It’s The Winter Solstice!

Coyote youngster with thick neck and breast fur for the winter

Coyote youngster with thick fur for the winter

Winter’s darkest day is today — it’s the shortest day of the year and the beginning of Winter!

In case you’ve forgotten, solstice means “stationary sun.”  The sun stands still at 5:11 pm on December 21, which is today. The winter solstice north of the equator always occurs on or around December 21st, give or take 24 hours. The US will get only 9 and 1/2 hours of light this day! Up until the winter solstice, the sun moves southward a little each day, and the days become shorter. As the sun approaches the solstice, this southward march slows down, and at the solstice the sun stops its movement south and pauses, motionless: that will occur at 5:11pm for us! Then after the solstice, it will reverse itself and move a little more northward in the sky each day, and the days will become incrementally longer again.

How does this affect coyotes?

Food chains all begin with plant growth. Plants require plenty of daylight to thrive. Fewer daylight hours mean plants cease or slow down their growth at this time of year. So there are fewer growing plants to feed the voles and gophers, and therefore fewer voles and gophers to feed the coyotes — these are their favorite foods in San Francisco. Animals cope with winter in a number of ways: by migrating, hibernating or adapting. Coyotes adapt.

One of the things they adapt is their diets, by eating other foods which are available at this time of year: foods such as pine seeds, and bark or insects in the bark as shown in the two photos below, which I thought was pretty interesting! They are known as “opportunistic” eaters, which means they can eat just about anything. Coyotes will still eat voles and gophers — but because there are fewer of them, they must supplement their diets at this time of year.

It may be because gophers and voles are not so plentiful in the fields that coyote youngsters are out more alone or in pairs now, rather than foraging all together with the entire family, as they did earlier in the year. Coyote youngsters may also be out alone more because they are feeling much more self-reliant and independent at this time of their lives, after all, the next step in their development will be dispersal.

Note that coyote coats are at their fullest at this time of year. Coyote fur can be over 4 inches in length and can make them look much bigger than they look during the summer when their fur is at its shortest and sparsest.

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

#68 BN6

Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

Night Eyes, by Charles Wood

Here in the LA area yesterday evening I took this video of a coyote. It was too dark for me to actually see the coyote. I used a couple of flashlights to track its movement. All I could see was reflection from the coyote’s eyes. Was it a coyote?

We can tell it was from how it walked around, looked around and then dropped its head in canine fashion to investigate an odor. Also, I had arrived a little earlier when the light was a bit better and could still make it out. It was a coyote. It vanished, as you can see in the video, so I went home.

At home much later, I heard barking from a distance of a few houses away. After several minutes I recognized it as the bark of a coyote. The bark had short and high dog-like bursts, several times repeated and concluding with a song. The song was a quick “yaaw yaaw yaaw yaaw yaaw”. Dogs don’t sing that way so I knew it was a coyote or a very very strange dog. The coyote kept barking and some of its barks did not end with the song. Without the song, its bark sounded like a dog with an insistent and high voice.

I went to investigate. I walked past houses as I looked around for the coyote, heading for the park at the end of my street. Passing by about half a dozen or so houses, from inside the house closest to the park I heard someone yell “OH SHUT UP!” That was how I felt after about ten minutes of that barking.

Arriving at the park, I could hear the coyote but couldn’t see it. I found it by using my flashlight, light reflecting back from the coyote’s eyes. I got a good look at a nondescript coyote. It looked like it was barking at something near or in a tree. I smiled to myself, recognizing typically pointless canine behavior. Upon seeing me and being under my light, the coyote ran off. I yelled at it for good measure. Once I got home the coyote’s barking started up again. By the time I called my neighbor to go back down there with me, the barking had stopped.

Facilitating

I spotted this mom close to where I’ve seen her family several times. Coyotes maintain several safe spaces which they move between if they need to — for example, when they feel endangered, or if the fleas get out of hand. This was one of them.

Here, there is a small worn figure “8″ path which is bare of foliage — an area I’ve seen traversed by pups playing. It is also a place where adults lie down to watch. She picked the crossing of the figure “8″ for her scheme. She carefully dug a hole and buried the prey she had carried home, using her snout to push the soil over the prey. When she was finished, she trotted off into the distance. Before she was out of sight, small pups appeared. Had she called them? How did they know to come?

She continued on to a hilltop to watch and monitor. The pups alternated their attention between watching her leave and sniffing the burial spot. Then, suddenly, they ran off. Had they been spooked?  Had the prey moved?  They then turned around and kept their eye on that patch of earth, but nothing happened. Soon they became distracted by the need to play, and the buried treasure was forgotten about.

Fast forward 24 hours when I returned to the spot the next day. As I waited, two pups appeared. The two pups again sniffed the area without finding anything. Had the treasure already been found? However, one of them did uncover prey about 3 feet away — looks like it had also been left there by mom since there was no struggle to capture it — it was just “there”, ready to be picked up by a pup.

Looks like Mom is making things easy for the kids — first attempts at hunting are a piece of cake!  I find it amazing that such thought-out schemes are used by coyote parents to facilitate the training process!

Addendum: I wonder if the same thing, facilitating, was occurring in this posting about the papa coyote several weeks ago? Pups were only a little over one month old at the time, so maybe papa coyote was “jumping the gun” so to speak??  Blue Jay “Buries” P-nut in a Four Foot Bush; Coyote Reburies His Find

Coyote Parents Are Working Overtime

At about this time of year, most coyote pups have been, or are being, weaned from their milk diets. But they aren’t yet able to hunt on their own — this will take training. So parents are feeding them with both regurgitated food and with entire small rodents which they bring home in their snouts. Pups are still being kept hidden – it’s too risky to bring them on hunting expeditions.

Today I watched this coyote pair as they went to work. One waited for the other for about 20 minutes as dusk fell. They normally wait for one another before going trekking. But this coyote got impatient and went on — the other would soon follow — they would meet up along the way to a hunting area. They took a route along the edge of bushes, hoping to avoid detection. When they got to a high open area, they scouted to make sure the way was clear and safe. Then they headed into an overgrown field of oat grasses which were about two feet tall. They wouldn’t be hidden there, but they would be well camouflaged.

The rodent population there was good because they each caught rodent after rodent and ate each one. She caught at least four in a row — he caught at least two. This was all within the space of about 20 minutes. As they wound down their hunting session, the male caught one last vole and tossed it up high in the air. He then tossed it in the direction of the female and then took it to her. She grabbed it from him and turned her back on him so that he could not grab it back. This vole — whole — would be good for training purposes for the youngsters at home.

10 heading home with food

heading home with food

So she looked around, saw that the way was clear, and headed over hill and valley with the prey in her mouth. The male followed: he was bringing home his share of the bacon in his stomach! And she had more in her stomach, too, for feeding the hungry brood waiting at home.

Solitary Hunters – Subtle Communication Maintains Harmony

Coyotes are usually solitary hunters. This is due to their main food source being small rodents — mice, voles, gophers — which can’t really be divided up between several coyotes. However, coyotes will engage in teamwork when hunting a larger animal, such as anything bigger than a raccoon.

The above sequence of photos shows two coyotes who are together as they hunt. They both head for the same spot when they hear a rodent underground. The female is the alpha — she digs more energetically than the male. Maybe she was hungrier than he was.  The male must have sensed this because he stopped digging but kept his gaze on the spot where she was digging. So she glared at him: “Hey man, give me space!” He moved off to the side to wait patiently, feigning no interest in the meal she had just claimed as hers. She continued digging ferociously and reaped the reward of her labors: it was a huge gopher.  He watched, seemingly disinterested. When she finished her meal, he got up to walk on with her.

Mary Eats, by Charles Wood

When I first began watching my coyotes in 2009 I thought that I would frequently get to see them hunt and eat. I was wrong, I never witnessed them eating. Finally this week, after almost four years, a coyote caught and ate something while I was watching.

The video begins just after Mary pounced on a rodent burrow. I’m impressed by how quickly she moves. Once Mary has it she looks toward the camera, rodent hanging limply from her mouth. Then she looks back over her left shoulder at my two dogs and me. Mary turns her head back and then looks back again at us over her right shoulder. She takes a good long look. Then Mary puts the dead rodent down in order to peer into the burrow. The second clip shows her eating the rodent while a rabbit moves around in the background.

Mary’s concern, upon catching a meal, was with my dogs. I think she looked back at us to make sure we wouldn’t run to her to take her meal away. She looked at us twice to be sure her catch was safe from theft, in my opinion. Convinced her meal was safe, she put it down on the ground. However Mary didn’t look for Rufous. In my opinion, her failure to look for Rufous was a clue to his whereabouts. Either he isn’t a thief, unlikely, or she knows he wasn’t in the vicinity.

Stratagem

Note how gingerly this coyote initially pursues his prey in this video. He begins by listening for little scurrying sounds of voles in their vast tunnel network underground — he does not want to alert them to his presence. So he tiptoes around the spot, carefully positions himself and waits — all the while listening intently. He’s very smart about what he is doing: clever and shrewd.

The hunt then shifts from a mental strategizing to a more physical one — there is a pounce/punch with nose and forepaws, followed by digging, and then another punch of the forepaws, followed by more digging. Punching serves to force some activity below the surface — if the coyote is able to collapse a tunnel or scare the vole, the vole might move so that the coyote will either see or hear it. His last recourse is to stick his nose in a tunnel entryway. After all that, he came up empty handed!  One can see why coyotes get their reputation for being clever, cunning, crafty, shrewd, tricky, and smart.

Fist Punches

These fist punches are not as forceful as the fist and nose punches which are supposed to deliver enough blow to incapacitate or stun. Here, the back legs never leave the ground. Instead, these milder punches appear to be “exploratory” in nature, possibly to get a critter to scurry through the underground tunnel so it can be heard, or to even collapse underground tunnels.

If the coyote hears movement below the surface, or feels that it is onto something, digging may follow, as in the video at the bottom. However, as seen by the first two videos, sometimes no digging at all follows the punch, because nothing was heard. In all three cases here, these coyotes came up with nothing for their efforts: either the gopher or mole got away, or maybe wasn’t even there to begin with.

Punch, then looking for movement and listening for possible activity below ground

Another punch, and then listening and looking for possible signs of life below

Here the punch is followed by digging.

Coming Up For Air

Swimmers have to come up for air, or they’ll get water in their lungs. Coyotes, too, have to come up for air, or they’ll get dirt in their lungs — or maybe not enough air into their lungs. Watch the coyote stuff his snout deep into the hole, and then lift it out just enough to get fresh air, and then stuff it back in, and repeat this sequence several times.This video clip shows three instances of coming up for air, and also some intense digging.

Hunting Togetherness

These two seem to be in each others’ faces. If they were to catch a vole or gopher, I wonder if they would share it? Towards the end of the video here, one coyote runs off because dogs are approaching. The other coyote didn’t seem to want to give up the possibility of a catch! However, it, too, bolted, the minute the dog actually saw it and began to chase — right after I cut off the video.

Coyotes Jump on Bushes?

There was something in that bush that the coyote was after, though I never saw it. The bush has a springy quality to it — trampoline like! It looks like fun — maybe that is why the coyote tries it over and over again.  The companion coyote thinks the whole endeavor is kind of silly: there might be some teasing going on! I have observed coyotes in trees before, but this is the first true bushjumping I’ve seen!  I did post some similar jumping in stills, but it wasn’t this dramatic. The name of this bush is “coyote bush” — coincidentally!

The Wag

It was impossible to focus through the tall grasses. The camera’s automatic focus kept choosing the grass instead of the tail. Oh, well. You get the idea. This fellow was hunting. Most of the time when coyotes hunt, their tails are not this active. The coyote did catch a meal — maybe the fast tail helped?!

Coyotes on the Cliff in Daly City, by Mark Citret


I live in Daly City, on the western side of the western-most street, just south of the San Francisco city limit. My backyard backs onto about 150 feet of cliff top before it plunges down to the Pacific. About a month ago, at dawn, I just caught sight of a sharp featured canine creature loping northward along the cliff top. Before I could grab my binoculars he was out of sight. But I’d seen enough coyotes in the mountains and the desert to know it was a coyote.

Then yesterday morning around 8 I saw this handsome guy just standing out there, stalking a gopher hole. This time I had time to grab the binoculars. I opened the window to see him more clearly, and at that point he looked up and was quite aware of me, but he didn’t bolt. I guess the prospect of the gopher was too enticing. I wanted to take some photos, but I had no idea where my point and shoot was. I’m a photographer, but I prefer film and it had been so long since I’d used my G10 I didn’t even know where it was. Knowing he might be gone by the time I found it, I risked it, and when I’d finally found it he was still there, intent on getting the gopher. Got a few shots off before he finally made his leap at the hole. I don’t think he got his prey. He trotted off north. I’ve attached a few pix.

I then googled “coyotes in San Francisco” and that’s how I came across your name and website. I’m wondering where this guy lives. I’m about a mile south of the stables at the SF/Daly City line, and there are pretty large stretches of wildland above Thornton Beach, below Skyline Drive and the Olympic Club golf course. I’m wondering if his den is down in that area, or if he comes all the way from Golden Gate Park. Any ideas?

In any event, it was a thrill to see him. I don’t own any long lenses, so the 30mm zoom on my G10 is about the best I can do. If I could entice him into hunting the gophers right in my backyard I could get a better close-up.

I’ve enjoyed your website and blog.  

Pounce, Catch, Toy With

Here’s a pounce and a catch, followed by toying with its prey.  Have you ever noticed that coyotes are similar to cats in some of their behaviors? Both coyotes and cats bury prey that they either don’t want or want to save for later. They both arch their backs in the same halloween cat like fashion when threatened. And, as this video shows here, coyotes, as cats, sometimes “toy” with their prey, batting it around or tossing it in the air and then watching it before consuming it.

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