Mercer Island’s concerning coyote conundrum

February 1, 2022 | by Eileen Cho

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Photo by Thomas Shockey from Pexels

On January 25th, a Mercer Island resident attempted to scare off a pair of coyotes she encountered on a late-evening walk with her adult kid and leashed pet. Per her report on the social media network NextDoor, even though she made “loud noises and big arm movements,” the coyotes continued to follow her until they made it safely back into her home. 

Coyotes are spreading and expanding their territory all over North America, and islanders have been reporting coyote sightings since March 2021. While no expert could give a definitive answer of why the coyotes came to Mercer Island, some theories include that slower bridge traffic during the pandemic encouraged migration. To assess the threat and and educate local residents about the island’s local coyotes, the city brought in an expert from the US Department of Agriculture for a Zoom video presentation and Q&A session on November 15th – watch it here. Since then, reports of more sightings and escalated activity raised alarm: as of January 24th, the Mercer Island Police Department recorded nine official police reports, including attacks on cats and small dogs.

In response to the issue, the City of Mercer Island re-engaged with the USDA and launched a dedicated page on the Let’s Talk discussion platform for centralized coyote information and the latest updates on January 26th. Additionally, he said via email that the council will consider a resolution endorsing a new administrative ‘Coyote Management Plan’ that “provides unambiguous city and resident responses to varying levels of coyote human interactions” on February 1st, at the next City Council meeting.

Why Are There Coyotes on Mercer Island?

“Overwhelmingly, ‘problem’ coyotes are fed coyotes,” said Dr. Laura Prugh, an Associate Professor of Quantitative Wildlife Sciences at the University of Washington. “I expect the wildlife feeding may be a key factor in the boldness that you’re seeing,” she said, noting this can often happen unintentionally, like when people put out food for outdoor cats or with poor trash management. “It is a very difficult problem to address, because coyotes can become food-conditioned even if just a handful of people in a neighborhood are feeding them.”

Can the Coyotes be Removed from Mercer Island?

Coyote removal doesn’t prevent return, so most cities across the United States encourage living in harmony with the species. In the state of Washington, by law, trapped coyotes must be humanely euthanized. (Most coyotes don’t survive transportation and if they do, they are unable to adapt to their new habitat and usually die within three weeks.) Lethal removal may provide some short-term relief, says Dr. Prugh, “But coyotes are one of the most resilient and adaptable mammals out there; most likely, they would soon be replaced by new coyotes.”

What Should We Do About the Coyotes on Mercer Island?

The best approach to keeping both animals and themselves safe is for islanders to stay informed and make small adjustments. A long list of suggestions for preventing conflict can be found on the Washington Department of  Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) coyote information page or coyote resource guide, and Mercer Island offers its own suggestions for preventing human/wildlife and human/coyote incidents.

Many wildlife experts, including the WDFW encourage hazing: “The use of deterrents to discourage coyotes from engaging in undesirable behavior or activity or to move coyotes out of a particular area.” Coyotes are naturally skittish and afraid of humans; repeated hazing can prevent future coyote interactions with humans. 

“If a coyote is acting boldly and approaching a human, it is appropriate to encourage a healthy fear of humans via actions like throwing things at it, yelling at it, or making other loud unpleasant noises,” Dr. Prugh said, suggesting banging pots and pans. But in the long run, her opinion is that people need to learn to live with coyotes, “Because they are here to stay, like it or not!” 

Mercer Island community members are encouraged to report coyote sightings and attacks formally by calling the Mercer Island Police non-emergency number at 425-577-5656. Reports can be filed by requesting to speak with an MIPD officer. If you are threatened by the coyotes and/or in immediate danger, call 911. 

Coyote Control Tips

From Mercer Island’s Let’s Talk page on coyotes

  • Avoid leaving food or garbage out around homes.
  • Don’t feed wildlife – directly or indirectly. 
  • Don’t give wildlife access to garbage. Keep your garbage can lid on tight by securing it with rope, chain, bungee cords, or weights.
  • Talk with your neighbors and make sure no one is feeding wildlife or leaving food sources out.
  • Keep your pets supervised when outdoors, keep dogs leashed when recreating or in more desolate areas.
  • Bring your pets in at night or when supervision isn’t possible.
  • Do not leave pet food out at any time.
  • Fence vegetable gardens and protect fruit trees, bird feeders, and nest boxes.
  • Enclose poultry (chickens, ducks, and turkeys) in a secure outdoor pen and house.
  • Keep livestock and small animals that live outdoors confined in secure pens during periods of vulnerability.
  • Prevent the buildup of feeder foods under bird feeders.
  • Put food in secure compost containers and clean up barbecue areas. 
  • If you encounter a coyote, the Department of Fish and Wildlife encourages you to “haze” it by jingling keys, making loud noises, yelling, etc. 

For more information from the City of Mercer Island, visit: