Wildlife on Mercer Island

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Mercer Island is home to a plethora of wildlife - birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer, and more. As Puget Sound communities and urban areas continue to extend into undeveloped wilderness, displaced wildlife are finding their way into the lives of their human neighbors.

Wildlife experts emphasize the importance in understanding how human habits help fuel wildlife encounters and how to reduce human/wildlife conflicts. Reference this page to learn about the wildlife found in Mercer Island, tips for preventing conflict, and frequently asked questions.


Wildlife on Mercer Island

Mercer Island is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Below are some of the most common, as well as very rare, wildlife seen throughout the Island:

Deer

Deer are one of the most familiar animals in Washington State, and local sightings have become more frequent. While most agree that they are beautiful and graceful, their fondness for grazing in gardens and on landscape plants can try the patience of many Island residents. Deer particularly enjoy the Island because of the lack of natural predators and regulations banning hunting. The City has no legal authority to regulate the deer population and the State implements all the protection policies in place for deer in Washington. At NO time is it lawful to hunt deer in the City of Mercer Island. Learn about living with deer.

Raccoon

Raccoons are very common in urban areas and to Mercer Island residents. In urban areas, raccoon populations can get quite large due to limited predators, restrictions on hunting and trapping, and human-supplied food. Human interactions with raccoons typically involve their search for food (garbage cans, gardens, chicken coops) or den/home (attic, crawl space, beneath decks). Modifying your home and yard to not attract raccoons is the most effective way to prevent conflict. Recommendations to prevent interactions with raccoons.

Rabbit

Wild rabbits are very common in Mercer Island, to the frustration of many gardeners and landscapers. Fences and netting are the most effective deterrent for rabbits. Early action is important for best results. Learn more about how to keep rabbits away.

Owl

Owls have been spotted throughout Mercer Island including by parks patrons. Most owls are nocturnal and prey on small mammals. According to experts, most aggressive behavior from owls - dive-bombing - is motivated by defense of their territory or young. Learn more about owl behavior.

Coyote

According to wildlife experts, Coyotes are adaptable animals that have learned to occupy just about all habitat types, including deep into urban areas. The likelihood of conflicts with coyotes increases when people feed them - deliberately via handouts or inadvertently by providing access to food sources such as garbage or pet food. According to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), prevention is the best tool for minimizing conflicts with coyotes and other wildlife. Learn about coyote activity on the Island and steps to prevent conflict with coyotes.

Bobcat

Bobcats are reclusive but have been seen in suburban settings. Bobcats are usually various shades of buff/brown, with black or dark brown spots and stripes. Rarely seen by humans, bobcats typically limit activity to the night hours. They typically travel along trails made by other animals to move between resting areas, food sources, or hunting areas in a range size that varies from 2.5 to 6 square miles for adult males, about half that for adult females. According to WDFW, they are not often responsible for killing domestic animals, focusing mainly on wild animals as prey. Learn more about bobcats and how to prevent conflict.

Cougar

Cougar sightings are very rare but they have been spotted in Western Washington. In August of 2019, a cougar was caught on security camera in the vicinity of Pioneer Park in Mercer Island. The City received a handful of potential sightings through mid-October 2019 and reports of two additional unconfirmed sightings in July 2020 and October 2020. The City worked closely with the WDFW on all reported sightings. WDFW officers visited locations of the potential sightings and provided information via a presentation to the City Council about cougars in urban areas. According to the WDFW, cougars can swim, travel long distances, and are highly adaptable, living in terrain ranging from forested lowlands to rugged and remote mountainous areas. Cougar habitat includes steep canyons, rock outcroppings and boulders, dense brush, or forests. Learn more about cougars.

Looking for information about other wildlife? Visit the WDFW website for fact sheets on a variety of wildlife, birds, and amphibians.

Mercer Island is home to a plethora of wildlife - birds, rabbits, raccoons, deer, and more. As Puget Sound communities and urban areas continue to extend into undeveloped wilderness, displaced wildlife are finding their way into the lives of their human neighbors.

Wildlife experts emphasize the importance in understanding how human habits help fuel wildlife encounters and how to reduce human/wildlife conflicts. Reference this page to learn about the wildlife found in Mercer Island, tips for preventing conflict, and frequently asked questions.


Wildlife on Mercer Island

Mercer Island is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Below are some of the most common, as well as very rare, wildlife seen throughout the Island:

Deer

Deer are one of the most familiar animals in Washington State, and local sightings have become more frequent. While most agree that they are beautiful and graceful, their fondness for grazing in gardens and on landscape plants can try the patience of many Island residents. Deer particularly enjoy the Island because of the lack of natural predators and regulations banning hunting. The City has no legal authority to regulate the deer population and the State implements all the protection policies in place for deer in Washington. At NO time is it lawful to hunt deer in the City of Mercer Island. Learn about living with deer.

Raccoon

Raccoons are very common in urban areas and to Mercer Island residents. In urban areas, raccoon populations can get quite large due to limited predators, restrictions on hunting and trapping, and human-supplied food. Human interactions with raccoons typically involve their search for food (garbage cans, gardens, chicken coops) or den/home (attic, crawl space, beneath decks). Modifying your home and yard to not attract raccoons is the most effective way to prevent conflict. Recommendations to prevent interactions with raccoons.

Rabbit

Wild rabbits are very common in Mercer Island, to the frustration of many gardeners and landscapers. Fences and netting are the most effective deterrent for rabbits. Early action is important for best results. Learn more about how to keep rabbits away.

Owl

Owls have been spotted throughout Mercer Island including by parks patrons. Most owls are nocturnal and prey on small mammals. According to experts, most aggressive behavior from owls - dive-bombing - is motivated by defense of their territory or young. Learn more about owl behavior.

Coyote

According to wildlife experts, Coyotes are adaptable animals that have learned to occupy just about all habitat types, including deep into urban areas. The likelihood of conflicts with coyotes increases when people feed them - deliberately via handouts or inadvertently by providing access to food sources such as garbage or pet food. According to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), prevention is the best tool for minimizing conflicts with coyotes and other wildlife. Learn about coyote activity on the Island and steps to prevent conflict with coyotes.

Bobcat

Bobcats are reclusive but have been seen in suburban settings. Bobcats are usually various shades of buff/brown, with black or dark brown spots and stripes. Rarely seen by humans, bobcats typically limit activity to the night hours. They typically travel along trails made by other animals to move between resting areas, food sources, or hunting areas in a range size that varies from 2.5 to 6 square miles for adult males, about half that for adult females. According to WDFW, they are not often responsible for killing domestic animals, focusing mainly on wild animals as prey. Learn more about bobcats and how to prevent conflict.

Cougar

Cougar sightings are very rare but they have been spotted in Western Washington. In August of 2019, a cougar was caught on security camera in the vicinity of Pioneer Park in Mercer Island. The City received a handful of potential sightings through mid-October 2019 and reports of two additional unconfirmed sightings in July 2020 and October 2020. The City worked closely with the WDFW on all reported sightings. WDFW officers visited locations of the potential sightings and provided information via a presentation to the City Council about cougars in urban areas. According to the WDFW, cougars can swim, travel long distances, and are highly adaptable, living in terrain ranging from forested lowlands to rugged and remote mountainous areas. Cougar habitat includes steep canyons, rock outcroppings and boulders, dense brush, or forests. Learn more about cougars.

Looking for information about other wildlife? Visit the WDFW website for fact sheets on a variety of wildlife, birds, and amphibians.

  • Coyote Sightings and Interactions

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    In light of recent coyote sightings and activity on Mercer Island, the City has been working across departments and with state and federal wildlife agencies to monitor coyote behavior and help inform the public.

    Coyotes are adaptable animals that have learned to live in even the most urban of environments. Their presence on Mercer Island is not unusual, but here's what you need to know about living with these animals and how to minimize potential interactions:


    If you see a coyote on the Island: please report the sighting formally by calling the Mercer Island Police non-emergency number at 425-577-5656: request to speak with a MIPD officer to report a coyote sighting. The officer will ask for basic contact information and will log your sighting in order to accurately track wildlife activity.

    If you have a negative interaction with a coyote: call the Mercer Island Police non-emergency number at 425-577-5656: request to speak with a MIPD officer to report a coyote interaction or pet attack. Any attacks on people or pets should be reported as quickly as possible. The officer will take a formal police report and share this information with the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division.

    If you are in immediate danger or threatened by an animal: call 911 immediately. This is an emergency and should be treated as such.

    If you encounter a coyote, the Department of Fish and Wildlife encourages you to "haze" it by jingling keys, making loud noises, yelling, etc.


    Why have we been hearing about coyotes on the Island lately?

    In recent months, several incidents of coyote sightings and a number of pet attacks were posted on social media, and subsequently reported to the City.

    The City began gathering reports of coyote sightings and interactions while communicating with two agencies responsible for wildlife in Washington State: the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Division.

    The City worked closely with the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division upon referral from the Department of Fish and Wildlife to better understand the Island’s coyote population and identify what should be done. In November of 2021, the USDA’s urban coyote expert conducted a multi-day field visit and in-person analysis, including coyote tracking, resident interviews, and review of coyote reports. The final analysis and report was presented to the public in a community meeting that month and shared across the City’s communications channels. The report concluded that coyote activity on the island was limited to just a few animals and their behavior was normal, with no indication of unusual risk to the community. The report also recommended Islanders take steps to discourage coyote interactions.

    Several recent sightings and pet attacks were circulated on social media midway through January of 2022, and subsequently reported to the City. The City has since reengaged with the USDA’s urban coyote expert to assess current coyote activity, and formalized a Coyote Management Plan. The City has also expanded outreach efforts to increase public awareness of coyote behavior and the importance of working together as a community to deter coyote activity.

    Please see the following sections for more information and what Islanders should know about these animals.


    Should I expect to see or come in contact with a coyote now?

    The expert from the USDA continues to affirm that it’s unlikely most Islanders will see a coyote. Coyotes tend to be active at night and are naturally afraid of people.

    The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that coyote attacks near or on humans are extremely rare. However, human activity plays a part in increasing these behaviors:

    Humans increase the likelihood of conflicts with coyotes by deliberately or inadvertently feeding the animals, whether by handouts or by providing access to food sources such as garbage, pet food, etc. When people provide food, coyotes quickly lose their natural fear of humans and become increasingly aggressive.

    Please familiarize yourself with the facts below to help mitigate coyote interactions on the Island and learn what to do if you do see or interact with a coyote.

    What part do I play in living with coyotes?

    The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division both stress the importance of minimizing natural predator interactions by making smart decisions in relation to our environment. The DFW warns that coyotes quickly lose their fear of people when fed by humans or when comfortable around homes due to easy food sources. In fact, the only documented attack between a coyote and a human in Washington State (which occurred in 2006) was tied to humans feeding wildlife around their homes.

    Islanders should:

    • Avoid leaving food or garbage out around homes.
    • Never feed wild animals or leave pet food out, whether for bunnies, racoons, deer, or otherwise.
    • Learn more about preventing coyote interactions with pets (see below).
    • Be aware of actions to take if you do see or come in contact with a coyote (see below).

    It’s important to understand how humans influence coyote activity to avoid inadvertently encouraging these interactions. Islanders can also familiarize themselves with the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s coyote resource guide to learn more.

    I have pets. What should I know?

    The City understands that pet owners are concerned about coyote activity on the Island.

    The best way to avoid interactions between your pets and coyotes is through prevention:

    • 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.

    We understand this may mean a change in behavior for some pet owners, however these standard recommendations are important for any household with pets in Western Washington. Please visit the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s coyote resource guide for more information on pet interactions and prevention tips.

    If I come in contact with a coyote, what should I do?

    Coyotes are naturally fearful of humans. If you encounter a coyote, the Department of Fish and Wildlife encourages you to "haze" it by jingling keys, making loud noises, yelling, etc. This will likely scare the animal off. If coyotes have repeated interactions with humans like this, they are prone to staying afraid and avoiding people moving forward.

    All coyote sightings and interactions on Mercer Island should be reported using the appropriate option below:

    If you see a coyote on the Island: please report the sighting formally by calling the Mercer Island Police non-emergency number at 425-577-5656: request to speak with a MIPD officer to report a coyote sighting. The officer will ask for basic contact information and will log your sighting in order to accurately track wildlife activity.

    If you have a negative interaction with a coyote: call the Mercer Island Police non-emergency number at 425-577-5656: request to speak with a MIPD officer to report a coyote interaction or pet attack. Any attacks on people or pets should be reported as quickly as possible. The officer will take a formal police report and share this information with the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division.

    If you are in immediate danger or threatened by an animal: call 911 immediately. This is an emergency and should be treated as such.

    Are coyotes being removed from the Island? What’s the City doing about them?

    There are several laws dictating coyote management in Washington State. Capturing and relocating Coyotes is prohibited under state law, and the only option to remove animals from the Island entails euthanasia, which the responsible agencies only enact when certain patterns of behavior are evident.

    It’s important to have the most accurate information to inform appropriate management actions. If you see or interact with a coyote, please report it officially through the Mercer Island Police Department using the instructions above.

    The City is currently working with the USDA’s urban coyote expert to perform an updated assessment after several incidents of coyote activity and sightings were reported to the police department in late January of 2022. This assessment will help accurately understand changes to the animals behavior and inform appropriate management actions.

    The City has also developed a Coyote Management Plan that outlines the City’s response to coyote activity. The draft plan was presented to the City Council and received unanimous endorsement from all councilmembers at the February 1, 2022 regular council meeting.

    We will continue updating this page to provide a centralized resource for information on coyotes. City staff have also streamlined internal awareness across departments: you can contact the City’s customer service team to learn more on how to report a coyote sighting or for referrals to additional wildlife management information from the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division.

    UPDATE | 2/23/2022
    Over the past three weeks, the USDA’s Wildlife Services Division has been on Mercer Island responding to recent reports of unfearful and brazen coyote activity in the area. The division’s experts analyzed sighting reports and directly observed coyote behavior in various areas of the Island – during this period, they identified two coyotes displaying increased comfortability around humans and homes. The USDA experts determined that removal of these animals was needed under current guidelines, and the two coyotes were euthanized following USDA protocol.

    The removal occurred last week, with no further confirmed coyote sightings reported since. At this time, the experts do not believe additional coyotes are active on the Island. Nevertheless, please remain vigilant and continue to report coyote encounters to MIPD non-emergency number: 425-577-5656 (call 911 if you are in danger).

    Wildlife management is a specialized practice and the City will continue to partner with the respective agencies, including the USDA. All Islanders are encouraged to keep wildlife practices in mind: don’t leave pets unattended, don’t feed wildlife of any kind, and secure food sources around your homes. Please continue to stay updated on this page.

    UPDATE | 2/2/2022
    The USDA's urban coyote expert is conducting an updated assessment of coyote activity on the Island, following recent reports indicating changes in their behavior. USDA staff will be operating on the Island over the next few weeks to determine what action is appropriate - you may spot staff and USDA vehicles in various areas of the Island.

    UPDATE | 2/1/2022
    City Council endorsed a Coyote Management Plan drafted by City staff at the February 1 regular council meeting. The plan organizes the City's response to coyote activity in light of recent sightings and interactions on the Island.

    Where should I look for updates and information?

    We encourage all Islanders to continue checking this Let’s Talk page, subscribe to our email newsletter, and follow us on social media for updates and further information.

    Please be aware that posts and comments on social media outlets like NextDoor have contained inaccurate facts or misinformation on this topic. It’s important that community members report any coyote sightings or interactions using the official avenues outlined above. We also encourage you to follow the City’s official NextDoor page for verified updates from the City.

Page last updated: 23 Feb 2022, 05:25 PM