Not Signs of “An Escalation of Aggressive Behavior”

A father coyote does his job in attempting to keep a pupping area safe

A father coyote does his job in attempting to keep a pupping area safe from dogs

This post was written in response to recent postings on social media — see the posting below. It addresses fears that there has been an “escalation of aggressive or dangerous coyote behavior” if a coyote approaches a leashed or larger dog, hisses, uses frequently-used paths, or nips a dog in the haunches during pupping season. This is not so — these are not indications of progressively dangerous coyote behavior. They are normal coyote behaviors during pupping season which have to do with parental protectiveness, not with coyotes “becoming more aggressive”.

A friendly reminder . . .  Leashes in-and-of-themselves do not keep coyotes away from dogs. Coyotes do not know what leashes are and probably are unaware of them. No one ever said leashes would keep coyotes away. What leashing does is to keep the dog close to you and under your control. A leashed dog is also a calmer dog. You can control a dog which is leashed; you cannot control an unleashed dog. Most effective is a short leash, not a long retracting leash which allows your pet to wander 20 feet away from you: 20 feet away is not very close. Keeping your dog close to you, leashed and under control, discourages but does not prevent coyotes from approaching. However, your goal is to totally avoid an encounter, and for that leashing also MUST be paired with walking the other way. Walking the other way is the key.

In the unlikely event that a coyote does approach a dog, he’ll usually do so from behind if possible. They are smart and want to avoid the dog’s teeth. They also want to remain undetected as long as possible — coming up from behind accomplishes this. This is why it is important for a dog walker to always remain vigilant — keep an eye open in all directions around you, and when you see a coyote, no matter how close, walk away from it, dragging your dog if you have to. Sometimes you can stop a coyote who is approaching your dog from approaching further by facing the coyote, or leaning down to pick up a small stone and tossing it in the coyote’s direction. Then walk slowly away from the coyote. If the coyote has already come next to your dog, you’ll need to quickly pull your dog firmly away from the coyote, dragging while you distance yourself and leave without running. It’s important to prevent further engagement by leaving — leaving is the important point.

So, please don’t let the coyote get close to your dog in the first place: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coyotes have nipped the rump or tail of dogs to message them if they feel their areas are threatened, usually when the dog has come into a sensitive area. This is normal, standard coyote behavior, especially during pupping season — it is how a coyote would communicate to another coyote. It has nothing to do with “escalating or progressive aggression” of a coyote. It doesn’t matter if your dog is docile or more assertive — the coyote will want to message any dog he considers a threat — it has less to do with the dog than with the space and the season. Please pay attention to your surroundings — being zeroed in on an iPhone precludes vigilance. Always, always, keep looking around. The better we understand coyote behavior, the less likely we will be surprised by an unexpected behavior, and the better we will be able to deal with such contingencies.

To put this in perspective, coyote nipping behavior is not something which occurs at all frequently, but it has occurred, which is why I’m trying to make everyone aware of it. It is exceptional coyote behavior which all dog owners should be aware of, and, just in case, be prepared for, during pupping season. Your dog is much more likely to be bitten badly by another dog than a coyote.

Also, I want to point out the incident I saw today, and which I see all too frequently: a dog ferociously pursuing a coyote. It’s fun for the dog — it’s terrifying for the coyote. The coyote ran for his life and remained as hidden as he could under a bush from the harassing dog. The owner was not even aware of what was going on until she was yelled at to leash her dog. Whereas a coyote will normally nip a dog’s rump as a message, dogs can actually maul coyotes, compromising their ability to survive: no one will help them with their wounds.

Please keep your dog away from coyotes — it’s best for both dogs and coyotes.

Please note that “hissing” is not hunting behavior. It is “warning” behavior: a “message”. Move away from the coyote as you would from a skunk with its tail up.

Coyotes take trails all the time: it is very normal for coyotes to take frequently used paths when there are not a lot of people on them. This, again, is normal coyote behavior and is not a sign of “escalating aggression.”

By the way, a nip to the tail area isn’t always a *warning* message. Here’s a video of a coyote delivering a playful/not unfriendly “please notice me” message. In this case it’s more the *semblance* of a nip — there’s no real nip here as you will see. This video is one of the first videos I took of a coyote in 2007 — well before I knew a whole lot about them:


This, below, was posted on various neighborhood internet groups  under the title: “Aggressive coyote incident on 65 lb. ON LEASH dog” . It shows lots of concern and fear for what the author thinks might be “escalating dangerous coyote activity” — this is not what is going on. I hope I’ve helped explain the activity as normal coyote behavior above.

Given the increasing frequency of coyote/canine/people interactions, I thought it would be useful for all of you – especially pet owners – to be aware of what happened tonight. Our dog Roxy is a five year old, 65 pound female golden retriever. The most docile and passive dog that you’ll ever meet. We were out for an evening on-leash walk around 730 on the path that follows the south side of Washington Blvd between Compton and Park. About halfway to Park, Roxy suddenly turned her head back and I did the same to see a coyote trying to bite her tail and hind legs. I immediately stood between Roxy and the coyote making a lot of noise. The coyote slowly backed away hissing the entire time. It took a few minutes for the coyote to back off and it finally turned its back to us when it was 15-20 yards away.We continued east on Washington to Park. At that point, I decided to return home to more thoroughly inspect Roxy to make sure she had not been bitten. However, the coyote was laying in the grass along the south side of Washington making that path unusable for getting back home. We started to walk home using the bike lane on the north side of Washington. A motorist helped screen us such that their minivan was between us and the coyote. As we walked past the coyote, it began to hiss at us again. However, there was no further incident and, as best we can tell, Roxy is uninjured.Considering the size of our dog, that she was on-leash, and that we were on a highly traveled path next to a main road, this seems like an escalation of potentially dangerous coyote/canine/people interactions that have taken place across San Francisco.”

Playfulness of Coyotes


Being the social and family oriented animals that they are, coyotes who are “loners” — without families — often get . . . lonely!

Most coyotes eventually find a mate and live in families, but there is a time after dispersal– when they leave “home” — when they may be on their own, alone, and when they may miss the companionship they had growing up with their parents and siblings. Coyotes are often forced out of their birth families and territories by other family members. This usually happens between one and three years of age for various reasons, for example, when the smooth-running of the family is interfered with, because of growing competitiveness due to a domineering parent or sibling, because of new pups, or because of limited resources in an area. So the coyote moves out and on. Each coyote needs about a square mile of territory to provide for itself. When they find a vacant niche, they’ll fill it.

As seen in the video, this little coyote very definitely wants to engage with other canids — he’s running back and forth in an engaging sort of way, with his head bobbing up and down like an excited pony, and he even poses with his rump up and paws out front in the classical “lets play” stance which dogs use. But he’s also testing and assessing — notice that he does not fully approach the dogs who are facing him and close to their owners. He appears both excited and a bit anxious about initiating the interaction — there’s a push-pull of desire and fear.  I have seen short romps shared by dogs and coyotes, and then, the coyote is off — but the coyote may return day after day for this same type of  contact. Please beware that even a playful coyote such as this one in the video may suddenly nip at a dog which has been allowed to play with it: this just happened in one of the other parks where the coyote began to feel threatened or harassed and ended up biting the dog’s leg. We need to remember that wildness will always be part of who the coyotes are. At the same time, the coyote’s good will and good intentions can be clearly recognized.

The first coyote which appeared in the City outside of the Presidio (where they first re-appeared in the City in 2002) actually appeared on Bernal Hill in about 2003.http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Coyotes-usually-seen-in-West-spotted-in-2633779.php, and this coyote, too, was reported to have romped with one of the dogs.

Respecting the coyote’s wildness means keeping our distance and not allowing our dogs to engage with them. When a coyote eventually does find a mate, he may feel very protective of his chosen mate, of himself, and of his territorial claim from all potential threats, be they real or perceived. He’ll do so with “warning messages” in the form of body language. Sometimes this “messaging” is conveyed assertively, as with a nip. Think about it: how else might coyotes clearly get their message across? Know what is going on, and please respect him by keeping your distance. And know how to shoo the coyote away if he comes too close to your dog.

At the same time, be thrilled and filled with awe and wonder at this wildlife returned to the City! Coyotes are fascinatingly social and interact with each other in the gamut of ways we humans interact with each other, including through playing, through a full array of family interactions which show that they share many of our emotions, and through protecting personal and home spaces from dogs who  they consider potential threats.

Coyotes have been moving into all urban areas — into what we consider “human areas”. It’s interesting because we humans have excluded, persecuted and wantonly killed this species for so long. Our presence helps keep away other top predators which is why they may feel safer living among us.

Thank you everyone for trying to understand coyote behavior and for accepting them as a neighbors! To become more aware of coyote behaviors, watch the video presentation,  “Coyotes As Neighbors”. And, stay tuned! In a new posting which will be appearing here and on Bernalwoods.com within the next few days, I’ve addressed some of the issues and hype that have been appearing on some recent social media sites.

Urban Foxes in Provincetown

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This fox has been hanging out at an inn in Provincetown lately. He (or she) has been sleeping THREE stories up on a lounge chair on an outside deck. Might a chair without cushions be less inviting? An employee removed the cushion . . . and the fox tried dragging it back up! I guess he/she has found a safe and comfortable spot and has no intention of leaving!

The innkeepers say, ” it’s missing one leg and it looks very mangy”. It’s sad about the leg. I’m wondering if it might have been caught in a leg-hold trap. Canids will often chew off their own leg to escape and save themselves from these traps.

This fox actually is not mangy at all — this is the time of the year they shed, so they only LOOK mangy because of their ragged coat which sometimes sheds rather unevenly and in patches. The same thing happens to coyotes.

The innkeepers are hoping that the presence of a new resident dog in the courtyard will keep it away for the summer. Let’s see!

Foxes, like coyotes, are part of the canid family and, like coyotes, have been moving into urban centers creating pretty much the same concerns that coyotes do. However, red foxes, as the one depicted here, weigh only 7-15 pounds. Gray foxes are even smaller, weighing no more than 12 pounds. Western coyotes weigh between 25 and 35 pounds, while the Eastern Coyote (also known as the coywolf) can weigh as much as 40-50 pounds. To read more about foxes, please press this link: www.mspca.org/animal_protection/about-foxes/

 

Please Help Support This Environmental Documentary Film by Courtney Quirin

Courtney launched her Kickstarter for her new environmental documentary about the Guardians of the Great Bear Rainforest.

The film is about the erosion of science in Canada, told through the eyes of Guardians of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Guardians live on boats in the depths of the wilderness. full time, in order to monitor wildlife. Their lives are epic: the oldest Guardian has been living on his boat for 39 years, and every day he moves his boat to a new location, drops anchor, and then wades through streams (while dodging grizzlies!) to count salmon. But alas, Canada’s last prime minister, Stephen Harper, changed a bunch of environmental legislation, closed science libraries, shuttered science offices, and silenced scientists, so now there’s not much monitoring of the environment going on. AND, all of this is happening at a time when liquefied natural gas terminals are planned for the coast.

Courtney lived on boats in the wilderness for 2 months to shoot this film!

Please help spread the word and share the link with anyone who you think would be interested.

THANKS, EVERYONE!

 

Coyote and Snake

We have large (harmless) gopher snakes in San Francisco, as well as the much smaller garter snakes.  I’ve seen coyotes “toy” with the smaller garter snakes, but never eat one: see my older post about Snakes Are Not For Eating.

Gopher snakes, on the other hand, as depicted here, are larger and more substantive, and therefore, it appears, they are worth eating for a coyote.

 

On May 2, the very day after the above photos were taken, someone took this video of a coyote contending with, and then eating, probably the same snake, since it was in the same location. This life and death in the city is constant and ongoing. We city dwellers tend not to see it and maybe don’t want to hear about it. It might be sad, but that’s how the food chain works: one must give its life so that another may live, and it happens millions of times every day.

 

My Hummingbird Adventure, by Laurel Rose

Occasionally I like to include stories about other animals besides coyotes. Here is one of those stories, with photos, by Laurel Rose. Click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

I learned a valuable lesson this weekend: Do Not Prune or Remove Trees in Spring!
Over the past couple years, I’ve been removing a row of unattractive honeysuckle trees along the fence line to let more light into our shady yard and plant some ferns & other foliage.  The trees all had long skinny bare trunks with foliage starting at about 15- 20feet up so all I could see was fallen leaves on top of compacted dirt and 8 pencil thin tree trunks.  This weekend 7 and 8 were scheduled for removal. After getting 7 out of the ground, root and all, my friend and & I were getting ready to start breaking the trunk & branches down to 4 foot size segments  required by the city for the green waste bins.  I had a hand saw and my friend was using my mini electric chain saw for the job.  I kept a safe distance in a far corner of the yard and we got to work. 2 branches into it, the chainsaw turns off and I hear “Oh Noooo! Oh my god! Nooo!” then, “chirp, chirp chirp”!


The tree had a hummingbird nest camouflaged and expertly woven very securely onto a few twig size branches. Both my friend and I love & respect nature so we were a little frantic and horrified at the thought of nearly chainsawing through this little womb-like nest cradling 2 chicks. I found a little box and cushioned it with soft material scraps and toilet paper and placed the nest inside very carefully. It took a good hour for us to calm down and stop focusing on how thoughtless we had been to choose April to remove a tree.  Even ugly trees with sparse foliage provide habitat and serve a s food source.  My friend, a somewhat burly guy named Terry but whose friends call him “Bubba” was on the verge of tears telling me, “I searched for a nest before sawing off each branch. . .” . Even if one of us has noticed it, it did not resemble a typical storybook nest.

This is how I found the nest

This is how I found the nest

I called every organization and person I could think of for help on that Saturday evening: Golden Gate Audubon Society, Wild Care, and Janet. I was able to listen to a recorded instructions for caring for a injured chick.  I kept them inside for the night in a warm dark spot away from my curious little dog who likes to be a part of everything I do whenever possible. As soon as it was light outside, I placed the box up high in the area where the tree had been.  Within 20 minutes, mom showed up and fed her hungry babies and I watched as she gathered nectar from the flowers overhead on tree number 8 (which will stay in my yard).
DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

DAY 1: a few hours after discovery

We estimated the age to be between 2 & 3 weeks and were told that hummingbird chicks leave the nest at 23 days old. A couple days before this happens, a stronger chick pushes the weaker out of the nest and it dies because mom will not feed it on the ground. The reason this happens is because the nest is very small and is needed as a “launching pad”. Once the other chick takes flight, mom will continue to feed her baby for several days, teaching how and where to find all the best nectar & bugs before she chases it away to find its own territory.  Since they are in a box, neither one will be pushed out of the nest and mom will continue to feed them both. I’m not sure if this may have any negative or unforeseen consequences but I like that idea!

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Day 5: Just before I left late Thursday morning, I went to check on the chicks and snapped this photo. They looked like they were ready to spread their wings. I might have made them a little nervous putting the camera up so close but wondered if they were contemplating their first flight. When I came home in the early evening, the first thing I did was check the box and it was empty. I stood there for several minutes wondering how such a tiny creature with only 23 days of life can survive on their own. That’s when I heard chirping above and looked up- there was mama with 1 chick shoulder to shoulder on a branch.

I looked around for the other chick and had noticed what I thought was a leaf caught in one of the links on the fence, but a closer look told me otherwise.

Maybe the little guy didn’t feel quite ready, or maybe he wanted to say goodbye. He let me get real close and  looked at me with that one little eye as I said some encouraging words and slowly reached in my back pocket for my camera.  I snapped one photo and he flew to the branch up above where his family was.
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Today would be Day 8. I’ve been seeing what I believe to be this same little chick hanging out in the honeysuckle tree where the box was.  A few hours ago, I observed the mama arrive and feed the chick patiently waiting on a little branch.
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If you would like to invite hummingbirds to your yard I would not recommend those feeders with sugar water because they must be cleaned every 3- 4 days or they can make the hummingbirds very sick.  It’s much better and healthier to provide their natural food sources and plant things like honeysuckle, sage, fuchsia, Aloe vera and other long tubular flowers that provide both nectar as well as habitat for insects that serve as protein. Hummingbirds also need a place to perch during the day & sleep at night that offers some protection from wind & rain- usually trees. You can also hang a perch up high in a tree near the flowers and  you can encourage nesting by providing materials by hanging a “Hummer Helper” you can purchase and fill with store bought material or even dog and cat hair — the  “Hummer Helper” is actually just a “suet feeder” which you can buy for a lot less. The best time to start is May.  The Hummingbird Society has a lot more tips and information on their website.
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*One last note about trimming trees- the safest time is in the Fall during the months of September- December