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. Please just walk away from a coyote if you have a dog with you rather than use this scare tactic.

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.

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