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.

ACTUAL BLOG WITH LATEST POST BEGINS BELOW

Trap Cameras: Dad Patrols / Pup Explores

Today, I’m posting a video sequence of a coyote on his patrolling rounds, and of a youngster investigating the area, captured remotely on a trap camera. Pups are 3 months old now and their curiosity is insatiable, of course! But this posting is more about trap cameras which aren’t as benign as most people think.


Use of trap cams and what I’ve seen. I’ve used them extremely sparingly in the past. Out of respect for what coyotes want and so as to observe natural rather than fearful or protective behavior, I stay away from denning areas: rather, I’ve used field cameras to count pups after they start exploring well away from their dens. And I’ve used them more recently for tracking an interloper coyote who was driven from her territory by another coyote.

There IS a difference between trap-cameras and human hand-held cameras, but not necessarily in the way people imagine: I’m referring to the intrusiveness factor. In some ways they may be less interfering than human presence, but in many ways they are more so.

Some of the reactions of coyotes to my and other trap cameras as seen in images from those cameras led to my doing a mini-study on trap-cameras. The outcome: I found that these devices are surprisingly intrusive from the animals’ point of view as seen by the images of their reactions to them. On the other hand, although my motives have been “tested” a couple of times by coyotes (I’ve always walked away when this happens), this is rare. Although they’ve watched me, they effectively have not reacted to me, a human photographing them: this is why I’m able to document their natural family lives. We have plenty of other humans passing through the parks in San Francisco so I just blend in with the rest of them. If these had been non-urban coyotes not used to having humans around, I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do.

Conversely, coyotes DO routinely react to trap cameras, often adversely, and they are as aware of them as they are of any human in their area.

For the coyote, I think it boils down to an “understandable known” which is a human taking photos (and I’m talking about doing so respectfully and from a respectable distance), versus an “incomprehensible unknown” which are the clicks and whirrs and flashes of a contraption without a human presence yet “triggered” and focused on them when they appear: that’s when the lights and the noises go on. I’ve even seen several coyotes test this: they stand in the distance waiting for the IR lamp to turn off or the noises to begin, and then they make a slight movement that confirms THEY are the triggers.

So how are these field cameras intrusive? Coyotes often become startled by them, stopping dead in their tracks. The cameras elicit stares and investigative or wary reactions, especially as the coyote gets closer to them. The cameras all make sounds, and coyotes can hear even the faintest of noises, even if you can’t. So even if these cameras are missed visually by coyotes, they still know they are there — this must make them even more disturbing. Even the “black glow” cameras, where the IR flash is invisible to humans, are very visible to coyotes. I’ve actually seen coyotes interact with these cameras by angrily defecating in front of them, kicking dirt in anger at them, and even taking them down when they can [see photos and video below]. Wow! 

When the field cameras are up high and unreachable, they appear to be ignored or not to be seen, or so I thought, until I looked closer. When I set them on high ledges where they could be accessed by animals — they were.  So it’s a fallacy that trap cameras are not intrusive: coyotes know these are human instruments and likely malevolent in some way. Coyotes may even know you are spying on them.

“In the name of science” is often accepted as a good excuse for using them. Scientists want their “facts”, but people should know that they do impact the animals on deeper levels than they might be aware of. 

Having said all this, I have used trap cameras, as I stated above. Recently, my cameras were left up overtime when I neglected to pick them up for several days because I was too busy to go get them, and I discovered that the cameras caught some behaviors worth posting, always sprinkled with the reactions I’ve just described.

Some of what the cameras caught include: Dad bringing back prey to his pups, a mom regurgitating her food for her only pup, a youngster waiting around impatiently for his parents to return from hunting, older sibling playing with a younger pup,  a mom playing with her youngsters as though she were one of them, parents trying to shoo their youngster into hiding in the bushes but youngster doesn’t heed them, a dad pacing and standing very still as he listens carefully for a possible intruder he’s heard! I’ll post some of these in the coming weeks. The video today shows a pup exploring with insatiable curiosity, and Dad patrolling before that.

Some images and a video of coyotes encountering trap cameras.  Here are examples of how coyotes reacted with suspicion & investigation, kicking dirt in anger, defecating in anger and as a message, and knocking down the camera [Press one of the images to scroll through the gallery].

 

The Need for Wildness, by Tara Lohan

Press the above image or this link to read on: https://therevelator.org/coyotes-san-francisco/

Habitat Destruction

Two Coyotes, A Deceased Owl, and A Pussy Cat

Coyote stories usually involve more than just what meets the eye: background details and previous situations can contribute to filling out an understanding of the story. Then again, all stories are simply slices of time — partial stories. We tell them with a satisfying or instructive outcome or conclusion, but the story, in some form, of course, goes on. This entire observation lasted only a few minutes, but it was interesting, especially when expanded upon with a few things I know about these particular coyotes. But you’ll have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps: it’s still only a partial story.

Two coyotes were out foraging for mice in their field, when one of them came upon a find-of-the-week treasure: a dead barn owl. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, and here, an opportunity presented itself and was acted upon.

An important word, again, about RAT POISON because that’s probably what killed the owl. Rat poison, or rodenticide, has been found in every owl we’ve taken up to WildCare for a necropsy. The owl would have eaten poisoned rats and mice which killed him/her. In the necropsies we’ve had done, the rodenticide was repeatedly found laced throughout the entire critter’s body. So this is probably the condition of this found dead owl. And now, coyotes have it. The poison in one owl probably isn’t enough to kill a coyote, but it can affect them, slowing down their reaction times and dulling their nerves: this is what rodenticide does. For instance, their chances of being hit by a car become greater. Cars are primary coyote killers in urban areas. And another tidbit about scavenging coyotes: they clean up carrion (dead animals) which keeps diseases from spreading — the dead owl at this point was carrion.

To continue. The female coyote grabbed the owl and ran with it to keep it away from the 2nd coyote, with the 2nd coyote at her heels. These two coyotes tease each other with mice which they grab from each other when the other coyote is unaware, but also I’ve seen that when the female finds prey on her own, she’ll keep and bury it just for herself so the other coyote won’t be able to find it. In these ways, coyotes interact with each other and food: teasing, sharing, not sharing.

internet photo

I ran to catch up with the coyotes but missed any more shots for this story. What I saw was the coyote with the owl clenched in her mouth running away from the second coyote as they zig-zagged their way around a community garden, and then, interestingly, a large orange tabby cat, right at their tails, zig-zagging along after them. Hmmm. Another tidbit of information about these two coyotes: they are scared of cats and run from them.

I lost track of them all until the two coyotes emerged with kind-of victory grins, but no owl. Had they buried it, or had the cat claimed it by scaring the coyotes away? I tend to think the lead coyote buried the owl to hide it as I saw her do a couple of days earlier with a road-killed raccoon she had found. But who would she be hiding it from? You can be sure that the interested animals following her know exactly where she cached it.

Both coyotes then climbed the hill above where they had been zig-zagging along. The cat was gone. The second coyote, the one who had followed the one with the owl, went off to hunt a little. But the first coyote plopped herself down within view of where the owl would have been buried and kept her eye on that area — until two dogs appeared and chased her away from her lookout post. But the dogs had no idea what she had been guarding, or even that she had been guarding anything at all. Dogs simply like to pursue coyotes.

My story was going to end there, leaving readers to guess who ultimately got the prized owl, but two days later I found the smelly old owl carcass pretty much still intact, but far from where the two coyotes and cat were seen with it. The coyotes may have simply been using the carcass as a toy, teasing and playing “keep-away” from each other. I wondered why it hadn’t been eaten, and I wondered if coyotes can sense rat poison and that the bird had been ill. I don’t know the answer, but since no coyotes were around, I took the opportunity to bag the carcass and dispose of it into a trash bin, to keep our coyotes safe from the high possibility of rat poison. The time had passed when a necropsy could have been accurately performed.

Scout Update: Heartwarming and Heartbreaking

I’ve been able to keep track of our territorially-displaced coyote, Scout, for the last four months as she kept herself out of the way and inconspicuous for the most part in various neighborhoods throughout the center of the city. And then, during the last several weeks she appeared in none of those places and I lost track of her.

So it was overwhelmingly heartwarming to hear from my friends that she had been spotted in her old territory the morning of June 26th: she’s alive and kicking and has not, apparently, given up hope of returning to her old home: what a trooper!  And a brave one at that since she might have been risking her life!  I was sent images, and indeed it was her: she was there, off-and-on, during a five hour interval that morning where, I’m told, she could be seen repeatedly yawning, I’m sure out of anxiety. I myself was only able to catch trail cam images of her before dawn that day as she headed toward her old hill (see above), and then again as she headed away that evening.

Wired making sure Scout stays away

By that evening, Wired — the radio-collared coyote who won the territory in a battle in February — had picked up her scent and was already on her trail. When Scout sensed her presence she was compelled to leave the area. The next day I caught images of her at one of her nearby hideouts where she hadn’t been in almost a month. Then, Wired, too, was seen checking out that same area (see images directly below): she is still hotly pursuing Scout. And now, again, I have lost track of Scout. Wired is back and remains in charge of what is now HER hill where she can be spotted sporadically.

The infrared photos show that Scout has several new sores on her underside and legs which she did not have before. Are these due to malnutrition, bugs, infections, being repelled by other coyotes, or simply wear and tear from life? Let’s hope this is just part and parcel of normal coyote nomad existence. Coyotes are very resilient, as this coyote has already shown us, so we can hope whatever is going on resolves itself quickly.

So Wired remains the territorial empress of what had belonged to Scout, and Scout remains the territorial-less roving nomad and vagrant, eeking out a living in-between territories claimed by other coyotes who keep her at bay. That is the part that’s heartrending.

Wired: the reigning alpha coyote

Please LEASH UP: Coyotes are entitled to defend their den areas here in San Francisco


This video from a field camera covers five hours. It was taken two months ago. I’ve cut out most of the non-action spaces, except those between a dog’s entrance into the area and the coyote’s coming out to “message” that dog to get out of her area. First thing to notice is that the coyote is a mother who is lactating — notice her underside. She needs dogs to stay away. A coyote is entitled to defend herself and her den area — her only tool with which to do so is her teeth. This is “defensive” behavior — it is not “aggressive” — this is not an “aggressive” coyote.

Please listen to the video: You’ll hear one owner brag about her dog always going where she tells it to — hmmm. You’ll hear a short scuffle and then the startled and freaked-out shriek of a dog — most likely the result of seeing the coyote’s snarly face and receiving a messaging leg-pinch, but the coyote may have gone further and actually nipped the dog. You’ll hear a man scornfully yell at the coyote to “get outa here”: this coyote is simply trying to keep dogs away from where her pups are hidden.  Remember, all you need to do when you see a coyote is to walk away from it with your dog leashed — you may have to resort to dragging your dog behind you as you walk away.

Almost all dogs are interested in the smells. This is one of the reasons they need to be kept leashed during pupping season: they should not be investigating den sites or near-den sites: it’s intrusive and stressful for coyote parents and potentially deadly for any pups. It also sets up the dog for a nip.

Please let’s give coyote parents some peace for raising their youngsters at the same time that we keep our dogs safe: all you need to do is leash-up and walk away from them, and keep your dogs from exploring off the beaten paths! The second coyote who came out was a father.

By the way, a couple of parents have allowed their children to crawl into such openings in our more naturally-wild parks. Maybe the openings look like they could become exciting little “forts” in the woods. Indeed that’s what they are — they’re already taken and belong to the wild critters who live there. There are plenty of signs everywhere throughout our parks advising that there are coyotes around. Please understand that coyotes NEED to protect their newborn pups. IF a child is nipped, there will be some tears and possibly a small wound to the child, but also it would be a tragedy because the coyote herself would most likely be euthanized — for simply protecting her pups. In the more overgrown woodsy parts of the parks we also have raccoons, skunks and plenty of rats who you should stay away from.

All About Coyote Pups: A Primer

I’ve put together some information on coyote pups based predominantly on my own observations. Other information is included, including some hearsay, which I’ve stated as such. Push the underlined links I’ve provided for even more information.

Coyote pups are about two months old now here in San Francisco.

Etiquette: Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please especially keep your dogs away from those areas. Besides cars, dogs are coyotes’ biggest threat in urban areas. You can prevent stress and trauma to yourself, your dog, and coyote parents with new pups by leashing your dogs if you must move through such an area. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about a den’s general whereabouts should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas.

Terminology: Baby coyotes are referred to as “pups” (not cubs)!

Dates of birth: In San Francisco, pups are normally born towards the beginning of April after a gestation of 63 days. Coyotes come into heat just once a year (as opposed to dogs’  twice a year cycle) — they can only produce one litter a year which is usually born sometime in the Springtime. The courting behavior which leads to pups can be observed at the end of January.

Litter Sizes: A “litter” is the group of pups that are born and raised together in one family. Some yearlings from the previous year’s litter or before — those that didn’t disperse (leave) — may remain in the family and may even help out a little by bringing in food for the youngsters. I have seen anywhere from one to seven pups born in one litter in San Francisco: that’s quite a spread!  I have heard of larger litters, as many as 11 to 19 (not in San Francisco), but I’ve also heard (but not seen) that this very large litter size may actually be the result of “den sharing”: two females sharing the same den.

From my own observations, I’ve seen litters vary in size over several consecutive years from the same parents as follows: Maeve and Toughy 1-2;  Ma’am and Monte 2-5-1; Cai and Yote 7-2-? (haven’t had a chance to count this year’s yet); Maya and Ivan (3-4-5); Chert and Silver 1-0-0-0-4;. These are all variations of normal litter sizes. The exception was the five litters where there were sometimes no survivals: this anomaly was almost certainly related to inbreeding in this family; Chert went through the motions of having pups during those three years of no pups, but none ever appeared. Besides these normal, small fluctuations, the litter sizes I’ve seen in San Francisco have not changed over the 12 years that I’ve been studying coyotes, even though the coyote population here has grown from an initial 8 in 2002 to several score and appears to be at its saturation point, as revealed by more and more brutal territorial battles that have displaced resident coyotes.

So although I’ve heard it speculated that coyotes “regulate” their litter size: I’ve not seen an indication of this here in San Francisco. They appear to just ‘get what they get’ — like the rest of us (those who don’t take hormones). And rather than the proviso that “locations dictate litter size”,  I would think that litter size might have a genetic component. I know that natural multiple births seem to run in human families, so might litter size also have a genetic component?

Newborn pup size: Coyote pups at birth weigh between 1/2 and 1 pound. This has been measured by wildlife rehabilitation facilities which take in these newborns. Weight can vary substantially between the pups in one family which may include some “runts”. Their personalities also develop differently. Some, right from the start are adventuresome and exploratory: they are curious about everything and wander far, rather brazenly. Others have more of a built-in wariness and fear: they are on-edge and more anxious and keep closer to home. Some are more interactive and social, involved in a lot of rough-house playing and teasing, while others are more withdrawn, preferring to sit back and watch the others. Each of these has it’s benefits for survival: one is not necessarily a “better” personality type than another.

Dens and birthing: Coyote pups are born in dens which were either dug for this purpose by their parents or they were pre-existing “homes” of other animals, such as raccoons or skunks, that were broadened and enlarged by the to-be coyote parents for their purposes.  A den can also be an existing hole in the ground, cavities under tree trunks, a depression with good covering, or a nook under a ledge. I have only seen dens long after they were abandoned, I have never seen an occupied den: I keep my distance from these.

Coyote dens are used only for a short time: for birthing and nursing during the very early life of pups. Dens are outgrown, just as are birds’ nests or human cradles, after which the youngsters sleep in protected or hidden areas as do the parents. At around six weeks of age pups begin venturing beyond the den.

Here is a video of a wolf giving birth: I think we can assume that it must be pretty similar to what a coyote goes through. They emit howls as they give birth, and you hear a little of that here:

Do mothers stay in the dens for an extended period of time after giving birth? Well, if some do [this video shows pups right after, and pups’ first howls], it’s not a hard-and-fast behavior practice:  I’ve seen one mother out within a day of giving birth and I’ve seen others out in far less than a week.

Coyote pups may be left all alone for extended periods of time while the parents go off hunting. So, please don’t “save” what you think are “abandoned” pups — parents are likely simply off hunting. NO ONE can raise coyote pups as well as their own parents. You are actually hurting their chances for survival if you take their welfare into your own hands. If you truly believe they’ve been abandoned, then monitor them for several days before taking them to a wildlife center.

Nourishment: Coyote pups live on their mother’s milk alone for the first few weeks. This diet is soon supplemented with regurgitated food at about one month of age. The regurgitated food consists of whatever the parents consume, mostly rodents, but also fruit, amphibians, insects, birds and even garbage. How long do the youngsters lactate? I’ve seen mothers’ tit size shrink by the end of May, so I assume by that time the youngsters are well accustomed to semi-solid diets and on their way to whole prey soon. First, dead prey is brought to the youngsters, after which the pups are taken out to practice hunting on their own. Interestingly, I’ve seen coyotes over one year of age still being brought regurgitated food from a father: the youngsters approach Dad from below his chin, wedging their muzzles under his upper lip. This causes the regurgitation response. Dad then expels the food onto the ground, and the youngsters grab and eat it.

As the youngsters grow, Dad continues his contributions in the food department by bringing home prey to help feed the youngsters. Both coyote parents, unusually, raise the youngsters and you may find Dad at times sitting out and “minding” the offspring, giving Mom a break.

An interesting observation I’ve made is what I call “facilitating.” When the pups are learning to hunt, a mother will kill a rodent and  bury it where the pups can easily find it!

Survival rate:  Survival rate of pups is known to be low — 20-30% is what the literature says, but what I’ve seen in San Francisco is closer to about 70% from the time the pups can first be seen. However, it should be noted that I myself never know how many pups were actually born because I never intrude into their den areas: I wait to see what a litter is like until Mom brings them out or they are spotted through the bushes. Between birth and when I see them, there could have been more pups who didn’t make it.

First appearances: You might glimpse youngsters now, at two months of age, through the bushes, but it won’t be because coyotes want you to. Youngsters are highly protected as they grow up. And if a youngster sees you, he/she is bound to head straight to the bushes to hide! And parents are bound to come out to warn you to stay far, far away!

Family howl session in response to sirens. The howling family consists of Mom and Dad and four two-month old pups! Note that, although coyotes keep youngsters hidden as much as possible, they seem to have no qualms about being heard!

Here is what coyotes look like during their first year of growth:

Coyotes may leave home (dispersal) anytime after they are about 9 months of age, which is about January in SF. The earliest I’ve seen was a female who left home at 9 months of age. And the latest I’ve seen was a male who didn’t leave until he was 2.5 years of age, even though his father attempted pushing him out almost a year beforehand. The Presidio has tracked some of these dispersals to 60 miles south of the city, and I’ve been able to track some to vacated niches within the city itself. Many dispersing youngsters get killed by cars during this treacherous dispersal time in their lives. They also come across extremely hostile territorial coyotes who make it clear that they are not one bit welcome.

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