I Am Coyote, by Geri Vistein

My bookPlease check out Geri Vistein’s new book, “I Am Coyote”, available through Amazon beginning on October 9th! Congratulations, Geri!

The brief review on Amazon states the following: “Coyote is three years old when she leaves her family to seek a home of her own and a mate to share it with. Journeying by night through a Canadian winter, she doesn’t know that her search will become a 500-mile odyssey. Nor can she know while enduring extreme cold, hunger, and harrowing brushes with death that she and her descendants are destined to play a vital role in the forests of the eastern United States, replacing wolves (exterminated a century ago) as the keystone predator the landscape desperately needed.”

“Combining rigorous science with imaginative storytelling, I Am Coyote reveals the complex outer and inner lives of coyotes. We are not the only sentient beings on this planet; we are not unique in experiencing love, fear, grief, joy, and acceptance. This magical story will change the way you think about the animals with whom we share the world.”

A few more reviews are in order:

“This is not a book about ‘a species of animal’ and what ‘it’ does. Geri Vistein takes us so deep into Coyote’s skin and behind the eyes and nose that she reveals for us the intricacies and perceptions of creatures who lead lives among us. This is the right perspective for understanding who we are here with on Earth. Vistein has chosen one of the absolutely most wondrous fellow-creatures in America to make our introduction.” –Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

“For wild predators every day is a drama of life and death – Geri Vistein uses these daily theatrics to tell the tale of the colonization of eastern forests by coyotes.  The story invokes the spirit of Ernest Thompson Seaton’s classic “Animals I Have Known” but is more firmly rooted in modern scientific findings not available to Seaton”. Roland Kays, Ph.D.Professor, NC State University, Dept Forestry & Environmental Resources, Lab Director, NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

“Vistein, a carnivore biologist, tells the story of one of the early migrants from the coyote’s point of view and asks readers to consider coyotes as “intelligent, sentient beings” able to experience “fear, joy, affection, loss, grief, puzzlement, and acceptance but never anger.” Vistein’s writing is impassioned and poetic as she tells of the female Coyote who travels east—facing danger from traps, traffic, guns, and dogs—to finally find a refuge in Baxter State Park. When Coyote finds a trapped coyote, she helps him to free himself (he chews off his paw). They become mates and, as seasons and years pass, raise four litters of pups. Readers learn about the complex social structure of coyotes (previous years’ siblings help out) and that life as a wild creature is often tragic—though Vistein balances the harshness of death with a wider, natural-order-of-things perspective. A sensitive, passionate story told from an intriguing point of view”. -Kirkus Review

Suspicious of Novel Items in A Known Environment

A new pile of debris, consisting of cardboard pieces in a pile, caught the attention of this 3-year-old female coyote as she headed to her favorite hideout retreat for the day. She approached the pile, as though she were hunting — slowly and carefully, almost tip-toeing in. Then, she turned her head from side to side as she listened for what kind of sounds the new “object” might make. The pile remained silent, so she decided to investigate closer.  She snuck up, ever so carefully and hesitatingly, and attempted grabbing a section of the cardboard in her mouth. This caused another piece of cardboard to shift and move where she had not expected movement. She immediately flinched back, backed up, and then stood behind a planter, keeping an eye on the pile of cardboard. Nothing happened, but it wasn’t worth the risk to explore further. Her suspiciousness ruled supreme, and she skedaddled lickety-split away from the cardboard, around some bushes, and out of sight.

Coyotes are very aware, wary, and suspicious of any changes in their known environment. In this case, someone had dumped some cardboard outside their home. Even though the new material made her uneasy, the coyote was curious and checked it out. The unexplained movement in the cardboard served to seal her suspicions and she decided it was not worth the risk of further investigation. She’ll avoid the area for the next little while and then eventually get used to it, and go on as before. However, if I wanted to dissuade her from coming around again, all I would have to do is move the pile around. She would notice the change, and because of her innate suspiciousness, she would avoid the “possibly dangerous” pile.

To discourage coyotes from visiting your yard, you can tap into this coyote behavior. Place large objects in your yard. The change will make them uncomfortable. They may “check things out”, but they will move on and avoid the object. Every few days, rotate the object or substitute something different. Soon, the coyote will look for another, less disturbing pathway! We have Mary Paglieri to thank for making us all aware of this method of dissuading coyotes from visiting our yards regularly.

Abandoned Coyote Dens in San Francisco

In San Francisco, coyote dens were abandoned by their occupants long ago — dens are used for birthing and for the first months afterwards before the pups move around much. After that, although coyotes return to the denning area, they sleep out in the open and in various locations. Here are two dens, no longer being used, which I saw on the same outing.

This first one shows an opening which has closed up a bit with debris due to non-usage. It’s a hole dug into the root system of a fallen tree. When it fell, the tree was sawed into pieces and left there. The upended tree left openings through the partly buried root system in the ground which the coyote then dug even further for its use as a den. The landscape it is found in is a small redwood grove, as seen above.

The second den, below, is one which was entirely dug out by animals. It is located in a scrub area which faces a protective forest. It may have been originally built and used by another burrowing animal. When the coyotes found it, they expanded it for their own usage. This den, as opposed to the one above, has an opening that has caved-in and opened up.  The opening probably had some kind of foliage hiding it when it was in use. It opens to the top and side of a hill and goes way back, with a ceiling which is about a foot under ground level. We could have found out more about it by destroying the den, but our aim is always to interfere as minimally as possible: hopefully a family will be occupying it next spring!

Every den is different. In urban areas, coyotes have been known to build their dens near buildings, under porches, close to roads and even in parking lots! Last year in San Francisco, one mother had her pups under a parked car in a driveway right off Capp Street at 24th Street, which are busy and noisy streets. This year a coyote gave birth in one of the public restrooms of Golden Gate Park!

Mary Paglieri to the Rescue: Coyotes and People In San Francisco

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Press image to be taken to the Chronicle story

This article certainly presents an over-dramatized story:  “Predators are lurking in the darkness”, “slinking through alleyways”, “popping out of the shadows” — aren’t these fear-provoking phrases?  “A dozen sightings” — yes, but of the same three coyotes. A “pack” implies danger — the truth is that coyotes run in families, not packs, and the largest number seen together in this area has been three. 

And more dramatization without an explanation of what really occurred: Immediately after the little dog in Stern Grove was injured, we were told that this incident involved “two coyotes”, this later became “multiple coyotes”, and somewhere along the telephone line it became “five”… Everyone has been told that coyotes are in the parks — yet the owner of the injured dog admitted that he didn’t think anything would ever happen to him. He was out in a park well known for its coyote sightings, at 6:30 in the morning with two little dogs off-leash with earbuds in his ears when this totally preventable surprise occurred. Why hadn’t the Recreation and Park Department put out “coyote awareness” signs, even after dog walkers and advocates had asked them many, many times to do so?
None of our coyotes here in San Francisco has been an imminent threat to humans and this is what ACC is trying to get across to folks and the reasons for their coexistence policies. “Residents are reaching for their pitchforks” is just another over-dramatization — though talk of culling did come up. On the contrary, the intention of Mark Scardina, the President of his Neighborhood Association, became to find a solution which offered a little more than the simple coexistence education offered by the city. The only alternative besides coexistence education, he was told, was to hire a trapper, an option which involved killing coyotes since trapped coyotes may not be relocated. This is not the route his neighbors, and therefore he as their president, wanted to take.
One very concerned IT neighbor contacted me to give a presentation about living with coyotes to that neighborhood, and because of this I was able to suggest Mary Paglieri as a perfect solution. So Mark reached out to Mary Paglieri, a Behavioral Ecologist and Wildlife-Human Conflict Expert with over 17 years of experience working with coyotes at Little Blue Society. Mary’s solution includes not only coexistence education, but, if needed, she uses behavior modification and habitat modification — mostly relying on diversionary methods — to encourage coyotes away from neighborhood corridors where they might be upsetting too many people. Hers is coexistence with clout.
Coyotes become used to — habituated to — the simple “scare tactics” which coexistence education advocates have been prescribing as the cure-all solution for managing coyotes — so they don’t always work. Mary’s innovative and active but minimally-intrusive solutions are effective and create winners out of all stakeholders: neighbors, pets and coyotes. Her solutions are win-win. 
Mary points out that folks may be seeing coyotes more in some neighborhoods because of the drought, which has diminished the number of underground gophers and voles that coyotes rely on for the major part of their diet. To compensate, coyotes have been expanding their ranges — the areas they trek through, for the most part when humans aren’t around. Coyotes really don’t want to tangle with humans, but free-roaming pets can be an issue.

Dad Checks To See If It’s Clear — It Isn’t

This observation occurred way back on June 19th, but I never got around to posting it until now. Dad was doing his duty when he came out at late dusk to check things out for safety. The pups themselves were still too young to be brought out into the open — they were still only two months old. He must have been making sure the area would be safe for Mom.  Mom coyote was still lactating, and her survival was necessary for the survival of the youngsters. Coyote family members watch out for each other.

Dad came to the crest of a hill and looked in all directions. Mom stayed at the bottom of the hill assessing the situation for herself and looking towards Dad for any signal of danger he might give her. Dad indeed had heard some voices and saw SOMEthing, and Mom knew how to read his body language. She hurried back to the safety of the bushes and he followed soon afterwards.

I went looking for what the disturbance might have been. I only had to walk a few paces to where, because of the darkness, I could barely make out two fella humans sitting on the ground by some rocks next to the path the coyotes would have taken. They were talking in barely audible soft, hushed voices. I don’t know if Dad coyote had heard them, smelled them, or seen them. I myself had not heard them or seen them (or smelled them!) in the quiet of the evening, and would never have known they were there if it were not for the revealing coyote behavior — the same behavior that Mom coyote could read about Dad.

Yipping Duet After The Blast Of An Early Morning Siren

There’s the siren, then the yipping begins and immediately one of the coyotes walks towards the other — they like yipping together — and they continue their chorus side by side. When they’re through with the yipping, the female scratches some bugs on her body, and the male snaps at the bugs in the air in front of him. Finally the male coyote, as he hears dogs barking in response to his yipping, sits to watch the activity in the distance. After a moment of watching, these two continue their trekking.


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Click on either of these images to read the rest of this extremely short (200 words) and to-the-point piece on the importance of vigilance if you have a dog in a coyote area.

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