Wild Kingdom: An Unexpected Symbiosis in Beachwood Canyon

August 30, 2012 § 7 Comments

A Forebearer of the Coyote Discussed in This Post, May 2007/Hope Anderson Productions

Since I moved to Beachwood Canyon nearly seven years ago, coyotes have been a constant in my life. A neighboring property has a den that produces several pups a year; they make regular appearances on the public stairs, sidewalks and street, harming no one but occasionally stopping traffic. Although most of my property is fenced, I own two small parcels outside the fence. The coyotes use them for hunting and egress; occasionally, I’ll see one curled up, fast asleep, on the chaise longue that was there when I moved in.

It didn’t take me long to realize the coyotes do Canyon residents an invaluable service by hunting tree rats (R. rattus, also known as roof rats or black rats) that make their habitat in trees, ivy and scrub. The rodents are unstoppable climbers, leapers, burrowers and swimmers, and are able to squeeze through any half-inch gap. In Beachwood, their numbers used to be kept down by foxes, but those disappeared long ago, leaving only coyotes to do the necessary culling. Without coyotes, we would certainly be overrun by pests–not only tree rats but squirrels (both ground and tree varieties) and moles.

Sadly, having a fence means unwittingly providing sanctuary for tree rats, which come in to escape the coyotes outside. Over the years, I’ve had to use bait boxes and traps to keep them from infesting the property–including, at various times, the crawl spaces of my house–but even so I’ve never been able to grow vegetables (other than arugula, which they apparently can’t stand).

In light of my travails, I’m grateful to coyotes for being nature’s exterminators. Almost nightly, I hear them hunting above my house, starting about 1am and continuing intermittently through the night. That’s what I thought was happening early Sunday morning, when I was awakened before dawn by yapping, snarling, and something that sounded like a kazoo. This strange cacophony of coyote noises sounded closer than usual, but I was too tired to investigate. It wasn’t until I finally got up and looked outside that I realized what had happened. A small, mangy coyote lay on the cushioned bench below my bedroom window, basking in the sun. He had done what I thought was impossible: scaled a six-foot chain link fence that runs along one side of my property and come inside to hunt. As surprised as I was, I immediately realized he done me the favor of clearing the garden of pests, just ahead of my calling the exterminator.

When I shouted, he took off, apparently leaving the way he came. This was a relief; I didn’t relish the idea going out there to let him out the gate like a dog. But aside from the time it took to scrub the bench and the deck (where he’d left a souvenir pile of scat), his visit cost me nothing. His hunting, on the other hand, has saved me $35 a month in exterminator fees. Now that the garden free of pests, I’ll be planting a few vegetables–and wondering when the coyote will return.

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