How do coyotes get feral cats when cats can climb trees?
May 29, 2013 7:46 AM   Subscribe

At about nine this morning my reading was punctuated by the loud flapping of huge wings in our back yard. When I arrived at the slider I saw a coyote in the middle of our yard staring at the bird on our roof. The feral cat we've been feeding was on our deck staring at the coyote. The coyote noticed me and did that thing dogs do with their front legs when they want to be chased in play then bounded off to the woods or field. Comically, the cat instinctively moved to chase the coyote before she realized herself and came over to drink the water we maintain for birds. I fed her then went online to learn what time of the day coyotes typically hunt. I found the quote below in Wikipedia and wonder how coyotes take cats when the cats can climb trees. There are fewer trees in California while here we have trees everywhere, apart from yards and fields. Is that it? "At one location in Southern California, coyotes began relying on a colony of feral cats as a food source. Over time, the coyotes killed most of the cats, and then continued to eat the cat food placed daily at the colony site by people who were maintaining the cat colony."
posted by R2WeTwo to Pets & Animals (16 answers total)
How fast is cat vs coyote? I assume they run them down & or tire them out if hunting solo.
posted by tilde at 7:48 AM on May 29, 2013

Well, they catch chickens while the chickens are asleep.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:57 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, how do cats kill birds when birds can fly?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:07 AM on May 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

It's sort of a question of persistence hunting. Dogs and cats are different types of hunters. Cats are more for short distance, enormous bouts of speed (sprinters), whereas dogs have more endurance (runners). So a dog might lose a cat during the chase, but that's why they have the nose (a dog's primary sense, as important as vision is to most humans)... They can just follow the scent at full speed until the cat is exhausted. Yeah, if there is a tree then things could go better for the cat, but I'll bet the dog is so close to the cat that the cats decide that presenting themselves at mouth level, while climbing the tree, would be a bad idea.
posted by jwells at 8:16 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I assume they sneak up on them, tyler, but cat's have keen hearing and it's hard to imagine a coyote sneaking up on one for very long.
posted by R2WeTwo at 8:41 AM on May 29, 2013

In my experience, while cats can and sometimes do climb trees, they certainly don't consider themselves tree-dwellers and hence a tree is usually not their first line of escape. Combine that with the fact that coyotes are faster than cats.
posted by drlith at 8:43 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you watch the nature shows, cats get a little skittish when they are being chased. They also don't like to run for a long time. The dogs, being more persistent, will just keep following the cat until it makes a mistake. Depending on the timing of the chase, the time it takes to slow down and jump up into a tree might be enough for the dog to catch them.
posted by gjc at 8:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coyotes often hunt in pairs: the coyote the prey sees and the coyote the prey does not see until it's too late.
posted by jamaro at 9:00 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Think, too, about the fact that sometimes an animal will make the wrong decision when trying to evade a predator. Just this weekend my dog snagged a bird out of the air while on a VERY short leash - the bird had been hiding (unbeknownst to us) in long grass right off of the trail we were on, must have tried hunkering down but at the very last minute decided to fly away ... and canids have really fast reflexes when faced with something on the run. If that bird had stayed put in the grass OR flown off a second earlier, it would have been fine.

This is just speculation, but I would imagine the same sort of thing can happen with cats, where they feel threatened and either hunch down or try to puff themselves up and stand their ground until they've let the coyote get too close.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid my dog caught and killed a feral cat just by being quicker. A coyote is certainly going to be faster than a pet dog.
posted by anadem at 9:23 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Coyotes got mad hops too.

My parents' small dogs survived a coyote encounter in their suburban Phoenix backyard. This is a completely enclosed backyard with a six-foot block fence. No one saw the coyote get in, but when my mom ran out into the yard, she saw the coyote jump up on top of the block fence like it was nothing.
posted by mullacc at 9:36 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well that does explain it. Thanks, everybody!

Btw, I learned that the bird in the party was a bald eagle. My Native American heritage is tingling!
posted by R2WeTwo at 9:48 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coyotes are very clever at acting playful with dogs, trying to lead them to come away from the house and into the woods, where of course they will be killed by the pack. Strange to see that behavior with a cat, but I imagine that any warm animal will do.
posted by yclipse at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Domestic cats are very stupid as mammals go*. Smarter than a snowbank but not much. Dogs can easily catch cats if they want to, in my experience and coyotes are much smarter than dogs. Catching a cat is a pretty trivial task for them.

*I realise everyone here has an exceptionally intelligent cat.
posted by fshgrl at 1:57 PM on May 29, 2013

As mentioned above, coyotes often hunt in pairs or in packs using a "relay" strategy: they position themselves strategically, and either one coyote drives the prey toward the hidden second coyote, or they'll take turns giving chase until they wear out the prey.

A coyote might approach a cat in a back yard or on a quiet road if the coyote thinks it has an advantage, but I've heard anecdotes of cats that will posture defensively and stand their ground. I've even read coyote researcher Jonathan Way's description of an incident where a cat targeted by a coyote ended up chasing the coyote into the woods! (No word on what happened afterward to either animal.)

I'm not sure if they actively stake out feral cat colonies; they're persistent, but they're also opportunistic. They occasionally kill cats, but I think the cat-killing coyote stereotype is somewhat overblown.

I skimmed through the paper you referenced. I'm incredibly skeptical, given their framing. Generally, the only coyotes dangerous to people are habituated coyotes, i.e. wild animals that are accustomed to being fed by humans. Urban coyotes are otherwise very shy and afraid of people (and sorry to get all rant-y here, but quite often the "coyotes" listed as responsible for attacks turn out to be dogs upon further investigation). If you're feeding feral cats, I would advise reading up on coyote hazing strategies. Who knows, maybe the coyote is more interested in the cat food than in the cat itself.

So yes, they are dangerous to cats, but I wouldn't be too worried about coyotes picking off an entire colony of feral cats. They tend to prefer prey that can't easily fight back.

By the way, coyotes are capable of climbing trees, but I don't think it's typical coyote behaviour.
posted by quiet earth at 7:52 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Fascinating, quiet earth! This is great info. The video of the coyote harvesting fruit is a treat. To be clear, I'm not in any way concerned about the coyotes in our area. My Native American ancestry wouldn't permit that. I'd be drummed out, as it were.
posted by R2WeTwo at 9:25 PM on May 30, 2013

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