Stephen DeStefano


On his book Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia

Cover Interview of February 04, 2010

The wide angle

In much of the world, cities are expanding and growing to astronomical sizes.  Along with the growth of cities comes the spread of suburbs.  Suburban areas now dominate the perimeter of most cities and extend out into rural areas.  Farmland, ranchland, forests, and deserts in private ownership are being “parcelized”—tracts are subdivided into smaller and smaller parcels for single family homes, shopping centers, and the like. This process of urban and suburban sprawl affects the landscape, wildlife habitat and populations, and human society.

Wildlife responds to human development of the landscape in different ways.  It depends on the species.  Some large carnivores, for example, decline and disappear with increasing development. Others, notably ecological generalists, non-native species, and species that can exploit human environments, can do quite well in urban and suburban areas. Among the latter are birds such as robins, starlings, house sparrows, house finches, crows, blue jays, and cardinals.  And there are mammals too—house mice, opossums, squirrels, deer, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes.  Similar processes are at work for other taxa (amphibians, reptiles, and even invertebrates).

In Coyote at the Kitchen Door I address the issue of urbanization and sprawl, and both the impact it has on wildlife and the response of wildlife to these rapid changes in the landscape.  Although I try to cover issues related to urban areas, as well as rural country and even wilderness, I focus on suburbia because that is where much of the interface between wildlife and people takes place.

Of interest are those species whose populations diminish in the face of increasing development, but perhaps more compelling, from a human perspective, are those animals that actually exploit human resources (food, water, shelter) and flourish within our neighborhoods.  And the North American coyote is perhaps the master of adaptation in the face of continued human domination of the landscape.

While cities and towns throughout North America represent wonderful places to live, their unbridled growth threatens wildlife habitat, open space, biodiversity, and the resources upon which we depend.  Many such dichotomies are evident in our relationship to nature.  The case of the coyote embodies one: an incredible, adaptable, beautiful animal that many people admire, and at the same time a predator that many people fear, capable of threatening livestock, family pets, and even humans.

Coyote at the Kitchen Door tells the story of urbanization from my own perspective as a wildlife biologist—while I weave in the book the biology and life history of the coyote, through following a female coyote’s travels and life among humans.