Hmmm. Not So Sure About the ‘Closeness’ Here


Coyote pairs are becoming cozy again. It’s that time of year. They are spending more time together than in the last few months. Most of the time, both partners appear to be mutually involved — mutually attracted. But I wonder if this is always true?

I watched as the male (right) of this mated pair came out of the bushes and approached the female who was lying in the grass. Rather than joyful greetings when she saw him coming, she put her head down in a manner of *resignation* and waited. The greeting ritual here involved dominance on his part, and some kind of trepidation on her part. It was not the “ever so happy to see you” excitement that I’ve come to expect from other coyote pair greetings, even though those, too, involved a degree of hierarchical activity.

I wondered how often coyotes are in relationships that aren’t mutually desired?

This female seems to like her independence. She spends time alone on a hill where she hunts or rests curled up in a little ball. He, on the other hand, keeps himself less visible by spending time in the bushes during daytime hours. Whereas she always takes off to walk and explore on her own, he has a need to shadow her or wait for her, and when he looses her, say because of dogs or people approaching, he’ll look for her for a short time and then head back to his bushes at a slow and listless pace with head slumped down — one can’t help but read this as disappointment and dejection. Of course, they’ll meet up later in the evening, but he obviously wants to go trekking with her. She doesn’t seem to really care, and makes no effort to locate him after they get separated.

Fleeing From Father

I’m trying to get a handle on a family where the youngster is never present. The parents’ daytime resting time is almost always in close proximity to each other, either in an open field or under cover of some forest edge habitat. Even when I can’t see them, I can tell they are fairly close together because when a siren whizzes by, they respond by yipping which reveals their proximate locations.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the youngster — and with the parental relationship with him — because I seldom see the youngster. Until today. Today I watched this youngster out in the unhidden open. What a rare treat! He did not immediately flee to the underbrush the minute he saw a person (me), but rather allowed me to spend time observing. He just sat there and looked around from his safe-zone in the far distance where I know he stays, but this time he wasn’t concealed behind bushes and thickets.

Soon he got up to go: he stretched and yawned, and obviously was at ease, even though a person was observing him. He looked at me, but basically went about his business. He casually walked off, and then started descending a hill when suddenly he stopped cold, did a quick about-face, and headed up the hill in a hurry, lickety-split. He stopped to look back once and then disappeared over the crest of the hill. I looked down the hill to find out what he might be running from and was surprised to see his father staring at him. Hmmm. Instead of running towards each other for a happy greeting, the youngster was running away with trepidation!

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Had there been an altercation earlier? Might one of these coyotes have secretly taken and reburied a food cash that belonged to the other? Might there have been an issue with insubordination? Might lessons about territoriality and not crossing boundaries have been involved, or even safety issues about remaining away from dogs? Might the firm establishment of a hierarchical order be involved? Or, highly unlikely, might this have been the beginnings of an early dispersal process? I’ve never seen a coyote dispersed under one year of age here in San Francisco, but I’ve heard it alluded to. The bullying that precedes dispersal may go on for months before the youngster decides to take off for a better life elsewhere. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to see coyote family behaviors from this distant fella. We’ll see what happens.

“Even I Need Help!!”

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Hi Janet —

We have been busy with our programs and especially our school visits!

I wanted to share with you a few pictures of some 5th graders who have made Urban Coyote posters in order to share with others the important roles that coyotes play in our urban communities.

My favorite is one of a young boy who turned his coyote into a super hero! (There is a rat in the corner since we talk with the children about coyotes in the food chain and how they eat rats- which keeps the population down).

So far we have visited several classes with our Urban Wildlife lesson and have been able to share with them many great facts on coyote and the importance of leaving them alone and making sure dogs are leashed. It’s been really fun and the students seem to be really getting the message.

Thank you again for all you do! I hope you enjoy the pictures!


[Kat D’Anjou is a Humane Education Educator at the San Francisco SPCA. We met briefly to exchange ideas and information. Her HEART program (Human Educators Advocating Responsible Thinking) conducts classroom visits and summer camps to help students develop and express compassion, kindness, respect and generosity towards all animals.]

These Parents Spend Bulk of Their Day Together and Far From Their Youngster

In one of my coyote families, the parents have been spending all dusk, dawn and daytime hours far removed and distant from their one single pup. He’s been an “only” pup since he was very small, so maybe it was a single birth.

In the other families I’ve observed, these daytime hours, when the coyotes are visible to me, have included a good deal of “family time”, where parents can be seen engaging with youngsters: playing, sharing, grooming, resting within view of each other.

Not so in this particular family. Although I’ve seen the parents take food to their youngster and groom him — indicating that the family is still intact and functional, I’m seeing these types of behaviors only very sporadically — almost never — and they occur in the most secluded parts of their park. I wonder why more of these quieter daytime hours aren’t being spent with the youngster?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but the possibility occurred to me that the parents might be trying to entice the youngster out of his hiding places — to join them where they are. The parents have been hanging around in a field, at about the distance of several football fields away, but within view of him for the most part. Then again, as opposed to enticing the youngster out of his seclusion, maybe it is the parents who have prompted him to stay there — forbidding him to leave that safe zone? Teaching him about territoriality?  Or, it could simply be that all the interactions always, without fail, take place only during the darkest hours of the night when I am not around to see them.

The youngster is extremely shy and wary — more so than most youngsters. Each coyote, like each human, is an individual and different from the next. I’ve seen this one duck under cover if a person even looks at him from the far distance across a meadow. He ducks into the forest and can only be glimpsed now and then from between the bushes and trees. Maybe he’s just shy, but now I’m also wondering if he might not fit in?

A couple of years ago, in a larger family, I observed that one of the youngsters was shyer and more wary than the rest of his litter. He also seldom ventured into the areas of his park where there are people and pets, even though his siblings did when park patrons were few and the light was still, or had become, murky and dim. He didn’t interact well with his siblings: they played catch and chase and had wrestling matches, whereas this one would sit off to the side and watch, almost afraid to enter the fray, and then try to calm the exuberance between the others as though they were fighting and not playing — he did this by being aggressive. When they tried to include him in their play, he did the same thing. So the siblings just moved off a ways and continued their play. He was a loner who didn’t fit well into family life. He was dispersed soon after his first birthday. Is this is what is going to happen in this family with an “only child”?

Found Treasure

This coyote began heading off of the path and into the bushes when she eyed something on the path ahead. She must have known what it was because she went straight to it and, without sniffing it, picked it up and carried it, doubling back to where she originally had been headed off the path, then into the bushes she disappeared with her treasure!

It was just a little solid piece of wood — a stick. I’ve picked up little rocks simply because I liked them. Maybe she liked the look of the stick, or maybe it was a stick which she had already previously possessed as a treasure — so she may have simply found “an old lost friend”.

Coyotes enjoy picking up odd shaped or unusual things to play with, either chewing on them, tossing them up in the air to catch them, or playing tug-of-war with a companion. Certain of these items become “owned” for a while until they are either lost or tired of. Here are some other posts about finding special things and treating them in unexpected, or expected, ways:

Entertainment: Abandon and Fun With A Ball!

Mischief or Just A Diversion?

A Coyote Buries A rock, or Leaves a Present For Ailing Squirrel, by Heather

The Squirrel Wins Again

2015-10-11 at 08-41-42Coyotes don’t regularly climb trees, but if a coyote is motivated — for instance, if it is after a squirrel — it can get higher in a tree than you might expect. Coyotes can jump high and they have very sure footing. The crook in the trunk of this tree is about 6 feet off the ground — I measured it — the foliage in front of the base of the tree hides how far up that coyote actually is.  The coyote was able to leap up and then use her forepaws to grab the rough bark of the tree and boost herself into this spot. The squirrel, of course, being a better tree climber, scampered up higher and got away. It would have been difficult for the coyote to go higher than this, though, technically, she could have made it to the next branch up in the same manner she made it this far.

But when she got this high, she stopped. She must have liked it, because she stayed and looked around, with a new higher vantage point than normal. She kept looking up for the squirrel. Maybe she was hoping the squirrel would drop — it has happened before when a squirrel lost its footing. She waited and waited, but it didn’t happen. So she licked her chops anyway, yawned, jumped down and went on her way without the squirrel she was hoping for.

full length of lower trunk to the crook

full length of lower trunk to the crook

Here is a photo of that same tree trunk taken a little later in the day from the backside so that you can better see the distance that coyote leaped.

I took a measuring tape to measure the height of the crook: it was six feet above the ground. The bushes hiding the length of the trunk are some distance in front of the tree.

“Dispersal Season” And Other Misconceptions About Coyotes

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I have recently heard several reasons given for why there have been more coyote sightings in San Francisco: “It is dispersal season”, “there has been a population explosion”, “garbage being left out is to blame for sightings and for all dog related incidents”.  These reasons are incorrect according to my own observations, and this has been confirmed by others who study coyote behavior. I will try to explain what is going on.

“Dispersal season”. Coyotes are raised in monogamous families by both of their parents. When coyotes mature, they are either allowed to stay on in the family territory — they will be called “betas” — or they are driven out, a phenomenon which takes place throughout the year, not at any one time of the year.

The dispersal is dependent on a variety of factors specific to the territory’s carrying capacity and to the family situation.  For instance, I’ve seen a mother become intolerant of the presence of a daughter who could possibly displace her as the breeding female, therefore becoming the dominant female — the youngster was driven away by incessant attacks. A mom drove out a jealous male yearling to protect a new litter. A dad drove out a son who didn’t get along smoothly with the other siblings. A widowed father drove out a son exhibiting possessiveness of a new female. A domineering brother drove away his brother, probably for reproductive advantage.

Although I have not been able to see where these dispersed individuals go, I have been able to watch the strife that preceded the sudden departure of these individuals. The departures occurred in January, in February, in June, in April and one in November — not during any set “dispersal season” — coyotes don’t just pick up and go in the fall, nor are they driven out specifically at this time of the year.  And I’ve seen intruders in established territories in early March — not in the fall during the purported “dispersal season”. Although more coyotes might disperse when the food supply is low — which would be throughout the winter in most places — this is not occurring now, in September-October, when pups are a mere 6 months old.

Although a family group can be as large as nine in a large territory, and indeed I have read in the news that a family of 9 was seen hunting together in Southern California, which would mean that the family of 9 has remained together, I have never seen such a large family unit here in San Francisco. Also, in San Francisco I have not seen a steady increase in the number of coyotes over an extended period of time in families within their claimed territories. I have seen constant fluctuations in coyote populations in these territories — territories in our parks and golf-courses. All of these territories still have only one family unit, with populations which have remained incredibly stable. The fluctuation over a six year period in one family ran like this: 2 -> 3 -> 2 -> 5 -> 3 -> 2. This year, in one of the parks, just one pup was born, which suggests to me that saturation might have been reached in their numbers.

Since coyotes appear to need about a square mile of territory per coyote to support themselves, and even if they needed half this amount of land, San Francisco will never be “overrun” by coyotes. There has not been a “population explosion”. Coyotes population numbers are regulated depending on the resources and carrying capacity of the land. When the land no longer provides for their needs, they will no longer increase their numbers. They don’t need “human management” to interfere with this.

“I do agree with you that there isn’t any set dispersal season and I would say that early fall would be very early for young pups that are just getting to 6 months old. I would agree that it occurs any time of the year with some delaying dispersal to form packs with their parents/family, but I would also think that winter [on the East Coast] would be the normal time for the majority to disperse due to food issues in an average territory as well as sibling interactions which often seem to be the largest indicator of dispersal.” Jon Way


Coyotes-seen-in-the-neighborhoods recently in San Francisco is not an indication that there has been a population explosion. Coyotes “trek” every single night through our neighborhoods. They always have. This is normal, healthy, coyote behavior. They are marking their territories and searching for good hunting areas. They’ll mostly dig for gophers and voles — these are their staples here in San Francisco, but they also eat fruit, and larger prey if it presents itself, and they’ll eat food left out in your yard. If, as they are trekking through, they find a cache of gophers, or even skunks, raccoons or even a free roaming cat if one should appear opportunistically, they will keep returning to the area for a while in hopes of finding more of the same bonanza.

An increase in the number of sightings could be due simply to more people in the city to notice them, more folks out of doors in the city, more internet use, and more social media such as Facebook and Nextdoor, and to there being more dogs than ever before: all coyote issues revolve around pets. It could also be due to the drought, as proposed by Mary Paglieri, which might be diminishing their gopher supplies, causing coyotes to expand their home ranges and hunt more during daytime hours.  But coyotes are not overrunning the city.

“With lack of food and drought I could definitely envision [coyotes] either expanding their territories or probably more likely, within their normal territories, spending more time than average near people and houses looking for food and water. There is a lot of individual variation in this and regardless of drought, etc, it only takes a couple of individuals (maybe 1 pack) in a given area to become more visible – which to us means being more active during the day vs the night – to make them appear that they are more numerous…. but yes, over time the territoriality of a pack (3-5 individuals on average) would prevent them from exploding (or whatever term is used) in numbers like many people (and managers) mistakenly believe.”  Jon Way

2015-10-05 at 12-30-52 (1)In one of the parks here in San Francisco, two small dogs were grabbed by coyotes within a month of each other. The city has told residents that all coyote incidents, including these, were due to feeding coyotes, in this case leaving garbage out. The thinking seems to be that the coyotes are being drawn by the garbage into the more populated parts of the park where they are becoming more familiar with dogs and people, and that it is because of this that they grabbed the two dogs.

But garbage lying around does not cause coyotes to grab dogs. Whether there is garbage or not — and garbage has been in these parks for years without incident — small dogs may very well be taken unless the owners are vigilant and follow the guidelines. These incidents were not due to garbage being left out. They were due to the opportunistic behavior of coyotes which will continue whether or not garbage is out in the parks.  In addition, these incidents were not due to habituation of the coyotes. In an urban setting, ALL coyotes become habituated — they become used to seeing people. Habituation does not cause coyotes to approach people. However, habituated or not, coyotes could very well approach little dogs who are not intensely supervised, be they on or off-leash if they think they can get away with it. And, coyotes may message larger dogs, and they may even message leashed dogs, again, if the opportunity is right. You can prevent this.

What actually is habituation? “Habituation is a natural process by which an animal adapts to its environment and the stimuli within that environment. It is the diminishing of the flight response due to repeated stimulus which is inconsequential. Passing interactions between coyotes and people/pets are constant and inconsequential for coyotes: humans are not seen as competitors nor as predators to a coyote.”  You indeed CAN condition and shape coyote behavior through food conditioning, but this is not going on in the park: no one is using food to make the coyotes come down and grab a dog. Note that food conditioning and habituation are totally different phenomena. Mary Paglieri.

Both little dogs were taken in a park known for its coyote sightings. One of the little dogs — a 7-pounder — had been allowed to run ahead of its owner on a wilderness trail which had a small sign stating that it was an on-leash only area. The little dog ran into the woods in pursuit of a coyote and was grabbed. Why hadn’t simple common sense been exercised? Why hadn’t the owner listened to folks warning him? — many folks had warned him. And most importantly, why was not the sign more prominent?

The other dog survived his ordeal. The owner visited a park at 6:30 in the morning. As he unleashed one of his two little dogs, he looked up to see a coyote right there in front of him who grabbed one of the little dogs. There were signs and there had been warnings, but the owner stated, after the fact, that he thought it would never happen to him. Vigilance, and a quick scan could have prevented this incident. Also, folks need to be aware that coyotes are diurnal and therefore may be out at any time of the day, and that their prime hunting and trekking times include the hour or so before dusk and the hour or so after dawn. Small dogs are least safe at these times when few other walkers are out.

If folks don’t want to learn about coyote behavior, and if they can’t watch their dogs more carefully, might it be a good idea to put in a fenced area in this particular San Francisco Park? The fenced area would keep dogs, both large and small, from running off after coyotes into the wooded areas. Although it wouldn’t insure 100% protection unless it was coyote-proof (i.e. 6 feet tall with a roller bar on top), it would discourage and deter coyotes from the area, and with humans around to shoo off the rare coyote who gets in, it could increase little dog safety immensely. Folks would still need to be vigilant.

Addendum: This posting was written because of “the misinformation tossed at us” See comments.

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