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Wildlife in the City

It may be odd to think about wildlife living and even thriving in city infrastructure, but Denver is home to many urban wildlife species and has entire functioning ecosystems that support herbivores, omnivores, carnivores and scavengers alongside people and their pets, vehicles and buildings.

Everyone encounters wildlife in everyday city life, from watching a squirrel run along the fence and enjoying the sound of birds chirping, to shooing away raccoons scavenging through the trash. Because wildlife can sometimes seem like a nuisance, it's easy to take for granted the character they add to our backyards and parks. These creatures have adapted to our way of life, taking advantage of urban conveniences and the habitats the city creates. Learn more about successfully coexisting with wildlife by reading below.

Please leave injured and urban wildlife alone!
Report a problem at pocketgov.com or by calling 311 (720.913.1311).

Download full information sheet on avoiding conflicts with various wildlife species.

As the City of Denver continues to grow impacting wildlife habitat, it often times displaces and affects the natural order of wild animals.  Some species continue to live in open-space areas, parks, undeveloped parcels of land, river bottoms, and on or near bodies of water.  Others have adapted quite well to urban living; skunks, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and geese, in particular, seem to thrive in and near the city.

A little effort in preventing conflicts with wildlife goes a long way. The key to keeping unwanted wildlife out of homes and yards is to make them feel unwelcome:

  • Do not feed wildlife! Even feeding songbirds may attract other unwanted animals to your property.  Wild animals are capable of finding plenty of natural food on their own.
  • Fence gardens and cover fruit trees with netting to protect your harvest.
  • Cover window wells with grates or covers.
  • Close holes around and under the foundation of your home so that animals will not be tempted to homestead.  Bury wire mesh 1 to 2 feet deep in places where animals might gain access.
  • Don’t give animals the opportunity to get into your garbage. Store garbage in metal or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep the containers in a garage or shed, and only put out on your scheduled pickup day.
  • Keep pet food inside and cover up doggie doors at night.
  • Mark windows with strips of white tape if birds are flying in to windows.
  • Screen fireplace chimneys and furnace, attic and dryer vents. Keep dampers closed to avoid “drop-in” guests. Screen chimney tops from February to September to prevent birds and animals from nesting inside.
  • Seal all cracks and holes larger than one-quarter inch in diameter to keep out rats, mice, bats and snakes.

Download the full tip sheet for more information on avoiding conflicts with bats, geese, raccoons, snakes, skunks and more.

Animal Information & Resources

Download the full information sheet on Canada Geese

Canada geese are a common species in the Denver Metro Area.  They are easy to identify and are noticeable with their dark black heads and white chinstraps.  A Canada goose can reach 20‐25 lbs in size. 

Traditional parks with large expanses of Kentucky blue grass lawns and open access to shallow lakes are unintentionally ideal and preferred goose habitat.  Geese feed on the grass, have open views in all directions to watch for predators and have easy access to get on the water to escape from potential danger. 

Considerations & strategies for making areas less attractive to geese:

  1. Reduce available food (short, manicured lawns) and replace with taller grasses, ground covers, less foraging area.
    • Mow less often; geese prefer grasses shorter than 6 inches high
    • Eliminate mowing
    • Reduce fertilizer use; geese prefer fertilized grass to unfertilized grass.
  2. Eliminate or reduce ability of geese to walk from feeding areas directly in to the water with barriers.
  3. Do Not feed geese:  human food is both an attractant and a health hazard for the geese. It is also illegal to feed wildlife in any Denver Park.  Malnourished geese may not physically be healthy enough to migrate or leave an area.
  4. Plant vegetative barriers, reducing line of sight, access to water and access to foraging areas such as lawns.
    • Plantings should be higher than 30 inches
    • Plantings are most effective at widths of greater than 20 feet
    • Plantings may need to be fenced while they are being established
    • Rock barriers can be used in conjunction with vegetative barriers, large boulders or several mid-sized rocks to reduce visibility and be less attractive to walk on
  5. Keep fencing at least 3o inches high with only small openings
    • fencing is most effective when used with vegetative barriers
  6. Hazing
    • Use devices that move erratically (pinwheels, metallic balloons or streamers) or noisemakers to startle geese away. These must be changed or relocated occasionally so the geese don’t get used to them.
    • Projectiles are illegal in the City and County of Denver (slingshots, paint guns, BB guns, etc.)
  7. Repellants can be applied to the grass to make it taste bad to the geese. Methylanthranilate is safe to eat and can be applied to both grass and crops and geese don’t like it.
    • Must be reapplied and can get expensive so use as a short term solution in conjunction with other long term options

Lethal removal or relocation is not an option:

Why don’t we “thin” out the numbers of geese

  1. Population sizes are resource dependent. If the amount of resources (food, water, shelter) remains the same, animals will quickly repopulate an area. Most geese complaints occur during winter migration, so new flocks are constantly moving in and out.
    • Lethal removal is a short term solution.
    • Relocation is also inefficient as geese can easily return to familiar areas; additionally it adds tremendous stress on the individual geese and can be in noncompliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which protects migratory birds such as Canada Geese
    • There is no permit at this time tjat allows cities/counties/municipalities to lethally control Canada geese (other than legally controlled hunting).

Download the full Urban Coyote Information Sheet

About Urban Coyotes

Coyotes are native to the Midwestern prairies and have always been found in Colorado's Front Range. They are highly intelligent, adaptable animals and are therefore one of the few species of that has been able to expand its range, even as natural areas and other species decline in numbers.  

After decades of development, coyotes have become more urban as multiple generations of offspring have been born in cities.  People, houses, pets, and cars are a normal part of their lives.  An urban coyote has a completely different lifestyle than a coyote living in a rural area and has been raised by its family to survive in cities.

Safety

Feeding coyotes, either on purpose or accidentally, is the biggest culprit in creating problems. Coyotes in our urban environment have become used to living in close proximity to humans and associate people with food, reducing their natural wariness in interactions with people and pets.  Every time a coyote sees a person and nothing happens, it increases their boldness and comfort in closer interactions.   

Coyotes are naturally curious but timid and will normally run away if confronted, making attacks on humans are rare. In most cases, these attacks occur as a result of people feeding coyotes or habituating them in some manner. A coyote that associates humans with food may become demanding and aggressive. By feeding coyotes you put yourself, your neighborhood and the animals at risk. It is unlawful to feed or intentionally attract coyotes in most urban areas.

Make sure you can identify a coyote: they are brownish-gray with light gray to reddish cream-colored belly. Look for long legs, pointed nose and ears, and a bushy tail with black tip.

Discourage a coyote from approaching:

  • Make yourself big and loud
    • Wave your arms, clap your hands and throw objects (if available) at the coyote
    • Shout with a loud and authoritative voice
  • Do not run or turn your back on a coyote, face the coyote and back away slowly
  • Teach children not to approach or feed any unknown animals
  • Pick up small children if a coyote is nearby

While people are rarely in danger, coyotes can and do target pets as both competition and potential food sources. Human pets are often not adapted to protect themselves from wild animals and can be much easier targets than normal prey. Making educated coyote-management decisions regarding your pets is the best way to protect them.

Coyote Management

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has the final say on the lethal action regarding coyotes. It's been proven to be a short-term solution with long-term problems. When territory is vacated, coyotes are attracted to it, and coyote litters will increase in size to fill the territory (a single coyote can have up to 12 pups). Removing the pack leaders can lead to multiple packs forming with more females able to breed. There are often increases in the overall size of a local population, leading to increased fighting for territory and greater numbers of young animals causing problems for the community.

Relocating coyotes has been proven to be completely unsuccessful. They are notoriously difficult to trap and will travel huge distances to return to the area. Additionally, it is illegal in the state of Colorado to relocate urban coyotes.

Exclusion techniques --techniques to both remove attractants to coyotes and to discourage coyotes from entering unsuitable locations-- are currently the most successful tool in reducing coyote problems and populations in cities. It must be conducted on a community-wide level to see large improvements but even individual efforts can “teach” local coyotes which yards, parks, and people to avoid. Long term reduction in food sources for coyotes is the most effective means to reduce population size.

Hazing coyotes has proven to be the most effective method for instilling the healthy and natural fear of humans back into the coyotes. Coyotes are quick learners and consistent negative experiences can teach them to avoid people.

The Parks and Recreation Department/Natural Resources, in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife encourage residents and city staff to use exclusion techniques on coyotes.

Exclusion Techniques

Exclusion techniques are not a quick fix. Relate this to never saying no to a child. The first time they hear it they won’t understand or believe it. Use the below techniques consistently over time as the most effective means to establishing appropriate human/coyote interactions:

  • Individuals and groups of people responding and hazing whenever they see a coyote. Yelling, waving arms, acting aggressively, spraying with hoses, using noisemakers, vinegar water squirt guns will all make a coyote uncomfortable around people. Haze UNTIL THE ANIMAL LEAVES. 
  • Remove all human sources of food: 
    • Keep trash and compost inaccessible
    • Pick up fallen fruit in yards
    • Clean under bird feeders

Protecting your Family

  • Never allow a coyote between you and a pet or child. A coyote will not want to get involved with a person.
  • Do not let cats run freely in neighborhoods. 
  • Supervise small dogs and children when outside. 
  • Keep all pets inside at night or in a completely enclosed kennel, as this is when coyotes are most active.
  • Maintain fences so coyotes cannot slip underneath. Add deterrents to the tops of fences that reduce a coyote’s ability to grab on and pull themselves up and over. Coyote rollers and wire extensions can discourage animals attempting to breach fences.
  • Install motion activated lights in back yard. Keep lights on when dogs are outside. 
  • Visually inspect yard before allowing any pet outside.
  • Communicate with local officials, reporting the following to_____:
    • Date and location of incident
      • Coyote biting or attacking a person
      • Coyote attacking a dog
      • Person feeding coyote, either accidentally or purposefully.

Download the full Urban Coyote Information Sheet

Download the Urban Coyote FAQ

Download the full prairie dog information sheet

Living near prairie dogs

Prairie dogs are visually motivated and are likely to move into an area that looks like a good foraging site. By obstructing their view of your yard, they are less likely to move in. Prairie dogs are also naturally wary and avoid places where predators and other animals can hide.

Keep prairie dogs out of your yard with strategic landscaping:

  • Create a visual barrier with a solid fence at least 3 feet high
  • Build fences flush with the ground so they can’t peek through
  • Add tall plants and shrubs on either side of the fence, as prairie dogs will see these potential hiding places for predators
  • Plant hardy, low water-use native plants such as:
    • Rabbit brush
    • Big sage
    • Salt bush
    • Fern bush 
    • Apache plume
    • Native switch grass
  • Create a barrier underneath fence:
    • Dig down 12-24 inches and install a metal sheet or strong hardware cloth, cover with soil


Relocation of Prairie dogs

Relocation is a last option when damage is occurring to property.

In Colorado, it is lawful to capture, transport, and relocate black-tailed prairie dogs from one site to another ONLY WITH a permit from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). It's important that private property owners take responsibility to make educated decisions on how to manage prairie dogs on their property.

Please be aware of the following when considering relocation:

  • Relocating any animal is a complicated process, and a professional should be hired or consulted before attempting to remove animals
  • An approved relocation site with permission from the land owner is required
  • County Commission approval is required if attempting to relocate from one county to another


Why don’t we remove all the prairie dogs from the city?

  • Prairie dogs are important parts of the natural urban and prairie ecosystem, and other animals depend on them for food and shelter.
  • Removing animals without completely changing the habitat means new individuals will quickly move in and re-populate the area.
  • Prairie dogs have been identified as a species of special concern in Colorado because of the vital role they play in their habitats as a food source for animals such as fox, golden eagle and other birds and animals of prey.

Download the full prairie dog information sheet

Other Resources:

Download the full fox information sheet

It is illegal to feed foxes in Denver.

Living near foxes

  • Never feed foxes
  • Do not leave pet food dishes out. Always feed pets indoors.
  • Keep garbage and compost in securely closed cans or inside.
  • Clean up fruit that’s fallen to the ground.
  • Clean under bird feeders and barbeque grills regularly.
  • Enclose chickens & rabbits in secure pens.
  • Make your yard unattractive to foxes:
    • Use flood lights or motion activated lights
    • Spend time in your yard. Human and pet activity will discourage foxes from entering
    • Use ammonia soaked rags in trash cans or in areas where foxes have been visiting or trying to den in
    • Play a radio
    • Keep fence well maintained so fox cannot slip underneath it. 
    • Foxes can climb and jump 6 ft. fences. Other deterrents such as wire on top of fence may keep them from climbing over.
    • Trim vegetation high off ground to reduce cover.

If a fox enters your yard, yell, wave your arms or a broom, or bang on something to make noise to scare it away.

Be consistent, foxes are extremely intelligent and will learn locations where they are not welcome.


Danger from foxes

Danger to small pets is possible, although typically rare. Pets under 10 lbs. would be most vulnerable to predation. Foxes typically avoid human contact and are easily scared. If a fox approaches, yelling and waving your arms should frighten it off.

When intentionally or accidentally fed, foxes can become aggressive. Remember that food means survival to wildlife and they will do what’s necessary to survive. It is not uncommon for playful foxes to initiate play with dogs or cats.


Behavior in urban environments

Foxes become more nocturnal in areas with a lot of people and are generally crepuscular, out in the early morning and evening, but can be out at any time of the day. 

They are territorial, and will maintain several dens throughout their territory with one larger den used for giving birth and raising kits.  Dens are used every year and often passed on through generations.  

Foxes generally avoid contact with people, but may initiate play with pets.  They also have been known to “tease” dogs by barking and racing around outside of their reach. When a fox is fed, they can become too comfortable and bold around people and are more likely to bite or be injured by dogs, cars or people. To keep foxes safe and away from people and pets, it's best to chase them off and yell at them if approached.

Download the full fox information sheet

 
Contact Us

Wildlife Specialist
Vicki Vargas-Madrid
720.865.4334
victoria.vargas-madrid@denvergov.org

Wildlife Hotline
720.913.0630

Other problems and questions:
pocketgov.com

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