Perceived Size of Coyotes


Usually there are two classifications people use to describe a coyote’s size: 1) it was big, 2) it was small. But perception very often has little to do with reality. I’m going to give four telling examples.

I watched as a fellow’s dog chased a coyote, and then the coyote turned on it’s chaser to return the treatment. The owner made a flailing attempt to shoo the coyote off. When the encounter was over, and the coyote had retreated, the man, who was unaware that I had watched the entire event, told me about the 100 pound coyote that had engaged his dog. Anyone who knows coyotes knows that they run from 18 to 35 pounds, so this statement had more, I think, to do with his fear, or to do with a good story — we’ve all heard about the size of the fish that was caught.

The second example is of a gardener in one of the parks who respects coyotes and sees them often enough. We both had seen a coyote curiously watching an older man who had fallen while attempting to grab his dog which was chasing this coyote. The gardener pointed out that the coyote was very small, probably a puppy. Yet, several days later a coyote passed, at about the same distance, and this same gardener told me that was one of the biggest coyotes he had ever seen — “he knew coyotes well so he could tell a big one when he saw one”. Interestingly, these two sightings involved the same coyote, a coyote I know very well and can easily identify. I have not figured out why he saw them so differently: was it the lighting? Was it that when seen on a large field with a man close by the coyote looked smaller, or did holding its head down make it look smaller? Was it that when he saw the “large” coyote, it appeared large because it was on a ridge?

The third story is about a young woman who was very excited about telling me that she had seen a small coyote pup. This was in January, so of course I wanted to see for myself. Since pups are born in March or April, it would be very unlikely that she would see a small pup in January. She took me to the area, and, yes, it was a playful coyote, but it was not a pup. It was a full-grown two year old that I had been keeping track of for some time. This young woman really likes coyotes, so I’m wondering if she sees them all as adorable pups?

The last example involves the perception of an older woman who is very used to seeing coyotes in a park, so you would think she could assess their sizes pretty well. She likes them well enough, but would prefer that they not be around when she walks her dog. On this particular day, she ran up a hill to shoo away a coyote because she thought it was too close. She told me it was a small coyote — a puppy — and she was helping it. Again, this was an adult coyote which she has seen plenty of times and which I’ve been keeping track of. Another man, months ago, labeled this same coyote as “huge”, which spread as a rumor by folks who wanted to believe this.

Frankly, my conclusion is that describing the size of a coyote often has little to do with reality, but a lot to do with how one is feeling about the coyote at the time. Also, descriptive words often carry very individual-specific and individual-nuanced meanings which everyone doesn’t necessarily agree on. And, in addition, I’ve heard that seven people witnessing the same car accident will give seven different versions of what happened — versions which might often be contradictory — they actually perceive the accident differently.

Classic Defense Pose

This coyote was lying down, peacefully relaxing in a remote open space when it was eyed by a dog in the distance. It is one of the dogs that purposefully looks for coyotes to pursue them. The owner of the dog doesn’t feel that it is her job to leash her dog, even though this dog continually harasses coyotes. So the dog, upon seeing the coyote, came bounding over in hot pursuit. The coyote reacted with this defensive display message: “leave me alone”.  The dog ignored this, so the coyote turned tail and tried hiding, which didn’t work.

The first photograph shows the coyote scratching the ground and bouncing up and down as the dog approaches. Second, third and fourth photos show the coyote’s lips pulled back, teeth bared, ears down and back, arched back with fur standing on end, tail tucked under. This classic defense pose — the “halloween cat” pose — is supposed to make the coyote look ferocious in order to get the message across, but it doesn’t help with some of the dogs. When the coyote finally flees here, it slinks closer to the ground with shoulders hunched and hind quarters pulled in. Hiding only gained the coyote a few minutes. The dog ended up chasing the coyote a long distance before losing track of it.

A Tricky Perfume Bath

When the smell you want to smother yourself in is on the top of and beside a log, it takes a bit of maneuvering to get all your parts covered.

Shooing Off A Coyote: Slapping a folded newspaper on your thigh

newspaper folded over once or twice

Hey!  Slapping a folded newspaper against your thigh as you walk assertively toward a coyote with your eyes fixed on him is one of the best techniques I’ve found for shooing off a coyote who may have gotten too close for your comfort. A newspaper section can easily be folded over once or twice and carried in your pocket.

In fact, it’s not just the sharp noise which serves to deter. It’s also the flailing motion of slapping that paper against your leg which is important. It’s very aggressive. The coyote actually sees you hitting something, and that this hitting is coming his way — the coyote knows he’s next. And the bigger the flailing motion, the better. Tossing a small stone in their direction — but not at them — you don’t want to cause an injury — also works well.

Coyotes will flee as a human approaches them — but slapping a newspaper or tossing a small stone will nudge them on faster, and may make you feel more confident and in control. Use this scare tactic ONLY if the coyote is coming towards you and imminently in your “space”. Your best option, of course, will be preventing getting that close in the first place by walking away from a coyote the minute you see one, especially if you have a dog. Please make sure to read my flyer: How to Handle a Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

Coyote Feet, by Charles Wood

This video shows two coyotes on different days. The first coyote is a female intruder leaving my packs territory. I had thought that coyotes could walk with comfort everywhere. Now I don’t think so.

The second coyote is Dad. I wondered if, like my dog, Dad would avoid stepping in a big puddle. He did.

Territorial Messages, by Charles Wood

Dad came part way out to my dog Holtz and me to defecate. He scraped dirt unenthusiastically and walked away. His message said, in a word, “Mine.” He chose to walk towards us using an access road, that choice also showing his low interest level in us today. It wasn’t the direct route to us.

The second half of the video shows Dad a little later, a bit further away and closer to the fence bordering his field. His barks are a territorial message. I’ve rarely seen him barking out his claim to the field. Considering his lackluster performance earlier, I’m puzzled as to why he felt that he needed to vocalize. It didn’t last long and when done he walked away. No other coyote answered his barks. Perhaps his pack understood that Dad was not talking to them.

I then went to the bridge hoping for a pack reunion and giving Dad more space. Once there I didn’t see Dad or other coyotes. I packed to leave and saw a homeless man, Larry, coming towards me from the east part of the field. Arriving, he asked me if I had just seen “…that coyote run off?” I hadn’t. Dad had been watching me and I hadn’t seen him. Larry walking nearby was enough to push Dad back. Unenergetic today, but not a slacker, Dad had been on watch duty the whole time.

Fun With An Old Found Boot

Coyotes like to have fun. There is more to life than just working hard at making a living — at making ends meet. In fact, most animals are very similar to humans in that regard: they like to, and know how, to have fun.

I’ll never forget the first video clip I saw of a blackbird flying to the top of a snow embankment, lying down on its side, beak downhill, and sliding down a long icy slope. Then he flew to the top and did it again, and again! Here is a video of a crow sliding down a snow slope on a plastic ring!

Now, I look for the fun animals have, and they have a lot of it. Here, an old, smelly, tossed out boot provides fun and enjoyment for two coyotes on their twilight trek.

Parental Greetings, by Charles Wood

The video first has a color segment and the last third is in black and white, each taken different evenings.

The color segment is in three parts. The first fifteen seconds show Dad looking like a run over coyote whose ears can still move! He is about as flat as a coyote can get. He is waiting for family members. The next fifteen seconds show Dad still waiting. It looks like he is trying to taste the air, perhaps acquiring scents. The next half minute is what Dad and I were waiting for. Puppy shows up and greets him.

Puppy’s body language is highly deferential and is focused on Dad’s mouth. If it is asking for food, Dad shuts that down with some light bites. Puppy then stands for inspection while Dad sniffs Puppy’s hips. Puppy then goes for Dad’s mouth and again Dad says no. Puppy heads south and that day’s video ends.

The black and white segment has more action. Mom and Puppy move from left to right to meet and greet Dad. Eventually they settle down, Mom the coyote with the fuller figure. Then a yearling comes in from the left and the video ends.

In the black and white episode, Puppy was with Mom and they met up with Dad. The color episode leaves us to wonder who had been watching Puppy before it showed up. That day, after Dad and Puppy headed south, it was six minutes before another coyote, a yearling, came along. Puppy was probably with the yearling, hurrying ahead while the yearling instead straggled along.

Dad’s investigative sniffing of Puppy’s hips is intriguing. Odors dissipate and consequently contain clues as to when they may have been acquired. Dad already had a whiff of Puppy’s breath, perhaps smelling clues about when and what puppy had eaten. Puppy’s hips may have had clues about where and with whom Puppy had been. Unrecognized smells on Puppy would tell Dad something too. I suspect there is much day to day, hour by hour scent on a coyote that other coyotes are able to read.

When I come home, my dog greets me excitedly. When calmer, he wants to know what I’ve eaten and if I’ve been anywhere fun. I tell him. I let him smell my breath and my shoes.

Intruder, by Charles Wood


I got a surprise Tuesday when a coyote I’ve never seen before showed up in my pack’s territory. The adult female intruder was checking out some of the places where I often see my pack. Though not entirely clear from the photograph above, she has the eyes of a Husky. She looked well fed, self-satisfied, and slightly wet.

My pack’s territory has pooled irrigation water as much as six inches deep. My dog has used those pools to cool off on hot days, walking in and sitting down. The intruder’s chest was mottled by dampness and her pasterns were marked by mud. She too may have used those pools to cool off. Then again, when she went out she went down into the riverbed and may have been damp from having swam in.

I didn’t see any of my coyotes around. They either weren’t there or were non-confrontationally laying low and waiting for the intruder to leave. Certainly the intruding female knew she was in an area claimed by other coyotes. When she did leave she left quickly. Maybe she was able to see a bit of my coyotes that the dusk didn’t allow me to see.

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

Frolicking and Fun

I’ve seen coyotes head out on their treks in a bee line — they seem to know where they are going and what they are doing — it’s “all business”.  And then there are days where it looks like the agenda involves less hurry and more relaxation: there is time to stop for frolicking and fun. I only caught the last part of it on video, but here is another example of fun.

Waiting, by Charles Wood

This little girl yearling is having a hard time waiting for the dusk reunion. Only in the last of the three clips is her yearling companion’s presence detectable by its ears moving. Those ears are near the ground at the right edge of the bush near which the one is standing.

Great Fun Teasing and Bounding in Tall Grasses

Life involves much more than simply working at survival or earning a living. Coyotes have a sense of fun — just like the rest of us.

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