Purpose and Direction

It’s important for folks to know what is normal, mundane, coyote activity, and this posting is about just that!

Today I saw three coyotes out lolling around aimlessly in the darkness before dawn: one hunted casually and one wallowed on something — no doubt something smelly. It was before daybreak so I could just barely make out their movements in the near distance.

Within minutes of my spotting them, their activities suddenly acquired direction and purpose. They all jetted off quickly in a bee-line. Because of the lack of light, I could not see which of the three led the brigade, or if, somehow, they all mutually understood and knew what they would be doing for the next little while. Had they heard the first dogs and walkers entering at the other end of the park, about 1/3 of a mile away? I hadn’t, but coyotes have much better hearing than we do, and this is what may have set them off.

They ducked into and through a grove of bushes where I could no longer follow them, but I had an inkling of where they would emerge and ran to that spot just as, sure enough, they emerged into view. At this point I became aware that, although they all might have had the same design in mind, they were not agreed upon the location. One of the coyotes ran up a hill to a forested area: this is a route they take when they want to hunt along the way to a spot on a hill overlooking a path where dogs and walkers could be watched. This coyote looked back at the others, as if waiting in anticipation of their following. But they did not, so she went on ahead: “who knows, maybe they’ll join me later?”

The other two coyotes stopped right there where they had emerged from the dense bushes — they went no further. They were on a little knoll from which they could watch and be watched — from a safe distance — by passing walkers and their dogs. They settled down and simply watched. A few dog walkers and their dogs trickled through, some seeing the coyotes and some not. Even the one group of walkers which normally harasses and antagonizes the coyotes leashed-up this time and went by without incident: their dogs did not chase the coyotes today. It’s this group that I think the coyotes were out messaging their presence for.

Eventually a couple of dog walkers, without initially seeing the coyotes, headed up the path directly next to where the coyotes were hanging out — the coyotes stood up in preparation for flight. But, upon seeing the coyotes, these walkers leashed their dogs and turned around, and the two coyotes settled down again to watch. They watched this couple of walkers distance themselves and then release their dogs from their leashes as they moved away from the coyotes. Then first the youngster coyote, and then the older one, got up and ran in the direction of these two dog walkers and their dogs — they seemed to be pulled by their curiosity about the dogs who now had become extremely active off-leash. The younger coyote has been engaging in this pattern of behavior recently: running in the direction of particularly active dogs to watch them, but never approaching closer than 50 feet and never showing any hostility — just plain interested and curious.

The dog walkers spotted the coyotes approaching and quickly leashed their dogs again. Coyotes, dogs and walkers all stopped in their tracks to watch each other from the 300 foot distance which separated them. All was still and calm. After a minute or so, the walkers walked on together, and the coyotes, too, came together, touched noses and wandered slowly back to where they had been and then into the bushes.

I have now seen this behavior many times: the coyotes had headed out on purpose to see and be seen by the dogs — to assess and update themselves about the dogs coming to their park — possibly very specific dogs — and to let those same dogs know about their own presence and territorial claim.


Later on,  that first coyote who had headed up the hill and away from the others returned to where I had first seen her before dawn. As she hunted, the younger of the two other coyotes, her sibling, walked into the field with a purposeful gait, obviously looking around for her. They found each other, touched, and ended up hunting a little together and then a little apart before one and then the other disappeared into the bushes for the day. This is coyote family life in the big city, and it has purpose and direction!


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pierceflynn
    Nov 05, 2014 @ 01:00:16

    Thank you for your great observations and photos.

    Has there been any observed or reported antagonism or hunting or territorial attacks by the coyotes on local dogs or cats in your park? Are the coyotes becoming more afraid or less afraid of the humans? Is there other territory in the park for the coyotes to inhabit and hunt in that is more removed from this human and pet walking trail? The coyote seems very close ( less than 300 feet)
    In your photo. Thanks!


    • yipps
      Nov 05, 2014 @ 04:38:19

      Hi Pierce —

      In all the parks where I’ve done my coyote observations here in San Francisco, there have been antagonistic incidents between dogs and coyotes on some level — the incidents aren’t that common, but they have occurred. The most common type of incident is dogs chasing after coyotes, for which, in several instances, the dogs have been nipped on their haunches: it’s a message to leave them alone. Coyotes may seek out a particularly active or antagonistic dog and nip it — again, it’s a message that this territory is taken. Chance or surprise encounters have occurred where, say, both dog and coyote happened upon each other unexpectedly while hunting or playing. Incidents can easily be avoided by leashing-up and moving on whenever folks see a coyote, and by not allowing pets to roam free. With these guidelines in place, few incidents occur. Nonetheless, everyone should know how to shoo away a coyote just in case one should approach their pet. You might take a look at the video, “Coyotes As Neighbors” at the top of the CoyoteYipps home page for information about this.

      In an urban environment coyotes get used to — “habituated” — to human presence: this is because coyotes see people every single day, even if people don’t see the coyotes! Even so, coyotes have retained their wariness and distance from humans always, which I suppose could change if they were enticed through feeding. It’s important never to feed a coyote. So no, coyotes have neither become more nor less fearful of people over time. But I wouldn’t really say that coyotes are “afraid”, per se, of humans. Rather, I would say coyotes are “wary” of people, and it’s the wariness they retain.

      In all the parks where I do my observations, coyotes might hunt or hang out for short periods of time within view of walking trails, but they tend to eventually retreat to the more remote areas, or areas close to dense brush which they could escape into if they had to.

      300 feet distance from a coyote is not close!

      Hope this answers your questions! Janet

  2. pierceflynn
    Nov 05, 2014 @ 01:01:06

    Again, great photos and work!!


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