The Coyotes of Eliza Howell Park: There Is More to Learn

While I have not previously posted a report on the Coyotes present in Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park, I have long been aware of that presence.

Because they are largely (though not exclusively) nocturnal in urban areas and because they are wary of humans, my direct visual observations have been relatively infrequent. And I have been hesitant to write about them without accompanying photos.

Thanks to the generosity of Kevin Murphy, a wildlife photographer with an interest in Coyotes and a frequent visitor to Eliza Howell Park, I now have access to some Coyote photos from the park.

Photo by Kevin Murphy

Since 1900, Coyotes have expanded their range in all directions and are now found in all parts of the U.S. In addition, they are now becoming increasingly common in urban and suburban areas, often in parks. They are in every county of Michigan.

(This map, showing their expanding range, is taken from “Mapping the Expansion of Coyotes,” by Hody and Kays, in ZooKeys, in 2018.)

Coyotes are usually thought of as carnivores, and they are. Small mammals typically make up a significant part of their diet. But they also eat carrion (dead animals), some insects (such as grasshoppers), as well as fruits and berries. Perhaps they should be thought of as omnivores.

It is difficult to know how many reside in or visit Eliza Howell Park. While Coyotes are social (connected loosely in small packs), they usually hunt individually. When spotting one, it is difficult to know whether I am seeing the same one or a different one compared to a previous sighting.

Sometimes two are seen together.

Photo by Kevin Murphy

And sometimes the difference in coloring is obvious.

Photo by Kevin Murphy
Photo by Kevin Murphy

It seems probable that several different adults live in the park (or visit the park.)

Following every snowfall, their fresh tracks are obvious. They seem to have regular routes that they travel at night, but their tracks can be seen in many other places as well.

Most of the knowledge of Coyote behavior that has been published over the decades has come from studies done in more rural environments. Their spread through the country and their increasing presence in urban areas suggests great adaptability. It is reasonable to wonder whether their behavior and their diet may be a little different for urban members of the species.

Eliza Howell Park is one of the Detroit parks included in a project designed to provide a better understanding of urban wildlife. Using motion-activated cameras with “night vision,” this study is providing additional information on the presence of Coyotes and other wildlife. Below is the “posted” sign that has been placed in Eliza Howell Park to alert people to the use of hidden cameras.

The Applied Wildlife Ecology Lab is headed by Dr. Nyeema Harris of Yale University.

A future phase of the project, as I understand it, involves tracking individual Coyotes in order to obtain better information on where they travel in their hunting and other activities.

Coyotes have clearly established themselves in Eliza Howell Park. Spotting these attractive canines is a great experience…

Photo by Kevin Murphy

… an experience that leaves me wanting to learn more about their place in the totality of the fauna and flora of Eliza Howell Park.

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