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.


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.

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.

Eats Seeds and Pods from a Field of Wildflowers

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Coyotes indeed are opportunistic eaters. Here a little fellow is eating seeds and pods from a field of wildflowers, and seemingly savoring his succulent epicurian find! Who would ever have known!

Poisoned Meat Balls Being Investigated Again — In The Sunset District

More poisoned meatballs found in the Sunset District on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo

More poisoned meatballs found in the Sunset District on May 5th, Cinco de Mayo

We are getting word that more poisoned meatballs have been spotted in San Francisco neighborhoods in dog walking areas, this time in the Sunset District at 24th Avenue and Ortega: http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/More-suspected-poisoned-meatballs-in-S-F-5456894.php .

previously found meatballs looked like this

previously found meatballs looked like this

There have been two previous incidents of poisoned meatballs, both on Twin Peaks, the first at Crestline Drive and Burnett Avenue just before July 4th of last year, and another at 80 Crestline in San Francisco on about February 28th of this year. It seems to be happening again.

The poisoned meatballs injured at least three dogs, and killed a little 7-year old dachshund, Oscar last year.  Strychnine had been inserted into the meatballs — it’s a rat poison. It causes seizures and muscle spasms 10 to 20 minutes after ingestion.
The meatballs had all all been hidden in places where they could be sniffed out by pets, such as along curbs and in bushes.
Of course, coyotes are also at risk, as are birds of prey such as owls.
We need to protect all of these animals. We need to stop this activity. A $23,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to culprit of this sick behavior Any suspicious activity or tips about anyone trying to poison pets should call the SF Police Department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444.

Touching The Wild, With Joe Hutto

I have found a videoed wildlife experience amazingly similar to my own! I can’t seem to embed this beautiful video, so the link will have to do: http://video.pba.org/video/2365224462/. What joy to hear someone who is exactly in the same position, psychologically and physically, as I am! As I watched this video, I had to write down many of the things Joe said — they are words he could have taken straight from my own mouth when I talk about the coyotes I watch.

The main difference between his Mule Deer Experience and my Coyote Experience is that I have never invited, or allowed, a coyote to get close to me. Several coyotes tried several times to approach me, on the same level that the mule deer approached Joe: it was a kind of a “reaching out” and acceptance after having seen me so regularly for many years, but I always walked away, and the coyotes respected that. I was also offered food a couple of times, but I never took it — I hope they didn’t think I was impolite!  

Here are the many things I penned down as I watched the video. Most of what Joe says reflects my own experience and thoughts, and a few things don’t!

  • I’ve been doing this every day for six years — can count the exceptions on one hand [For me, it's been 8 years -- and can count the exceptions on two hands!]
  • One chance encounter would lead to a study that has taken over 7 years of my life
  • What I study is hard to quantify — I’m going beyond science with my observation and connection
  • Joe met a buck (and I met a coyote) who had such a peculiar interest in me — my question to the wild critter was “WHO are you?
  • I made a gesture that must have spoken to him — we stared — and he clearly understood that I was not a threat
  • Day after day I would encounter that same fellow, and the rest of the herd would respond as if to say “Ahhh, it’s that guy”
  • That wild animal was able to see me as an individual and that I granted him his individuality
  • I was not seeing some “thing”, I was seeing some “one”
  • In that moment I realized what potential there was in these animals
  • And I was perfectly placed to study them (In San Francisco, I have many parks within a few minutes drive from my home)
  • My aim was to uncover their private lives
  • And I wanted to be the voice of this extraordinary animal who’s in trouble
  • I don’t just “study” them — I try to zero in enough to get to know the characters of the individual wild animals
  • Joe approached them to be part of them (in my case, I never approached them and didn’t want to be part of them. I wanted to be ignored, as part of the landscape which they could trust not to harm or interfere. My goal was to get to know them without being part of them)
  • One shouldn’t underestimate what is involved here — it does not happen overnight — it took going out there every day for 2 years before they displayed any trust of me
  • A pivotal moment was when they were’t running away  — they were letting me be there
  • Gazes become softer when you are accepted
  • None of the animals pays attention to me, which is the perfect perspective
  • They have distinct faces, personalities and relationships — relationships which are complex; the way each one walks and behaves is different
  • Some are bold & fearless, some are cautious and wary
  • A female was the leader — she would come near, but not close
  • They are wary and elusive of humans — after all, they have been game animals for humans
  • If another human appears, they run from fear, so my presence isn’t “habituating” them — these are still wild animals
  • I’ve had a chance to get to know an animal the way no one else can — to see their world through their eyes
  • They are profoundly intelligent — they have to live by their wits because they live side by side with what always has been their human enemies
  • Their intelligence can be identified by their curiosity
  • Only family members can groom each other
  • Blossom knows her name (this is not true of coyotes — I never use their names and would not ever try calling to them)
  • Deer migrate and spread out in winter. RagTag, Raggedy-Ann’s daughter, stayed that winter (coyotes don’t migrate)
  • Rag Tag led Joe to a secret place — to her fawns (Whereas I have stayed distant from all den areas always, but I have a friend who was led to pups this way once!)
  • Joe says they got to know his voice before they were born so they didn’t develop fear of him (Whereas I think it’s the mom’s comfortable reaction to him/me that youngsters picked up on)
  • There’s a grieving process
  • Raggedy Ann was supported by family members before dying
  • I feel privileged to have known them
  • RagTag gets sick and dies. Three days later her fawn, Molly, is still searching for her (Maeve looked for her mate a long time after he disappeared)
  • They cling to life the way we do. They fear death as we do.
  • Their reactions serve to warn you when you need to be vigilant
  • Joe had to face up to the relationship with humans — hunters (I’ve had to face up to the relationship with humans — their fears and hate)
  • These animals are nervous during hunting season (coyotes are especially nervous when chasing and exploring dogs and dog packs are in their parks)
  • Babe was a friend — there was a relationship of sorts based on mutual knowledge of each other  [and, for me, respect for boundaries]
  • It’s hard to sever the tie


“Love the Good Earth”, by Cathy Carey

"Love the Good Earth", 30", by Cathy Carey

“Love the Good Earth”, 30″, by Cathy Carey

Cathy has painted in oil another fabulous coyote in her garden using her amazing signature pallet of bright colors. This one is entitled “Love the Good Earth”. I hope folks recognize “the” coyote on the Coyote Yipps site!

“This oil painting is another from the view I had one morning of a coyote in our upper garden. I thought she looked like the Mother of the pack. I used with permission photos from the “Coyote Yipps” Blog by Janet Kessler. I have been experimenting with adding words to my paintings, and this is the first where I did it purposefully. It was first suggested to me from Karen Lane who saw the word “Joy” in my painting – “Reaching Out”.  I loved the idea of the organic meaning of the painting being part of the foliage and succulents. Look for “Love” under the coyote to the right, and “the Good Earth” on lower right. See it?” To view more of my work online visit:  www.artstudiosandiego.com

Courting and New Bonds

It is again breeding season, when unattached coyotes look for partners who will become their lifelong mates. These two coyotes appear to be a new “couple” or “pair”, or at least they are headed in that direction. The male has been following around after the female, at a comfortable distance, without crowding her, and even looking disinterested at times, but always only a few paces away!

The male is totally solicitous of the female, and ever so careful not to annoy or upset her. He watches for, and is alert to, any sign of displeasure from her. She is the queen. She, on the other hand, is much less interested in him, it seems. But she is his “chosen one”, and if she consents to his advances, they will become partners for life.

Watch An Eagle Grow Up – Live Video

Not a coyote, but I couldn’t help posting this for everyone to see and follow! It’s a live stream from Berry College outside of Atlanta, Ga. You can see one recently hatched eggshell in the nest, and Mom, ever so patiently and calmly, keeping the chick warm.  A few minutes later, at the time of posting on February 23, Mom was feeding the youngster, and the other egg was still unhatched — she had been sitting on both!

If you want to be able to tell the difference between Mom and Dad, here is a video which explains the differences: http://youtu.be/5lARYcL5A50

One Chick, One Egg, Two Parents

One Chick, One Egg, Two Parents: February 25

Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.


Small Chihuahua Grabbed by Red Tail Hawk in a Central SF Park

I wasn’t there, but a friend told me that about two weeks ago, in one of the small lawn parks in the city of San Francisco, a Red-Tail Hawk swooped down low, grabbed a small chihuahua, and took off with it. The dog was the color and size of a large gopher I was told. The park was full of dogs and people, prime walking time at 8:30 in the morning. The owner screamed in horror, and the rest of the folks looked on in amazement and disbelief. Nothing could be done.

This story is a repeat of one published by Out walking the dog. Her story is excellent, and I have her permission to republish here:

City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua?

Scroll down to see the final image …

Hawk stares at dead rat dinner

Hawk stares at dead rat dinner

In February, I watched a red-tailed hawk eat a rat in the bare branches of a tree in Riverside Park.

A man stopped to watch with me.  A few minutes later, a woman walking a small dog asked what we were looking at.  When I told her, she said, “I used to think the city’s hawks were magnificent. Now if I had a gun, I would shoot them.”

“Why?” I asked, startled by her ferocity.

She told us a story:  One clear summer day, as she walked in the park, she saw a group of picnickers happily barbecuing and enjoying life up near 125th Street.  Suddenly a red-tailed hawk swooped low, picked up a tiny chihuahua in its talons, and soared north along the river, as the bereft owner wailed.

“It was amazing how far you could see him flying,”  she said, “with the pink leash dangling behind.”

Since then, she hates hawks.

I think I understand.  I’d certainly be devastated – and possibly unforgiving – if a predator ate my beloved dog (it would have to be some kind of prehistorically large pterosaur to choke down Esau).  But as a fellow hawk watcher said, “It’s a wild animal. It doesn’t share our morals. That’s the way it is.”

He’s right, of course, except that we don’t share our morals, either.  We declare some animals all right to eat and others off limits.  There’s no natural law to this; it’s a cultural thing (some cultures eat horses and dogs; we don’t) and an individual choice.

Some pigs, for example, are pets, and some pigs are meat

Surely it’s a bit much to expect wild creatures to distinguish pets from prey, when the distinction is essentially arbitrary.

Saint John's nest rests on the shoulders of a suffering saint. Photo by rbs, Bloomingdale Village blog

Saint John’s nest rests on the shoulders of a suffering saint. Photo by rbs, Bloomingdale Village blog

If this story is true (and even if it isn’t), it brings up the fascinating issue of human-wildlife conflict in urban centers.  New York City’s raptor population, once virtually nonexistent, is growing larger.  Eggs have just hatched in the Riverside Park nest as well as in the peregrine nest down on Water Street.  We’re waiting to hear about the picturesque nest at Saint John the Divine.

And any day now, the numerous other hawk and falcon nests all over the five boroughs will be home to eyasses.

Life is tough for young city hawks, and the majority will not survive to adulthood.  Rat poison, cars and disease will take a toll. But each year, enough babies survive to expand the numbers of predatory fliers in the skies over New York City.  They’ll be soaring over the streets and parks, looking for meals, and tiny dogs and cats look at least as tasty as any rat, squirrel or pigeon.  Like our suburban neighbors who are losing pets to coyotes, this story offers a reminder that we may need to adjust our behavior to accommodate the return of the wild.  So if you love your cats, better to keep them inside where they can be neither prey nor predator (songbirds will thank you).  And if you love your tiny dogs, keep them leashed and under your watchful eye, at least when strolling in Riverside Park.

I couldn’t shake the image of the hawk carrying off the poor little dog with the pink leash, so I asked my friend,  Charlotte Hildebrand, to paint an illustration for me.  And she did. This painting arrived with today’s mail.  Thank you, Charlotte.

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrant

Painting by Charlotte Hildebrant from the book: “Still the Same Hawk, Reflections on Nature and New York”, published by Fordham University Press, 2013

To Spike, by Charles Wood

Occasionally I like to publish something not having to do with coyotes.  I’m hoping you all enjoy this as much as I did.

A couple years ago there was a cockatiel at my nearby park. I took photos of him(?) for as long as he was around there in the wild. One day he just wasn’t there. Maybe it was the park cat that got him, maybe a Cooper’s hawk, maybe he moved on. But last week I finally got around to writing a eulogy for Spike. I hoped that you might enjoy it. It is heartfelt, but there is some humor interspersed because he, after all, was a ‘mere’ bird.

Spike with his flock

Spike with his flock

I know neither for how long he was able to live his natural and intended life among his wild cousins, nor how old he might have become. All I do know is that for exquisite and incomparable moments he was free. The cage abandoned, he used that freedom not solely for his own will. Instead Spike made many friends. He adopted a flock, more so than they having adopted him, and he became their early warning system. Though the flock measured their own distance from Spike, Spike nevertheless was always first to call the alarm and take flight from danger, whether that danger came from the air or from the ground. Spike devoted himself not just to his own safety, but to the safety of his entire group.

We don’t know how Spike spent what were to be the final hours of his short life. We can imagine that day to have been for him like any other. Rising with the sun to preen with his compatriots and exchange greetings, ever watchfully searching for sustenance, and enjoying the many breaks he gave himself during his busy day: these acts were the fabric of his typical day.

All I know for certain is that Spike is gone, his watchfulness silenced, his chirping stilled forever. Somewhere a broken hearted child grieved for Spike having found his freedom from his cage. To that child I say, “Spike lived on”. I too grieve for Spike’s passing from my life. Yet Spike lives on. He lives in the gift he left us, the gift of his example of a life well lived.

Here is a link to the folio where Charles has Spike’s pictures online: http://photo.net/photodb/folder?folder_id=1013984



Dangers in the park

Dangers in the park


Coyote at Burning Man, by Bryan Tedrick


I’m happy to include this piece of art in the blog. I think it is fantastic! I asked Bryan if he would write something about it and this is what he sent:

To understand why I made “Coyote” you first must have some idea of what Burning Man is. The festival takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada and is attended by thousands of people who enjoy open spaces and the freedom to live freely, not unlike Coyotes themselves.

2013 was the 5th year of my receiving an art grant from Burning Man. In past work for Burning Man I had made insects, birds, snakes and architectural pieces but never a four legged animal. I am a professional sculptor and some of my most successful work includes life-sized horses, a bull, and a lion.

I decided to build “Coyote”, but on a monumental scale, for the event as it seemed the natural four legged animal given the context. At 26′ tall, this giant beast is climbable and has a rotating head that can turn into the wind. Weighing in at 7 tons, this steel and stainless steel creature will be with us for many years to come, as I am sure wild coyotes will be too.  

Bryan Tedrick

A Father Coyote Feeds His Pups

Here’s a series of photos I caught of a father coyote bringing food to youngsters.

*They see him coming and run towards him, knowing he has food for them.

*One sticks its snout into Dad’s mouth in an attempt to hurry up the process.

*Dad holds them off until he finds a spot accessible to both pups, where he regurgitates the food and then walks away.

*The pups anxiously eat up what has been brought to them.

*One pup then wants more and appeals to Dad by thrusting its snout into Dad’s, but Dad has no more to offer, so the pup returns to the “pile” of regurgitated food.

*When both pups are finished, Dad gives them each a snout squeeze with his own muzzle: this seems to be a mutually initiated behavior with pups thrusting their snouts into Dad’s mouth as he extends his snout to gently grab hold of theirs.  Is this a “thank you” from the pups, or “mind your manners” from Dad?

In addition to the coyotes naturally blending into the landscape with their camouflage coloring, the observation occurred at twilight when it was hard to see, so I feel lucky to even have been aware of the event. Interestingly, Mom did not participate, being too far away to do so, but she was within observing distance, and she was keenly interested in the goings on, as revealed by her focused attention during this feeding event. These pups here are approaching 5 months of age.

FAUNA: An Exhibit in LA

Charlotte Fauna 2013-08-09Charlotte Hildebrand, who has contributed to this blog, and Margaret Gallagher have a new, and very interesting, exhibit up in the LA area!

Their work shows the complex relationship between humans and wild animals in our cities. Of interest to all of us who have read Charlotte’s stories on this blog is her freshly created zine based on the story about her neighbor who feeds a coyote, 6 skunks, possums and raccoons, 3 crows, a dozen cats and possibly her wayward husband! Margaret’s work, in watercolor and ink, shows outsized and impossibly placed animals in an urban setting.

The show is to benefit the California Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation center for wild animals in LA and sea life along the California shore. There will be lots to look at and purchase!  The exhibit is being held on August 24th, from 7-10, at Perhspace which is an alternative music venue found on the edge of downtown LA, at Glendale Blvd and Temple.

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