Pocket Gophers: Staple Chow for Coyotes

Cute gophers are part of the food chain of life. When you think about it, it’s really weird: species eat each other up. We all need the energy from the sun to live, but only plants can eat sunlight — no animals can do this. So some animals eat plants to get this energy and other animals eat those animals, and on it goes up the food chain.

Well, anyway, here’s a cute little gopher. Until eaten, it lives its life mostly underground, digging tunnels and grabbing plants.

HERE ARE SOME FACTS ABOUT THEM:

They get their name, pocket gopher, from their fur-lined cheek pouches, or pockets which they use to carry food. The pockets on a gopher open on the outside and turn inside out for emptying and cleaning.

Adults are 8 inches long, including their 2-inch tail. The males are larger and can weigh up to 2.2 pounds — double the weight of females.  They live from one to three years, with most of the population being young adults.

Gophers are vegetarians. They eat roots, trees, shrubs, grass and plants they encounter while digging underground, and they eat the leaves and stems of plants around their tunnel entrances, sometimes pulling entire plants into their tunnels. Gophers are able to obtain enough moisture from their food, so they don’t need a source of open water.

They build intricate underground tunnel systems using their front legs and long teeth to push dirt out of their tunnels. Gophers like to be alone and only one gopher will be found in a tunnel system.

For their tunneling lifestyle, they are equipped with large-clawed front paws, small eyes and ears, and sensitive whiskers that assist with movement in the dark. Their sparsely haired tails—which also serve as a sensory mechanism—help gophers run backward almost as fast as they can run forward. Their large front teeth are used to loosen soil and rocks while digging, and to cut roots.

Gophers can move about a ton of soil to the surface each year! Their tunnels are built and extended, then gradually fill up with soil as they are abandoned.

They benefit the areas where they live, increasing soil fertility by mixing plant material and fecal wastes into the soil, by aerating or tilling the soil with their tunneling activity, which also brings minerals up to the soils surface, and they serve as food for a variety of animals including owls, coyotes, weasels, and snakes. They prevent erosion because their burrows hold water from heavy rains instead of it running over the surface.

They breed in the springtime, producing one litter of 3-7 pups per year. The nesting chamber is about 10 inches in diameter lined with dried vegetation. The young leave after 5-6 weeks, wandering off above ground to form their own territories. Densities range from 2 to 20 gophers per acre depending on food availability.

Many mammals, large birds, and snakes eat gophers and depend on their tunnels to create safer living conditions. Salamanders, toads, and other creatures seeking cool, moist conditions take refuge in unoccupied gopher burrows. Lizards use abandoned gopher burrows for quick escape cover.

Gophers are captured at their burrow entrances by pets, coyotes, foxes and bobcats. They are cornered IN their burrows by badgers, weasels, skunks, and snakes. They are captured above ground by raptors.

A Coyote Encounter – with Dogs – from One Of Our Readers

One of our CoyoteYipps visitors sent us a description, and took the attached two short videos involving a coyote encounter with dogs. I am reposting the comments and videos because they display normal coyote behavior that everyone needs to be aware of if they have a dog. More often than not, a coyote will simply flee when it sees a walker with dogs approaching it, but there are times when it may react as it did to Samira. Coyotes are territorial animals. This is still  pupping season for coyotes — it’s a time when coyotes are particularly protective of their areas.

Hi Janet —
Today I had an encounter with a coyote that unsettled me. I was walking my two dogs, one very large (~90lbs) German Shepherd, and one medium-sized Beagle/Cattle Dog mix (~40lbs) on a wooded path. I never see other people walk here, so I let them go unleashed. About five minutes in, we came across a coyote who barked, howled, and followed us. My dogs immediately started chasing the coyote, and when I called them back to me, the coyote followed. Since I thought the coyote was heading in the opposite direction, I continued further into the woods, but it continued to follow us. Though my dogs have good recall, they seemed unable to resist the urge to chase the coyote (particularly since the coyote was acting surprisingly playful) and the cycle of chase-return-follow happened several more times. My German Shepherd in particular was enjoying himself; normally he is very wary and protective and often takes offense to other dogs at first sight. It honestly surprised me that he didn’t attack. Though we didn’t appear to be in any danger, the fact that the coyote was so doggedly following us (it even went as far as the asphalt path next to the road as we exited) made me nervous, and I booked it out of there was fast as I could.

I’m having trouble understanding if the coyote’s behavior was as playful as it seemed to be, or if it was (as you’ve mentioned in this blog) meant to “escort” us out of its territory. Is it safe for us to go back? I’ve walked them there many times without any incident, albeit during the mid-afternoon (today we got there around 6pm, later than usual).

I’ve uploaded two videos:


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Hi Samira –

Thanks for writing about your encounter. The videos you sent are excellent in that they depict exactly what can go on when you encounter a coyote with dogs. What you encountered was normal coyote behavior. Dogs and coyotes don’t like each other — it’s important to keep them apart. It’s a good idea to keep your dogs leashed once you see a coyote — please don’t allow your dogs to chase them. If it followed you to the edge of the forest, it was assuring itself that you were indeed leaving the area. It could have been a youngster coyote who was curious about your dogs, but more likely, the coyote could have been trying to divert you away from youngsters in the area by making you focus on it.

If you don’t want to walk elsewhere, when you do walk through this forest, please make sure to leash and keep walking until you are out of the area. With your dogs leashed and next to you, the coyote is unlikely to approach. You have a large dog and a medium size dog — still bigger than coyotes who weigh 20-40 pounds — on the East Coast they are slightly larger. Also, you have two dogs which constitute a “pack”. When dogs are part of a pack, they are much more self-assured and they work together. They can do incredible damage. It is the coyote which is endangered by this situation, not your dogs. Also, you should be armed with knowledge of how to shoo off a coyote if it gets too close to you: you can see how to do this by watching the video at the top of the coyoteyipps home page. Please let me know if you have any more questions. Also, may I post your videos on the blog? — the more people who see this as a potentiality, the better they can be prepared to deal with it. Thank you! Janet
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Hi Samira,

Going just by the short videos the coyote doesn’t come off to me as wanting to play. I too have had encounters like yours, over several years with a coyote couple and their children. Janet has been kind enough to let me post pictures and video on her blog and my coyote encounters almost always involved dog, human (my dogs and me), and coyotes messaging their territorial concerns to us. So the way I interpret your coyote’s behavior is that he is herding your dogs out of the area. (Actually you were doing the herding by calling your dogs back.) It’s hard to know with any certainty, but there may be something in that particular area the coyote cares enough about to claim and it looks to me like me may be broadcasting his claim to your dogs. Charles
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Thank you for the response! I probably won’t return to this area of the woods anytime soon – we have a lot of other spots to choose from. And yes, you can use my videos. For reference, we are in Eastern MA, in a suburban neighborhood.

Apples, Blackberries and Pears, Oh My!

This fella found quite a smorgasbord this morning, all within the space of about 4 square feet! He must have been in coyote heaven. Right after he had picked up and eaten some voles without expending much effort, he walked just a couple of feet to a patch of fruit. There were blackberries, apples and pears either on the vines and trees which he could reach, or just lying around on the ground where they had fallen. I watched him eat one and then another and then another and . . .

He ate for a long time. He ate standing most of the time, but for a while he ate lying down in the cool ivy under the fruit trees. He crunched through the apples and pears the way we would, chomping on mouthfuls at a time, and sometimes taking bites that were too big so that part of the fruit fell to the ground. Then he got up and walked away. There was still plenty of fruit left lying on the ground by the time he departed, so I guess he had his fill!

As he ate, he kept his eyes up, high above himself, and on the lookout constantly. I wondered what was going on above him!? I never did figure it out for sure. It crossed my mind that at one time he may have been hit by falling fruit — a la Chicken Little. I have seen gum nuts fall off of Eucalyptus trees which startled coyotes enough to make them run. Or, it could have been a waving tree branch which he was wary of. Coyotes appear not to like things moving over themselves.

 

Change is Highly Unsettling

This coyote knows her territory like you know the back of your hand — she knows every inch of it — cold! So she’s going to notice all changes.

All changes are unsettling to her. Change is an indicator that something is going on which might be harmful to her. A while back I watched as she followed her usual path. She suddenly stopped, seemingly dumbfounded, and stared straight ahead. Then she turned her head, pensively, as if she were thinking about what it was which was so different. SOMETHING was very different but she couldn’t tell WHAT.

It was a “repaired” retaining wall, which, as a temporary measure, consisted of a burlap covering. It had been all green ivy before the change. She stood absolutely still as she stared at the change.  Then she looked around in back of herself, keeping her head turned as if she had to think some more about it by looking away, possibly trying to remember why she had this tremendous “uneasy” feeling. She examined it one more time before turning around and going the other way. Better not to take a chance with something that makes you this anxious.

In A Wheat Field, Excellently Camoflauged

coyote is in the center of the photo in case you have trouble finding it

coyote asleep in a wheat field

Here’s a little fella who looked up at me before plopping down onto the ground and out of sight right there in front of me as I watched. If you didn’t know he was there you would not have seen him. From most angles I could not see him, even though I knew exactly where he was!  It is only because he moved a little that I was able to relocate him again.

For a while he engaged in some scratching and grooming. Then he was down and out and unfindable again!

 

 

Eagle Owl Lands

Wow! I’m into eagles and owls this week. I tend to like our predators. Here, an Eagle Owl approaches in slow motion and then extends and spreads its incredible talons to grab its perch. I had to share this!! Enjoy!

Our Revered American Bald Eagle Was Once Maligned — and killed — For The Exact Same “Transgressions” As Are Coyotes Today

2013-06-26 Did you know that our now protected American Bald Eagles were at one time vilified as murderers and vermin in the not too distant past? They were imagined to be grave threats to sheep and small livestock and competitors for fish and game birds. Around the turn of the century they and other bird and animal predators were being eradicated. Sounds like a coyote story, doesn’t it?!

bald-eagle_1_600x450“Newspapers printed exaggerated stories of bald eagles attacking small children, blinding, disfiguring or even carrying them away in their claws, like a 3-year-old girl named Nettie in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., in 1896. (An older girl was said to have stopped the attack by stabbing the bird in the head with her hatpin.) In 1901, The Los Angeles Times described an eagle seizing a 6-month-old baby. The child’s mother, Emma Goulding, reportedly chased the bird for eight miles on mule-back, then climbed a rocky cliff toward its nest, deflecting attacks from both the eagle and its mate as she ascended, killing both. Eventually, Mrs. Goulding found her baby lying in the eagles’ nest unharmed, then tore her skirt up, fashioned it into a rope, and rappelled them both down to safety.”

“By the 1920s, all this vitriol and killing was pushing the bald eagle toward extinction. Early conservationists, trying to warn the public about the eagle’s predicament, found it challenging to defuse all the hatred that had gathered around the bird. Slowly, of course, public opinion turned in the bald eagle’s favor for a variety of reasons, few of which had anything to do intrinsically with bald eagles. The environmental historian Mark V. Barrow Jr. points out that passage of the first national law to protect eagles, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, in 1940, was partly a byproduct of newly booming patriotism on the cusp of World War II. And in the ’60s, the bird became a sympathetic poster child for the new, pernicious form of damage that the pesticide DDT and other pollutants were leveling on the environment. It was one of the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1973.”

Read more about how “we manipulate and manage the world’s wild things to reflect our ideas about what’s right and wrong, about what belongs in nature and what’s an abomination” in Jon Mooallem’s NYT article about “Streaming Eagles”:  http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/opinionator/2014/06/20/streaming-eagles/

I wanted to include this article to show that the treatment of eagles was so similar to the way coyotes are being treated in many areas of North America today — and all based, not on truth, but on what folks WANT to believe: Folks seem to WANT to malign them by saddling them with all sorts of untruths. Let’s learn who they are and what they are really like. And let’s stop “managing” our wildlife and just let it be. Nature can manage itself. We need to learn that animals are not bad, they just “are”, and we need to learn to live with it the way it is.

Searching For A Companion After Becoming Separated

These two coyotes, a father and a year-old daughter, were out walking together at dusk, in a thick fog, when a large English Setter up the path went after them. This caused the coyotes to split up, with the female running off and out of sight. The dog owners grabbed their dog and walked on. I watched the remaining coyote, the male, walk on and then head over to some grasses to wait for his walking companion. He waited and waited. Finally he stood up and walked to the crest of a hill where he strained his neck and lifted his head high looking in all directions for her. The crest of a hill is a good vantage point if you’re looking for someone. No luck. He then went down the hill a little ways, walking slowly, and did the same thing. He then turned and looked at me, and I understood.

That he wanted to be with the other coyote, that they were companions who were fond of each other, was obvious. It was joyful to know and understand this, but sad to see the little fellow distressed by her absence and searching for her, but not finding her. In the past I’ve watched coyotes spend half an hour searching for each other after an unexpected encounter on a trail caused them to split up. Coyote family members are good “friends” — not too different from the way we humans are with our family members. They, like us, like being together and doing things together, and they’ll search for one another when they unexpectedly become separated.

Horsin’ Around and Banter

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Coyotes spend a great deal of time playing, which includes horsing around, teasing and bantering. These are extremely social and family minded animals: they are constantly interacting with each other. These two are wild urban coyotes in one of the public parks right in San Francisco, one of the 10 densest urban centers in the country. They are behaving like any of the rest of us might towards a much loved parent!

Here, in the top photo, an adult yearling daughter has just “hopped on Pop”, actually draping her entire body over his like a wet rag! While on top of him, she gave little playful nibbles to his elbows and knees and then she slid off!

She ran off to wrestle energetically with her brother, but within a few minutes she returned to Dad and placed, this time, just a paw on his back, bottom photo, and again, playfully and affectionately nibbled at his elbows, teasing him a little! She’s the only one in this family of three that puts her paws — or even more of herself — on top of anyone else. She is the only female in this family pack. Hmmm. I’m wondering if she has special status due to this, or if she just happens to be the most demonstrative of the group?

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Goodwill Teasing!

There was almost no light, and there were tall grasses between the camera and the coyotes, so these photos are totally washed out and blurry. However, the behavior depicted in them is absolutely fabulous: I decided it was worth it to post them, so I enhanced them as best I could.

A little female yearling coyote “teases” her dad and then her brother by affectionately stretching herself on top of them, and either nuzzling their legs as in the case of her father, or nuzzling their ears, as in the case of her brother! Her behavior was good-willed fun. It was not meant to provoke any kind of reaction — it was simply a display of her affectionate teasing. It looks like this little gal has two BFFs!!

She had been out alone, whiling away the time until the daily family get-together/rendezvous time.

Then her brother appeared and he was absolutely ecstatic to see her. He seemed to “jump for joy” as she and their dad approached him: first he performed one bounce, then one squiggle sitting down, and finally a jump, squiggle and bounce all at the same time!

2014-06-17 (8)Then they all piled up together where there were the usual kisses/nose-touches and wiggly-squiggly movements which are a dead giveaway for the excitement and joy they were feeling.

 

After the general excitement of the initial encounter and greeting died down, the female youngster “hopped on Pop”. It was affectionate contact that they both soaked up. She then twisted her head down and around him and gave him little love nuzzles and bites on his legs. Wow!

The three then broke out into an intense play session: they chased each other wildly, they wrestled, they groomed each other — no photos because the movement in tall grasses with no light just shows blurs. These are all activities which regularly follow the initial rendezvous greetings after spending the day apart sleeping.

During the intensive play period, the female youngster jumped on her brother, as she had done to her dad earlier. Only this time she tugged at one of his ears and then the other, teasing him affectionately.

They played intensively some more and then ran off and out of sight. They would spend the night trekking!

 

photos 6-17pm

Mischief or Just a Diversion?

My eyes almost popped out as I watched this. Two coyotes were having a fabulous time playing in a yard — I had not seen coyotes play in a long time, so this was a real treat for me: there was joyous wrestling and chasing. Then one of the two happened upon a possible toy — a bright green garden hose — a novel find. One coyote went over and lifted it up in its mouth and began tugging on it — trying to move it. “Toys” are most often played with alone unless there is going to be a tug of war or a chase about it. But the hose was rather cumbersome and not very maneuverable so the coyote couldn’t run off with it or play tug-of-war with it. I thought it would soon be dropped. Instead, the coyote stopped tugging, and within 30 seconds the hose had been sliced in two. Well, there was one thing you could do with an unyielding hose! Afterwards the coyote looked around — it was almost as if the coyote was trying to see if anyone was watching — but the coast was clear (except for me, and I didn’t count).

The coyote proceeded to another section of the hose and tugged on it for a moment before chewing through that! “Done, again, in 30 seconds”. Maybe that was what hoses were for? After this second cut, the coyote walked on a short distance and urinated: “take that”. Hmmm.  Coyotes are very intelligent and can be very purposeful in their activities. They are known for creating diversions for themselves, but in this case, the thought occurred to me that maybe there was more going on than that — could it be that the coyote didn’t like the hose? Could it be that the coyote had been sprayed by a hose?  It was just a speculative thought. Photos of the first “slice” are in the gallery above; and those from the second “slice” are in the gallery below.


Profile by Joel Engardio for the San Francisco Examiner

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get-attachmentA COYOTE WHISPERER FOR URBAN COYOTES: For seven years, 64-year-old Janet Kessler has been voluntarily observing and photographing urban coyote behavior throughout San Francisco’s parks. She regularly logs six hours a day, taking up to 600 pictures. “People think coyotes are vermin, dangerous or the big bad wolf,” Kessler said. “But they’re wonderful animals we can live with if we treat them with respect and take the right precautions.”

Read full essay: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/woman-on-first-name-basis-with-sf-coyotes/Content?oid=2815528

Extended Family or Strangers? Does the Coyote Community Extend Beyond the Nuclear Family? Recordings from Jo

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The coyote behaviors that I’ve watched and been writing about revolve around single coyote families — almost exclusively. The one exception has been when an intruder was driven out of a territory. We may have found another exception! Last night we heard the first concrete evidence that interactions outside the nuclear family actually do take place!

Background: I’ve been recording the howls of all the coyotes I know. Those I hear regularly I have pretty much learned to distinguish from the other members of their families. Human voices are different and we can distinguish them — each person has a signature voice which is uniquely his own. Coyotes, too, have individual voices which can be distinguished once you get to know them.

One of my coyote families regularly treks the mile from their “home base” to another open space. I’ve followed them and observed them in the distant open space, particularly during the darkest hours of the night. Fellow coyote enthusiast, Jo, lives on the edge of this distant open space.

Not only that, Jo has the extraordinary luck of having a back yard which appears to be a cross-roads for coyotes. She has been seeing coyotes which, although she cannot distinguish between, she’s been sending me recordings of their howls regularly and can distinguish some of the howls. The howls seem to confirm what I have been seeing: that it’s the same coyote family members from another open space who frequent that area.

Jo has just sent two new midnight yipping and howling recordings, taken only six minutes apart. The first sounded with the voices I am familiar with. However, the second one has a voice I don’t recognize — it’s a totally new voice to me.

It’s funny that you mentioned hearing a coyote that you didn’t recognize.  Here’s why: in recording 1, the coyotes were very clearly in one spot toward the upper left of the yard; but in recording 2 from 12:58am, it sounded like the group was joined by an additional group in the neighbors yard to the lower right beneath my window.  There were some voices I hadn’t heard before. The two groups continued communicating from opposite corners until the light went on.  It was AMAZING!”

Jo adds, “Lots of laughs, but I think our yard might be the coyote version of a nightclub where they all just let loose!”

#1

#2

I’ve often been told that one is more likely to “hear” a coyote than “see” one, and that happened to be the case here. So, although I myself have not seen a new face in the area as of yet, I have heard its howl. We don’t know if the communication with the newcomer was antagonistic or friendly. More than likely it was not friendly since newcomers are never welcome and may, in fact, be vying for that piece of territory. I have been seeing some fight wounds and limping in the resident coyotes which might indicate a territorial dispute.

However, I’ve been speculating for some time that coyote social interactions might extend beyond the nuclear family, based on my observation that the female alpha from one of my groups is absent from her home base on a regular basis for a few days at a time, as are the other family members from that family, but less frequently. My thought is that the alpha female regularly visits her dispersed grown pups from previous litters, and then returns to her own territorial home base. AND that the alpha female may even remain the “matriarch” over these particular dispersed individuals. This is pure speculation, but I wanted to toss it out there as food for thought.

Jo comments about one of the female voices: “Her voice has a beautiful silvery timbre on the high notes that I don’t recognize as any of the other coyotes in this area. I love her song!”

Togetherness, Physical Contact, Care in Yearling Siblings


As in our human families, coyotes each have unique individual personalities and they form unique relationships among themselves which are often very affectionate and caring.

Here, two yearling siblings are out exploring and hunting before meeting up with the adults of the family. I was able to watch the two for a couple of hours.

During this time, each kept visually aware of where the other was and what the other was doing. They would separate for only short periods of time and short distances as they explored and hunted, and then they would look up and run towards each other. Besides simply liking each other, they seemed oddly dependent on each other for safety and security on this particular evening.

In these grainy photos taken at twilight, the little female coyote, to the right, after yet again running towards her sibling, rubbed her head against him and then actually raised the front part of her body over his back and partially lay on him!  Togetherness and physical contact are characteristic of coyote family members. As she lay there draped over his body, she engaged in some tender grooming — looks like she was removing bugs from the back of his head — extending her contact with him and staying there for over a minute, and occasionally looking around before both slipped apart and again wandered a little ways apart from each other.

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sibling youngsters totally attuned to each other

Long Legged

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