Coyotes In The News?

I listened to a recent news story about coyotes. The news spot reported that a woman “believed” her cat was taken by a coyote. That a coyote actually took the cat was not observed, but since there are coyotes in the area, the coyotes were blamed.

The track record for the news media concerning coyotes seems to follow this general pattern. When coyotes are reported by the media, the stories are sensationalist and fear-provoking. Just by being around, with no evidence to prove it, coyotes are often blamed for problems that they have never been connected to. But the news doesn’t let the facts interfere with what they consider a good story.

People against the coyotes are driven by rumors and fears: they latch onto whatever feeds their point of view. This entire TV news spot was created based on this approach. The basis of the story was what a woman “believed”, and this was based on her personal preconceived prejudices. And the news report was full of  inaccuracies.

Foremost, the story exploded the number of coyotes from three to seven. Since two howling coyotes can sound like many more, this is what fed the new rumor.  An excited, but irresponsible observer announced that she “could distinguish seven voices.” The rumor spread and was irresponsibly reported on this news station without checking this out.

Then by questioning the “safety of our children” the news station fanned additional fears about coyotes. The fact is, coyotes have never approached people in our parks. Before running off, a coyote might stand in a path to see what is going on, but that is as close as a coyote has ever allowed a person to come to it. Actual parents, those who have children, have not joined the hysteria against the resident coyotes. The one human activity that could lead to aggression is feeding, but everyone knows this and everyone makes an effort to strictly keep this from happening.

To get a more realistic view of how most walkers perceive coyotes, try canvasing for opinions. Almost everyone is thrilled with the coyotes and considers it a real treasure to have them in our parks. Everyone knows that if you leave the coyotes alone, they will leave you alone. The few perceived coyote problems have actually been created by one small group of dog owners who do not wish to leash their dogs and whose dogs have gone after the coyotes.  Allow your dog to chase a coyote, especially if it is a parent coyote and pack leader, and it may return to defend itself. Not only will it do so at the time of being chased, but it will remember the specific dog involved for a long time to come, and it will be ready to make its own “statement” whenever it happens to see this dog for the next little while. Coyotes do not want to be chased. Fortunately our Department of Animal Care and Control allows coyotes to defend themselves from such aggressions — even if the “aggression” was intended as fun and games by the dog.

Please take a look at some of the behavior postings in this blog: they are almost all supported by photographs. Coyotes are not malicious: if they were to be put in trial, and all evidence listened to, they would come out way ahead in people’s minds. But with coyotes, there never is a trial, only a final firing squad. Please get to know them: they are amazingly intelligent, warm and fair-minded themselves.

One reason a news station might proceed with this kind of a story is that the media very often relies on sensationalist material — that is what sells: who is going to watch your program if everything is fine at the OK Corral? But this is irresponsible journalism: facts must be checked out, views should be balanced and a story should not be based on one woman’s personal “belief”. Let’s give equal time to how the rest of us see coyotes and their behavior, and to the experiences we have had when we come across one.

I’ve read where newspapers are “not here to report the news, but to form the public’s opinion, very often with misinformation.” The problem is that inciting fear and hysteria is not helping anyone except the newspaper itself.

Responding To The Itch On Your Back

When your leg can’t get to the itch, you get up and use a natural “back scratcher”. This is the second time I have seen a coyote make use of the available flora for taking care of its itching needs.

Leg Lifting

I know that in dogs, leg-lifting is a fairly macho thing and a sign of coming of age. This is a recent development for a couple of male coyote pups I have been observing. These pups were born in the Springtime of 2009, so they are about 16 months old. I don’t know if this is the time frame for dogs, but it is what I have observed in two young male coyotes. Before this recent development, all four legs were firmly planted on the ground, with a minimal “squat” in the back legs.

Females normally squat low to urinate or mark. However, even females sometimes lift a leg, but it is done a little differently than the male: see last photo in posting “Mom by Charles Wood” on August 1, 2010. The female will swing the leg more forward and will retain a squatted position vs. the male whose leg goes out to the side.

Greetings and Sniffing Behavior

Greetings always occur when coyotes from the same family come together, even after only a short time of separation — say, less than an hour!! Today, there were these normal greetings, and then this group sat on the path, as if allowing me time to look at them. I was impressed with the sniffing today — there is always something that stands out when I observe coyotes. On this day, I caught the mother sniffing at the young male’s genital area. I have seen this behavior a number of times recently. I wonder what it means? The young males are about a year and a half old, and this may be a time when sexual maturity is setting in and possibly causing some changes in hormones and oder?

The coyotes soon got up and moved on. Sniffing of another sort continued when the group reached a spot much further down the path. I knew what this was about because only five days before, I had seen a raccoon right in this spot — one of the few spots where its passageway was visible. It must have been hurrying home after a night checking out the garbage cans on the streets!  I knew the coyotes were onto the same scent. After “getting” what the scent was, they ran over to what they (and I) knew to be another section of the raccoon path. After having collected the information, scent, they needed, they ran down to a thicket area where I could no longer see them.

Soon, I was proven correct. Although, because of the density of the grown, I could not see anything, I could hear the hissing and growling of the raccoon. This didn’t go on for too long before I again saw a coyote resting on a hilltop. The coyote would not have been there had there been a successful capturing of a raccoon. So, more than anything else, there was drama this morning. Raccoons are very good fighters: fierce and strong. And raccoons can climb trees beyond 75 feet, whereas a coyote is limited in its ability to climb perpendicularly!

Please Leave Me Alone; I Hope No One Sees Me

Earlier on, this coyote had been pursued by dogs. It is now resting here, hoping that by lying completely still, no human or dog will see it. In fact, no one did see it while it was here. When the coyote was ready to go, it got up, stretched, and trotted off.

More Imitating Mom and Curiosity

An incident  which caught my attention was when a dog came into an area where three coyotes had been hunting. The mother coyote slowly approached the dog in her usual “halloween cat” stance warning pose, while the younger ones for the most part ignored the dog in the distance.  However, as the mother continued her warning stance, and continued her darting towards and then back from the dog, the two younger coyotes joined her in approaching the dog: one did so distantly, but the other actually seemed to imitate the mother a little bit.

This is the first time I have seen a younger pup imitating this stance of the mother’s. My thought has always been that this mother puts on this warning posture, not only to warn the dog away, but also as a lesson to her young charges. The young coyote appeared to imitate, in this case, without the underlying motivations of the mother. I say this because, having seen this coyote and dog in proximity a number of times before, I knew that the young coyote felt no threat from this dog — but the point seemed to be to imitate just the outer behavior of the mom. A few minutes later, almost as if to prove what I had just observed — the the behavior driven by the need to threaten — this same young coyote approached the same dog carefully, again without fear, in a curious manner from behind — always from behind because it is safer that way. If the dog would have turned around, the coyote would have jumped back to increase the distance as I have seen it do before — but this did not happen because the dog never turned around. The dog had been intently sniffing something on the ground and ignoring the coyote. When the dog moved on, the coyote went right up to the spot the dog had been sniffing to check it out: “What were you doing there and what was so interesting?” And here, again, is the reason we humans are so charmed by coyotes: their “insatiable curiosity.”

“MORE DAD”, by Charles Wood

Once again the alpha male, Dad, stopped my attempts to find his family.  As my dog Holtz and I walked on a dirt road in his field, Dad stepped out from the brush in front of us onto the road.  Holtz immediately started to chase Dad and I stopped him with his leash.  Dad bounded away from us down the road, but kept his head turned behind him and saw me restrain Holtz.  He stopped and quickly returned to begin his display.

Dad defecated and scraped dirt.  That was followed by an approach, head down with an intense unblinking glare directed towards Holtz.  A dog will similarly approach another dog in play, where tension is created between the two as the distance is closed.  The approached dog sallies and a play fight results.  Instead, with Dad and a restrained dog, the approach stopped, followed by to-and-fro struts.  The strutting was followed by yawns and stretches, a trot away and a return moments later.  It does seem that Dad had expected Holtz to sally and fight.  It does seem that Dad will prevent me from observing his family.

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

Maligning Coyotes

In one of our parks recently — a wilderness area — someone put up a notice that their “cat had been taken from their porch by a coyote”. They conjured up fear and danger to all pets, and especially to all children living in the immediate vicinity and to groups of children who come to the park as summer campers. Then they gave an email address if anyone might be interested in “relocating” the resident coyotes. What is sad here is that the posting was made solely “on the belief” that a coyote had caused this mishap. No one saw it happen.
When there are coyotes in an area, there are some people who will blame them for any crimes and any possible crimes that they themselves can think of. This is due not only to fears regarding coyotes, but also to misconceptions about them. Education at all levels and following a few simple rules may aid coexistence, so that people will know what to expect from coyotes, and they will know what is expected of themselves.
First of all, it is too bad and very sad that a cat was either killed or lost: pets are members of our families. Coyotes are often made the culprits for these tragedies, simply because they are in the area. However, many possibilities exist, so we shouldn’t be so fast to just point at the coyotes. Not only do we have raccoons in the area, but cats often “move on” or leave their homes of their own accord, they are killed by cars, or they leave the premises to die peacefully away from their homes. Yes, coyotes can take cats: this becomes a possibility especially if cat food is left out — this is what attracts coyotes to backyards. The logic is, that if you live in an area that has coyotes, it is your responsibility to keep your pet safe. It everyone’s responsibility not to leave out food which will attract animals. Our park service will tell you: “I’m sorry, but take better care of your pet.”  This is common sense.
It is interesting that it is often people without children who seem to malign the coyotes regarding children’s safety. However, I don’t hear actual parents doing so. Those who have children or are in charge of them, parents and camp counselors: we do keep a careful watch on our children, yet we also know the joy and excitement of seeing wildlife, and of teaching responsibility and respect for wild animals.  Coyotes never have bitten or hurt any person in our parks here. Our coyotes are not aggressive. We all need to continue to follow the rule: never, ever feed a coyote. Feeding is the one human behavior that MAY cause a coyote to become aggressive — this is because what a coyote is “offered” may eventually become “demanded” by the coyote. By not feeding a coyote in the first place, ever, this sequence of events can be prevented.
Of course, coyotes will defend themselves from dogs, and sometimes will taunt dogs which have come after them or antagonized them in some manner. Remember that dogs and coyotes do communicate on a subtle level that we humans rarely pick up on: body language and visual cues are readily communicated. Keep your dog leashed and close to yourself in a coyote area to prevent problems. This is common sense too.
Lastly, everyone should know that it is illegal to relocate wild animals. This is because of the cruelty involved to the animal. The resident coyotes in the new relocated area are established and often kill incoming coyotes. Also, IF the coyote tends to be a problem coyote — one who possibly has become aggressive from being fed — the problem behavior would be transferred to the new location.
It is extremely easy and safe to coexist with coyotes: don’t approach them so that they feel intruded upon, keep your dogs leashed and next to you in a coyote area, never let your dog chase a coyote, and never feed a coyote — even unintentionally by leaving out pet food.

Intentions Are Clearly Communicated

Here are photos that show a mother coyote who was been waiting, curled up in the grass, for her year-old brood to join her — they are not pups, but fully grown. They had been exploring close by. She had been exploring with them to begin with, but gave the impression that she wanted to move on. She watched patiently from her grassy resting spot. When they were ready, they looked up at her lying in the deep grass — they must have sensed her waiting patiently for them. They approached her with ears down and running low to the ground — doing so enthusiastically. AS they approached, she stuck her tongue out a little — this definitely is a communication device used by coyotes. She got up, keeping her eyes on the approaching young-ones, and then, as if pulling them in her direction, she lept forward at a run and they followed.

Sharing A Peaceful Moment

On one of my walks recently, I saw this coyote trotting down a trail: the trotting gait involved a small amount of calm swaying which made it look gentle — a gentle trot. I continued my walk, and then came upon this charming scene: the same coyote had settled down to relax beside a path, where it was happily observing a gardener tending some vegetation in the distance. The moment was a peaceful one, shared by observer (me), observer and observed (coyote) and observed (gardener). The three of us have come upon each other a number of times, but this was a particularly nice configuration to post. This situation remained in place for about 20 minutes.

Howling Party of Three

Today I saw three coyotes out in a park before walkers or dogs arrived. They were exploring, looking for each other, hunting — all pretty casually. When the dogs arrived, they moved off to the side and up a hill to watch — and they intensified their watch of each other. People leashed their dogs, so no dog problems resulted. When these dogs left the park, two of the coyotes stayed together, wandering further on and eventually up a steep incline; the other coyote appeared to stay where it was.

More dogs passed the group of two coyotes without incident, and then, a soft fire-engine siren could be heard in the far distance. Such a faint sound doesn’t normally produce a reaction from the coyotes. But the younger of the two coyotes on the hilltop began barking in response, and then the one close by joined in. Most of the sounds on this recording are of these two yipping away. But you can actually hear the deeper and longer howl of the third coyote in the distance. So this recording is of three coyotes, though, as always, it sounds like many more voices than that.

When the howling had finished, the third coyote came bounding up the hill where the other two were seated. There were the usual frenzied hugs and kisses and then the three of them ran off. I could not photograph as I recorded, so there are no images of the howling itself. However, both coyotes which I could see remained seated initially as they howled and then walked around each other as the pitch and squeaks got higher! There are a number of recordings listed on this page, so look for the one labeled #1: THREE HOWLING.

Another Tree-Climbing Coyote!!

Here you have another coyote climbing up a tree. I had actually seen the squirrel it was after right before the coyote climbed up. A coyote in a tree is no match for a squirrel in a tree, so the odds were in the squirrel’s favor and the coyote returned to ground level without its prize.

But I did get a good show out of the coyote’s attempt at squirrel-catching! This tree has many tiny branches headed in all directions, so the coyote had to twist and turn and slither this way and that to get as far as it got. That it even made the attempt was kind of amazing!

“More Dad”, by Charles Wood

Early this week the small field where my 9 coyotes live had much of its drying spring growth cleared.  Weeds are habitat, and those weeds were in the wrong place at the wrong time, bounty indifferently cut short.  I hadn’t seen the coyotes at all for a few days.  Today, impatient, to stir things up, I took my leashed dog with me into their field.  The gambit worked and the alpha male, Dad, seemed fine.  I suspect that puppies weren’t far from where he challenged me.

Today he appeared, approached and then began to strut.  I stood and took pictures as he proceeded to yawn and stretch himself out, preparing himself for a dirt scraping session.  He dug, strutted and dug more.  Also, during a pause, he bounced up a little with his forepaws, raised his head and didn’t bark, but instead seemed to just repeatedly draw in air and expel it quickly as in a hic-up.  Then he strutted and dug some more.  Throughout I had not moved away, and eventually he walked off to rest and stare.  His stare looked familiar to me, prone, head on the ground, much like how my calmly exasperated dog looks when waiting on me.  Perhaps Dad was signaling to me that it was now my move.  Perhaps he thought I was a little slow.

My dog and I started our walk out of his field.  He immediately followed, getting closer as he came.  Not wanting him too close, I stopped and stared at him.  After a few moments of standing, I decided to move diagonally back towards the place where today I first saw him.  He countered with redoubled energy, quickly coming closer, decidedly more intense.  I wondered if puppies were over there and if they were the reason for his barring a probe of that particular area.  I didn’t further press him, being intimidated.  As I continued to walk out, he followed and marked what may have been some of the places I had stopped to stare him down.

I think Dad is providing valuable lessons to his puppies.  When people are around:  hide.  If they get too close, chase them off.

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


Spinning is what happens when you try to catch your own tail. You end up going round and around, faster and faster. No matter how fast you spin, your tail remains out of reach. So you change directions, hoping that this might be the right solution, but you get no closer than you did before. Dogs do this. Today I saw a wild coyote do it!! I watched for dizziness when the coyote had finished, but I didn’t see it!


This coyote passed back and forth, ecstatically, against and underneath the scrubby branches of this bush. It was giving itself a back-scratch — and thoroughly enjoying doing so. This type of bush is called “coyote brush” — and now I know why! Coyote brush is also called chaparral broom. It is a woody shrub which is very branched, and scratches well!!

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: