The slowdown of daily life under stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus has many of us feeling more connected to nature. We hear more birdsong in the mornings. The air seems cleaner. Perhaps we’re seeing more wildlife in the parks as we take walks in our neighborhoods. But the change of pace hasn’t necessarily benefitted urban wildlife.
Urban wildlife biologists say it’s logical to think we might start seeing more animals during the day, as a result of people shifting their routines away from city centers. But one researcher at the University of Washington Tacoma is seeing preliminary data indicating the opposite effect.
Christopher Schell is an assistant professor of urban ecology at UWT, and a principal investigator with the Grit City Carnivore Project. It monitors coyotes and other carnivores in the South Puget Sound region and how their behavior correlates with human activity, using a network of camera traps to spot the animals when they’re most active.
“Coyotes are normally crepuscular," Schell said. "They're normally most active during dawn and dusk periods.”
He says that shifts when coyotes are in cities, where they become more nocturnal, in order to avoid peak hours of activity of people.
He thought that behavior might shift back with more people hunkering down because of coronavirus. But Schell says initial data from the Grit City Carnivore Project’s cameras are showing the opposite effect, with both coyotes and raccoons.
“So far — again, none of this has been verified,” Schell said, “but some of the photos we've been kind of looking through, we're not seeing any of those animals during the day.”
He says, if anything, it looks like the changing behavior pattern of humans is causing animals such as coyotes and raccoons to become “more nocturnal than they would have been.”
Schell is quick to add that this is all based on preliminary data, from only eight of about 45 camera traps around Tacoma where coyotes tend to show up most frequently. But his theory is that these animals are hiding more during the day in green belts and areas that people now have time to visit more during the day.
Schell says he expects to have more conclusive research toward the end of the year, when he hopes to compare notes with affiliated researchers in the Urban Wildlife Information Project, such as those working on the Seattle Urban Carnivore Project.