coyote neighbor—even if we haven’t seen it yet. Learn more about how we can live with and appreciate this wild creature in Cook County.

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Frequently Asked Questions

I heard that the coyote population in the Chicago region is rapidly increasing. Is this true?

Although we occasionally hear reports in the media of recent population “explosions” or “coyote invasions,” residents of Cook County have been living with coyotes for many years.

Researchers believe that the coyote population in the Chicago region rose dramatically during the 1980s and has remained relatively steady since then.

Coyotes originally came to the region from the western deserts and plains sometime after 1700. During the 19th century, they were eliminated locally, mainly due to loss of habitat. In the late 20th century, coyotes returned. The “clever coyote” proved adaptable to the urbanizing landscape, and by 1990 occupied the entire landscape.

How many coyotes are there in Cook County?

In 2012, the coyote population in Cook County was in the low thousands.

Where are coyotes most likely to be found?

Coyotes live all across Cook County, in rural, suburban and urban sections. They even live in the most developed parts of the city of Chicago.

According to the Cook County Coyote Project, some coyotes spend the majority of their lives within large natural areas, while others meet their needs by using several smaller, marginal green spaces in and around developed residential, industrial and business areas. In both cases, coyotes tend to avoid areas of active human presence as much as possible.

Although generally preferring open areas, the flexible coyote readily crosses between woodland, wetland, savanna and prairie habitats.

What should I do if I see a coyote? What if a coyote is following me?

If you see one, whether in a natural area or trotting down your street, remember that this is a wild expression of our local ecosystem. As coyotes spend 25 to 30 percent of their day hunting or traveling, it is most likely looking for food or moving from one area to another.

Occasionally, a coyote may appear to “check you out.” Coyotes have some natural curiosity, but unless they have been habituated to humans, they will want to keep a good distance. If one does begin to approach closer than you want it to, don’t run. Instead, yell, put your arms above your head to look large, throw objects in its direction or wave a stick in the air. Again, most coyotes prefer to avoid conflict at all costs—conflicts and injuries are drains on energy that can threaten an animal’s survival—so this will send nearly all coyotes on their way.

During breeding and pup season (February to July) coyotes may become more territorial. In April, female coyotes find or dig dens to raise their pups. While coyotes prefer secluded sites, many urban coyotes have less choice and may inhabit dens in areas frequented by humans. After pups are born, the parents will keep careful watch to prevent predators from gaining access to the den site.

If you happen to come near the den site, a coyote may follow you to attempt to escort you out of the area. If a coyote continues to follow you, don’t run. Leave the area in a calm manner while doing your best to maintain eye contact and a confident posture. If coyotes encounter humans frequently around their den site they will often move the pups to a more secluded den, resolving the issue.

If a coyote does not move on and there is an immediate safety threat, call 911. You can report non-emergency encounters to 708-771-1180 or 708-771-1335.

Are coyotes a threat to humans? What about my young children?

Coyotes are generally wary of humans and prefer to keep their distance. Although some coyotes use areas around human development such as train tracks, electrical rights-of-way, cemeteries, and parks, the vast majority strongly avoid areas of active human presence. People should nonetheless remain alert if any wild animal is suspected to be near and take reasonable measures to ensure their safety.

Between 1960 and 2006, there were 159 reported coyote bites to humans across North America, according to a 2009 study by Lynsey White and Stan Gehrt. To put this in perspective, in 2012 there were 5,000 reported bites to humans by domestic dogs in Cook County alone. There were 4,500 in 2011.

Young children playing outdoors should be carefully supervised at all times, regardless of the presence of coyotes. Guardians should take common-sense precautions.

I just heard that a coyote attacked someone’s dog. Are they a threat to mine?

Reports of coyotes attacking dogs do appear every few months. Some of these reports may be due to incorrect identification of the animal, yet coyote attacks on pets have been confirmed. According to the Cook County Coyote Project, between 1990 and 2004, the number of attacks in Cook County is believed to have increased from 0–2 per year to 14–16 per year. Researchers believe this increased frequency may be due to higher coyote populations since the 1980s and increased habituation to humans, particularly by those coyotes that are fed.

Coyotes, like all species of the dog family, can be intensely territorial, especially during  breeding season in February and March. A coyote will defend its territory against any other canine it determines to be encroaching, particularly if the animal is smaller, such as a fox or small pet dog. The coyote may attempt to scare off, injure or kill the pet.

Supervise dogs and cats outdoors, and consider keeping them indoors if you suspect a coyote has begun to use your neighborhood.

What should I do if a coyote approaches when I’m walking my dog?

It’s important to be aware of your surroundings any time, especially if you suspect a wild animal may be present. If you see a coyote in the distance, try to avoid a direct encounter. Without running, move away, keeping an eye on the animal.

If the coyote continues to approach, yell, raise your arms above your head to look bigger and throw objects in the coyote’s direction. If ineffective, seek shelter in a safe place such as a car, house or yard with high fence.

It may be beneficial to consider a different dog-walking route, especially during February and March. If you’re concerned about a known coyote in your area, consider carrying mace, a walking stick or a golf club.

Couldn’t we just get rid of coyotes? Do they really belong in an urban area?

Coyotes have been a part of North American ecosystems for thousands of years. They’re as much a part of our landscape as oak trees, woodland sunflowers, white-tailed deer and red-tailed hawks. With the local extinction of wolves, bears and cougars, coyotes are now our sole large resident carnivore, our apex predator. They play a vital role in controlling populations of small animals such as rats, squirrels, mice, voles and even Canada geese.

On occasion, problem coyotes do have to be trapped or killed by licensed animal control experts. Usually, coyotes only become a problem after becoming accustomed to human sources of food, or if the animal is harassed, cornered or sick. In most attacks, coyotes were believed to have been fed by humans prior to the confrontation. This is when the greatest amount of conflict can occur.

Even when coyotes are removed from an area, they are usually soon replaced by a solitary coyote looking for a territory.

What should I do about a problem coyote? Can I address the nuisance myself?

First, be sure you actually have a “problem” coyote. Simply seeing a coyote does not make it a problem. An essential component of our landscape, most coyotes in Cook County live conflict-free with humans. Most of us don’t even notice they are there.

If a coyote appears to be losing its wariness, has approached too close for comfort or has actually come into conflict with a pet or person, residents should contact their local police.

Do not attempt to deal with a problem coyote yourself. The hunting or trapping of a coyote requires experience and a license and permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

How can I keep coyotes away from my property?

The best thing you can do to keep your property coyote-free is to not feed them for any reason. Remove any food source that might attract them, such as bags or bowls of pet food. Clean up around or remove messy bird feeders and keep trash secured and unavailable.

Supervise dogs and cats outdoors, and consider keeping them indoors if you suspect a coyote has begun to use your neighborhood.

Although coyote deterrents are available, their ultimate effectiveness has yet to be proven.

A high fence may help deter a coyote, but coyotes are good diggers and jumpers. Any fence should be at least four to six feet, reach deep into the ground and have a roll bar on top. A covered dog run may provide even more security than a fence.

Who can I contract to report a problem coyote?

If in immediate danger, call 911. You can report non-emergency encounters to 708-771-1180 or 708-771-1335. To learn more about coyote behavior, visit the Urban Coyote Research Project website.

How can we best coexist with coyotes?

Humans share this landscape with many wild and wooly animal species, including coyotes. While this can occasionally bring challenges, having such rich animal life contributes in countless ways to the function of the local ecosystem, the character of our county and our quality of life.

A few practical steps we can take to coexist with coyotes:

  • Remove food from outdoor settings that might attract coyotes, including pet food, bird food, and cleaning and putting away the grill at night.
  • Respect coyotes as wild animals by not feeding or otherwise attempting to befriend or tame them.
  • Support preservation of natural habitat.

Where can I learn more about Cook County’s coyotes?

For a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what life is really like for our urban coyotes, visit the Urban Coyote Research Project website. A collaboration between the Forest Preserves of Cook County, Ohio State University, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and the Cook County Animal and Rabies Control Agency, the project is the largest and longest running study on coyotes in the United States.

To learn more about Cook County coyote ecology, from behavior to diet to land use, visit the FPDCC’s research page.

For practical, first-hand advice about living not only with coyotes but many other wild creatures, visit the Illinois Department of Natural Resource’s Wildlife Illinois website.

a coyote pup waiting for its health work up as part of the Urban Coyote Research Project
A coyote pup waits for its health work up as part of the Urban Coyote Research Project.

Urban Coyote Research Project

Urban Coyote Research Project is a partnership between the Forest Preserves, Cook County Animal & Rabies Control, Max McGraw Wildlife Foundation and The Ohio State University.

The Cook County Coyote Project is a comprehensive study of coyotes in Chicago metropolitan areas. Also known as the Urban Coyote Research Program, the study was initiated in 2000 as a non-biased attempt to address shortcomings in urban coyote ecology information and management; the Coyote Project is still underway. With the help of many key agencies, a continuous subset of coyotes is live-captured, collared, and released at their capture site. Coyotes are monitored to understand how they live in urban areas and how they interact with other wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. 

Urban Coyote Research Project Website

Coyote Facts

  • Coyotes inhabit virtually every available territory in Cook County, so most of us have a coyote neighbor, even if we haven’t seen it yet.
  • One coyote was tracked traveling more than 300 miles.
  • Coyotes have strong family bonds. Pairs typically mate for life, and our Cook County coyotes are particularly known for their fidelity.
  • Coyotes generally use dens only to raise young. Otherwise, they sleep above ground.
  • Coyotes can sometimes be heard howling and yipping in response to emergency truck sirens.
  • Vehicle collision is the top cause of death for coyotes in Cook County.
  • While typically classified as carnivores, coyotes can eat just about anything. One study of 1,429 scats (droppings) found remains of animals such as small rodents (42%), white-tailed deer (22%) and birds (13%), but also fruit (23%), and grass (6%).
  • Coyotes in Cook County and other urban areas are mostly nocturnal (active at night), while rural coyotes tend to be active during the daytime and around dawn and dusk. This may be an adaptive strategy to avoid confrontation with humans.