Abandoned Coyote Dens in San Francisco

In San Francisco, coyote dens were abandoned by their occupants long ago — dens are used for birthing and for the first months afterwards before the pups move around much. After that, although coyotes return to the denning area, they sleep out in the open and in various locations. Here are two dens, no longer being used, which I saw on the same outing.

This first one shows an opening which has closed up a bit with debris due to non-usage. It’s a hole dug into the root system of a fallen tree. When it fell, the tree was sawed into pieces and left there. The upended tree left openings through the partly buried root system in the ground which the coyote then dug even further for its use as a den. The landscape it is found in is a small redwood grove, as seen above.

The second den, below, is one which was entirely dug out by animals. It is located in a scrub area which faces a protective forest. It may have been originally built and used by another burrowing animal. When the coyotes found it, they expanded it for their own usage. This den, as opposed to the one above, has an opening that has caved-in and opened up.  The opening probably had some kind of foliage hiding it when it was in use. It opens to the top and side of a hill and goes way back, with a ceiling which is about a foot under ground level. We could have found out more about it by destroying the den, but our aim is always to interfere as minimally as possible: hopefully a family will be occupying it next spring!

Every den is different. In urban areas, coyotes have been known to build their dens near buildings, under porches, close to roads and even in parking lots! Last year in San Francisco, one mother had her pups under a parked car in a driveway right off Capp Street at 24th Street, which are busy and noisy streets. This year a coyote gave birth in one of the public restrooms of Golden Gate Park!

Mary Paglieri to the Rescue: Coyotes and People In San Francisco

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Press image to be taken to the Chronicle story

This article certainly presents an over-dramatized story:  “Predators are lurking in the darkness”, “slinking through alleyways”, “popping out of the shadows” — aren’t these fear-provoking phrases?  “A dozen sightings” — yes, but of the same three coyotes. A “pack” implies danger — the truth is that coyotes run in families, not packs, and the largest number seen together in this area has been three. 

 
And more dramatization without an explanation of what really occurred: Immediately after the little dog in Stern Grove was injured, we were told that this incident involved “two coyotes”, this later became “multiple coyotes”, and somewhere along the telephone line it became “five”… Everyone has been told that coyotes are in the parks — yet the owner of the injured dog admitted that he didn’t think anything would ever happen to him. He was out in a park well known for its coyote sightings, at 6:30 in the morning with two little dogs off-leash with earbuds in his ears when this totally preventable surprise occurred. Why hadn’t the Recreation and Park Department put out “coyote awareness” signs, even after dog walkers and advocates had asked them many, many times to do so?
 
None of our coyotes here in San Francisco has been an imminent threat to humans and this is what ACC is trying to get across to folks and the reasons for their coexistence policies. “Residents are reaching for their pitchforks” is just another over-dramatization — though talk of culling did come up. On the contrary, the intention of Mark Scardina, the President of his Neighborhood Association, became to find a solution which offered a little more than the simple coexistence education offered by the city. The only alternative besides coexistence education, he was told, was to hire a trapper, an option which involved killing coyotes since trapped coyotes may not be relocated. This is not the route his neighbors, and therefore he as their president, wanted to take.
  
One very concerned IT neighbor contacted me to give a presentation about living with coyotes to that neighborhood, and because of this I was able to suggest Mary Paglieri as a perfect solution. So Mark reached out to Mary Paglieri, a Behavioral Ecologist and Wildlife-Human Conflict Expert with over 17 years of experience working with coyotes at Little Blue Society. Mary’s solution includes not only coexistence education, but, if needed, she uses behavior modification and habitat modification — mostly relying on diversionary methods — to encourage coyotes away from neighborhood corridors where they might be upsetting too many people. Hers is coexistence with clout.
 
Coyotes become used to — habituated to — the simple “scare tactics” which coexistence education advocates have been prescribing as the cure-all solution for managing coyotes — so they don’t always work. Mary’s innovative and active but minimally-intrusive solutions are effective and create winners out of all stakeholders: neighbors, pets and coyotes. Her solutions are win-win. 
 
Mary points out that folks may be seeing coyotes more in some neighborhoods because of the drought, which has diminished the number of underground gophers and voles that coyotes rely on for the major part of their diet. To compensate, coyotes have been expanding their ranges — the areas they trek through, for the most part when humans aren’t around. Coyotes really don’t want to tangle with humans, but free-roaming pets can be an issue.

Dad Checks To See If It’s Clear — It Isn’t

This observation occurred way back on June 19th, but I never got around to posting it until now. Dad was doing his duty when he came out at late dusk to check things out for safety. The pups themselves were still too young to be brought out into the open — they were still only two months old. He must have been making sure the area would be safe for Mom.  Mom coyote was still lactating, and her survival was necessary for the survival of the youngsters. Coyote family members watch out for each other.

Dad came to the crest of a hill and looked in all directions. Mom stayed at the bottom of the hill assessing the situation for herself and looking towards Dad for any signal of danger he might give her. Dad indeed had heard some voices and saw SOMEthing, and Mom knew how to read his body language. She hurried back to the safety of the bushes and he followed soon afterwards.

I went looking for what the disturbance might have been. I only had to walk a few paces to where, because of the darkness, I could barely make out two fella humans sitting on the ground by some rocks next to the path the coyotes would have taken. They were talking in barely audible soft, hushed voices. I don’t know if Dad coyote had heard them, smelled them, or seen them. I myself had not heard them or seen them (or smelled them!) in the quiet of the evening, and would never have known they were there if it were not for the revealing coyote behavior — the same behavior that Mom coyote could read about Dad.

Yipping Duet After The Blast Of An Early Morning Siren

There’s the siren, then the yipping begins and immediately one of the coyotes walks towards the other — they like yipping together — and they continue their chorus side by side. When they’re through with the yipping, the female scratches some bugs on her body, and the male snaps at the bugs in the air in front of him. Finally the male coyote, as he hears dogs barking in response to his yipping, sits to watch the activity in the distance. After a moment of watching, these two continue their trekking.

Vigilance!

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Click on either of these images to read the rest of this extremely short (200 words) and to-the-point piece on the importance of vigilance if you have a dog in a coyote area.

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Note: The article, in its shortness, or possibly because of a misunderstanding by its author, is missing some important points. Most important, coyotes avoid humans, so if you don’t have a dog with you, just keep your distance to help yourself and the coyote not feel crowded or threatened. And, even if you have a dog with you, you would never challenge a coyote as described in this article unless it had come very close or was coming directly at your dog. Otherwise, leash and walk away, and always keep your distance. The point is to avoid any interaction and a confrontation always.

Pupping: Coyote Parents Are Worried, Concerned, and Suspicious of Dogs

The Behavior

Dad coyotes are out for a while in the mornings to perform “sentry duty”. With so many dogs in the parks, you can be sure Dads are concerned and worried about the areas where youngsters have been stashed to stay safe.

Most of the time, a dad will just lie and watch, sometimes with one eye shut, from a location with a broad view. He is not only watching, he is also making himself visible. Making himself visible during this time frame is a communication device for letting others know that he is there — the territory is taken. This is about territorial behavior — about protecting one’s turf.

During the time that he’s lying there, he may become uneasy over a particular dog he’s spotted in the distance. If this happens, he’ll sit up or stand to watch more keenly. This may be all he does before lying down again. However, being the good caregiver and guardian that he is, he may hurry after the dog and follow to assure himself that the dog is headed away from, and not towards, a pupping area — sort of “escorting” the dog away.

If the dog owner is not vigilant, the coyote could get close and might even deliver a messaging nip to the dog’s behind — cattle-dog fashion — to get the dog to hurry along. All dog owners should be aware of the possibility of this behavior. Remember that coyotes don’t allow other coyotes into their territories: If YOU were not there with your dog, the coyotes would be trying harder to let the dog feel unwelcome. This does not happen frequently, but I’ve seen it a number of times.

What To Do

What should a dog owner do? I’ve posted this before, but it needs to be emphasized. Remember that coyotes are not interested in tangling with humans — rather, they want to message the dog. First and foremost, if you see a coyote, always leash and continue moving away from it. You should keep your dog in sight at all times. Don’t let your dog lag far behind you where he’s out of your line of vision.

If you see a coyote following and getting too close, you need to stop and shoo it away. Simply turn around and glare at the coyote. Eyeball him eye-to-eye to let him know you mean business and that you are targeting him.  You can add emphasis by lunging or stepping towards the coyote. You want to move in his direction without getting close. One walker recently told me that she pointed at the coyote by extending her arm out far and pointing her finger at the coyote in a commanding sort of way as she stamped her foot and lunged at a coyote. By eyeing the coyote and pointing at it, there will be no mistake about who your message is for. Picking up a small stone and tossing it in the coyote’s direction is always effective. Either way, you are moving in his direction, or moving something in his direction, which is what causes him to move. Then turn around and walk on, but continue looking back. If he continues to follow, you should repeat this more emphatically — it may take several attempts before the coyote gets the message. Never run from a coyote.

NOTE, that if a coyote is close enough to engage with your dog, you’ll need to be ferocious in your shooing it off. Please see the demonstration in the “Coyotes As Neighbors” YouTube video (you can google this). It’s best never to let a coyote get this close in the first place.

Sauntering Along, Minding His Own Business

2015-07-19 (1)Down the path — the same path I was on — came a coyote, sauntering along with a purposeful gait, looking as though he had a specific destination in mind. Three other people, each with a leashed dog, were on that path in front of him, and one woman without a dog was behind him at some distance. The people were all walking towards a social and dog play area.

2015-07-19 (2)The coyote kept walking on the path, knowing that he would get through undisturbed if he kept his distance. He looked so secure and self-assured, even though he was a small wild animal and there were people and dogs around. We were all “obstacles” — not unfriendly obstacles, to be sure — and he would have to get around us. He was able to maintain a safe distance from everyone because we all were walking in the same direction.

Then, an unleashed dog with a reputation for chasing coyotes appeared with its owner coming in the opposite direction — walking towards everyone else. Everyone, including the coyote, knew this dog and its coyote-chasing behavior well. The coyote took stock of the situation and quickly veered off the path and behind some trees. He was still visible, but not so obviously now. One of the dog walkers told me that he did not want to see the coyote being chased which inevitably led to human/human confrontations — he decided to leave.

Everyone else stopped walking and watched. Someone mentioned to this dog owner that a coyote was behind the trees, but, oddly, her dog seemed oblivious to its presence this time. Still, she leashed her dog and continued walking on as if everything was normal, and her dog, none the wiser, never even saw or sensed the presence of the coyote!

2015-07-19 (3)As she disappeared around a bend, the coyote again jumped out onto the trail and continued on his way, still purposefully directed. Another of the dog walkers told me he felt the coyote, who was coming in his direction, might be “following” him as he walked away, but the coyote veered off the path and distanced himself over a scrubby hill. He was obviously just on his way somewhere: just passing through, and everyone there was on his side, knowing his passing through would be uneventful if we kept the dogs away from him, and it was!

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