The Older Man No Longer Hangs Out In The Open

2015-12-20

This older man, King of his territorial domain, no longer hangs out in the open where folks and dogs can see him, the way he often did when he was younger. He’s King because he’s the alpha leader of his family group: either the female or the male breeding pair can be dominant over the others, and in this case it is him. Coyotes hang together in families, not as unrelated members of a “pack” — which is what feral domestic dogs do — and the coyote families “own” their territories from which other coyotes are excluded.

This fella is wiser than ever due to his age and experience, and he now prefers safety to beating his chest. He has been through his fair share of injuries — these are unavoidable in the wild, even in the “urban” wild — and they’ve taken a toll in his response times, both physical and judgmental. Injuries are constant in everyday life: they come from fights with raccoons, during hunting when bites and twists and scratches are endured, from human-made items in the environment, including debris that can cause lacerations and cars. In addition they are subject to a number of diseases and parasites, both internal and external which are ever-present in a coyote’s life. He’s almost 7 years old, which is pretty old for a wild coyote, though I’ve known some who were older.

As coyotes get older they fit into their urban setting better. They’ve had time to learn the ropes and learn what is a true threat. So, although this fellow still sometimes comes out from hiding in the bushes to defend other members of his family who are harassed by dogs, and although he still may, rarely, follow a dog he feels is a potential danger to his family to make sure the dog leaves his critical areas, for the most part, the only time I see him is when he’s navigating from one of his hideout locations to another, or hurrying along as he carries food at twilight to his family.

This progression in behavior as a coyote gets older is a normal development. However, it’s not the way all coyotes progress. Each coyote is an individual — same as we humans — and there’s no predicting what path they may take as they age. I watched one female alpha leader actually become more assertive and visible as she aged through her 9 years. Maintaining a visible presence and standing up for her territorial claim was her way of letting others know — coyotes and dogs — that she was Queen of her territorial domain.

Regarding visibility of youngsters, I’ve seen mellow youngsters hang out in a field only as long as there was not a lot of human and dog activity in the park — when that activity picked up, they fled into the bushes. And I’ve seen others ready to take on any comer (any dog) who ventured too close to where the family was hanging out, becoming “front men” (the “linebacker” so to speak) and putting themselves at risk for the safety of their family.

The Coyote Whisperer, by Shelby Carpenter with Photos by Helena Price

2016-03-22

click on photo to be taken to magazine article

I’m honored to be the subject of an article by Shelby Carpenter with photos by Helena Price!

“It’s a cool, breezy evening at a seaside park in San Francisco, and Janet Kessler is on the lookout. We sit quietly among pinecones and dead leaves, staring out over the green space before us. With a thin frame and a mass of brown-gray hair pulled back in a scrunchie, Kessler cuts an almost leonine profile. She’s ready to spring into action at any moment. We wait patiently for one of the more unlikely residents of San Francisco to pay a visit: the coyote.

As we wait and watch, Kessler and I talk about how she has made a name for herself doing just this—tracking urban coyotes in the wilds of San Francisco’s parks. With ample urban green space, the city, it turns out, is the perfect habitat for coyotes. There’s prey, space to build dens, and, most important, a much lower chance of getting shot here than on ranchland. In 2014 alone, the Department of Agriculture killed more than 60,000 coyotes; no such effort to remove coyotes by lethal force exists in San Francisco.

So seven days a week, usually at dawn and dusk, Kessler goes out to watch them. She first became fascinated with the creatures after having a chance encounter . . .” Click here to read on in the March/April issue of Pacific Standard Magazine!

photo by Helena Price

photo by Helena Price

 

Smiling and Showing the Tip of The Tongue

A coyote smiles when it is happy! I have noticed coyotes smile especially during and after playtime.

Smiling is also a method of purposefully communicating goodwill. In this sense, I’ve seen smiling during play, when “getting rough” might have overtones of aggression which could easily be misinterpreted. Since playing incorporates all the moves of real-life fighting — even though it is “not for real” — play could be interpreted as aggressive if it were not for the smile. I have also seen smiles used as a communication device to disarm another coyote who is angry. Smiling signals “I’m not a threat to you. I’m not going to challenge you. I want to please you. I like you.”

And, I have had a coyote seemingly smile at me: “Hey, I see you down there and I’m okay with that.” Facial expressions function the same way in coyote society as it does in human society. Coyote society is highly socially organized according to dominance and pack loyalty, so it comes in handy.

Related to this is showing the tip of the tongue. I see this as a small kiss. It appears to communicate the same message as smiling, but in this case, it is almost always when there might have been room for negative misinterpretation of the coyote’s intentions. It appears to be almost as a gesture of apology.

2011-02-01

Aging and Squinting

100530We all age. We are aware of this passing of time in our grandparents and even in ourselves, and also in our pets. Joints get stiff, energy diminishes, vision and hearing become impaired, past injuries make themselves known again, there is a slower recovery period.  We slow down physically, and sometimes mentally. It happens to all life.

I would wager that few of us are aware of the aging process in the wildlife that surrounds us. Time and life in general take their toll on them, too.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve been watching an older coyote who squints more and more lately — it’s a regular behavior now — when she is looking out into the distance. An aging coyote can lose clarity of vision, can develop cataracts and glaucoma, just like other dogs and like humans. The squinting has been going on for several months, and I have not noticed anything particularly wrong with the eyes, such as discharge or inflammation, so I have to assume it’s simply due to more difficulty with seeing.

A friend gave this explanation about squinting: Squinting allows you to focus better. Its not so much about changing the shape of the lens in the eye which fine tunes focus, it’s more about changing the light entering the eye — a bit like narrowing the aperture of the camera. Squinting gets rid of light “noise” allowing a slight improvement of focus.

Coyotes may squint for other reasons. For instance, coyotes may squint at another coyote or dog they don’t like who they see wandering in the distance — it indicates dislike. If the object of dislike is close enough, squinting becomes a warning device — a communication — which can be read and should be heeded by the other animal. However, the squinting I’ve been observing in this older coyote is not about dislike nor is it a warning because it only occurs when there is no other critter around.

Although I’ve read that dogs squint when they are having vision problems, including glaucoma and cataracts, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it.  It seems to me that dogs are usually more absorbed in their immediate surroundings — they have little, if any, need to be looking for something specific in the far distance. Coyotes, on the other hand, are always surveying their domains. They search for what is going on: they need to see as far and wide as possible. If they are older and squinting as they scan the horizon from a hilltop, might it be because of aging eyes?

Feb 27, 2011 Draft

A Hunting Episode — With A Surprise. . . For Me?

My attention was drawn to the lone coyote hunting in some tall grasses because of a huge unleashed dog which went after it and because of the owner who yelled out for her dog to return. That’s one way to locate a well camouflaged coyote! Surprisingly, the dog returned.  The owner leashed her dog and continued on her run.

I watched as the coyote watched them leave: the coyote was alert and could easily have fled, but he kept cool and walked casually on a few paces. For the next hour I would watch this coyote hunt. . . . and then I was rewarded.

Within the span of that hour the coyote didn’t travel far. He moved slowly. He seemed always to be aware of where the prey might be. For instance, he moved 50 feet off the path to a specific spot — had he heard the prey? He stopped and stared at the ground, and the unfortunate meal was caught without much effort. This continued as the coyote went through a plethora of voles and finally a large gopher.

It’s this last gopher of that hour that received the bulk of the coyote’s attention. This might have been because the coyote already had a full stomach. The coyote seemed to have sensed it from 25 feet off the path. He moved slowly towards it, looking around, climbing over a fallen tree trunk, and finally zeroing in on the exact spot where the gopher was. And then, he exercised extreme patience: he waited and waited, triangulating his head to zero in on the exact location, moving very little. Finally, the pounce happened and the coyote caught his prey.

But this didn’t mean the hunt was over. The unlucky victim managed to escape, to begin with. Coyotes seem to be able to find needles in haystacks, and in that dense and high grass the coyote re-located his prey. But neither was this to be the end of the hunt. Instead of wolfing it down, the coyote watched it, poking it now and then, and sometimes looking at me. I sat back, hoping the ordeal would be over quickly. It wasn’t.

And then, with the prey still wiggling a little, the coyote began walking in my direction with his catch, and then. . . . . he dropped the prey in front of me. Oh, no! Was it an offering of friendship?  This particular coyote has been allowing me to watch him for almost two years. I always keep my distance — I don’t want to be brought into his “circle” of activity or to interact, ever — but maybe he thought differently?  My observations are strictly about being on the outside and watching in. I immediately, but ever so slowly and carefully, distanced myself further from the scene. The coyote peered at me as I moved off. Maybe he thought that I was an idiot for not accepting his generosity — either his friendship or the gopher? Seeing that I was not interested, he picked up the prey and slowly walked off with it.

walking off with prey in mouth

walking off with prey in mouth

I lost him for a short time, and then saw him again, finishing off his meal — not swallowing it whole as it is usually done, but tearing the food apart this time. It really was a large gopher — a prize.

 

original draft: 7-13-11