How Might A Lone Two-Year Old Urban Coyote Spend A Morning?

I spotted this fellow hunting intently at daybreak. He was out on his routine morning trek, and I wondered what else he might be up to on this particular morning. I decided to follow him for a while. It turned out to be an average day-in-the-life morning with the usual ups-and-downs which are commonplace for urban coyotes.

After not catching any prey at all, he headed over to a grassy field and watched some joggers. Here, a raven who didn’t like the coyote caught sight of him and let the coyote know it. The raven did this by sky-diving the coyote a couple of times and then by cackling unrelentingly at the coyote in a harassing sort of way from a branch overhead. “Okay, I’ll go!”

The coyote headed off again over a hill and into a less populated area of his park where he surveyed the landscape for exactly what was going on and where anyone — dog or person — might be. Here he hunted for a while until the sudden appearance of a jogger spooked him — so he hurried on his way.

As he continued on, he was encountered by another person, this time a walker with a dog. Both dog and coyote froze upon seeing each other — they watched each other intently. I asked the owner to please leash his dog, which he did, but then, thoughtlessly, as he walked on, probably thinking the dog would just walk with him, the owner unleashed his dog after only about ten paces. The dog immediately took advantage of this opportunity and went dashing after the coyote who was able to evade the dog lickety-split by running through and around the brush and bushes in the vicinity. The owner seemed dumbfounded that his dog had sneaked back and chased the coyote, but at this point the owner had no chance of getting that dog to return to him when called, so he just watched.

The coyote is one smart animal, and the dog is not so smart when it comes to chasing coyotes. As the dog went running and leaping in circles in all directions looking for the coyote, the coyote turned back to his starting point where he sat absolutely stone-still and watched the dog search for him. The dog soon tired and eventually joined his owner, but he kept looking back for the coyote which he never did find again. The coyote remained perfectly still, watching them, until the dog and owner were out of sight.

Well, maybe that was enough excitement for one morning, after all, the coyote had already reached the outer periphery of his territory, checked it out, hunted, and been chased by a dog. So he trotted back slowly to his safer home base area where I had encountered him earlier on.

On his way he continued to survey the area, stopping to hunt — unproductively — a couple of times. He also walked for several hundred feet in back of someone, not because he was following that person, but because this was his normal route, and the person would probably not notice him since he was behind him. Soon the walker veered off the coyote’s path, but as he did so another walker turned up on that same path right ahead. This time, there was no remaining on the path:  the coyote leaped several scores of feet off of and away from the path into a field. The walker saw the coyote but didn’t appear too interested in him.

Once he had reached a substantial distance from the path, the coyote again engaged in some hunting. Various walkers, some with and some without dogs, passed in the distance and took note of him. And the coyote, too, took note of each of them before finally turning around in a little circle and lying down. None of these dogs showed an interest in pursuing the coyote so he must have felt safe because he then dozed off — probably with one eye open — right in the middle of the field. He was not visible in the tall brown grasses when his head was down. He got up and moved a couple of times during the next hour, but he spent most of his time curled up with his head either up or down, and I wondered how long he would stay there.

Finally, after a spell of no activity at all in the park, some very slow walking dogs passed by and the coyote got up and started slowly walking towards them as if he were going to follow. When he did so, the owner and dogs changed directions. It appears that the coyote hadn’t wanted to go in that new direction because he then moved in the opposite direction from where they were going. At an easy and casual lope, he traveled over a hill where he hunted a little and then he trotted along a path until he reached some bushes into which he disappeared. My observations for this particular coyote outing had come to an end. I had watched him for a little over four hours.

Pupping Season: “Scary” Does Not Translate Into “Dangerous”, but Heed The Message!

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Hi Janet —

I had a very scary interaction with two coyotes in the heart of a park where the trail runs parallel to a dense brushy area. My dog Ginger and I were by ourselves, surrounded by two coyotes that would not go away. I jumped up and down, waving my arms allover the place and yelling and they didn’t budge. Finally one went into the bush but just stayed there and then the other on the trail started towards us.

I did the jumping yelling thing and the one backed away but turned around, started walking towards us again. Like 15 feet away.  Finally I just pulled Ginger’s leash tight to me and ran. I know you’re not supposed to  do that, but nothing else was working. We ran up to a knoll and were not followed there. It was getting dark, past 8pm, a bit scary indeed!

I wish that man was not doing that thing with his dog, challenging the coyote, corralling his dog to go after the coyotes. I have a feeling that sort of human behavior is a bad influence and perhaps contributed to this situation I had.


Hi Scott —

I’m sorry about your negative experience with the coyotes — and especially that it happened to you, a coyote sympathizer, even though it is best that it happened to you and not someone else with no feeling for the coyotes. In fact, you were being messaged to keep away from a den area.

Coyote messaging can be very, very scary — it’s got to be to be effective, otherwise dogs and people would just ignore the message. The coyotes  you encountered were not pursuing you and they were not out to hurt you or Ginger — they were keeping you from getting closer to something important. You were simply being told not to get any closer — to move away: “Go Away!”  But next time don’t run! Sometimes running will incite them to chase after you!

If and when a coyote doesn’t back up, it’s almost always because of a den, and it’s always best to shorten your leash and leave right away. If coyotes don’t move after one or two attempts to get them to move, this should be the protocol: leave the area. You don’t want to engage with a den-defending coyote because they will nip at a dog who cannot read their “standing guard” message — we already know that this is what they do, and by not listening to their simple message, you would actually be provoking an incident.

It’s an instinct, and really has nothing to do with the idiot who was attempting to force his dog on the coyotes. That is a totally unrelated issue which needs to be addressed.

Encountering a den-defending coyote always creates a lot of fear in people, and I understand why — it’s meant to.  People need to know about it, why it happens, and how to deal with it. It’s a situation which should always be walked away from, no different from what you would do if you saw a skunk with its tail raised, a dog warning you off, or a swarm of bees. We know how to read the messages from these animals, and we usually abide by the messages to keep the peace and not get stung or sprayed or bitten. We can do the same with coyotes. A defensive or protective coyote is only doing his job — such an encounter in no way means the animal is aggressive.


Coyotes and Dogs, Coyotes and Humans, and How To Shoo Off A Coyote

The updated presentation — updated on June 13th — is at the top of the page in the second posting on this blog: It’s called Coyotes As Neighbors: Focus on Facts.

The version I’m posting today, here, in this posting, is called Coyotes As Neighbors: How To Shoo Off A Coyote. It is a shorter version of that first one: I’ve cut out some of the coyote behavior slides and the section on killing coyotes, and I’m concentrating on human and dog relationships to coyotes, and how to shoo them off in each instance. This version here is 20 minutes long, versus 30 for the one at the top of the yipps blog. Otherwise, they are exactly the same.

I don’t think a lot of the information in these videos can be found anywhere else — I don’t think much of this detailed urban coyote/dog behavior has been observed or documented. Except for some statistics and the section from Robert Crabtree (I think that’s the original source) that killing coyotes increases their populations, most of the coyote information in these videos comes from my own 7 years of first-hand observations. I’ve been spending 3-5 hours daily in our parks, engaging in my “pioneering photo documentation” (that’s what one journalist called it!) and research of coyote behavior and their interactions with people and pets. I believe these are the first such presentations which concentrate on the urban coyote himself! I’ve been told by coyote specialist professors that the dog/coyote observations are new. The video has been reviewed by an experienced wildlife conflict manager with 15 years of experience in the field.

Anyway, I would like to to get the information out there now because we’re in the middle of pupping season — there might be more coyote encounters coming up.  This information will be useful especially to dog owners. If you have time for the longer version, I recommend that one. If you don’t, try this shorter version. They are both pretty long, but they contain most information that you’ll need, especially if you are a dog walker.

Coyotes vs. Nutria, by Jen Sanford

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Nope, no birds involved, sorry.  At Ridgefield yesterday I watched a pair of coyotes try to take down a nutria and fail miserably.  I thought I was about to vomit my lunch while watching a nutria get torn in half, but nope.  He made a run for it down into the slough.  But it was still cool to watch.

From Janet: I want to point out that coyotes often hunt in pairs like this, especially when there is larger prey than a gopher involved. Also, coyotes, like the rest of us, don’t always have the same skill sets, most of which have to be learned through practice and through watching other coyotes. All the bites by the coyotes were to the nutria’s back: I wonder if they were trying to break its back to incapacitate it?  Or, might they have been trying to pick it up to carry it off, but unable to do so? It looks like the nutria endured several puncture wounds — I hope its injuries were not too severe. Nutrias were “eradicated” from California, but they still inhabit Oregon. Thanks, Jen, for sharing your posting and superb photos!

This posting and photographs were republished, with permission, from Jen’s site i used to hate birds.

Coyote Interrupted

Sirens set this coyote off, with long drawn-out howls and barking, and pauses in-between.  I’ve only included part of the recording here. During one of the last pauses you will hear, unusually, a dog’s response, which surprises the coyote who stops to carefully listen. “What the. . . . . who does he think he is?”  Anyway, the interruption seems to tick off the coyote who throws herself into the next howl with a spirited leap, howls some more, and then hurries off to a place where she might get a view of her competitor. I don’t think she saw anyone. The coyote continued to howl, but the dog did not, and the siren had long since ceased, so things quieted down fairly quickly.

Two Coyotes Squeal Exuberantly After Hearing A Siren

You can imagine my disappointment when this video came out blurry — even when I refocused it stayed blurry. However, the sound is clear: two coyotes yip after hearing a siren. The other coyote initiated the yipping — that one was about 150 feet away from this one, and this one joined in. It was a very short yipping session which lasted just over what I was able to capture in the video. The same high-pitched sounds that were used here for responding to sirens, are also used as happy greeting vocalizations.

Some individuals mistakenly have thought that these high pitched squeals were the sounds of puppies and spread rumors that there were coyote puppies around, when in fact, it was just adults squealing their adult squeals. As you can see from the video, these are adult vocalizations. And, again, there were only two coyotes involved, though one might easily think that the sounds were coming from many coyotes.

Trekking Purposefully

I was able to follow two coyotes for about half an hour as they trekked through an urban neighborhood, crossing streets, over dirt paths and sidewalks and through yards, ducking into and out of hidden spaces — their pace and course were very purposeful.  I didn’t see where they ended up, which might have helped me decipher what was going on, but the half-hour I watched clearly demonstrated their very keen awareness: their consciousness and knowingness and understanding.

They knew how to follow the vegetation, logs or areas which might offer some protection. The coyotes sniffed and marked/urinated regularly as the terrain changed or when they veered into new areas. At one point, one coyote stood sentry for about five minutes, insuring the coast was clear in all directions before both took off through an area where dogs often congregate, but there were none today.  But they also crossed into wide open areas such as streets — once stepping out of the way of a car but remaining in the street within about 10 feet of the car as it passed. Their awareness was keen for everything except cars.

These coyotes were not just meandering around or hunting. They had a plan — a plan they had worked out. They knew exactly what they were doing and where they were headed.  How did they know this, and how did they both know this? And how did they communicate this to each other?  I have seen coyotes head out in this manner to certain lookout points in order to observe dogs and walkers from the distance — it is very purposeful behavior. But this time, these two disappeared from the main dog walking areas, so that could not have been their motive. Perhaps they had recently found a field full of gophers which they wanted to revisit?

Anyway, the point is that coyotes can be very purposeful. They appear to be able to work out a plan and carry it out and communicate this, and deal with unforeseen interruptions along the way yet continue their plan. For instance, at one point a man saw them and threw stones at them. The coyotes veered off the path and circled around to avoid him — but they then continued in the direction in which they were originally headed. I have seen lions communicate hunting strategy and carry it out. The animals can communicate very effectively in subtle ways that we humans cannot pick up on. We humans aren’t quite smart enough to figure it out! We like to measure animal intelligence against our own — for instance, by how many word/symbols a chimp can manipulate. Wow — they can learn our language! Yet we haven’t been able to learn or decipher theirs!

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