Fall In LA County, by Charles Wood


In Los Angeles it had been weeks since I had seen any of the coyote family that makes its home in a field by a concrete river nearby.  Sunday I saw an eighteen month old male who I’m guessing was Mister, though it is hard to be sure given his winter coat.  I haven’t seen his mom in six weeks and it has been eight weeks since I last saw his dad.  From late spring through summer I see my coyote pack on almost any day.  In fall and winter, if not for their droppings, you would think they were not there at all.

Mister's Message

Where do they go and how far away?  Mister left a message for me today that is also a clue as to their whereabouts:  they go where the ripened fruit is and eat a lot of it.  If anyone reading recognizes the seeds, please let me know the name of the plant so I may try and locate some.

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.

“Don’t Hurt Them”

"Don't Hurt Them"

Recently seen coyote sign with graffiti in the middle of Golden Gate Park in the City of San Francisco, one of the 10 largest urban centers in the United States! Most of us feel this way about our urban coyotes.

Please don’t hurt them, and please don’t take away their habitat. Their habitat includes thickets which offer them a protected place to live. Nativists are removing trees and thickets, and replacing them with native grasses which offer no habitat protection to our feathered and furry wildlife which now live in our parks.

Native grasses existed on sand-dunes which made up the landscape in 1776, but the ecology of the area has evolved since that time and it is because of this evolution that the wildlife we now have was attracted to the area and now lives here. This wildlife was not here in 1776 when the only plants were native grasses and four types of sparse growing trees.

PS: You can prevent uncomfortable encounters by keeping your dog on a short leash in known coyote areas.


Coyote Tracks

Unless there is snow, or unless the mud is perfect, it is hard to see a series of coyote tracks on a trail. However, if your coyote has just stepped in wet mud and then walks on a street, voilá!

So here you can see how a coyote, for the most part, when walking, has a gait which actually puts a back foot print right into the footprint of the front foot! Coyotes are known for this, causing them to make less noise as they walk and requiring less effort.  You can see that this is not exact — there is a slight deviation.

Kickin’ High

This coyote is totally absorbed in the job at hand, totally focused. The high-strung tension is palpable as he hesitates and wavers. He holds back, preparing for his big move. He finally lets go like a wound-up coil when he thinks the time is right.  Watch those legs fly!  In spite of the effort, the vole evaded capture.

Tip Toe!

I asked a very good friend if he thought this video might be too long for viewers. This is what he said:

“It is wonderful, & beautiful — particularly the sound, and the length, which both are perfect — nature is slow… those digitalkids & iphonephreaks who believe they live in a soundbyte world, don’t — there are entire worlds out there, surrounding them and containing them and of which they are a tiny miniscule and unimportant part, which move far more slowly — Nature is one of those, Geology moves far more slowly even than that — Astral events, the stars, move both far more slowly and sometimes a whole lot faster, than they do — let the slowness here, decorated so wonderfully by that chirping-birds & airplane soundtrack, remind them of their own relativity in all of that”.

This video is long, at 5:51 minutes. The most interesting parts are the tiptoeing at 1:10, the series of pounces where she caves in the underground tunnels of her prey at 1:44, and then the furious digging and moving of ground cover at 2:17. She exposes her prey by this digging and grabs it at 3:28 and then eats it. A young female shows how adept she is at her hunting routine:

Here is a breakdown of what is occurring:

  • To begin with, patiently, she stands there, super alert, watching and listening, triangulating her ears from side to side, and nodding her head back and forth to exactly and precisely locate her prey by sound.
  • At 1:10 she tiptoes, ever so carefully so that her prey may not hear her — a little bit closer
  • Soon thereafter, at 1:44 she tenses, getting ready to leap, backs up a little bit and then springs up and down into several pounces, landing hard on her forepaws with a series of  “punches” meant to knock in her prey’s intricate tunneling system underground. This prevents the gopher from escaping through that tunnel network. This lasts until 2:05.
  • At 2:17 she begins furiously digging and digging, both deep into the ground to break through into the tunnels, and on the surface to move the ground-cover out of the way, all the while continually keeping a wary eye on her surroundings, including me and folks walking in back of me.
  • At 3:28 she catches her prey, disables it, and tosses it to the ground. Then, by looking around, she assesses how safe it is to eat right it then and there. She decides it’s not so safe, so she runs off with it.
  • At 3:36 until the end of the video, she eats her prey, tearing into several more manageable eating portions and chewing these down to swallowable sizes — it takes a while, and then she calmly walks off. Note that there is no waste — she eats every bit of her prey: entrails, muscles, fur and bones.

Professor Arthur Shapiro Comments on the Environmental Impact Report of the Natural Areas Program in San Francisco

Mission Blue Butterfly from Wikimedia Commons

These comments to the Environmental Impact Report of the Natural Areas Program in San Francisco by Professor Arthur M. Shapiro, are posted with his permission, and re-posted from two other websites: Death of a Million Trees, and Save Mount Sutro Forest. These two websites are loaded with pertinent information on this subject. Shapiro is Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis and a renowned expert on the butterflies of California.  Please be aware of his credentials as you read this.  Hopefully, these comments will inspire you to write your own comment by the deadline, which has been extended to October 31, 2011.  Details about how to submit your comment are available from the Death of a Million Trees website here. I am republishing this because of my concern for existing animal habitat which is being replaced in our so-called “natural areas” with native grasses which have no habitat value at all for the wildlife existing in our parks.


October 6, 2011
Mr. Bill Wycko:
San Francisco Planning Department

Dear Mr. Wycko:

Consistent with the policy of the University of California, I wish to state at the outset that the opinions stated in this letter are my own and should not be construed as being those of the Regents, the University of California, or any administrative entity thereof. My affiliation is presented for purposes of identification only. However, my academic qualifications are relevant to what I am about to say. I am a professional ecologist (B.A. University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D. Cornell University) and have been on the faculty of U.C. Davis since 1971, where I have taught General Ecology, Evolutionary Ecology, Community Ecology, Philosophy of Biology, Biogeography, Tropical Ecology, Paleoecology, Global Change, Chemical Ecology, and Principles of Systematics. I have trained some 15 Ph.D.s, many of whom are now tenured faculty at institutions including the University of Massachusetts, University of Tennessee, University of Nevada-Reno, Texas State University, and Long Beach State University, and some of whom are now in government agencies or in private consulting or industry. I am an or the author of some 350 scientific publications and reviews. The point is that I do have the bona fides to say what I am about to say.

At a time when public funds are exceedingly scarce and strict prioritization is mandatory, I am frankly appalled that San Francisco is considering major expenditures directed toward so-called “restoration ecology.” “Restoration ecology” is a euphemism for a kind of gardening informed by an almost cultish veneration of the “native” and abhorrence of the naturalized, which is commonly characterized as “invasive.” Let me make this clear: neither “restoration” nor conservation can be mandated by science—only informed by it. The decision of what actions to take may be motivated by many things, including politics, esthetics, economics and even religion, but it cannot be science-driven.

In the case of “restoration ecology,” the goal is the creation of a simulacrum of what is believed to have been present at some (essentially arbitrary) point in the past. I say a simulacrum, because almost always there are no studies of what was actually there from a functional standpoint; usually there are no studies at all beyond the merely (and superficially) descriptive. Whatever the reason for desiring to create such a simulacrum, it must be recognized that it is just as much a garden as any home rock garden and will almost never be capable of being self-sustaining without constant maintenance; it is not going to be a “natural,” self-regulating ecosystem. The reason for that is that the ground rules today are not those that obtained when the prototype is thought to have existed. The context has changed; the climate has changed; the pool of potential colonizing species has changed, often drastically. Attempts to “restore” prairie in the upper Midwest in the face of European Blackthorn invasion have proven Sisyphean. And they are the norm, not the exception.

The creation of small, easily managed, and educational simulacra of presumed pre-European vegetation on San Francisco public lands is a thoroughly worthwhile and, to me, desirable project. Wholesale habitat conversion is not.

A significant reaction against the excesses of the “native plant movement” is setting up within the profession of ecology, and there has been a recent spate of articles arguing that hostility to “invasives” has gone too far—that many exotic species are providing valuable ecological services and that, as in cases I have studied and published on, in the altered context of our so-called “Anthropocene Epoch” such services are not merely valuable but essential. This is a letter, not a monograph, but I would be glad to expand on this point if asked to do so.

I am an evolutionary ecologist, housed in a Department of Evolution and Ecology. The two should be joined at the proverbial hip. Existing ecological communities are freeze-frames from a very long movie. They have not existed for eternity, and many have existed only a few thousand years. There is nothing intrinsically sacred about interspecific associations. Ecological change is the norm, not the exception. Species and communities come and go. The ideology (or is it faith?) that informs “restoration ecology” basically seeks to deny evolution and prohibit change. But change will happen in any case, and it is foolish to squander scarce resources in pursuit of what are ideological, not scientific, goals with no practical benefit to anyone and only psychological “benefits” to their adherents.

If that were the only argument, perhaps it could be rebutted effectively. But the proposed wholesale habitat conversion advocated here does serious harm, both locally (in terms of community enjoyment of public resources) and globally (in terms of carbon balance-urban forests sequester lots of carbon; artificial grasslands do not). At both levels, wholesale tree removal, except for reasons of public safety, is sheer folly. Aging, decrepit, unstable Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypresses are unquestionably a potential hazard. Removing them for that reason is a very different matter from removing them to actualize someone’s dream of a pristine San Francisco (that probably never existed).

Sociologists and social psychologists talk about the “idealization of the underclass,” the “noble savage” concept, and other terms referring to the guilt-driven self-hatred that infects many members of society. Feeling the moral onus of consumption and luxury, people idolize that which they conceive as pure and untainted. That may be a helpful personal catharsis. It is not a basis for public policy.

Many years ago I co-hosted John Harper, a distinguished British plant ecologist, on his visit to Davis. We took him on a field trip up I-80. On the way up several students began apologizing for the extent to which the Valley and foothill landscapes were dominated by naturalized exotic weeds, mainly Mediterranean annual grasses. Finally Harper couldn’t take it any more. “Why do you insist on treating this as a calamity, rather than a vast evolutionary opportunity?” he asked. Those of us who know the detailed history of vegetation for the past few million years—particularly since the end of Pleistocene glaciation—understand this. “Restoration ecology” is plowing the sea.

Get real.

Arthur M. Shapiro
Distinguished Professor of Evolution and Ecology

Some Fun and Mischief?


I had been casually following two coyotes on a path. One was a bit ahead of the other and was out of sight when it suddenly raced back in my direction. It was running away from something. It looked back at where it had just come from in a semi-fearful way , and it communicated this clearly to the other coyote — simply by example. They both hurried off to a rock ledge where they could examine whatever was coming. Coyotes learn by example and they communicate by example — by “showing”. I have seen younger coyotes often look at their mother’s face and body stance to see how they should react — whether they should be fearful or not. I, too, waited on edge, putting myself in the same frame of mind as were those coyotes. Hmmmm. What appeared around the bend was a runner and three very active and very little dogs. One of the little dogs — a brave fellow — saw the coyotes and ran after them, furiously barking. The coyotes ran away simply to avoid the little dog — or maybe they ran off to humor the dog?

This same kind of situation has happened before between these dogs and these coyotes: it is this “known” situation which caused the first coyote to run off the way it did — they could anticipate what was about to happen and prepared themselves for it. The dogs and the coyotes know each other from simply being in the same park over time — they’ve seen each other and read each other’s intentions. The dog that went after the coyotes did so rather self-assuredly in spite of his small size. But then the coyotes turned around — it was their turn to chase back, and the little dog fled in a flash! There was teasing and testing, and judging from the dog’s and the coyote’s facial expressions, it seemed very much of a game from everyone’s point of view. The dog and coyotes came within touching distance of each other. But you don’t take chances with small dogs, so I helped grab the dogs and the owner leashed them before going on.

That was not the end of it. There is “oneupmanship” which seems to be at play with coyotes sometimes and these coyotes may have wanted “the last word.” From what I have seen, this “oneupmanship” has a definite message, even though it might be delivered in a teasing-testing-playful sort of way.  One coyote continued the encounter begun by the little dog by following the runner and now leashed dogs. When the runner stopped and turned around to face the coyote, the coyote stopped, but remained on the trail about 40 feet away. Only when the owner leaned down to pick up a pebble did the coyote run off. When the owner continued running, the coyote continued to follow, but at a greater distance than initially. Fortunately, the owner was not particularly bothered by this game, and eventually, when runner and dogs arrived at a more populated trail, the coyote headed off. The second coyote tagged along for only a short distance and then got distracted by the possibility of a gopher meal.

This mischievous fun, testing and teasing on the part of coyotes may startle some dog owners who expect all wildlife to keep hidden in the bushes. But, although wildlife may for the most part follow that model, they do not always. My impression was that the coyotes were prepared for a little fun and adventure — when the opportunity stepped right in front of them with an invitation to chase back, they did so. However, it should be known that if a coyote had actually reached the dog, it could very well have nipped it — the message is always the same, even if it is mixed with a little fun and games: “this territory is mine, don’t mess with me.”

one coyote follows

Distressed Barking? from Andrew

Hi Janet — I just came across your web site and blog due to my curiosity about coyote communication. I live in the Eastern Sierra on a 50 acre “ranch” (no cattle, just my two dogs) at around 6000′ elevation. We’re surrounded by the Inyo National Forest in sagebrush/pinyon pine country.  The property is fenced with 5 foot “dog-proof” field roll fencing. My dogs will oftentimes howl along with the local coyotes in the distance, but over the past month I’ve been hearing a coyote just outside my bedroom window. The ranch has a lot of rabbits and quail, and I can see why coyotes would pay us a visit now and then. Tonight, about 40 yards outside my window, a coyote was doing a high pitch sort of barking, and so I went online to research what the bark might mean. The barking sounded exactly like that in your “Distressed Barking after Interference from a Dog”. The coyote carried on barking for about 15 minutes, and my dogs barked along for awhile but eventually stopped while the coyote continued.

I’m not sure what to make of this; my dogs are contained within a 20 x 40 foot fenced area adjacent to my house and wouldn’t seem to pose a threat to a coyote. Perhaps the coyote got over or under the perimeter fence around the ranch and then couldn’t find its way out? But I had heard a coyote near my house several times before over the past month, so if it’s the same one I would guess that it knew its way in and out. Also, it had never barked like that (distress or alarm bark). I have no problems with coyotes, and enjoy hearing them. I know you focus on coyotes in an urban environment, but thanks for the site and the info!  Regards, Andrew

Hi Andrew — I enjoyed your email — thanks for writing! I, too, am fascinated by coyote communication. I’m wondering if the distressed barking might have been directed at another coyote rather than at your dogs? This coyote might have been guarding its turf against another coyote who was passing through?! It’s hard to tell without knowing the whole situation, but coyotes don’t like interloper coyotes in their areas, especially one that might have threatened it on some level. Then again, one of your dogs might have simply spooked or surprised the coyote in some way which set off the barking — that happens. Maybe someone else who reads this will be able to suggest another possibility. Thanks for sharing this. It’s nice hearing about your slightly different rural situation. If you heard a change in the type of bark, something different definitely was going on.  Janet

Fur Changes

Winter fur is taking on its very full look at this time of year. The fur will remain thick and long through the winter months and then will start shedding in the springtime. By the end of June coyotes are looking pretty ragged and scrawny because of their sparse fur.

Compare these two photos, one taken in October and the other taken at the end of June. Colors and markings also become muted when the fur is at its sparsest, and this is when you can see their true size: they are scrawny little things weighing 25 to 30 pounds — the rest is all fluff!

Lapping Up The Dew

It was fun watching this coyote cross an entire grassy soccer field with it’s head lowered to the ground as it walked, slurping up the dew that was soaking the grass. I wonder if this was something like drinking through a straw?!

Grunting More Than Huffing Here

This video, again, shows the reaction of a coyote to a hostile dog appearing on a path about 200 feet away. Coyotes seem not to be bothered by dogs that have never bothered them. So when a dog appears that causes a coyote to react this way, it is because of the dog’s previous behaviors — a coyote always remembers each dog and its behaviors, be it a blatant antagonism, or something more subtle like a “dirty look”.  I’ve seen this over and over again. By the time I got the camera set up, most of the grunting was over — it had gone on for over a minute.  The grunts are very audible in this video. Fortunately the walker and his dog veered off the path and left the area, so the grunting just petered out, as in the last video I posted. The coyote  took the opportunity to lie down right there where it was camouflaged by the tall grasses. Coyotes frequently are right there in the open, but you can’t see them!

Shortly after this grunting episode, another dog and walker — with a history of being hostile and antagonistic towards coyotes — appeared in the distance. The coyote heard them coming and stood up, waited until they were in sight, and, before being seen by them, trotted off into some bushes rather than wait for the possibility of an encounter. I’m sure if the coyote had stayed down, it would not have been seen, but it chose not to take this chance.

One might wonder why a coyote would be out when dog walkers are out. Do  rodents tend to stick their noses out more during certain times, making hunting more successful at these times? I don’t know, it’s just a guess. Also, though, coyotes seem to want to get a glimpse of what is going on in “their” territories before hunkering down for the day.

The Huffing Continued

This is actually a continuation of the last posting on “Coyote Huffing”. I should have included it in that posting. By the time I took this second video, the coyote had sat down. But you can still see the movements of her throat, huffing and puffing, during the first 13 seconds of the clip. The activity is very quiet, barely audible, if at all in the clip, but nonetheless audible in real life. In this case, after the huffing stopped, at 13 seconds into the clip, the coyote calmed down and the matter was forgotten for the time being. The coyote soon got up and continued her slow trek towards one of her snoozing spots.

Coyote Huffing

The coyote was minding its own business, looking for a possible meal on a grassy area. Occasionally she would look up to watch walkers in the distance. Then, suddenly an unleashed dog caught her eye. The unleashed dog glared at her giving her a feeling of uneasiness. This dog has regularly chased the coyote in the past, and, of course, the coyote remembers all such incidents. Fortunately, the owner saw what was happening and was able to grab the dog.

However, the coyote remained upset — it is not easy for anyone to turn around their fears and uneasiness on a dime. After running over to a bush, she watched as the dog and walker left, but her emotions were running high. She sat there, huffing her discontentment. Notice her throat area which shows the huffing after she reached the bush. Very often, this kind of soft huffing segue’s into a loud and distressed barking session. It did not happen this time probably because the dog left, though that is no assurance that the barking won’t happen anyway. This adult coyote, whom I have seen and know to be an “alpha” coyote — was openly displaying her feelings. In fact, whenever you see a coyote in some kind of fired-up state, it is expressing its feelings — and these feelings are a reaction to the situation at hand.

Not Seen

For three full hours this coyote was able to avoid being seen by anyone at all except one man who said he thought he might have seen it, but wasn’t sure!  The coyote picked times to move around when there was little activity. When it heard or saw someone, it slipped casually into the bushes — there was no quick movement which might have drawn one’s attention to it, so people simply did not notice. When there were not enough bushes around to “slip into”, ducking casually behind one, so as to be partially hidden, worked. At one point, on parallel paths separated by greenery, the coyote simply stood absolutely still and watched, until the “danger” on the other parallel path had passed, and then continued on its slow trek. When it stopped to relax, it did so in tall grasses or against shrubbery or far enough away from the beaten path so as not to draw attention to itself. Most importantly, it moved slowly or stood absolutely still — walkers and runners would go by without noticing the coyote at all.

Of course, this is not always the case. Sometimes a coyote gets unlucky and is seen — and people like to tell others what they have seen so word spreads.  But also I have seen coyotes who allow themselves to be very conspicuous at times — seemingly on purpose. They do so most often by picking a dog-walking time for an excursion or to check things out. And then there is always the surprise encounter when someone suddenly appears on the path ahead. If there is a dog involved, a coyote will stop its activity and look at the dog until it passes, and then continue with whatever it had been doing and wherever it had been going.

“Mighty Aggressive” is simply not what is going on.

I advised some dog walkers that a coyote was around a bend. They ignored me until the coyote was at the top of the hill and could actually be seen. One of the women turned to me and said “mighty aggressive I would say”. I asked why she thought this — the coyote was just standing on the same path as she was.

I had been watching the coyote hunt, and it just happened to be headed in the direction of the walkers. It couldn’t possibly have seen the walkers to avoid them, just as the walkers could not possibly have seen the coyote. The woman turned to me and said that the coyote was obviously after them — if he hadn’t seen them, he surely could have HEARD them, and, weren’t coyotes SUPPOSED to be afraid of us? Didn’t that constitute aggression?

No, that does not constitute aggression.

And no, coyotes are not necessarily fearful of people — rather, it would be more accurate to say that coyotes are WARY of people. They will do their utmost to avoid people. But closer encounters in a park will happen now and then. The coyote may look at you, and may even study you for a moment — that is not aggression — that is curiosity, or even surprise. And then he will move away. Coyotes are not at all interested in people. In this case, the coyote came within about 50 feet of the woman and her dog which was leashed.  Both parties gazed at each other for a moment and then the coyote ran off the path.

Recap of dog/coyote behavior:  Though not frequent, instances of dog/coyote encounters have occurred. A short leash and walking on can prevent an incident. Coyotes have shown an interest in some dogs — dogs and coyotes, after all, are very similar in appearance. Young coyotes have expressed degrees of curiosity about dogs, and even attempted friendly play — but they remain skittish and ready to flee at the slightest startle.

However, parents tend to be defensive of their territories and their young, and they prefer greater distances between themselves and dogs. If your dog comes too close, the coyote — especially if it is an alpha — may feel threatened and act accordingly, with definite and clear MESSAGES to your dog. These messages progress from a very cat-like defensive posture: arched back and snarly face, to a short charge-and-retreat sequence, and, ultimately, it may attempt to nip the dog at his haunches — trying to herd it away, in the same fashion that cattle dogs do. When they do so, they are not attempting to do anything more than TELL the dog something in the only way they can: ” go away”, “give me space”. Keeping your dog on a short leash and moving on and away from the coyote helps guard against this type of coyote reaction in an unexpected encounter. You may have to go so far as to flail your arms and yell at the coyote to back off.

Your dog may want to chase or play with a coyote it sees, or may even feel a need to protect you against a wild animal it is not sure about. It is important to keep your dog next to you and calm, and to walk away quickly before there is time for a possible antagonistic communication to escalate if it has already begun. By doing this, you are messaging your own disinterest in the coyote. But do not run because running might be interpreted as an invitation for the coyote to chase you.

Coyotes have run after some dogs, seemingly unprovoked by the dog himself, and exhibited the messaging behaviors I mentioned above. As far as I have seen, this always occurs when there has been previous chasing by the dog or antagonistic communication between the two — a communication few humans are aware of. Dogs and coyotes communicate exceeding effectively through eye contact and body language. In addition, highly spirited dogs — as many small dogs are — seem to raise the ire of some coyotes: Coyotes seem to want the dogs passing through their territories to be fairly calm: a super active dog is cause for alarm, and this assessment extends to as well to transient or interloper coyotes. The oddest behavior of a coyote towards a dog that I’ve seen was a coyote who slowly followed a dog which was trailing behind its owner — stretching to reach the dog’s tail as if it were “daring” itself to do so. The owner turned around just as the coyote reached the dog and simply said “go away”, pointing his finger instructively at the coyote, and the coyote did so!

So, please keep your dog next to you and walk on when you see a coyote! And if you need to tell a coyote who has come much too close not to come closer, you can do so by flailing your arms to make yourself appear larger, making sharp loud noises, or tossing pebbles in the coyote’s direction — not at him — to warn him off. Both people and coyotes want the same thing: space!  We need to understand their methods, and we need to know what methods will work for ourselves.

%d bloggers like this: