Seeing Larger Number of Coyotes Traveling Together: Need for Concern? by Mary Paglieri

Photo by ©Andrew S. Kelley,

Photo printed with permission by ©Andrew S. Kelley,

Eastern Coyotes have been seen traveling in larger groups at this time of year, and this is creating some concern for folks in urban areas. People are asking, because of the snowfall, if the coyotes are desperate for food and will they be hunting in “packs,” and are they more dangerous to pets and small children? The answer is no as explained by Behavioral Ecologist/Animal Behaviorist and Human-Animal Conflict Consultant, Mary Paglieri:
Cooperative hunting in Eastern coyote family units is an evolutionarily stable strategy. It is a strategy that is adopted to bring down a single large prey animal i.e. white tail deer, because failing to do so, would reduce each individual’s ability to survive through the winter when small prey is not readily accessible. White tail deer, their primary source of food in winter, is too large to be taken down by one coyote, and the cost to that coyote’s wellbeing from injuries incurred while doing so can be very high. These costs are lessened when all members of the family work cooperatively. Furthermore, the increased benefit from cooperative hunting must compensate for the division of available meat amongst the cooperators: coyotes don’t share their small prey, but all members share when the prey is large.
Seeing coyotes move in family units this time of year should not be cause for added alarm. They are doing so to hunt deer, a large prey animal. They do not hunt cooperatively for smaller prey, which is a solitary “competitive” activity when small prey is available. Ordinary caution with pets and children should be exercised. In addition, snow impedes the mobility of deer making them easier for coyotes to subdue and capture in the winter — all animals tend towards the easier source of food, so, given the high deer density in the Eastern States, they should have an ample food supply to carry them through the winter and early spring.



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.


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

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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.


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.

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