Following Behavior: Territoriality, Curiosity, AND Evading

2013-04-20

A coyote may follow you and your dog — the dog is the issue — out of curiosity or to monitor it, the same way you yourself might follow a “suspect” prowling through your neighborhood, to find out where they were going and what they were doing.

If you find that you are being followed by a coyote, walk away from the coyote — and don’t run, running invites chasing. Keep aware of the coyote and shoo it off effectively if it gets too close, and move on. And keep your dog leashed. Pick up a small dog.

The leashing is to keep your dog from being distracted by the coyote and going after it. You want to avoid engagement between the two.

I’ve seen this same following-behavior used for a purpose totally different from either curiosity or monitoring. It was used effectively by a coyote to avoid detection, as a human and his dog passed by. The dog had a history of chasing the coyote, and the man had a history of pursuing the coyote aggressively with his camera.  So this coyote had a particular interest in avoiding this duo. The dog and person passed while the coyote stood absolutely still and remained hidden and undetected in a dark wooded area. Then, to my great surprise, the coyote came out of hiding and followed them at a close 30 feet. The coyote did so carefully, on high alert and prepared to bolt  if necessary. This went on for about 200 feet before the coyote veered off to where the brush picked up again and it could continue undetected through the bushes. Neither the man nor his dog ever looked back!

In this case, what seems to be going on is that, by following in the duo’s “wake”, the coyote was continuing to avoid detection. Animals and people tend to look around themselves, but much less frequently  directly in back of themselves. We all tend to concentrate on sounds, smells and sights which are in front of us or to the sides. Coyotes know this, and “follow” as a method to avoid being seen.

Jumps A Fence

Jumping a four-foot fence? No problem! The coyote watched as some people and their dogs got closer and closer. It was time to split, and the safest getaway was over that fence. No one in the group saw the coyote who continued on its way.

2013-05-23However, I found this photo of a coyote that got caught on the fence. When I first saw the photo, I thought the coyote had been placed there by one of those coyote haters who string coyotes on fences. But no — the coyote was alive and got there on her own!

Her legs caught between the slats of the fence as she went over the top and then she slid down, pinning herself tightly in there. There was no way out of this situation without help. The fence was over 6 feet high — apparently too high for this coyote to make it over safely. Maybe a more experienced coyote would have had better luck. We don’t know how long she hung there, waiting for her end.

Fortunately, someone saw her and called for help. Animal Control was able to save the coyote by using a pole. I wonder if the coyote will now stay away from fences! She’ll probably stay away from this one! Coyotes are known to be able to scale 6 foot fences without a problem. (photo and info by Mary Cummins, Animal Advocates, Flckr)

Great Blue Heron – Cormorants – Running Away From Home

the eucalyptus tree

the eucalyptus tree

Here is more wildlife, aside from the coyotes.

I went to see the Great Blue Heron nest in the Eucalyptus tree on Lake Merced. The “nativists” will have you believe that the Eucalyptus are useless for wildlife and that “they are fire hazards which must be removed.” These folks seem to have their “eyes wide shut”. We have found hawks, owls, cormorants, Great Blue Herons, monarch butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, bats and countless songbirds live in these trees. And as for fire, the Eucalyptus were planted as a windbreak which serves to *prevent* fires! We’ve had no forest fires in San Francisco, but we have had grass and brush fires — and the surrounding Eucalyptus did not burn! Nativists want to replace trees with grasses.

There were about 12 cormorant nests in the Eucalyptus tree — yes, all in ONE tree — with chicks in various stages of development, including a mom sitting on her unhatched eggs, so I watched them as well as the Great Blue Heron nest.

The Great Blue Heron nest had three large nestlings. They sat low, stood up, groomed, stretched their wings, stretched their necks, looked at me, pooped, yawned, made a strange sound which I can’t even begin to describe, picked bugs off one another and grabbed each other’s beaks. They were pretty calm and subdued. No adults were in sight. Where was Mom?

the active cormorants

the active cormorants

The cormorant parents, on the other hand, were omnipresent and extremely busy. When new nesting material and food were brought home by one cormorant parent, the other took off to gather the same stuff, and while the one parent was out collecting supplies, the other parent stayed home. It went like clockwork.

A few sunbathed and a few spread their wings to dry — they don’t have the oils on their feathers that other waterbirds have, so they must allow their wings to dry out and they do so by holding them out parallel to their bodies. There was an entire cormorant village active up there in that tree.

neck stretched up

neck stretched up

After a full hour of my watching the chicks, Mom Blue Heron finally made an appearance. The chicks had not seen her approach, but their energy picked up and the excitement began when they saw her finally arrive — her return marked the beginning of a feeding frenzy. She stood on the edge of the nest and extended her head and her long neck up. She just stood there like this, seemingly inactive.  I wondered why she didn’t get busy and feed the kids.

biggest nestling goes for it

biggest nestling goes for it

Then the biggest of the three chicks also stretched up high, next to Mom — he was impatient. The other two remained crouched low with beaks up, in the “feed me” position. But the one now standing next to Mom grabbed her beak as best he could with his own long and seemingly clunky beak — the beak worked like clumsy chop sticks. The chick seemed to be trying to pull Mom’s bill down. And soon, he seemed to succeed — Mom, too, bent over.

the huddle

the huddle

I don’t know if the stretching fellow actually pulled her down, or simply directed Mom’s bill into his, and I couldn’t tell if he was successful in getting the fish. I know there was a large fish because I saw the tail fin. It’s when all four herons were all huddled down — forming a football huddle — that most of the feeding occurred. I could not see the feeding.

feeding

feeding

This scene was repeated over and over, so I’m assuming Mom had carried at least 3 large fish in her belly for them. In fact, when she was doing nothing but stretching her neck up in the air, when she first arrived, she may have been attempting to regurgitate the fish to feed the youngsters. When her supply was gone, she turned around and flew off.

The chicks began to groom again, but soon they settled down to wait . . . and yawn, and stretch their wings, and look at me . . . .

active cormorants

active cormorants

The cormorants continued their activity, with food being brought every few minutes to both youngsters and to mothers sitting atop eggs. Also, nesting material was constantly brought in. The cormorants were consistently on the move, except those drying themselves in the sun.

It appeared to me — in my imagination — that the herons became disgruntled and discouraged — or, maybe it was me.  After waiting almost another hour, they had huddled together on the opposite side from the spot where Mom had landed and departed. I imagined them plotting their flight from the coop to find a more attentive Mom. The thought occurred to me only because the cormorants were omnipresent and giving full attention to the youngsters.  Then, though, I thought of the time my siblings and I plotted our own getaway . . .

waiting

waiting

We had been ousted from the house — I have no idea why — probably we were being too noisy — but it was drizzling and cold outside . . . So, did this constitute child abuse — at least mistreatment? We hung on the yard gym and talked and discussed it. My older brother suddenly announced he was going to run away from home. It sounded brave, daring and exciting. “But where would you go?”  I asked him. He sounded so definite, like he really might know what he was talking about. He said he would go to Barney’s — that was our grandfather. I wondered how on earth he knew how to get there — he was 8, I was 6 and my sister was 5. I didn’t want to be left out of such a plan, even though I knew I didn’t have the capacity to carry it out.  So I said, “Yes, I’m going too.”  “NO”, he answered in a very definite tone. I couldn’t come with him. He was going alone. OK. I still didn’t want to be left out. I tried thinking of a place I could go. Oh, yes. I’ll go to Uncle Clyde’s . . . Younger sister Debby, too, tried to think of where she could go. She knew that if I couldn’t go with Robby, neither could she, and neither could she come with me. The rule had been set by my brother, as the eldest. Ah, yes. Debby decided on Wright Kirk’s place — this was her godfather. I think these were all the *relatives* in the world that we possessed.

waiting while cormorants leave & return with food

waiting while cormorants leave & return with food

My brother took punishment much harder than the rest of us. He was the eldest and often the leader, but may have felt he had done nothing to deserve this. He was really hurt/incensed by this *mistreatment*, whereas I accepted what came. We were often punished together as the “gang of three” instead of as individuals. My mother had a short fuse and I had come to accept that. So for me, I was following Robby’s lead, not out of a feeling of having been abused, but for the thrill of it and to keep up. I had heard about running away before — isn’t that what the little Lost Boys did in Peter Pan? Of course the plan was utterly impossible, but the magic of the moment stuck with me because I’ve always remembered our planning as a positive event.

My mother got over her mad and we were allowed back into the house. None of us had any intention of running away. We were whiling away the time — and also angry ourselves — secretly spinning a sort of imaginary retribution which would never be fulfilled. It was much too scary and anxiety-provoking for little kids. Nonetheless it brought us kids closer together to cope with parents, and for me it had turned a *punishment* into a fond and memorable event.

I digress. . .  I looked up at the herons: *I* was the one waiting for Mom Heron to return to the nest — it had been an hour since the last feeding. Suddenly all three chicks hurried to the side of the nest from which Mom had departed. They looked excited, attentive, with their beaks agape. This time they saw her coming. I had my camera ready. “Mom, Mom, MOM . . . ” I could hear them yelling in my imagination. Actually, they were totally quiet. And then, there she was, and the frenzy-feeding repeated itself.

Mommmmm!!!

Mommmmm!!!

Solitary Hunters – Subtle Communication Maintains Harmony

Coyotes are usually solitary hunters. This is due to their main food source being small rodents — mice, voles, gophers — which can’t really be divided up between several coyotes. However, coyotes will engage in teamwork when hunting a larger animal, such as anything bigger than a raccoon.

The above sequence of photos shows two coyotes who are together as they hunt. They both head for the same spot when they hear a rodent underground. The female is the alpha — she digs more energetically than the male. Maybe she was hungrier than he was.  The male must have sensed this because he stopped digging but kept his gaze on the spot where she was digging. So she glared at him: “Hey man, give me space!” He moved off to the side to wait patiently, feigning no interest in the meal she had just claimed as hers. She continued digging ferociously and reaped the reward of her labors: it was a huge gopher.  He watched, seemingly disinterested. When she finished her meal, he got up to walk on with her.

Trek, Far and Away, Beginning At Dusk

A few days ago, I was able to keep up with one of the coyotes I know as she began trekked at dusk.

caught a gopher

caught a gopher

She started out in a park where she found a gopher as she lingered, waiting for the day to fade. Then she headed out into a neighborhood street, with plenty of parked cars but no moving traffic. She picked up a couple of mice at the edges of driveways. She didn’t have to search for them — they were just “there”. She couldn’t have seen them. Did she hear them or smell them?  They were small and eaten quickly.

through a neighborhood

through a neighborhood

She then headed, decisively, to wherever she was going. She walked at a fast pace and kept her body high and tall — she was on high alert. She was amazingly tuned-in to her surroundings and the human world she entered as twilight set in. I’ve been told that pet dogs know their owners better than the owners know themselves. This is because they watch you all day! Well, coyotes don’t watch you all day, but they do watch us — from behind the scenes — and they learn our patterns.

middle of street

middle of street

She seemed to know where human perception lay, and that it wasn’t as keen as hers, especially at night. She knew when to stand still, when to duck down or simply walk behind a tree so that only part of her was visible — not enough to make her recognizable. Only one person saw her — amazed — “is that a coyote!” She stuck to the side of the road where she could duck into high grasses or shrubbery if she needed to — and she needed to three times, when three different cars went by. But she also wandered into the middle of the road several times, zigzagging right down the middle of it.

gopher in open space

gopher in open space

Her next stop was way down the street at an abandoned field where she hunted and caught another gopher. It took her only a short time to eat this, crushing the bones so the gopher could be consumed whole. Then she trotted assuredly onto a long church driveway. She seemed to know where she was headed. She moved along the driveway fairly quickly, stopping to sniff and “mark” in a couple of places, before climbing a hill at the edge of the church property. Here she hunted a little, but didn’t find anything.

dashing through a break in the traffic

dashing through a break in the traffic

She was now at the edge of a 6-lane thoroughfare. I thought she would turn back and descend the hill — but she waited there as the traffic whizzed by — she was hidden by the fading daylight and the darkness under dense trees. Then she took off — resolutely — across the street! “Oh, no,” I thought, “I’m going to have to watch her die”. But, as she crossed, the traffic magically parted for her. In fact, I was able to cross during the same brief break in the traffic. Her judgement and timing were excellent.  She got to the other side of the street and climbed the steep grassy embankment and was off down the next winding two-lane road. Please note that it’s much darker than the photos show — the headlights of the cars are on because they need them.

up an embankment through dense brush

up an embankment through dense brush

I exerted myself  to keep up but lagged behind because of the steep hill. When I got to the road she was now on, she was way way ahead — almost invisible in the dusk. I decided to give catching-up a try. I was able to do so because she stopped to examine and pick up some road kill — I think it was part of a squirrel. She carried it off to the side of the road where she was somewhat hidden in the tall grasses. This is when I caught my breath. She spent several minutes eating her find. She then descended from her hiding place and continued on her way, up the two lane road.  Her trajectory as I followed was in a single direction — far and away from where she began.  I wondered where she was ultimately headed. I would have needed night vision goggles to follow any further.

car headlights help me focus

car headlights help me focus

what you can see with night vision goggles

what you can see with night vision goggles

I actually tried on a pair of night vision goggles from my son’s lab. Wow! In a totally blackened room, you can SEE! What you see is a very clear and sharp black and green. I wondered how close these are to coyote night vision. Most of the daytime treks I’ve kept up with lasted anywhere from one to three hours. I’ve always assumed that nighttime trekking was a more substantial endeavor, maybe lasting all night. I wasn’t able to find out how long this one lasted because of my own inability to see. I turned around and went back.

How Much Food Does a Coyote Eat In A Day?

the menu at a wildlife rehabilitation center

the menu at a wildlife rehabilitation center: this menu will be fed at least twice a day and dry chow is always available

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters: they eat what they can find when they need to. However they’ll concentrate on obtaining their favorite foods, when available, which include freshly caught gophers, voles, squirrels, mice, rats, opossums. They eat roadkill and other carrion. In areas where there are deer, they scavenge for deer hit by cars and they can take down the infirm and younger ungulates. And, yes, the occasional cat has been eaten when their regular food sources are scarce.  They eat birds as big as chickens and as small as sparrows. But they are not totally carnivores. They eat fruit, nuts and bugs, including crickets, peanuts and watermelon. And they will nibble at human leftovers from picnic areas or the street, though this is clearly not a big part of their diet as shown by coyote scat analysis. Sandwich baggies have even been found in their scat!

Although they find and kill snakes and lizards, I have not seen them eat these. They prefer rolling on them to absorb their acrid odors, but might eat them when other food is scarce.

They’ll expend a lot of effort digging up what turns out to be a mole, only to reject it. There must be something about the flavor they don’t like. They roll on them, as they do with reptiles, to absorb the odors, and, again, when no other food is around to satisfy their hunger, they will eat them as a last resort.

I’ve wondered how *much* a coyote eats in a day, or over several days.  I’ve seen three full gophers caught, chomped and gulped down, all in a row. I thought that was a lot of food. I’ve seen coyotes eat a raccoon carcass, but only part way at any one time. They returned on successive days to finish it off. It appears that they stopped eating each day when they had had their fill.

The image above is the coyote — and juvenile coyote — menu offered to injured coyotes at an animal rehabilitation center. This amount of food is obviously enough to sustain a coyote comfortably when it is not active. An active coyote would need much more than this, I would think, as would a female during gestation and while nursing young pups. The menu above looks scrumptious! There’s more variety than most dogs get. Maybe when times are tough coyotes should learn to check into their local wildlife rehabilitation center for a gourmet meal!!

Nesting Season: Finding and Testing Building Materials

Sometimes I like posting about something different than coyotes. I found a tiny little Bushtit — 3.5 inches from tip of the beak to tip of the tail — searching for, finding, and testing building materials for it’s nest.  The materials did not pass muster, and were abandoned. Birds have very high standards for their young.

Previous Older Entries