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

  • CoyoteCoexistence.com for additional coexistence information.

  • Take a SHORT “Coyote Experiences and Opinion” Survey! images

More

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.

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Sirens Lead to Howls and Yips in a United Front


Come to think of it, I don’t hear loner coyotes howl very often, even on their own claimed territories. Is this because they don’t want to “proclaim” to the world their ownership of a territory they might not be able to defend alone? And neither do I hear coyotes howling for any reason when they are passing through territories other than their own.

The female in this video, when she was a loner on her claimed territory, never used to respond to sirens during daylight hours, though she would howl in distress after being chased by dogs or in response to seeing one particular dog whom she did not like.

However, in this video, with a new male companion, she obviously felt secure about belting out her response to the sirens for the whole world to hear, and seemed to be super-happy about it! Coyote families respond to sirens all the time, possibly to express their family unity and their territorial separateness from their neighboring coyotes.

That male companion situation, however, was short lived: it lasted only four months. The male/female relationship was disrupted by another female before the bond was solidified (yes, this happens even to coyotes) and the male companion moved on, so the female now again is a loner who again does not respond to sirens as she did when she had her male companion. She does, however, continue to bark in distress when chased by dogs, or when her one dog nemesis appears on the scene.

This video shows clearly how lips are used for modulations by coyotes.

Although I mounted this video on Youtube eight months ago, it’s only now that I’m getting around to posting it on my blog, after it has garnered almost 1M views.

“Demand” Behavior

I have written about how feeding coyotes robs them of their “essence”, causing them to become meek, docile and listless beggars. Coyotes are superb opportunists and extremely intuitive about getting what they need in the easiest and most efficient way possible. Given the opportunity for an easy and free meal, they’ll seize that opportunity and go for it.

I spoke with Lesley Sampson, founder and director of Coyote Watch Canada, about another facet of feeding coyotes: she told me about a coyote who had been labeled “aggressive” because it had, under no provocation, approached a man and punched his hip. This was a man on a substitute job for the day. He of course found the behavior very alarming, as anyone would have.

But coyotes aren’t naturally outright aggressive to people, so what was going on? Lesley was called in to help with the case. With a little bit of investigation, she discovered that the regular job-holder routinely put his hands in his pockets to withdraw the food he would toss to this coyote.  Ahhhh. The coyote was displaying “demand behavior”, having been taught, by the regular job-holder, through repetition, that food was coming, and it was coming from a pocket.

This can happen. A coyote is fed out of the bigness of someone’s heart — “Oh, the coyote looks so thin and hungry” (which, BTW, happens to be their natural state) — setting the stage for a problem. After a very short time, the coyote comes to EXPECT the food, and when the food doesn’t come quickly enough, or when it doesn’t come at all, the coyote becomes impatient and may actually DEMAND the food, as in the case above. Lesley spoke of her dogs doing the same thing: it’s a common trait in canines. This is not an “aggressive” coyote, though humans will see it as such. It’s a “trained” coyote: humans set the expectation by repetitive feeding and then the coyote acts on this: “where’s my food!” It’s really important not to feed coyotes in the first place. Authorities, not knowing the background, will eliminate such an animal for his/her apparent “aggressiveness”.

Coyote pups are born with the instinct to seek/demand food from their parents by inserting their muzzles into the mouth of a parent which triggers a regurgitation response in the parent. The result: food. They learn that this is where food comes from, at least to begin with. Habit and reinforcement keep them doing this until parents start teaching them to hunt — parents teach the pups that, in fact, food comes in many forms and from many places and they can find it, but they have to go looking for it. The easiest sources of food will be the most attractive, and they’ll return to these.

Below is a photo sequence of a five-month-old youngster seeking food from where he’s been taught it comes from — a parent. His mother has just arrived home after an evening of hunting. Pup approaches her, but she doesn’t have anything for him. He persists, and even punches her angrily on the back. She runs away with her defensive hackles up. This is demand behavior: when the food isn’t forthcoming as expected, the pup who is expecting food “as usual” demands it. This is no different from Lesley’s example of the friendly man offering food from his pocket.

Youngster punches mom, DEMANDING the food

And here’s a further possible complication. Parents eventually, normally, teach their youngsters to hunt. BUT what if the parents are being fed by humans so much so that they don’t need to hunt, and therefore don’t, and consequently they don’t teach their youngsters how to do so? Remember that coyotes learn by imitation and example. The youngster may even be taken to where the food is left or even worse, to the feeder him/herself. Hmmm. What works best and easiest for the coyote parents will be passed on to the pups.

And another speculative complication: Could the population grow beyond the natural carrying capacity of the area with this extra food being handed out regularly? It’s food for thought.

Please don’t feed coyotes, for their sake.

Reflecting on an Exile and Return

Coyote families, and even loners, may leave their claimed territories for any number of reasons, or they may stay in that one location for generations. I’ve known both situations. Of those that leave, the primary reasons seem to be inability to defend the territory from another hostile coyote, or dwindling resources. In some cases, but not always, the same coyotes may come back. Here are some of my reflections and a background recap, along with a video of snippets I put together, on one such coyote’s return to her old home.

Exiled: In this case, the coyote — who I will refer to as “our coyote” — was forced to leave her long-term claimed territory by another intruder coyote whose attacks left her no alternative. During her absence, she became a transient, an interloper with no home of her own, existing in-between other territories in a sort of no-man’s land, and moving about constantly while being repulsed by any hostile territorial coyotes whose properties she slithered through. Maybe her odyssey was necessary: six months of wanderings which had the potential for forcing her to revert to some more essential coyote behaviors and away from all of the humanizing influences which she had lived with for so long — equivalent to an Australian Bushman’s “walkabout”.

Where did she go when she was driven away? It was an odyssey for her. I was able to follow most of her trajectory through extensive swaths of the city: to Glen Park, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, Dolores Heights, Twin Peaks, and McLaren Park, among other places. And wherever she went, soon the strange hostile/exiler coyote appeared. I was able to catch up with her through friends’ photos, several trap cameras I put out, and Nextdoor postings with photos of her: the postings inevitably warned, “Please watch your cats and dogs”. Few people knew this coyote actually fled from cats! So our coyote kept fleeing. She would travel at night, dusk or dawn. Her amazing intuition told her how to distinguish friends from non-friends, and who would tolerate her presence and maybe even protect her when she took refuge in their yards. Some people named her. Some people fed her out of sympathy and concern: few people are aware of how negatively feeding impacts coyotes, as it already had in her “previous” life when she had been the reigning queen of her slope. Intermittently she tried returning “home”, but invariably she was repulsed again by the hostile intruder coyote gal who kept at her heels.

Tentative return: After months of wandering, remaining in places for a couple of weeks at a time before moving on, our coyote finally returned again to her old turf and, voilá, there was no hostile exiler around to drive her away for the first time in six months! At first people didn’t think this was our same coyote because her behaviors were so different from before: mainly she spent huge amounts of her time marking and “kicking dirt”, as though she were saying to the coyote who stole the site from her, “take that!” Even humans, in a language older than words, if they know what is going on, can read this type of animal body language.

So for weeks after her return, she spent her time reclaiming her territory, walking around while making visual and olfactory checks of the area, marking and kicking dirt extensively, self-grooming for long periods of time, absorbing odors and leaving hers, trotting her old routes, hunting, and generally trying to fit in again. This video depicts some of those activities when she first returned.

In some ways, she seemed wiser when she first returned, and on the whole, more elusive than before her odyssey: she spent less time out in the open and even stayed away for days at a time. I was happy to see this. Many people who knew her were hoping that she might have regained some primary coyote wildness while “abroad and dealing at times with an unfamiliar world”: it was a huge test, with the possibility of bringing into play survival skills which she never had used before. BUT, after only a few weeks back, she relapsed into responding to repeated misguided “human kindness”.  Food was again being left by roadways, so she was back in the streets searching for free handouts instead of hunting. She’s relapsed into again chasing cars and biting at their tires as they drive by: two days ago a car slammed on its brakes to avoid a direct hit. And she made several attempts at begging with a straight-in-the-eye look at people who passed by her. All of these behaviors of hers are a direct response to HUMAN behaviors. We need to change OUR behaviors in order to help her: please don’t feed her or leave food out for her. Coyotes are superb hunters: we can help her be that instead of the dependent beggar we are turning her into.



Recap of early life for those who haven’t followed her story: Until the point in her life when she was forced away, her life had been beyond charmed: unfolding as a fairy tale to many who observed her, and maybe even to the coyote herself. But many observers hadn’t taken the time to reflect on the larger picture: she had spent the first four years of her life being indelibly humanized and she needed to get back to normal — to her essential coyote self. This exile forced her to do so, but the results may be short-lived.

Her early-life urban-situation inherently fueled problems. At one point, she was hit by a car, leaving her with a temporary hip injury. Luckily the injury didn’t hamper her for long: she never lost her mobility — though she toppled over time and again as she attempted walking after the incident — and she stopped limping in less than two weeks. She had been prompted to chase cars by misguided people throwing her food from their cars — it took two years of everyday outreach before I could stop that behavior by halting the feeding. She was lucky that a car hadn’t killed her during that time: her predecessor in that location had been killed by a car which is why she was able to move in there — she had filled his vacated niche. Dogs chased her continually during her early years there, often right into street traffic, endangering both them and her. But actually, over time, people had been getting better and better at leashing up when they saw her, so this was happening much less than ever before. There had been other issues all perpetrated by humans, such as repeatedly feeding her, approaching too close, and befriending her, which little by little had eroded away her “coyote essence”, but these were all being corrected by more and more people abiding by, “just walk away from her; leave her alone and give her space”. On the whole life was pretty good to this happy-go-lucky coyote. It appears that the niche she had found and made her own worked for her: finding the right habitat apparently is primary for survival. I’ve heard that evolution is less about the “survival of the fittest” as previously thought, and more about “finding the right habitat”. Our coyote had chosen hers well.

And then things fortuitously got even better. How could things get better than this? But they did: a male companion appeared on the scene and became her best friend. Although he was a wanderer and seemed to have another lady-friend in another location, he always returned after only a few days’ absence during the four months they knew each other, and he and our coyote spent gobs of quality time in each other’s company simply enjoying each other. No one had ever seen our coyote — who had been a loner up to this point — happier. An added perk of this friendship: he was a supreme hunter, and this began rubbing off on her.

However, unbeknownst to our little female coyote, trouble was already brewing. Her best-buddy fella-friend had some family that followed him to her location, and that, ironically is what led to her life unraveling for the next six months. Few people are aware of how intense coyote internal lives, relationships, and their emotions are, or of their individuality and personalities, all of which have nothing to do with humans: not all good and bad which confront a coyote are created by humans, though, of course, a lot is, as this story points out.

So our coyote was driven away from her haven AND even pursued by a relative of the fella who had made her so happy. The relative was another female transient, an interloper, over two years of age who had recently been radio-collared in the Presidio. San Francisco does not radio-collar coyotes, but the Presidio which is federally owned, does. At the time of radio-collaring, it was found that this coyote had larger teeth than normal. Hmmm. . . Why? More interesting was her angry look. Did she harbor anger from being manhandled when she was collared?? Or from having to wear the large contraption around her neck? My friend Lou has noted that first-generation coydogs often have angry looks about them. Might she, then, be a coydog: a half dog?

Inside The Lives of Urban Coyotes

Most of my talks have been for closed groups, but on October 18th I’ve been invited to give an open-to-the-public talk for the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA in Burlingame. You are welcome to come!

Hidden Wilderness: A Coyote Story, by Claire Gilchrist

I haven’t always been interested in coyotes. In fact, I lived in Vancouver, Canada, for over a decade before I even realized that coyotes were living there! That all changed one fateful night, a night that spurred my fascination with coyotes and eventually pushed me to write my novel Street Shadows.

It was late one evening and I was biking home from a friend’s house. I was almost home, passing through a dark cemetery with my dog Baker running easily by my side. I had done this route many times and was pedaling on autopilot, lost in thought.

Suddenly, a yelp caught my attention and I saw a grey shape surge out of the darkness, heading straight toward Baker. I had no idea what it was, and screamed. Baker, equally terrified, raced away from me. Pursued closely by the shape, he did a lap of the cemetery before turning to head back toward me. As he drew closer, fear made me jump off my bike and lift it above my head, yelling incomprehensibly. A few moments later, the shape retreated into the darkness, and I fled from the cemetery with Baker, feeling like I’d just barely escaped with my life.

It wasn’t until later, when my heart had stopped racing and I was sitting at home in front of a computer, that I realized that the mysterious shape was actually a coyote, and that it most certainly was not trying to kill me! In fact, judging from the time of year and local online reports, it was most likely defending a young litter of pups and threatened by my off-leash dog, who weighs about twice that of the average urban coyote. I’d probably caused the coyote a lot of panic, racing past its home with an unleashed dog by my side.

The encounter surprised and fascinated me because I’d always drawn a line between ‘urban’ and ‘wild’. I love nature, and have spent immeasurable hours getting myself and my family out of the city and into the wilderness, to places so remote we didn’t see another human for a week. What I hadn’t realized until this moment is that I didn’t actually have to leave the city to tap into wildlife. A hidden wilderness was happening right outside my front door. I had never seen it because I wasn’t looking for it.

Over the next few years, extensive research and a very active imagination turned into Street Shadows. An adventure tale of two urban coyote friends, the story focuses on what happens when humans develop some of the coyote territory into a housing development. It’s fiction, but explores a conflict that happens in our cities on a daily basis. I hope young readers will enjoy the glimpse into this hidden world, and perhaps even start to see their cities in a fresh light, with a new appreciation of all of their neighbours, both human and furry.

Street Shadows is geared toward kids ages 8-13, and launches across the USA on September 24th. I am excited to be able to share my fascination and imagination with others who are curious about this hidden wilderness.

Anxious and Scared for HIS Safety

The first part of this video is a rehash of what I’ve posted before. In this video, I’m standing right next to the dog, so you will experience most of the first section as if you were the dog. Also, this recording occurred many months ago when this coyote had just become part of a “pair” of coyotes — it is out of synch with the reality of today. But it has a telling display of one coyote’s concern and worry for another coyote in the last 30 seconds of the video.

For those who are unfamiliar with this coyote, a little background: There is only one dog which this coyote reacts to with such focused intensity as you’ll see in the video: The coyote’s hackles go up, her back arches, her head is lowered, she snarls and kicks dirt ferociously and angrily, and she emits distressful barks.  More often than not, she bouncingly follows the owner and dog for some distance maintaining this scary “Halloween cat” posture and continuing the barking. At a certain point, she’ll stop and watch them fade into the distance. After about 20 minutes, she knows exactly where and when they will reappear for the last leg of their walk, so she sits on a little knoll overlooking the spot until dog and owner come into view, at which point she’ll begin her distressed and anxious behavior again until they disappear down a neighborhood street for good for the day.

The coyote’s behavior, although territorial at its core, also has an aspect of “personal” animosity involving one-upmanship. The dog is a female six-year-old whose owner — he is always very respectful of the coyote and always walks away from her — attempted promoting peace between his dog and the coyote three years ago by squatting down close to the coyote and speaking gently to her to show how harmless he and the dog were. Only the dog was not giving off the same friendly vibes and messages, as revealed by the dog’s behaviors when she slipped her collar a number of times, ending up chasing the coyote, and even running up to this coyote’s favorite lookout posts and peeing there: “take that”. The coyote, of course, runs lickety-split from the dog, but always circles back to keep an eye on the dog after the dog is re-leashed. The coyote’s reaction to this dog is not just a random now-and-then occurrence: it has been going on almost every morning for three years: this coyote’s fear and anxiety towards the dog is major in her life, and given that the dog is three times her size, I think she’s very brave to confront her fears and anxieties so regularly and so directly.

The owner finally tired of this behavior and began taking an alternative route, but on the day of the video, the coyote caught a glimpse of the dog, and her behavior recommenced. Circumstances had changed for the coyote by this time: she had a new companion, a one-and-a-half year old male coyote who had joined her only a couple of months earlier. These two coyotes were becoming best friends. The female coyote had become particularly guardful of the new fellow after his leg injury a month earlier so that when any dogs came around, she frequently ran interference by running in front of them to take them off of his trail.

So on the day of the video, the female coyote saw the dog that had become her nemesis and began her distressed behavior as she had so often done before. I went up to speak to the owner and then stood by his dog as I videoed. The male coyote was not around when the female coyote first began her tirade, but at 1:33 into the video, just as the dog re-emerges for the last leg of her walk, the coyote spots her male companion and she runs off to divert his direction away from the “fearsome” white dog. In the last 30 seconds of the video, the female coyote is terrified and frazzled: she is beside herself with out-of-control anxiety and fear for her male coyote friend and she’s trying to communicate this to the younger male who seems not to get it: he remains calm and unfazed.

When the dog owner sees the coyotes, he quickly move down the street and away from them, and the dog was leashed anyway, so there was no danger of a chase. But the intensity of the little female coyote’s emotions and efforts are on full display in these last 30 seconds — she is beside herself in fear for her new friend and is trying to “save” him by trying to get him to move. 1112

Terrifyingly Noisy Parrots

San Francisco is home to a number of wild parrot flocks. They are an amazingly noisy bunch as they fly by, louder than most I’ve heard here in San Francisco, and definitely noisier than geese and ducks who also fly in noisy flocks.

Today I was watching a coyote casually hunting when the sounds of the parrots flying overhead reached my ear. I pointed my camera up to catch them in flight as they passed by, took a few shots, and then turned back to what had been a fairly relaxed coyote who now was freaking out. She was darting quickly and anxiously back and forth as she looked at the flock passing high overhead.

I’ve seen this coyote become “playful” with some ravens who seem to interact with her every so often, and with a Sharp Shinned Hawk who teases her now and then. Neither of these two birds vocalized as they flew and neither was in a flock: she jumped UP and frolicked a few paces with them, almost trying to reach them. It always appears to be a game of one-upmanship from both sides.

This time, with the noise, which could easily have been mistaken for alarmist shrieks or warning calls, it was very different: the coyote actually DUCKED DOWN into the grasses, hugged the ground, and displayed the same kind of extremely anxious, uncontrolled fear as when she once wanted to protect another coyote from a dog she so tremendously feared. This was the first time I had seen her react to the flock.  I’m wondering if it reminded her of a previous terror, or if it was just something new for her, or if the pitch of the parrot sounds was instinctively alarmist to her. Her distress was intense, but it was short-lived as the birds moved on and their noise faded, and life continued on as before, with her unscathed — maybe to her surprise! This coyote has endured some harsh treatment over the past 7 months, so her reaction might be related to something that happened during that time period.

We have several different wild parrot flocks here in the city. One of these roosts in the Presidio, and another on Telegraph Hill. Those that reside on Telegraph Hill had a book written about them by Mark Bittner, and then a movie based on that book by Judy Irving, both entitled “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”. Author and movie-maker are now married! Chance encounters and experiences can end up in magic!

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