I was recently frustrated to receive notification of a complaint about my small flock of urban hens from the City of St. Albert. This complaint was not due to evidence that I am not in compliance with the Hen Bylaw, but rather because neighbours saw a coyote in their yard. Many factors attract coyotes and coexistence has been a reality long before passing of the city's backyard hen bylaw in 2019. There is no evidence that a small number of backyard hens would be a greater attractant than the many other factors that have brought coyotes to our city for decades.
Extensive research on urban coyote populations has been conducted in Edmonton and urban coyotes are a common sight there, in St. Albert, and in many other North American cities. Our cities provide an abundance of natural areas and resources that are valued by our residents, human and canid. For example, last spring a coyote made a den under a backyard deck in St. Albert, causing much concern, understandably, to the home owners (who did not have backyard hens).
Our neighborhood, like most in St. Albert, has mature vegetation that offers shelter, fruit and berry trees with plentiful fallen fruit, compost piles, bird feeders, many dogs and outdoor cats. Of course, not all coyote food sources in urban spaces are human-derived. For example, jackrabbits, mice and squirrels are frequently seen. It is not unusual that a coyote explores an area looking for food sources or for a den site. Might a small urban flock attract a coyote? It is reasonable to assume that they, like cats, mice, rabbits, fallen fruit, compost or dog feces, could attract coyotes.
It is not reasonable to take seriously a complaint about backyard hens in a context with so many attractants and pervasive coyote sightings. No more reasonable than it would be to complain about fruit frees, compost piles, bird feeders, or dogs.
Coyotes are a ubiquitous presence in our city and if we’re going to start pointing fingers at our neighbours, we should be careful to consider the larger, evidence-based, picture – urban coyotes eat a whole lot more than chicken. I also want to thank the rest of my neighbours who have welcomed my little flock so enthusiastically – I appreciate you.
More information on how to deter urban coyotes can be found at edmontonurbancoyotes.ca/research.php and at www.alberta.ca/coyotes.aspx.
Dr. Melissa Hills, biologist and urban hen keeper, St. Albert