Wet Day Activities and Saving Something For A Rainy Day??

wet coyote

wet coyote

We’re being pummeled by rain — our fiercest storm in five years!  California has a desert climate, with normal yearly rain averaging only about 21 inches. Last year, in 2013, we received less than 4 inches of rain during the entire year. That is the same amount we are expecting just within these next few days. Streets are flooding, electricity is out, and there is water everywhere.

I waterproofed my camera and myself and headed out into the torrent. Very few folks were out visiting the parks where gophers were being pushed to the surface of their tunnels by all the water: coyotes were aware of these things. I watched this fella, in the driving rain, head straight for a gopher hole and go to work. The mound of fresh dirt around the gopher tunnel opening must have been a dead giveaway to a gopher’s location. He cocked his head back and forth only a few times before he zeroed in on the gopher’s exact location. Notice the coyote’s beautiful diving technique, then his furious digging which sent the wet mud flying in all directions.

He caught his gopher — looks like a huge two pounder — and gulped it down. He then marked the location — claiming, and advertising, his triumph.

He then meandered across the field and within seconds found a second very large gopher. No triangulation, no pouncing, no digging was involved this time — the gopher was just there for the taking, right at the opening to its tunnel. The coyote picked it up, looked around carefully surveying the area, and then trotted across the field to a clump of bushes, eyeing me to make sure I wouldn’t come after his catch. He emerged from those bushes seconds later without the gopher, so he obviously left it there.

He spent the next little while criss-crossing the field searching for more gophers, shaking water out of his coat at various times, noticing and being noticed by a lone dog walker who had bravely ventured out, spooking at noises, warning an unleashed dog away, messaging displeasure at that dog and then lying down and then waiting for the dog to leave when the dog’s owner appeared, and just plain looking around.

the gopher had been left in a little hollow

the gopher had been left in a little hollow

He then headed out of the field for about 30 seconds, during which time I hurried to the clump of bushes and found the dead, soaking gopher where it had been carefully deposited in a little depression on the ground.

Maybe the coyote had headed out of the field to see if the coast was clear, because he came back, eyed me suspiciously since I was closer to the clump of bushes with the gopher, retrieved the dead gopher and then retraced his steps in the same direction out of the field.

I watched him carry it a substantial distance, stop and look around a couple of times. He was looking for a place to hide it, apparently, because he then trotted further, to a distant grassy area, looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, and buried it. Possibly he would retrieve it and eat it when gophers were harder to catch. We like saving things for a rainy day. Might he possibly be saving it for a dryer day?!

A Fit of Fun With the Rain

It was finally pouring rain — rain that has been desperately needed in California. I water-proofed my camera and water-proofed myself and set out for a wet walk, hopefully to find some wet critters. I love being engulfed by downpours and I guess the same is true for coyotes. In fact, coyotes hunt during strong rainstorms because it is at that time that gophers and voles are more likely to emerge from their tunnels to avoid drowning.

During the downpour, I saw some everyday coyote activities: toying with prey, eating, a show of dominance, and then, just standing there in the rain with eyes closed.

And then, a coyote had a fit of fun with the rain! He began by looking up at the rain — maybe defiantly? — and then dashed this way and that, as if he were trying to outsmart the rain and get away from it! The little bout of activity was short, but it was a definite “interaction” with the rain and lots of fun to watch!

a back and forth fit of interacting with the rain

Running In The Direction Of Some Dogs

I’m seeing new behavior in a young 19 month old male coyote youngster. He — I would call him a “teenager” in coyote years — lately has been running in the direction of particular dogs to get a closer look as they walk through his park. Unbound curiosity seems to be what is driving the behavior, but it occurred to me that there might be a longing for more companionship.

The coyote never gets closer than about 75 feet or so before he stops, looks more closely, and sniffs intently with his nose high in the air, gathering all the information he can — olfactory, visual, auditory, and maybe more that we humans can’t sense, such as pheromonal cues — about the dog which is passing by. The behavior does not seem to involve any protective territorial behavior. There is never any sign of hostility or antagonism of any sort. The coyote just seems to be very interested in these non-family, non-coyote canines.

Sneaky, Devious, Guileful, Slippery — a Thief!

Tricky, foxy, covert, furtive, stealthy, underhanded, sly, shifty, duplicitous, scheming, shady, shifty, sly, wily . . .

So the story begins as I observe a coyote eating something big. It’s raining, and not only that, the rain has seeped into my lens. I keep wiping it dry, but focus is an off and on thing on this day with the rain and the damp lens — I wonder if any of my photos will even turn out. Soon I see that he’s being observed by one of his youngsters — his full-grown daughter — she keeps away. Eventually I’m able to make out the ringed tail of a raccoon — this is what he’s been eating, and this is what Daughter has been watching him eat.

After about 20 minutes, Daughter, and then Dad, move on to another area of the park. It looks as though the raccoon has been forgotten for now. They keep their distance, but constantly observe each other, in a way that makes me think each is suspicious of what the other is doing: as they move along, they circle back and forth while darting furtive glances at each other. I can feel the suspicion and distrust — there’s duplicity in the air. When a runner comes through, this pattern of behavior is broken and they run in opposite directions with Dad scurrying over a hill and Youngster ducking into some bushes, both disappearing from view for a short time.

When I next spot Dad he is carrying something which looks like a thick wet stick. But no, as I watch I can see that it’s more important than a stick: he looks like he’s carefully transporting it. And then I see it’s part of a raccoon — a piece of his earlier meal — the “drumstick”, so to speak, with a very distinctive raccoon paw still attached. I’m the only one around, and he lets me watch. He walks some distance, then stops, darting glances in all directions, obviously scanning for a place to bury his treasure. He stops on a rock and focuses intently on various possibilities. He glances at me a couple of times, but continues his search. No, this place won’t do. So he heads to a grove of trees close by and begins looking around there for a safe spot to deposit his possession: “This looks good”.  He finds the perfect spot and spends time creating a little depression with his snout, deposits the drumstick into the depression, and then covers it with leaves, again using his snout. He pees on it and then he trots away, looking around as if to make sure no one important has seen him.

Daughter now comes into view up the path that he’s on — Dad and Daughter pass each other and move apart — 2 ships passing in the night. They stay apart, but watch each other as they sniff the ground. It’s the same little pantomime dance between the two of them them that I saw earlier of avoidance and suspicion — I’m probably reading it this way because I know about the hidden drumstick. Dad then, nonchalantly as if he has nothing to hide, heads up to the top of a hill and sits down to observe, possibly to throw Daughter off the track, possibly hoping she’ll follow him there. But nothing escapes her, and her nose picks up the scent of Dad’s earlier route and probably the raccoon.

She follows the scent, and I follow her. But she passes right past the burial spot without going over to it, so I go back to check on Dad who has not moved. When I come back, half a minute later, I see that I’ve missed “the discovery”:  Daughter now has the drumstick in her mouth! Didn’t Dad see her take it? I guess not, because Dad is sitting oblivious of the situation at the top of a hill behind some trees. Youngster now does what Dad did: she trots away some distance and then glances around for a safe burial spot, finds one, and buries the drumstick. Ahhh! Now it is hers.

No, the story is not over yet!

She now wanders back to where she had unburied the drumstick — maybe she’s looking for more of the same? This, now, is when Dad sees her close to where he had buried the drumstick. Dad runs down the hill towards the spot. She moves away then watches him. He moves towards his burial spot and sniffs around. Is he aware that it’s gone? If he is, does he know who took it? He pees various times on the spot. Finally Daughter joins him and they both appear to explore the area together! What are they looking for? Is he searching for his drumstick. She may be searching for more of the same — or is she deceiving him and pretending that she’s looking for whatever he’s looking for? It’s confusing, but these thoughts occurred to me. It is during this joint exploration that the suspicion and avoidance seem to have faded away. They trot off together and all seems well between them.

Thieving, apparently, is common among animals. I recently read that Robins steal from each other and hide things from each other!

The next day I checked out where Daughter had buried the drumstick. It was gone. I wonder who was the slyest trickster of the two?!

Managing Urban Coyotes: False Advertising about Hazing and Habituation Can Lead To A Coyote’s Death Sentence

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Managing Coyotes:

Most cities seem to leave it to individuals — not even larger neighborhood groups — to trap and kill coyotes as they see fit. Folks have long been taught that killing them is the way to manage them, even though it has been proven that this results in higher and younger populations, and fewer stable families to keep other coyotes away. In some places a permit might be required at certain times of the year, but usually not, and sometimes a reason is required to get the permit — including that the coyote was a “nuisance”. In one community, coyote yipping sounds were deemed a “nuisance”. These protocols seem to be the norm. There is no education behind them.

Few cities have actual written “coyote management plans”, such as the plans in Vancouver and Denver. More cities have informational websites offering the standard guidelines and explaining that killing coyotes doesn’t work — again, folks are free to trap and kill if they want to in these communities.

Here in San Francisco trapping and killing are not permitted, but we do not have a written coyote management plan per se, because it was deemed unnecessary. A coyote organization attempted to push its plan through in San Francisco — a plan that included extensive hazing — which the San Francisco Animal Commission wisely turned down. Coyotes do not need to be “hazed” whenever they’re seen — it can be counterproductive. See below.

What works here in San Francisco is educating the public about coyotes and their behavior and giving folks guidelines which will prevent conflicts and other issues.  I’ve helped convert many folks to a positive mindset just by telling them a little about coyote family life and iterating the guidelines with some one-on-one help on shooing them off. Coyotes do not approach people unless taught to do so with food, so feeding of coyotes is forbidden, and folks are taught not to leave food attractants out in their yards. As everyone should know, pets are the main issue of concern, but this is an issue which can be easily managed by not allowing pets to roam free, and by keeping dogs leashed in coyote areas. Basically, what the authorities have been saying here in San Francisco is, that if a dog is bitten by a coyote because the dog was not leashed, or if a cat is taken because it was allowed to roam free, it’s really the owner’s fault and could have been prevented by following the guidelines — please take better care of your pet. This protocol is the only way to make coexistence work: it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s responsible, and the burden of responsibility is on the pet owner to guard his/her pets.

Habituation and Hazing:

I would like to add something here. . . . In my opinion, some of the “expert” information out there is counterproductive and remiss — it’s actually hurting coyotes and increasing fears in humans. For instance, “hazing” — mostly noise and erratic movement such as arm waving — is promoted as a cure-all which will cause coyotes to flee. But as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, and as we’ve seen in several cities which have now returned to trapping, for example in Seal Beach in Southern California, coyotes can get used to this and begin responding to it more slowly or even ignoring it. The big problem then is what this does to people’s perceptions about coyotes: folks are under the impression that if a coyote doesn’t flee quickly when hazed, that it is therefore “habituated” and that it now poses a danger to the community. This is not so. Folks have been taught that a “habituated” animal is a dangerous one. This, also, is not true. Because of what has been taught incorrectly about habituation, folks feel that if they simply see a coyote, or if it doesn’t flee quickly upon seeing a person, it must be habituated, or on its way to becoming habituated, and, therefore, to becoming dangerous. Where does this come from? There is no science at all behind it. Telling folks this is increasing their fears. So teaching that “hazing” is a solution has actually backfired.

Coyote Behavior:

We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Yes, coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in. All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts of survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.

The other instinct driving coyote behavior is a food drive. We all need to eat. Coyotes normally hunt small rodents, but they will look for free food which they may find on their wanderings, and they may grab a small pet if the opportunity arises. So, hey, let’s not let those opportunities arise!

Roaming through their territories as they visit their hunting spaces is another instinctive behavior. Everyone should know that, by doing so, coyotes in fact are preventing other coyotes from moving in.

Most importantly, coyotes really want to avoid humans. In most urban areas they’ve altered their schedules to avoid us: they are active mostly at night when we are not, even though they are not nocturnal animals.

 Simple Guidelines Are What Is Needed:

What actually needs to be taught is that habituation is normal: all animals become habituated to sounds and movements in their environments. It’s okay, and even fun, to see a coyote. This should not cause fear. We should be shaping the overall mindset of folks to think more positively about coyotes. And we need to teach that coyotes are wary — not fearful — of people: they’ll do their best to avoid us, even if they might not flee as quickly as someone might want them to. In spite of this, coyotes will always be wary of people to a certain degree. It is feeding coyotes which should always be strictly forbidden — it is food-conditioning that could teach them to become demanding or even aggressive in their behavior — and attractants of any sort should be eliminated from yards: you don’t want to invite them to visit, and you might even want to discourage them by shooing them off if you happen to be there. Everyone should be taught how to shoo away a coyote effectively. Scaring or shooing them off intensely should be reserved mostly for when the coyote has entered your personal space — say 30 feet — or is coming after your dog, or if one has entered your yard. Everyone should be taught to respect a coyote’s space and keep away from it. But seeing a coyote off in the distance, or even as close as 50 feet, in a park during the day is normal and healthy coyote behavior. Please see this flyer for detailed information and explanation on scaring off a coyote: PRESS HERE.

Because of territoriality and because small pets are often seen as prey, but also because pets may be seen as an annoyance to coyotes — the presence and activity of small pets can be interpreted by coyotes as harassing or challenging them, so it’s not always about predation — it’s of prime importance that folks guard their pets: keep pets from roaming free, leash pets in coyote areas, don’t let pets chase coyotes, don’t leave food and other attractants out in your yards, know how to shoo away a coyote if it approaches your pet or if it comes into your yard. Aside from guarding pets, the most important management tool we have is habitat modification, consisting mostly of removing all food attractants to keep coyotes away. BUT, on occasion, folks need to realize that a coyote might come by — but that this should not be cause for alarm.

Examples of Misinformation or Misbehavior by Humans:

One of the problems in some communities is that the only option they are taught to use to deter coyotes is “hazing.” In some instances, when “hazing” may no longer be effective, because coyotes have become “habituated” to people and/or hazing, residents may see coyotes linger longer in their yards. When this happens, the coyotes are sometimes, incorrectly, perceived as “aggressive and dangerous”, as they have been in Seal Beach, California. Of course, those who have an informed understanding of “normal” coyote behavior know that habituation does not mean aggression — it just means that the coyote has become accustomed to seeing humans — and does not in any way indicate that the animal will react “aggressively” or that it is in any way a danger.

Another problem is when people are so fearful of the “mere presence” of coyotes that they overreact to seeing one — sometimes leading to coyotes being killed unnecessarily. For example, a coyote was shot and killed a week ago in Mamaroneck, NY after a resident called the police simply because they saw a coyote in their backyard — one that didn’t run off which is a sign of “habituation” and therefore “danger” some folks think. The responding officers, instead of providing an escape route for the coyote to walk away, surrounded the coyote and it responded defensively, as any animal would when it felt surrounded and trapped — and, therefore, was deemed “aggressive.”

Let’s educate the public properly and let’s use habitat modification as a primary tool, such as removing food sources. Scaring off a coyote, which is actually “hazing” reserved for when a coyote has come in too close and is at a closer range, is always effective if it incorporates actually approaching a coyote: coyotes never become habituated to this “important to know” technique. There are communities in Westchester, NY which are now starting to get this correct information out to residents, including New Castle, NY. I’ve sent a version of this letter out to others, who, like me, are helping with the concerns that some residents have about coyotes in Westchester.

Here is an example of irresponsible and counterproductive behavior by humans. I’ve been keeping track of a particular group of dogs in one of our parks in San Francisco whose owners don’t leash-up and who allow their dogs to chase after coyotes. Fascinatingly, it’s this group of dogs — almost certainly because of their hostile and antagonistic behavior towards coyotes — that the coyotes watch and monitor.  These dog owners feel that coyotes are a nuisance, but it is their non-compliance with leashing guidelines and allowing their dogs to chase coyotes which makes these dogs subjects of interest for the coyotes. The owners have, in effect, been allowing their dogs and the coyotes to engage and interact. It’s our responsibility not to allow any such engagement: the repetitive cycle can be broken by leashing the dogs. Other dogs in this park are leashed-up and walk on, and, not surprisingly, these dogs and coyotes leave each other alone.

These are my current conclusions, based on my own experience and observations over the last 7+ years, and from reading some of the recent reports from various locations around the US. 

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[revised for clarity 12/9/2014]

Brother Becomes Fed Up With Sis; Dad Tolerates No Dissension

To capture the behaviors I’m looking for, I often keep my face glued to the camera as coyotes interact. This way, I catch extended sequences, not only of a particular behavior, but of what went on preceding and following the behavior, all of which help make sense of what I see. Today I was taking a break from holding up the weighty camera — my camera is always hand-held and can get pretty heavy after a while, and of course, THAT is when I heard a yelp — the same cry a dog makes when it’s been bitten by another dog, only there were no dogs around, just coyotes. It’s a sound I hadn’t heard before from coyotes. Dusk was well on its way to darkness and I was some distance away, but I quickly focused as best I could on the two sibling coyotes who had been hunting together.

What I saw surprised me because it deviated from what I had been seeing. The male youngster, with teeth bared, was standing over the female who was on her back, breaking the established hierarchy. And I knew why: the female often is right in the others’ face — something she’s been getting away with way too often: I’ve concluded that she’s been granted special status because of being a female — the only female — in this particular family since her mother died. Dad enforces the ranking always. Dad is the leader and alpha. Daughter seems to have a dual ranking in relation to Dad: she is below him ultimately, but he allows her a certain equality and is tolerant of certain of her behaviors when it comes to personal interactions. For instance, she is allowed to put her paws on him whereas neither he nor Son ever put their paws on her or on each other. And Son, low man on the totem pole, must submit always to having Daughter put her snout around his. As I said, Dad is often around to enforce the rankings, but even when he is not, the established ranking is adhered to. Why Daughter has special status may be because a female is needed in the family — Dad doesn’t want her driven out, and there seem to be matriarchal aspects to coyote families. In this family, her special status has been ceded to her by Dad, and Son abides by Dad’s dictates.

But Dad wasn’t around today when the incident occurred. Daughter was bitten because she was too much in Son’s face. Son had found something in the ground and had been intent on keeping it for himself when Daughter came up and stuck her nose in his work, making a nuisance of herself. Angry Son reacted in a flash, biting her and putting her on her back where she was kept for a minute. She then got up, ducking out of the way and continued to watch, again, from too close. For this she was growled at again, but not nipped again.

But the squeal of pain that I heard was apparently also heard by Dad, who had been sleeping in a thicket not far off. Both youngster coyotes, with their very fine hearing, heard him and looked his way immediately when he emerged from the brush. Daughter, submissively, with ears back and a crouching, crawling gait, hurried towards him. She might as well have been saying: “Daddy, did you see what he did to me?” as she greeted him submissively. Dad charged towards the son with tail straight out and hackles up: he was not happy with the altercation. He was not going to tolerate dissension in his family! He forced Son on his back and made him stay there a few moments, enclosing Son’s snout in his.


Surprisingly, Daughter had to kowtow to Dad also this time. Maybe Dad is more even-handed than I thought, and maybe Daughter is, usually, simply a little quicker to submit to him. However, in front of Dad, who was now there to protect her, she grabbed her brother’s snout in hers, reconfirming her superiority to him. Soon the two were allowed up, and all three coyotes continued to hunt, but not before Daughter again lay on her back in front of Dad, letting him know that she knew her lower status next to him. In this case, I don’t think she was doing it for her brother’s sake to divert attention away from her brother as I’ve seen so often — as much as for her own!

Not Ratting Around!


Our urban coyotes have a big job to do! They keep the urban rat population in check. The coyote in this photo has caught a rat weighing well over a pound — it’s a big one! Rats carry diseases, which is why we don’t want to be overrun by them. If you’d like to read some really interesting things about rats, press here: http://rat-patrol.org/Archives/Facts.html

“Rat around” definition, slang: to waste time loafing around; to kick around. [http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/rat]

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