It’s a big week for Chicago coyotes.
First, a couple of the wild animals were caught dashing through the snow in Lakeview late Monday night (video below) by YouTube user Cody Sykes, who described what she saw to RedEye on Tuesday.
More of the opportunistic, largely nocturnal mammals living in the Chicago area will be featured on the small screen Wednesday. That’s when PBS’ “Nature” series kicks off its new season with “Meet the Coywolf” at 8 p.m. on WTTW-Channel 11.
“Meet the Coywolf” focuses on a relatively new hybrid species — a mix of western coyote and eastern wolf — that’s been spreading across North America at a fast clip, slipping into cities like Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York. Scientists say it’s one of the most adaptable mammals in the world. An increasing number of coywolves share the same environs as city-dwellers, but most people are oblivious to their existence, let alone their proximity.
While coywolves haven’t set up shop (yet) in Chicago, coyotes have. The hour-long PBS program also looks at coyotes surviving and thriving in the Chicago region, where their numbers are estimated to total at least 2,000.
Ohio State University biologist Stan Gehrt and his team have been tracking radio-collared coyotes from downtown Chicago to the suburbs for a dozen years. They’ve learned that coyotes take great pains to keep their dens secret to protect their young. They’ve evolved to be larger than their ancestors and they seem to do well in urban settings (which, of course, are blissfully free of their predators, wolves). Some Chicago coyotes are living up to four times longer than coyotes in rural areas.
“People should be aware of coyotes living among them so that they don’t do things to create conflicts (such as leave food out for coyotes, or even intentionally feed them, don’t let dogs run off leash in forest preserves, how to act when encountering a coyote, etc.),” Gehrt said Tuesday in an interview over email. “Overall, conflicts with coyotes are relatively rare, and they provide more benefits for us than costs. They pose a low risk for people, and in the case of cities, most ‘attacks’ on people have occurred from people feeding them and subsequently creating more bold animals.”
I asked Gehrt if there’s ever been a coywolf spotted in the Chicago region.
“Hard to tell, as you cannot identify ‘coywolves’ by sight, only genetically,” he said. “A misperception by the public (and biologists) are that these animals are distinctly different from ‘pure’ coyotes, but they aren’t. That is because the wolf component is only a very small part of their genetics. That is why many scientists (me included) feel the term ‘coywolf’ is misleading because it implies an equal mixture of coyote-wolf, but there isn’t. Getting back to the question, it is unlikely we have ‘coywolves’ in the Chicago area because they are primarily found east of the Great Lakes.”
After Wednesday’s broadcast of “Meet the Coywolf,” the episode can be streamed online at pbs.org/nature.
Chicago coyotes caught on video by a YouTube user:
A brief video about the origins of the coywolf, from “Meet the Coywolf,” 7 p.m. Wednesday on WTTW-Channel 11.