FIRST: A Guidelines/Safety Box:

1) A VIDEO ON COYOTE BEHAVIORS, GUIDELINES & DOGS: a one-stop video, by me, on urban coyote behavior and how to coexist with them, how to handle encounters, and why culling doesn’t solve issues:

Versión en Español   好鄰居–郊狼”   Condensed English version

*A protocol clarification for when walking a dog  (not addressed in the video): Your safest option always is flat-out, absolute AVOIDANCE: Whether you see a coyote in the distance, approaching you, or at close range, leash your dog and walk away from it, thus minimizing any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in the videos, but know that what’s safest is proactive, preventative unmitigated avoidance: i.e., walk away.


2) MORE LINKS TO COYOTE BEHAVIOR & DOGS:

citizencoyote-by-janetkesslerPress on image above for another introductory video on coyotes

Aside

*A Quote Worth Pondering (blog follows)

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other.  If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear.  What one fears one destroys.”      Chief Dan George

Charles Wood, a frequent contributor to Coyote Yipps, adds: “I want to try and express Chief Dan George’s words a little differently, though I believe the meaning is the same: ‘If you talk to the animals they will talk to you and you will come to know them. When you come to know them, you will love them, with respect, without fear. What one fears one destroys. What one loves one defends.'”

For more photos, visit UrbanCoyoteSquared: A Gallery.

ACTUAL BLOG WITH LATEST POST BEGINS BELOW

Gray Fox in the Middle of San Francisco!

l set out a field camera hoping to spot a couple of coyotes that we hadn’t seen in awhile. This was in the middle of San Francisco’s densely populated, commercial and tourist-attracting North Beach.
 
I indeed did capture what I had hoped for: two coyotes who hung around the area for a considerable time. They investigated by smelling — dogs come by here regularly which would have caused such an investigation — and they left their own urine markers — their calling cards — before heading off on their trekking adventures for the evening.
 
After the coyotes left, to my eye-popping surprise and astonishment, a tiny GRAY FOX appeared! Gray fox sightings are extremely rare in San Francisco.  As seen in the video, the fox jumped up into a tree, right over the camera — it came too close to the camera to be in focus. You next see her backside as she looks out from the bushes and then she “marks” before leaving after only three minutes in the area. Of course she could smell that this was coyoteland. 
 
After six hours, the coyotes returned, and they were keenly interested in what had transpired here while they were gone: they were well aware that the fox had been there.  
 
The gray fox is one of my most interesting captures to date in a field camera. I’ve also captured a mountain lion right here in the city, skunks challenging a coyote, raccoon families, opossums waddling through, ever-intelligent rats, domestic cats and part of an owl — all night-prowlers in the urbanwildness of San Francisco, and all appearing in the areas coyotes use!

Coyote Mummy, by Lisa Febre

I wanted to share with you more photos of the coyote carcass.

It was laying right in the middle of our usual path… and the dogs went straight to it, sniffing every part. Dusty (tan/green) started to roll on the bones, and Luna (grey/blue) went for it while I was dealing with him!!

I spent a little time with the bones, and the dogs stood by me and observed. I touched the teeth, held its paw, and wondered why it was put in my path.

Dusty was the one who was (likely nipped) investigated by the coyote during our close encounter in July.

For size reference, my dogs are about 28 pounds. Having seen them right up against a living coyote, they were about the same size, a little stockier but seemed comparable. I know these bones have deteriorated a bit, but I would say this was a young coyote close to 20 pounds?

Anyway! A memorable and powerful encounter. I guess this is pretty special, not everyone gets to see something like this. And, I just feel like these last few months have been filled with more coyotes than I deserve. 

Funny story: last summer, it was all snakes, all the time. I literally saw about 2 dozen rattlesnakes, gopher snakes, California kings, racers… more than pretty much anyone I know (including our park ranger when I told him about it at our training session last winter). And then this year, I have seen zero snakes. 

I have several tattoos and I’m thinking my next will be of a coyote. Question is where and what…

Paradigm Shift . . . or change our behavior?

On her way to a park, like everyone else.

Are we witnessing a paradigm shift for coexistence with our urban coyotes — a sort of growing “desegregation” and an increased co-mingling at closer range??

I’ve been observing a scenario that seems to be increasing here in San Francisco: an actual mixing of people and coyotes comfortably and amicably in the same close spaces. Interestingly, according to Malcolm Margolin, the author of, “The Ohlone Way”, coyotes mingled comfortably among the Ohlone people in this area when the Spaniards first arrived in the mid-1700s. In a couple of parks here in San Francisco, I’m seeing various instances of this these days. The difference today being — because we are not all that used to it — that no one here actually *ignores* the coyotes as the Ohlone did, but rather, the coyotes remain a sensation for everyone who sees them, and some people actively encourage interactions. Interactions of any kind never lead to any good as far as I have heard, especially for the coyote.

A couple of weeks ago I watched a coyote emerge from a fenced-off area — fenced off to humans and dogs — where she had safely tucked-in her 6-month-old pups for the day. She exited from that enclosure by squeezing agilely under the ragged fence and crossing the street to the grassy lawn of a parklet. So far, so good. But that’s when a man who had seen her cross the street whistled for her from his parked red car as he held up his iPhone camera, and she came running back into the street where she circled his car and remained in the street looking into his driver’s seat window from 3 feet away, waiting for the food she has learned to expect, particularly coming from cars. This has happened often to this coyote — the dead-giveaway clue being the coyote’s behavior. I’ve witnessed it many times.

She comes running to a car for food when she’s whistled for.

I quickly approached and asked the man to please not interact or call the coyote — that we were trying to keep them wild and out-of-trouble and didn’t want them approaching people or cars. He didn’t want to hear it and rolled-up the car window so he would not have to hear me. Feeding didn’t happen this time with me standing right there — most people know not to feed, even if they engage in it. However, and unfortunately, there continue to be many people who apparently don’t know this, or defy it in order to “help” the animals. This type of human interaction — and our being oblivious to the consequences — has shaped our coyotes’ behavior towards humans.

Seeing her opportunity for food cut off when the car window closed, the coyote I was watching headed off along the street adjacent to the parklet — cars passed her and so did walkers and runners along the way. 

Stopping at a grassy rise where she hung out long enough to meet walkers eye-to-eye.

She soon stopped again at another grassy rise alongside the curb of the road and started foraging and ever so craftily looking at people straight in the eye for the subtle hints which convey food is forthcoming. After a few minutes here, and no donors stepping forward, the coyote continued her trot, mostly in the middle of the street but also along the sidewalks through a handful of blocks and intersections that would take her a half-mile to the next park over. At intersections she paused and looked both ways before crossing.

Everyone who saw her was excited and enchanted: “Look, our coyote right here!” Over the last few years here, the widespread culture of fear towards coyotes has been waning considerably. Two cars tailed her closely as they took photos. Others, on foot, approached to get photos as she continued trotting along, minding her own business probably less than she was letting on — she was keenly aware of people and slowed her pace around them — it appeared that she wanted to be seen.  She had purpose in her trot: she knew what she was doing and where she was heading.

She knows how to cross the street: you wait, look both ways, and if it’s clear, you cross, and you keep looking.

These across-the-neighborhood jaunts by coyotes have been occurring here in San Francisco ever since coyotes reappeared in the city in 2002, but they usually occur during the darker hours. When they’ve occurred during the day, it has usually been with the coyote slithering quickly by and away, and keeping its distance. But lately I’ve been seeing a quality change in comfort level for a number of coyotes in several parks. On this day, for instance, there were a dozen people and dogs whose presence didn’t perturb or influence the coyote’s pace or cause her to alter her route. Opposingly, in the parks where this type of feeding is not going on, coyotes still keep themselves very separate: close encounters with people and dogs — scary for the dog-owner more than anything — are occasional and mostly just inopportune events. These are parks where coyotes, humans and dogs often see each other, but from a distance.

No one fed the coyote on this particular walk despite her soliciting it, though she licked some crumbs off the sidewalk.

Nibbling sidewalk food and marching right along seemed normal and not out of place.

Most people she passed seemed to LIKE that she was among them. She was a sensation. People told me they liked that she was part of the city, part of the community. The small park where she so purposefully headed is where we have found hand-feeding and where piles of food have been intentionally left for her — including piles of dog food, ribs, whole still-feathered chickens and pizzas — in addition to the garbage and leftovers thoughtlessly strewn hither and thither. I’ve seen people flicking cupcake crumbs and hotdogs in a nearby coyote’s direction to draw her closer for a photo shoot, and even heaving several pounds of steak — “$17 worth”, I was told by one bold feeder: “only the good stuff” — at her because they “wanted to help her”: “the poor skinny critter must be starving since there is no food around for her”,  usually from cars. My listing the abundance of natural and easy foods didn’t sway that feeder. This has happened so often that, in an ironic sort of way, when small stones have been tossed towards this coyote to scare her away, she actually runs for them hoping they are food.

Passing people at close quarters or eyeing people in their cars for possible handouts — this wasn’t a problem for her or anyone else.

Is this closer mingling becoming a new standard? Are our coyotes going to be accepted as sort of stray dogs who interweave their lives with ours — more “citizen” than “wild”? Whatever the comfort level — “proximity tolerance” — of the coyote, please remember the guidelines for safety: keep your distance, leash and walk away, don’t befriend, never feed. I’m wondering if we can even stop the feeding. I’ve tried with this particular coyote for over four years with solid results that then always reversed themselves. The city has no enforcement laws, so the feeding will probably keep on, and that in turn will continue to propel coyotes in the direction of proximity and co-mingling, hence, the paradigm shift.

Although the co-mingling seemed entirely benign with this particular coyote, it’s really important to remember that coyotes are as different from each other as are humans from each other. A mellow reaction from one coyote in close proximity does not guarantee the same from another coyote, or from the same coyote over time. During certain times of the year, mostly during the 9-month long pupping season, coyotes become more reactive towards dogs than usual. In other words, the mellow coyote you had been passing on the street for the last several months will suddenly be snarly and pushy and nippy to message your dog to keep away. Towards people, a coyote could become demanding. A dozen people recently voiced concern to me about such a change towards them and their dogs, and they wanted to know what was going on. My advice as always: walk away from them. You could be impelling a not-so-positive outcome by not doing so rather than averting one. Approaching or encouraging proximity and any kind of interaction (including feeding, whistling for, talking to, or allowing your dog to react to them at close range) are not in everyone’s best interest, especially the coyote’s, who could pay the ultimate price in the end.

Rounding the last bend and making for the finish line — she’s just about where she wanted to go!



A concomitant aside: IMPROVING SIGNAGE IN SAN FRANCISCO (and elsewhere).

Keeping coyotes distant from people and dogs, and on the wary and wild side, where they mind their business and we mind ours is the ideal urban coyote situation we’ve all been aiming for. It’s an ideal which is easy to achieve with a simple set of guidelines. The ultimate goal has been to prevent incidents between dogs and coyotes which can happen at close visual encounters, and to ward off the possibility of human/coyote negative interactions. HOWEVER, many people don’t know or understand the goal, and don’t know how best to handle sightings or even encounters. They don’t know that they, as we all, are responsible for the proper stewardship of the coyotes: everything anyone does influences the outcome of coexistence. It takes a village.

I’m digressing here for a moment about inadequate signage in our parks. Over the summer there had been an uptick in scares in one of our parks due to pupping season. I’ve witnessed, and been told about, a handful of incidents where a dog owner indeed “leashed” their dog, as suggested by the park signs, but the coyote STILL behaved threateningly — which is how a coyote *messages* a dog to move away.

These run-ins with the coyotes, when they occurred, were inevitably due to people simply not knowing what to do. The current park signage didn’t offer anything beyond a mellow, tiny texted, “don’t feed” and “leash”. Leashing of course is never sufficient — you must also walk away from the coyotes.

I looked at WHAT could be done to improve the situation. Immediately my eyes fell on the park signage. Signage is a good way to get information across to people who walk their dogs to parks — that’s where it can be seen and where it is needed the most. I looked at the existing signs and I asked people about them: they were unattractive, the small text wasn’t being read by anyone, and people thought of them as clutter — just so many brown signs staked-into-the-ground, I was told. The signs were inadequate as far as giving people guidelines for what to do: the guidelines needed to be clearly stated, straight forward, simple to grasp and remember, and presented in a non-cluttered way. The signs needed to be more eye-catching and entitled in such a way that they weren’t “warnings” (i.e. “danger”) but rather “invitations” to participate in proper stewardship to keep the coyotes wild, safe, and trouble-free. Fewer and fewer people nowadays felt “threatened” by a coyote’s presence, so “warnings” were the wrong approach — these people felt those signs were for other people, not them. 

I tried making myself heard by Animal Care and Control (ACC) over a five month period but my emails were not answered. The issue was urgent — these scary encounter incidents were mounting and folks were calling these particular coyotes “aggressive”, when I knew they were not. The coyotes were just becoming more protective of their surrounding space because dogs were getting too close to them, especially during this pupping season which was in full swing — and particularly dogs with *attitude*. So I took it upon myself to design and fabricate, at no little cost to myself, some well-made, metallic signs and put them up. Within days they were removed by the Park and Rec Department (RPD). When I asked, “why?”, it turns out the park’s need for hegemony was more important to them than fixing the situation: I was basically told to bug off — “they” were in charge and didn’t want my input, thank you very much. 

Signs should be eye-catching. The guidelines need to be concise, retainable, readable. The signs need a title which will help it attract, inclusively, people who have made their peace with the critters, and might be going too far in the direction of friendliness towards them, which is as bad as the culture of fear we’re surmounting.

This was an important and urgent matter. I persisted, and finally I got a response from RPD: they will indeed create new signs incorporating my input. Thank you, RPD! But WHEN, I wonder? It will take months and months for those in charge to design signs and have them made, when they could so easily and at no cost to themselves have used what I’ve already fabricated. So, in the meantime, you’ll see these signs that I’ve made on lamp posts and utility poles surrounding the parks, rather than within the parks, where the problems have been occurring. Also, I’ve been distributing 3″ business cards with the same information.



© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Advancing Best Practices . . . , by Lesley Sampson & Lauren Van Patter

I am pleased to post this original research paper by Lesley Sampson and Lauren Van Patter. The paper is logically and well written, and emphasizes precision in use of language as well as precision in defining and dealing with human-coyote conflicts. Most importantly for me, it counters the misconception that there is a “progression in habituation which leads to aggression” — a fabricated dictum that suggests “removal” of coyotes is appropriate when an arbitrary “threshold” of “habituation” is reached — something that has no basis in reality. “Habituation” is a nebulous term which has been misused and has been historically convoluted so badly, that Lesley and Lauren eschew it entirely and instead use the term “proximity tolerance”  which is a much more accurate term. This will become clear to you as you read the paper. If your community is looking for a ‘coyote management plan’, this paper alone could serve as the backbone of such a plan. By the way, prevention of antagonistic situations in the first place is much easier than dealing with a problem once it comes up: keep your distance, leash and walk away from coyotes, don’t interact or befriend, never feed. Prevention is that simple. Scaring coyotes off should be reserved only for when they are actually approaching you and in your space. Once there is a problem, authorities should handle the situation, as the paper states.

Downloadable: press image to view original article

Advancing Best Practices for Aversion Conditioning (Humane Hazing) to Mitigate Human-Coyote Conflicts in Urban Areas, by Lesley SampsonCoyote Watch Canada and Lauren Van PatterQueen’s University, Kingston, Canada

Coyotes (Canis latrans; Figure 1) are increasingly recognized as a permanent feature of urban environments across much of North America (Hody and Kays 2018). As highly adaptable generalist omnivores, they are proficient foragers who make use of a range of natural and anthropogenic foods within cities (Gehrt et al. 2011, Murray et al. 2015, Poessel et al. 2017). Heightened public awareness of their presence and concern over the potential for negative interactions, especially with domestic pets, have increased community interest and the dialogue surrounding human–coyote conflict (Alexander and Quinn 2011, Elliot et al. 2016, Draheim et al. 2019).

Continue reading here: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1625&context=hwi

Our Beagle Attack, by Lisa Febre

Little Beagle at the vet, still in shock, and waiting to be seen. The attack happened on Friday, April 13, 2018 (yup, Friday the 13th!)

Our former 3rd dog (he died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 19 years old, in June 2019) was a mix of beagle & dachshund, so he was shorter than a beagle, but still weighed around 26 pounds. Solid little bowling ball!

The attack happened on Friday, April 13, 2018, at almost exactly 5am, and was 100% my fault. I was getting up with my son for school, and let the dog out alone, my two basenji mixes stayed inside. I was not paying attention, I just opened the door & out he went. I have since made it a habit of never letting the dogs out without looking first — turning on lights, flashing the flashlight around the yard, and in some cases, I go out first and walk around the yard (especially in the middle of the night if someone is asking to go out) to make sure the yard is empty!

So, within just a few minutes, I heard the beagle screaming (I’m sure you’re familiar with beagles and their very dramatic noises!) and ran out there. The coyote had grabbed him right off the back patio and tried to drag him away — but being 26 pounds, he was just about as big as the coyote and I’m sure the coyote quickly discovered he couldn’t make off with someone roughly his own size!

When I went to pick him up after the surgery.  He had a drain & a ton of stitches, heavy pain meds.

When I got out there, the coyote was about 10 feet away, and my poor stunned little beagle was wandering slowly away in shock. I picked him up in my arms and faced down the coyote. It was watching me pretty intently, I just stared at it, I didn’t make any noise except to speak to it. I don’t remember what I said to it, but it decided to turn around and jump back over the wall into our neighbor’s yard.

Our little beagle had a rip in his neck and had cracked his jaw on the patio during the initial grab. But he survived, though he was never quite the same after that.

This last picture is of his best friend (one of the basenji mixes) who I believe was either nipped or sniffed by the coyote this summer on our walk.

I guess, between the beagle attack and the close encounter I had this summer, I have become more fascinated with them. Both situations might have been scary at the time, but looking back and analyzing them, I see where I went wrong and never in either of the situations was the coyote doing anything outside it’s instinct. I’ve learned more about coyotes thanks to both of these!

Thanks again!

Lisa

 


Hi!

I LOVE the advice at the end!!

So… after, when I told people what had happened to the beagle in the attack, the first reaction was “did you call animal control?!” NO! I did not and I never would!! OMG. Just the thought of that made me so upset.

The vet, actually, gave me some great wisdom when I went to pick him up that afternoon. He said a few things saved the beagle: the noise he made would have startled the coyote, and his size. I didn’t get a picture of the wounds before the surgery (as you can imagine, we were very stressed out at the time) but the vet said judging by the puncture wounds, the coyote would have been a young one, between 20-25 pounds, and got overly excited seeing a “small” dog it thought would be easy pickings! Not so!

I think it’s really important for people to understand that coyotes just do what they do. They don’t do anything out of malice, or to “terrorize” us, they are just coyotes.

I still keep coming back to the day the coyote “escorted” us out of her territory on the mountain in July — she was so close trotting along next to me, I could’ve reached down and petted her!

It’s really no wonder why these animals are revered. I’m so glad to have “met” you even if it is just online!

I think the more people who show that there’s nothing to be so upset about, the more people will realize that living near coyotes is actually a fantastic thing!

Lisa


Note from Janet: This was a hard learning experience for Lisa. She and I are hoping you can learn from her experience instead of having to learn from your own personal experience. Please, in a coyote area: Stay vigilant. Don’t allow pets to roam free. Always walk away from a coyote with your leashed dog. Pick up a small pet as you walk away. Learn how to scare them off effectively from your yard. Follow these simple encounter precepts on this card to help coexistence work. And press this link for more details on How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

Coyotes and Natural Disasters, by Lisa Febre

Can animals predict disasters? I’ve heard that Native American and Mexican cultures tend to believe that coyotes can give us non-scientific, anecdotal clue as to when something is going to happen. Most times, this has translated to increased coyote activity indicating a weather change: maybe a cold snap or a heat wave is on it’s way. It may be coincidental, but it is fun to hear coyotes at night and the next day an unexpected afternoon rain happens. 

This month, though, we wondered if the coyotes were giving us the head’s up to a bigger disaster on the way: a wildfire. For a few days in a row, there was a noticeable increase coyote vocalizations during the night. It’s not uncommon to hear howling & yipping, but it seemed like they were louder, there were more coyotes involved, and their choruses were lasting longer overall. In the wee hours of the morning of October 14, we captured this on our backyard security camera: 

And 8 hours later, this happened:

Were the coyotes predicting the fire or just an impending change to their world? Possibly. But since the fire, which burned about 2 acres of our Santa Susana Pass Historic State Park, it isn’t difficult to imagine that a bit of their territory has been disrupted and they are a little off balance. My ears tell me that they are not down in our neighborhoods during the night following the fire as much as they were before, and their calls seem to be coming more from inside the park now — distant and a little less frequent. 

We are lucky that CalFire hit this wildfire so quickly, they knocked it down in about 3 hours, but the devastation to the area is obvious. The animals of the park are certainly displaced, and in time all will regrow and repopulate. But until then, we have some incredible, other worldly landscapes to walk through.

Thanks Janet! 
Lisa

“Sniff”, by LWren Walraven

Through art, we are given new ways to look at reality — it serves as a kind-of filter. Here, LWren beautifully captures a coyote in all the glory of fall colors which in reality serve as camouflage for them . For more, visit her website at https://www.wrendreams.com/

LWren Walraven has been painting mostly animals for over 20 years. Only recently has she begun to incorporate abstract principles into her celebrations of wildlife. Before then she created graphic, illustrative animal paintings that have been used commercially from logos to images for promotional materials. She is thoroughly enjoying her art journey as it evolves and changes.

This painting was inspired by a beautiful photograph of a coyote with her nose in the air by Janet Kessler.

Coyotes September 8, 2020, by Lisa Febre

Hi Janet!

[This] is the video from our backyard security camera in September.

We sleep with our window open in our bedroom mostly to be able to hear the coyotes during the night. As an insomniac, I admit that I love hearing them. They walk up & down our street (and in fact, some have actually walked along the cinder block wall between our house and next to our bedroom window) all night long, so we often hear very close howls. This video, when I was listening to them “live” at the time, I would say that the “gang” was right in our front — maybe not in our yard, but definitely on our street.

The thing that caught my attention with these vocalizations was the almost human-like yell that seemed to be coordinated — hearing them live, that was the only group I was hearing, but when I went back to listen to the camera recording, that’s when I heard the 2nd, and possibly 3rd, group. It’s hard for me to tell if there are 3 groups (the yellers, the yippers and the howlers at varying distances).
Anyway! I thought this was an exceptional capture for our camera — we have many like this, but never this clear or close. 

We live about 3/4 mile from the Santa Susana Historic Pass State Park in Chatsworth, CA (far Northwest of Los Angeles county), so it’s obvious they live up there in the hills and come down at night. 

And as always, so happy to have ‘found’ your blog and you as well! Hope you are staying healthy & safe, and of course sane. Always read each entry even if I don’t comment. I love it!
Thanks again!

Lisa

Family Interrupted

Seemingly-bucolic coyote family life can be interrupted when one of the adult alphas dies, and that is what happened here. Mom had been the front-guy and always on safety patrol. She always made sure the rest of the family remained hidden and out of view — she didn’t want anyone even looking in the direction of her pups. Shy Dad tended to hang back with the pups — I would see him only occasionally, and then only as dusk approached. And the pups I had only ever seen once. This was the situation when Mom was still there.

Then Mom disappeared, leaving Dad and three youngsters. Several weeks after Mom disappeared, it looked as though the new motherless situation had been accepted by the family: for the first time I began seeing the youngsters playing out in the open during daylight hours, even with Dad nowhere in sight — they were not being supervised like they had been, though they stayed in the distance. I don’t know what control Dad had over them, if any. I only saw him with them at dusk, when they obviously headed out together to hunt. This situation lasted only a few weeks.

Suddenly, into these circumstances there appeared a threesome family unit which I knew from several miles away.  They had come together as a family 10 months earlier: two brothers joined up with a female who became the older brother’s mate. These two males happen to be related to the pups’ mother and had lived with her as a threesome on this territory the prior year, but they had not been around there since then. It’s a small world after all. 

Did they know that Mom had gone missing? Is this why they had come? Or were they attracted by the ever-present garbage which was a food source. Being by a picnic area meant food scraps could constantly be found. OR, speculating further, had they come to take over the territory? I didn’t know the answer, but I wanted to think there was altruism involved: that the two males might have come back to finish raising the youngsters. But this appears not to be the case.

The bolder pup

At the arrival of this threesome, Dad went deeper into hiding, and when I did spot him, only a couple of times, always when the threesome was not around, I could see that he had new facial scars — not major ones, but scars nevertheless. Had he tried battling the newcomers away? The pups no longer frolicked and played out in the open. Two of them disappeared from view — I stopped seeing them altogether. But the boldest pup, interestingly, tried repeatedly to ingratiate/integrate himself into the newcomer pack. But the female would not have it. 

The new males treated that pup neutrally, ignoring him for the most part, and the younger male seemed almost kind to him, allowing comfortable proximity. I wondered if these adult males knew these pups were related? Would it make a difference? 

This neutrality was not the case with the new female. She wanted nothing to do with the pup and was overtly hostile towards “the little twerp”. I use this phrase because she never really appeared to hurt the pup physically, rather, she treated him as a repulsive irritation: she assumed fearsome facial expressions including gaping, snarling and baring her teeth, she charged at him with hackles up, and she even appeared to bite him — though it was probably just a pinch — which resulted in high pitched squeals of hurt, be it physical or psychological: her visceral ire was intense. Pup repeatedly hit the ground in submission and turned onto his back revealing his vulnerable underside with legs splayed: the ultimate white flag. He seemed so badly to want to be accepted.

But the new female wouldn’t have it, she was relentless in spurning him. If she were simply imposing her dominance in a new hierarchy, she would have accepted the pup’s submissive gestures, but she didn’t. The pup further responded to the intimidation, after the put-downs, by repeatedly slinking away with his body hugging the ground, tail held low, as though his feelings were hurt, and then repeatedly came back — inviting more of the same treatment. 

Then one day, I stopped seeing the pup and the father at all, and just saw the threesome at that location, usually together. I thought Dad and pups had been driven from their home totally. But the story continues after this and I’ll need time to stitch it together. For instance, I’ve seen Dad and Pup a couple of times, within the bat of an eye, slinking around the periphery of their homestead, so they still are around.

Also, I’ve seen the threesome back at their own territory every night for the past week — they have been trekking regularly between their territory several miles away and this one at twilight most nights, but not every night. AND, an even newer development, I’ve now seen the pups’ Dad twice, within a flash, at the threesome’s territory where I had never ever seen him before. Maybe what goes around, comes around? OR, I’m conjecturing here, I’m wondering if is it possible that Dad, soon after his mate’s disappearance, might have been searching for a new mate in the threesome’s territory? I’ll review some footage I have during that time slot. If this is the case, he would be the one who provoked the threesome’s visit to his territory. It’s just a thought. The story is already getting pretty convoluted and tangled!  Let’s see what happens!

All photos were taken at late twilight — I’ve been able to lighten them for visibility.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

I thought pup was pretty brave to face the threesome like this, even if it’s submissively.

Some Dispersal Routes and Family Situations Over The Last Two Seasons

This dispersal diagram on its own, with the several paragraphs that follow it, will give you a nice visual summary of what happens to our coyotes when they leave home. Individual family situations/histories follow [press MORE to read on]: this section is long because I’ve tried to include all their connections. I know each coyote: their personalities, behaviors, family situations and relationships, but it might be tedious reading for anyone who doesn’t. So know that the dispersal diagram section is enough to get the idea across.

A Dispersal Diagram

Have you ever wondered where our coyotes go once they disperse from their birth territories, and what their situations are?

When individual coyotes disperse — leave their birth territories — or for that matter, in one case here, abandon their long-claimed established territories totally — they disappear into the ether almost always never to be seen again by me. Only by chance had I ever seen a few of the dispersed youngsters again, but I didn’t follow through — I’ve always been more concerned with family life, relationships, and individual interactions. However, very recently I’ve been noticing my dispersed youngsters again somewhere else, or on their way somewhere else, and gone from home, so I’ve made a point of following or following-up on a number of these to what appear to be their final (final for now) territory destinations.

Dispersing coyotes are the ones who wander in order to explore their options, find their own territories, and pair-up long-term with mates: their routes are the thin red lines in the diagram. Once they find a territory — be it a vacant or vacated niche, or one they’ve had to fight for — they pretty much tend to stick to that general area: these are the colored circles on the diagram. Most of the dispersals are youngsters, heading out to make it on their own in the world, but I’ve also seen older mated pairs and even an older individual leave a territory to find another. Sometimes a couple of siblings may leave together, but mostly they leave alone, as far as I have seen. Most of the time the breakaway from home is complete and final, but I’ve also seen several individuals repeatedly return home for a period of time before taking a final leave. I’ve seen youngsters leave home slightly before 9 months of age, and as late as 2.5 years of age — they leave of their own accord, when they are ready and without any prodding from parents or siblings, or they are driven out by either parents or siblings. Please remember that what I say here is based entirely on my own first-hand observations: there are going to be situations that I myself have not seen.

I’ve depicted some of these routes and destinations in the diagram above. The colored circles on this map show some of the territories that I’m most familiar with — these are the territories from where or to where these coyotes travelled. The connected circles are fragmented but constitute one territory centered around a park or around one large open green space or an accumulation of smaller green spaces. Park or open-space boundaries hold no meaning for coyotes, so of course the surrounding neighborhoods are a part of these territories. General routes, from their birth territories to their new permanent territorial homes are shown on the map by thin arrow-headed red lines. Naturally, their movements were not smooth lines at all, but rather jagged, erratic, interrupted, and with diversions along the way. In the case of “Wired”, I left off her full-city-length circuits to avoid cluttering. The arrow-head itself is where individual coyotes ended up at their new “forever” homes where they have remained — or in one case remained for a full year and raising a new litter of pups before picking up and moving on again. I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to follow dispersals in the blue circles, but I’ve included some of these in the diagram simply to show there are more dispersals going on than covered in this posting. Two of the coyotes I talk about I had never seen before — they would have come from one of these blue areas or an area not depicted on the map.

Several years ago, before the time-frame of this posting, I saw dispersing youngsters meanly driven away by territorial owners. The flip side of this is that this year, I’ve seen a couple of youngsters warmly welcomed into territories by the resident coyotes. This goes to show that what you might see as a family with pups isn’t always a genetic family!

Then, below, in the second section, I tell a little bit more about the family or territorial situations of the recent dispersals diagrammed above — just bare-bones “to”-and-“from” situational summaries to help round-out their dispersal stories: there are a lot of coyotes and a lot of stories. The diagram covers dispersals over just the last couple of seasons, and one from several years earlier as a precursor to her last year’s story. A number of the individuals I watched grow up from different territories ended pairing up in new territories with others I had watched grow up elsewhere, so in many cases I’ve been familiar all along with both partners of a new pair. In a few instances I know the origins of only one of the new pair. The weft and warp of intertwining individuals has resulted in a tangle in the telling, as you’ll see below!  Any repetitions are to ensure you catch the connections. I’ve grouped these descriptions by family of origin, and maybe this will make it easier. And remember that all of our San Francisco coyotes came from just four original coyote founders.

Several consistencies pop up in my descriptions below. I mention “long-entrenched families on the same territories for many years”. This, along with coyotes’ propensity to mate for life are elements of permanence and stability which can last many years. A stable family can better defend its land than can a loner coyote: having a mate helps. And an intimate knowledge of that land which goes along with ownership better ensures survival because resource locations are known and there are fewer unknown hazards than in the unfamiliar world beyond. Keeping other coyotes out of this territory eliminates the competition for these resources. I also mention “vacated territories” and “forced ousters”, and the “disappearance” of stable oldsters from their lands, which are elements of impermanence and change. Please note that each coyote is an individual: no two stories or situations are the same. So these are some facets involved in coyote dispersal. I’ve sprinked in photos, even though most people can’t tell one coyote from another, but I can, and part of who I’m writing for is myself!  :)) 


The Dispersed and their Family Situations

FAMILY ONE

Sparks, born last year, dispersed at 11 months of age, wandering around for seven months, and even stopping or resting at several locations for 3 weeks to a month along the way (he had a fractured wrist), before settling 5 miles away from his birthplace where he moved in with a 3-year old, Cai2, a mother with 5-month-old pups. Cai’s previous male companion, Stumpf, had disappeared a month earlier and may have been “the sick” coyote that several people had seen but I had not. Into this situation came Sparks who had come from a long-entrenched family that owned the same territory for continuous generations over the last 13 years. He was one of 6 siblings born in 2019, and it was probably sibling rivalry between brothers that drove him out, judging from what I saw. Whether these two coyotes are forming a pair-bond, or Cai2 is simply taking care of a youngster in need, only time will tell. I don’t normally see males pair up at just 18 months of age, which is what Sparks is.

[press the “more” button below to bring up the rest of the posting if you can’t already see it]

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Dragon Breath and Bison Wallows, by Walkaboutlou

I received this first email from Walkaboutlou on September 12th, right after the wildfires had raged through the lands that just a few days before were a paradise of western nature: old-growth trees, grasslands, wildlife (including coyotes, elk and buffalo) and ranches interspersed. Lou has been one with the landscape for decades: he lives and breathes it every minute of every day, so he has felt the devastation to his very core: I wanted to put Lou’s words here because they express unimaginable loss — incomprehensible to those of us who will never experience this kind of devastation directly. Wildfires are cataclysmic to all species, causing a reshuffle of what’s there. He goes on to explain buffalo and wallows vs. cattle and pastures, buffalo being the species that evolved with the landscape which includes wildfires.

Hi Janet…truly tough one today. I’m exhausted and empty. My spots and ranges are mostly gone. Just gone. Grandmother trees. Special areas. Gone. A doe ran into my house. She was burned horribly and blinded. How many miles she staggered that way…I gave her water..she drank, eased…and started dying. My neighbor eased her passing. He’s an elderly rancher. I’m a old warrior. We cried and cried. I am hurting for my lands. My trees. I’ll never see the old growth spots again.I’m sorry to share this news. But knew you would understand.

I’m mostly shut in. Brief outings. I know My cascade areas are mostly gone. Burned. My groves of ancient old growth are gone. Most trees killed. My grandmother trees.

I’ve not heard [about] the bison herds. Some cattle were shot to save them from horrible deaths or burning. Some horses have escaped and jumped fences. I’m only hearing some things or call. But by fireman conversations….my cascade ranges…are changed for rest of my life. I have birds dropping dead around home. I have elk where elk never have been. I have to remain calm. I’m exhausted. And empty. My lands and ranges and animals lives and trees….gone. Just gone.

Young, exhausted and safe . . . this young bull made it to bison ranch

Hi Janet,

As we continue to cope with the fires costs and devastation…good things have happened too. The bison ranch with young herd weathered the fires. Some areas burned. But the bison weren’t even perturbed. Ironically, the bison wallows in land broke up the speed of passing fires and dissipated the flames to just tiny send off. The open wallows disrupted flame walls and shorter grasses grazed didn’t turn furnace hot or turn to high walls. Likely there were other factors. But the bison lands burned minimally or not at all. Elk ran for the bison areas. A large bull elk was very grumpy and chased the bison off. But otherwise the elk rested from cascade exodus.

Many animals lost lives or home ranges. I suspect some wolves will have to abandon territorial claims to follow the game. By next year, greens will flourish and elk will return. But for now..many elk had to scatter.

The bison land has proved to be a refuge. I hope many animals can keep finding rest. The short grasses and wallows of bison ranch curtailed any fires that came. Quite remarkable.

Bison wallows are very different [from cattle pastures]. They roll on the ground to itch and create dust baths. Particularly bull buffalo. They are so heavy and massive it creates a “wallow”. An open depression devoid of vegetation. A wallow can hold water in wet months. (creating watering spots for frog homes) It also can be a big dusty circle-that stops fires or slows them to a crawl.

When living with enough space..bisons create wallows that we are learning helps the land. The land definitely prefer bison ranches to cattle.

Also..cattle tend to be harder on pastures and grasslands. They often pull as they graze. This is hard on grass. Buffalo graze more like a lawn mower…cutting grasses precisely. If there is enough space, bison graze and create more robust grasslands and grasses themselves. Bison also utilize less grass way further then most cattle. They instinctively rotate grazing areas if given space.
Lou

As I’m able to enter areas…I’ll send you pics. Even public lands are closed in vast areas. And ranch roads inaccessible. [All photos are by Walkaboutlou]

 

A note about coyotes. Hi Janet, This morning on patrol I had a coyote charge us that then morphed into a full pack skirmish in dark with my dogs and a few coyote. It ended very quickly and no one truly hurt. Its was only much later I realized that it wasn’t the coyotes that lived in that area. The local shy pair or their yearlings would never charge us that boldly. I realized the fires are very likely creating some domino effect in local wolves and especially coyote. They can’t stay in a burned out territory at least for now. We’ve seen elk where we’ve never seen them. It only makes sense coyote and wolf would follow refugees. Adapting and documenting mentally the changes.

Homage to Bonnie

Bonnie in her prime, as a mother and alpha of her mated pair

I’ve seen plenty of coyotes “disappear” from their territories. Usually it’s youngsters who have dispersed which is an eventuality that anyone would expect — it’s part of the ebb and flow of family life and an occurrence we all know will happen. Mom and Dad are the stable ones who remain as a pair on the same land creating a moored family unit which remains intact through many seasons.

So when a “Mom” or “Dad” of a young family disappears, it is not expected and it leaves a hole in the family. And that is what happened on one of my territories. Bonnie, an alpha mom, disappeared over two weeks ago. I had hoped her absence might be due to a recoverable injury or illness and that she might have been hanging low until she was better, but if that had been the case, she would have returned by now, and she has not. So tragedy struck, and I don’t know how, except she is no longer around.

Bonnie is on the right, her two male siblings are to the left

She had migrated/dispersed along with two brothers to this new territory when it was abandoned by its two aging alphas after 12 years of occupation. A three year old daughter of that pair remained on the land all alone for a while until the newcomers appeared, and then her behavior became irregular and nervous. After about 3 months, it appears she was either forced to leave or decided to leave because she didn’t get along with them, and soon we no longer saw her even though she initially seemed to be pairing up with the Bonnie’s older brother. From then on, for a year, we only ever saw Bonnie and her two brothers on the land.

Then this year, the two brothers dispersed together, and I’ve been able to keep track of them, but that’s another story. This year I found Bonnie alone there. By March it was obvious she was pregnant and sure enough, she became a lactating mom in April. It’s only at that time that I glimpsed her new mate, a very shy and elusive fellow. It was obvious that he didn’t like to be seen, so I did my best to keep away from him.

Bonnie was the alpha of her pair-bond. Interestingly, sometimes it’s the male of the pair, and sometimes it’s the female who is the dominant one. I’ve also seen where both alphas are fairly equal, and I’ve seen the role slowly shift from one to the other.

So now, on the territory I’m seeing Bonnie’s three youngsters alone a lot of the time. One of them particularly looks like Bonnie, and from the distance I even thought it might be her, returned, but I was mistaken. I see Dad very sporadically, usually marking. Recently I put out a trap camera hoping to get more insight into what is going on, and indeed something is going on. Another coyote pair, an outsider male and female, seems to come by once a day at midnight and mark. I wonder what will happen next. I wonder if Dad will, or will even want to, defend his territory from them. We’ll find out.

Here is Bonnie with some of her goofy expressions: I think coyotes are beautifully expressive

Bonnie seemed to attract ravens — she dealt with them on a daily basis.

These are Bonnie’s three 5-month old pups. They are appropriately wary, and I’m hoping they stay that way. I see them playing and chasing each other in the late afternoon — life goes on without mom.  :((

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Coyote Portals, by Helen Tseng

Introduction: Artist Helen Tseng and I are both absorbed and intrigued by coyotes: it is because of this that we met. Not only have the coyotes themselves inspired her art, but she excitedly told me that she also has been inspired by my photos, some of which she has used as starting points for her own drawings. Hers are thoughtful creations, so please be sure to spend time reflecting on them and on her text: her simple outline art captures coyote movements and charm, and then she dives deeper into questions of her own (and our?) identity and her (our) place in the cosmos and on the globe where our success and expansion as a species has decimated so much of everything else.  

Coyote portals

I started this series in early 2020 as we entered a global pandemic and quarantine – a portal of sorts, both a closing and an opening. The act of making these coyotes became portals to me, as self-portraits and as visual commentary (portal and portrait share an ancient root, meaning through, forward, to draw forth). The narratives and imagery are influenced by astrophysics, literature, language, cultural critique, folk spiritualities, and more. The series is ongoing.

I have been and continue to be obsessed with coyotes, which I often encounter and observe on walks in the Bay Area. The oft-mythologized North American wild canid is genetically adjacent to the domestic dog, man’s best friend, but removed enough from civilization to be marked as vermin. Despite a long history of enduring systematic extermination by settler-colonizers, they continue to survive and thrive beyond expectation.

I appropriate coyotes as a mirror and proxy to mapping the contexts of my existence and the limits of my perception, while creating distance from implied specification and containment. They are an oblique path to examining identity, (im)migration, displacement, intergenerational trauma, adaptive resilience, marginalization, and erasure; a foil to my presence as an omnivorous mammal, apex predator, and unwitting species participant in the mass ecological destruction of this planet; a device for expressing all that defies reduction.

[Click on any of the images to enlarge them and scroll through them all]

Update: Into Sparks’ Seventh Month of Dispersal

I have been able to keep up with the youngster coyote I call “Sparks” who I watched grow up from birth. He began his dispersal at just under one year of age with his sister way back in March to a location two miles away from their birthplace. His first few months away from his birth home seemed to agree with him superbly: it looked like he was having a ball! Freedom from the constraints of parents and siblings obviously felt good. He and his sister rendezvoused every evening after dusk with high-pitched squeals of delight and excitement as they tumbled over each other in anticipation of the evening’s adventures. They were adjusting well to the move. It was unfortunately always too dark to capture images of this.

After a couple of months here, it was time to go, and he moved on to a place that was five miles further away, where life suddenly became harder. He was now alone — sister having returned to their birthplace — and he somehow ended up with a broken leg in this unfamiliar territory. He must have been in severe pain because he returned the five miles to the now familiar place he and his sister had first been, to the quiet of a backyard. There, on an undisturbed and protected hillside, he spent several weeks recovering with the help of humankindness by people who guarded his safety and gently cared for him. I have no doubt that this is what kept him alive.

Three weeks of convalescence in someone’s backyard [above]

He stayed there three weeks until he felt better, but, unfortunately, not until he was healed. He left that place on August 14th, and re-appeared the next day, on August 15th in the Presidio. Then, again, he was off of my radar. Of course, no one else who might have seen him would have known “who” this coyote was. I would have to see him myself or recognize him in someone else’s photos: few if anyone else in the city know who each coyote is, and no one else keeps tabs on individuals.

And then, incredibly, magically, just a couple of days ago, I was documenting another one of my coyote families in the North East of the city, when I glimpsed a coyote that didn’t seem to “belong” there — that I hadn’t seen there before. Suddenly it clicked: this was Sparks! He had moved on yet another five miles!

Of supreme interest to me is that he was accepted and warmly welcomed into this long-claimed territory without incident, and not driven off as an intruder. Why was he not driven away by Mom, especially since she has 5-month-old pups now? I’ve seen many intruders/interlopers repulsed away by the territorial claimants, but that didn’t happen here.

I was ecstatic to see the bantering and show-of-affection between these two as you can see in this series of photos taken the next morning [click on above photos to enlarge and scroll through them]

From my inquiries I learned that it has been only four or five days since he arrived, but I thought I would dive into possible outcomes based on what I have seen elsewhere:

1) Maybe it’s only a very temporary resting spot for him — with a very temporary grant to stay there. Might the alpha mom of the territory have sensed his weak physical condition and foreleg pain, and also his downtrodden mental state, and therefore taken him under her wing? At 17 months of age, he’s still a youngster, though you can see that he’s visibly much larger than the alpha female in the middle photo in the top row above. And she herself, in fact, is only two years older than him at 3.5 years of age. In the photo to the left of that, you can see his left front leg is still bent, and although he can walk on it, he retains the limp he acquired back in July: the limp wavers from barely-noticeable mild to causing intense bobbing up and down as he walks.

2) Another possible scenario is that this isn’t a temporary situation, but that he might have been adopted! I have seen another instance of a female yearling joining another family and, so far, remaining with that family for about 6 months: I think of it as a sort adoption. There were no other females in that family which consisted, before her arrival, of just a father and a son at that point. That “adopted” female is still too young to be a reproducing alpha, though by remaining there without challenge, that’s the position she would grow into. Finding more and more of these not-exactly-nuclear family arrangements have changed my idea of what constitutes a standard coyote family. The variations are beginning to appear to me more and more like our own human family variations!

“Mom’s” young male companion

3) A third possibility is that Sparks could have moved in as the new alpha male, although this seems unlikely because of his young age. But the fact is I have not seen “Mom’s” male companion around lately. In addition, I’ve always wondered if that male companion was actually “Mom’s” mate — he always appeared to be more of a younger brother or even another “adoptee”, though I could be wrong.  Whatever his position/role in the family has been, I have not seen him in the last little while — so the “position” may be open.

As an interesting aside: At the beginning of March which would have been mating season, I found “Mom” with a large gash on her forehead, in the Presidio along with this young male companion of hers. The Presidio is five miles away from her own claimed territory. I wondered what she/they were doing there. The gash was of the type she might have picked up after a territorial battle with another coyote. The Presidio has a very dominant alpha female — the gal I refer to as “Wired” — who has battled other females and driven them away ferociously. Wired’s mate happens to be “Mom’s” brother. Was she seeking out her brother?

This is actually the second instance of where I’ve seen a female head off from her own territory to a foreign territory during the receptive phase of her reproductive cycle, and it made me wonder if it was related to reproductive reasons. My DNA study will not be able to reveal this because DNA taken from scat can only follow the maternal line. So the questions remains: who sired her pups this year? And, will Sparks remain there?

So, it’s into any of these situations that Sparks now finds himself. Time will help us decide which is the real one.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Thief!

For my continuing long term DNA study of our San Francisco coyotes, I needed some scat (DNA is taken from the scats) from a very specific newcomer male coyote about whose origins I had no clue. I already had scat from his mate — I had seen her defecate many times and afterwards collected it, but I just simply was not seeing the activity from the male. Picking up scat right after seeing it expelled is how I know which coyote the sample came from. I had seen old scat in certain locations several times, but of course I didn’t know WHO it came from.  My solution was to catch WHO that scat came from with an automatic wildlife field camera I put out at night. I ended up putting out two such cameras in the same location. I got what I wanted, and more!

When I went to retrieve the two cameras the next morning, I was disappointed to see that one of them was gone: it had been taken — stolen. I looked over to where the second camera had been placed and was relieved to find it still there — the thief had not seen that one. I wondered if maybe that camera would reveal who the thief was?

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