Profile by Joel Engardio for the San Francisco Examiner

2014-01-10 at 16-16-29

get-attachmentA COYOTE WHISPERER FOR URBAN COYOTES: For seven years, 64-year-old Janet Kessler has been voluntarily observing and photographing urban coyote behavior throughout San Francisco’s parks. She regularly logs six hours a day, taking up to 600 pictures. “People think coyotes are vermin, dangerous or the big bad wolf,” Kessler said. “But they’re wonderful animals we can live with if we treat them with respect and take the right precautions.”

Read full essay: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/woman-on-first-name-basis-with-sf-coyotes/Content?oid=2815528

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.

Left Back Leg: New Injury or Old Injury Acting Up?

holding up the back left leg

holding up the back left leg

She’s been limping for several days now. It was barely perceptible at first, and I questioned myself as to if it really was a limp. But now it has gotten worse — a definite limp.

I’ve not yet trained myself to recognize, by the stride, if the injury is in a paw, wrist, knee, hip or shoulder — veterinarians apparently can do this. But even I can tell that it’s the back left leg because she holds it up regularly, not wanting to put her weight on it, and her gait is not smooth.

It doesn’t seem to hamper her ability to move. I still see her climbing steep inclines and rocks — but it might be hampering her speed. And the injury might be the reason she keeps much further away from people and dogs, all the time lately.

I wonder how much it hurts. I know it hurts because she’s holding it up. Pain serves a purpose — it tells her “don’t use this appendage”.

Is this a new injury, or is it an old injury coming back to haunt its victim? Four years ago, this same coyote sustained a severe injury on her hind back left leg after being hit by a car, the same leg she is now holding up. That leg retains large black scars from that incident. Is this that injury acting up, or is it a new injury? No way to know. I’ll keep tabs on it.

Anyway, life is short in the wild. Every injury or disease takes its toll. A coyote can live 14 years in captivity — but what a horrible worthless life that would be. In the wild, the average life expectancy of a coyote is about five years. Do we even know how long coyotes live in the urban wild? Many urban coyotes are killed by cars. In some areas of the country, coyotes are trapped and killed in urban/suburban areas. Most coyotes everywhere endure all sorts of diseases and injuries. Whenever there is an injury, I think about it specifically and globally.

Avoiding Danger: People and Cars

It was dusk when coyotes headed out on their evening trek. They followed the street line at first. Coyotes, like the rest of us, take the path of least resistance. Within minutes, the one in front stopped short, stood very still and listened. Yep, although you could not see them, there were people talking ahead. Better change to a less conspicuous route.

They took a path under a thicket, following the street line, but way in from the street, along the backside of houses and apartments — it was an overgrown green corridor never used by people. Soon they emerged from the overgrowth. The dim dusky light hid them well. Nonetheless, two cars stopped to observe, and commented to me excitedly. Everyone wanted them to be safe.

One of the coyotes headed to the sidewalk and street curb, with the obvious intention of crossing the street. Four years ago, this very coyote was hit by a car and remained lame for over a month: she healed on her own. She learned from her experience and now plans her crossings carefully.

She stood there, hidden on one side by trees and by a parked car. Cars, their headlights on, passed by pretty consistently. When there was no car in view, she used her ears to get a sense of how safe it was, and when a person walked by, she hid behind a tree and was not seen. She kept waiting as cars continued to come by. Obviously, in her experience, this would not be a good time to cross. She turned around and went up the hill and disappeared from my view instead of crossing the street.

The camera has compensated for the dim light in these photos: in fact, the coyotes blended into the background and were difficult to see in the dark.

Breeding Season: “NO”

These photos were taken as these two ended their evening trek together. He tries engaging in his natural breeding season drives. She does not want this — she has a need to discipline his eagerness. What is fascinating is that he is a large male. She is smaller than he is, but incredibly wiser and smarter.

She adroitly whips him around and onto his back and totally dominates him, making him lie there, belly up, under her!  She is skilled and she has an unmatched force of personality. When he attempts struggling she nips him firmly and she doesn’t let go of her position until he shows her he comprehends. She’s always been the alpha, and I guess she still is.

Breeding Season: Smells and Walking on Eggshells

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This is all about powerful enticing odors — exuding and absorbing them. Attendant behaviors include edginess and short tempers. Odors are left anywhere, but especially on existing odors, such as where a dog has urinated. Odors are absorbed by wallowing in them and sniffing them.

Behaviorally, there is a decisive tentativeness during this time of year as a male and female approach each other. When HE comes over to sniff her, his movements are slow and as inoffensive to her as possible. The minute she shows any signs of flinching, he stops dead-still and waits for her to finish her reaction. He reads every detail of her movements. He is totally accommodating and ever so careful not to annoy.

For her part, she likes his presence — after all, she is walking with him. But she has let him know that he better watch himself — she appears ready to react to any misstep on his part. She rolls in his urine and allows his closeness — if he is careful. They read each other well. She’s been testy recently and he is absolutely walking on eggshells because of it.

I’ve numbered and annotated the 32 slides to explain what is going on in each one.

Rufous Runs To Mary, by Charles Wood

For several years I have been visiting a nearby field to watch two coyote parents whom I named Mom and Dad. In November 2012 I found that a new coyote couple had replaced Mom and Dad as the field’s resident coyotes. I named them Rufous and Mary.

Mary being a timid coyote, it has taken me a couple of months to get a close up photograph of her. Rufous isn’t timid and the video begins with him.

After having repeatedly scraped dirt to territorially message my leashed dogs, the video begins with Rufous assessing his effect on us. At this point, Rufous expected us to have either run from him or chased him. Yet we hadn’t moved at all. He wants us to show him we got the message, to show him so by moving. To Rufous we seem really slow in delivering a reply via our feet.

So what’s Rufous to do? Send the message again? Wait? The pause comes from my having constrained my dogs’ ability to communicate, restricted their ability to move. Motion is communication for canines and by now my dogs would have run away except for my influence. I resolved the uncertainty and tension by lobbing a golf ball toward Rufous.

Rufous trots away. Note that a chain link fence separated us and that he was closer to us than a coyote should be allowed to approach, too close for me to just turn and walk away. I needed distance from Rufous in order to leave and he gave it to me when I asked him for it with a softly tossed golf ball.

Mary

Mary

The next two scenes show Rufous approaching his den area. Mary is waiting there in the brush near the center and if you observe carefully you will see her move slightly. The last scene shows Rufous waiting for us to leave. Mary is off camera and Rufous looks back in her direction

The video shows that to my dogs, Rufous ritualistically messaged his claim to both Mary and the den, communicated those claims in a way that any canine would understand. Deviation from canine expected motion, communication, came from my desire to spectate instead of move.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Breeding Season: Different Behaviors and Edginess

Coyotes come into “season” once a year. This, unusually, is true of the males also. Females come into estrus in January. Coyote males produce sperm only at this time of year, and the process takes about two months. As happens with all critters, including humans, the hormones become powerful source of drives and behavior changes. Above are photos of a male showing a strong interest in a new odor. This is the kind of behavior you will see now.

In addition, it appears that the hormones can cause an edginess around dogs — akin to PMS in humans!? If she’s in heat right now does she need to keep dogs away from herself?  Other behaviors I’ve noticed recently include much more wandering and a lot more marking and scratching the ground. Below is a video of a female coyote reacting to an unleashed dog even though the dog is quite a distance away.  The dog is barking threateningly at the coyote and then approaches. The coyote reacts by baring her teeth, raising her hackles, bouncing up and down and scratching the ground. When the owner finally grabs his dog, the coyote runs angrily down the hill to watch them depart.  You can tell she’s very upset at how she was treated by the intrusive dog, even though the dog, in this case, was a substantial distance away.

Breeding Season: Wandering, Sniffing, Marking and Scraping

Not only has wandering increased recently, but so has sniffing, marking and scraping or kicking. The increase is probably due to it’s being the breeding season.

Urinating leaves all sorts of scents and messages which other coyotes, or even other animals, can pick up on. The urine, as we’ve seen from human dope testing, contains traces of all sorts of hormones and pheromones excreted by the individual animal. These hormones and pheromones can indicate  gender, age, stature, and maybe even mating availability. Urine is used by animals for marking their territorial boundaries, but also for leaving these other messages about their status.

Scraping or kicking the same spot they urinated on is a common behavior of dominant individuals. The act of scraping or kicking often signals leading status — it, too, is a messaging behavior. Paws apparently also secrete scents. Scraping, besides leaving traces of scent from the paws, also helps spread the scent of the urine. I’m wondering if this scraping or kicking of the urine actually allows them to carry the urine smell — now on their paws — further with them as they walk?

In the sequence of photos above, an individual male coyote was wandering around on a far hillside. I sat down to observe him. He wandered all over the place, sniffing intently, urinating and then scraping. No one was there to see him. He may have seen me — though I was hundreds of yards away. He urinated in many spots, and he scraped viciously. I’ve never seen other coyotes or dogs on that hillside, so I’m wondering who he was doing this for. Maybe another lone coyote had passed through and did the same thing, and this one was simply responding? Most of the scraping I’ve seen in the past has been in the presence of a disliked domestic dog.

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.

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.

‘Tis The Season

Here is a little drama during mating season. The neat thing is that I sense a lot of respect and understanding between these coyotes — a respect and understanding that comes from affection, and also from a rigidly established hierarchy. In the photos, you see the male approach the female who has been observing the world go by in a very relaxed manner. Affection is often displayed between these two — kisses and nuzzling, often with the use of a paw, as here. Here, the affection begins no differently than usual: he puts his paw on her face and caresses her, nuzzling her affectionately.

Then he shifts around and tries mounting. He gives it a try, but after a short time she breaks away from his hold, barring her teeth: the answer is “no.”  She is not receptive to his advances at the moment. To emphasize her “no”, she then lifts herself and puts both her paws on his back and keeps them there in a display of dominance. When she walks away, thinking his advances are over, he runs after her — his intentions must have been obvious to her, because she now wraps her jaws around his, and he allows this. Her statement is stronger this time, and he accepts her command. There is clear communication between them. They continue hunting for a long time. Several times he became interested in her odor, and sniffed her intently, but he never tried mounting again during this observation.

I have read that mating in coyotes actually makes them very vulnerable to dangers. The reason is that there is a “tie” which occurs which prevents them from separating for an extended period. If a predator or danger of any sort were to arise, they wouldn’t be able to do much about it. Please see the following post with a video I found on youtube which shows this.

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.

Need More Sleep

I arrived at one of my parks earlier than I had anticipated. It was before dawn, but I didn’t want to wait in the car, so I headed into the park.  A coyote was sleeping out in an open field — a mound of fur on the ground. She was really well camouflaged — I don’t think anyone else would have detected her there. I took out my camera to videotape the stillness — the video function works wonderfully in bad lighting. The coyote casually lifted her head and looked around, and then looked at me. She hadn’t had her fill of sleep: “Need more sleep.” Okay!  She put her head back down, and I went on.

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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