Four Hours in the day of an Urban Coyote

What does a coyote do all day? It occurred to me that it would be enlightening to see how a coyote spends its day — the part of the day when people are in the park. So I decided to watch one for as long of a stretch as I could. I actually tried this several times, but the coyotes always vanished too soon to call it a day. But, finally I was able to get four hours of continual notes and photos on a coyote. I made a diary of this.The total territory covered by the coyote during these four hours was a mile, encompassing a peripheral trail that rejoins itself, which the coyote crossed back over several times.

Coyotes probably sleep from late morning until late afternoon, because I almost never see them during that time: so I am assuming that after the activity I recorded here, the coyote trotted off for a nap. In addition, there are the dawn, dusk and night hours which are more active for a coyote, with more social activity, hunting and probably playing.

My camera time-stamps my photos, so I was able to record everything solely with my camera! There is no “typical” day, I know. During other days, I have seen this coyote for shorter lengths of time during which there were long hunting sessions, lots of barking sessions, long resting sessions — 3 hours once in one location, following a walker, and so on. But I wanted to put one sequence together, and here it is:

6:00 am: I arrived in one of the city parks to find a coyote calmly resting on an incline. I walked up to a rare pre-dawn dog walker. We noticed two other coyotes close by, young ones, her grown offspring. These stayed together and did some digging. The dog stayed on the path with us. Then the dog moved off the path a bit, causing one of the youths to move further off, but the other one approached the dog, never coming right up to it — this coyote was cautiously interested in the dog. We could see we humans were keeping the coyote at bay: coyotes always keep their distance from people. The walker decided to walk on. Because of the movement, both young coyotes ran into the distance.

6:35 I returned to watch the coyote still resting on the hill. She sat up and seemed to focus attention towards the other side of the park: maybe more walkers could be heard arriving at the park — or maybe she was keeping tabs on another offspring? I suggest this, because later on I saw another offspring in the area this coyote was watching.

At 6:41 one of the youths took off into the brush. The first coyote then got up and stretched, and walked up to the path I was on, but further ahead. The coyote followed the trail right up to where the second youth was still hanging out. These two coyotes had a fabulous face-to-face greeting — the warmth they displayed was extremely charming: they looked right at each other and nuzzled one another. The mother stretched her nose over that of the younger one. The mother then sat down for a few moments next to the young one, then stood up again as the youth trotted off down a trail. Had the mother signaled this one to do so?

6:48 The mother remained. She lifted her forelegs onto a rock to give herself elevation, and she watched the young one trot off. Now alone, she walked over to the other side of the rocks, sat, and looked over the entire area — scoping out the place. There was no activity to be seen.

At 6:54 she decided to move on, stopping to scratch herself on her back in two ways:  with her hind leg and by bending her head over her back to scratch with her teeth. Then she continues on. She has purpose in her gait. At 6:59 she climbs up an outcropping of rocks. Here the intensity of her attention is increased — you can see this by the look in her eye and by the way she turns her head and holds it still. She appeared to be scoping out the area — listening for and looking for something, which could have been more dogs and walkers arriving at the park.

7:00 She scurried down from the high rock after a couple of minutes, and, again, with a quickness and definite purpose in her gait, headed to a favorite knoll of hers where I have seen her often, arriving there in about 4 minutes. Here she first sat, looking around, but then settled into lying down with her head up. She observed the walkers below. There were only about 3 dogs and walkers, but she knows some of them by sight. I notice that her attention was pulled up the hill, so I look up there, and for a few brief moments, at 7:27, saw one of her pups. He returned to hide in the brush almost immediately. Did she come over here to keep an eye on him? Her attention then returned to the walkers for the next little while. She was totally relaxed. During this time I was able to talk to some walkers. We talked about the prevailing issues: that there are several coyotes, that they are peaceful, that dogs should be kept away from them, that all incidents have involved dogs, that a small group has been throwing rocks at them, that someone might be feeding them, and about my photographing them. The coyote adjusted her position several times, but stayed right here.

At 7:42, after about 40 minutes here, the coyote decided to move on. First, she stretched and yawned — she does this often after a rest. Then she wandered, rather casually and slowly, down, around and back to the area where she had shown affection to the other pup. She continued her meandering beyond this point, stopping occasionally to study movement in the ground — there are lots of gopher and vole holes in the area, but no real hunting took place. At 8:09 she heard and saw one of the dog walkers — a woman who throws rocks at the coyote. The coyote knows all walkers and dogs individually, and knows how to avoid being seen. So the coyote carefully slithered into the brush area where she remained fairly still until the woman passed, and then continued her slow easy walk up an incline. At this point, at 8:12, a man appeared on the trail which is off to one side, with a small unleashed dog. I let the man know that the coyote was out in case he might want to leash his dog. He thanked me, leashed up and continued his walk. He never even saw the coyote. The coyote had been absolutely still during my communication with the man, but then slowly continued her meanderings.

Between 8:16 to 8:21 the coyote stopesd to hunt: she saw movement on the ground which probably appeared more promising than before — either of a vole or gopher. She stoped and remained till and kept her attention on this place for a full 5 minutes. Occasionally she looked up and moved a little bit and cocked her head, but she remained poised to catch something. Nothing came of it this time. One morning I saw her catch three gophers, eat two of them and carry the 3rd one off — but not this day.

At 8:25 she reached the street, where a woman and her dog decided to avoid the coyote by going in another direction. A little boy and his dad noticed the coyote — no big deal for them — they told me they wanted to give the coyote plenty of space, so they make a wide circle and head into the park.

At this point I lost the coyote for a few minutes, but not for long. Within less than a minute, the coyote was dashing through the wooded area right by the street in pursuit of a dog. This coyote only chases dogs who have come after her. All became quiet at this point, in fact, it was always quiet except for the rustle of the shrubbery as the animals sped by. As far as I could tell, the dog returned to its owner, because shortly thereafter, at 8:36, I found the coyote headed in a different direction.

The coyote was on some steps, “scooting” — I speculate that she might have worms since I’ve seen her do this several times. A woman was walking her dogs on the path below. She noticed the coyote and walked on. The coyote took the woman’s same path but was not  pursuing, and their directions soon diverged. The coyote then suddenly acquired purpose and direction in her gait.

From 8:42 – 9:27 she arrived and remained at a place several hundred feet away from her favorite knoll. She sat and watched for a few moments, and then circled around to lie down. Everything was quiet at first. But then a man way in the distance below began throwing a ball up the hill for his dog, and the dog retrieved it. He finally was amazed to see the coyote and stopped his activity. The coyote remained totally at rest and relaxed, eyes half-closed. Another dog walker passed on a path way above, she told me her dog does not chase coyotes and it didn’t. Another woman walked her dog on the path below: when I let her know about the coyote right there, she thanks me and leashed up. Everything was very calm that morning.

By 9:28 the coyote was on the move again, this time again slowly meandering, up to a high area in the park through a thicket area. She ended up at the crest of some high cliffs where she found a puddle of water which she lapped up at 9:36. She stood up high here, taking in what was below, scoping out the area for about 4 minutes. She finally stretched and yawned, ever so slowly, before quickening her pace and heading through the thicket below again. She meandered casually in this area, probably looking for any movement that would suggest prey. This area is right next to a trail. At 9:43, as some hikers walked by, she sat still, absolutely quiet, and watched them. They did not see her at all. When they were gone, she got up, pooped, and continued her slow wandering. Then two more walkers and their dog went by as had the previous walkers. This time the coyote took their same path — they are headed in the same direction as the coyote had been going. Since their dog was not leashed, I let them know that the coyote was right in back of them. When they turned around, the coyote headed down a hill, but remained within our sight. It was a nice time to talk about how much we all like this peaceful coyote — peaceful unless chased. They departed.

By 9:46 the coyote was back at her favorite knoll, not totally resting, but sitting up this time. About 8 walkers with their dogs passed by below — about 100 feet from the coyote, few of whom saw the coyote.

At 9:58 a fairly large dog came up in the direction of the coyote, but not after her. She prepared for the dog — just in case — but the dog went on after its owner. For some reason she decided to check this dog out, so she followed them. However, she stopped the minute she saw several other people on the narrow path ahead. She turned back and then headed for an area which is not frequented by people, but then she stopped short. I noticed a large poodle in her path. So I let the owner know that the coyote was right here, could he please leash up to avoid trouble? He defiantly ignored me. So his dog wemt after the coyote, way up the hill, barking at her, as he yelled ineffectively at his dog. The coyote ran off, but then turned around with her defensive stance. She did not pursue the dog but stood her ground. The owner was finally able to grab his dog by the collar and drag it down to the main path. As he got down on this path he released his dog. One of the responsible walkers below yelled at him that he was an idiot for not leashing his dog after that incident.

At 10:00 The coyote disappeared into the direction she was headed and that was the last I saw of her this day.

In Summary, during these four hours, she spent about:

  • 50 minutes: watching her pups as she relaxed
  • 2 minutes: trotting towards her pup
  • 3 minutes:  warmly greeting her pup
  • 6 minutes: surveying the territory from a rise in the ground
  • 6 minutes: purposeful walking – seems like she had a destination in mind
  • one minute:  keenly surveying and scoping out the area from up high
  • 4 minutes:  purposeful walking – again, she seemed to have a location in mind
  • 40 minutes: relaxing on a knoll watching people and noticed another of her pups in the distance
  • 35 minutes: meandering, seemingly less purposeful than before  – included 2 instances of avoiding dogs by ducking into the brush at 8:09 & 8:12
  • 5 minutes:  hunting at one spot
  • 2 minutes: on the street sidewalk or right next to it
  • 1 minute: chasing a dog and I lost track of her, but I found her again
  • 6 minutes: purposeful walking
  • 46 minutes: basking in the sun on a knoll, although a few people saw her, most did not
  • 8 minutes: meanderings up to rocks;
  • 4 minutes: scoping and surveying from high above  – she lapped up water at 9:36 from a puddle
  • 3 minutes: meandering – at 9:43 hikers passed by and then she pooped
  • 12 minutes: at her favorite knoll, sitting up & watching more people who didn’t see her.
  • 1 minute: purposeful walking
  • 1 minute: chased by dog
  • By 10:00 she had left — that was the end of my notes for the day.

She was relaxing 40+40+46+12 minutes=2.3 hours; surveying 6+1+4=10 min; purposeful walking 4+6+4+6+1= 21 min; meandering 35+8+3=46 min; other activities — greeting her pup, drinking water, being chased by dogs, chasing a dog, scratching  3+5+2+1+1=12 min

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