Gusty Winds and Gutsy Coyote


It wasn’t just a wind-in-the-willows gentle breeze. The gusts today whipped the trees and grasses around, blew my tied-on sunhat right off after blowing the rim over on itself every time I pulled it down, and it was strong enough to push me off balance on a rocky trail. Whoa! It was even difficult to hold the camera steady. Often, winds accompany our much-loved fog which serves as natural air-conditioning, keeping summer temperatures here in San Francisco regularly in the 60s (54 this evening) with pockets of warmness in-between. Today they were uncommonly gusty and strong. And the gutsy little coyote was out in it.

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Why “gutsy”? Why would I call a coyote that? Because he appeared intrepid, indomitable, and plucky maneuvering through that very scary landscape. His actions and expressions told me that he was afraid, but he trudged on.  He not only braved the normally dangerous-for-him park landscape, avoiding detection by dogs and humans, but also, today, he coped with all the startling noises and sudden movements caused by the incessant bursts of gusty winds: cracking branches, brambles and sand suddenly in movement along a path, leaves flying through the air, tree branches whipping this way and that, bushes leaning over and then snapping back up again — and, the wind itself pushing against him. I know this, because I, too, felt it.

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He flinched, he ducked, he startled & spooked, crouched low, made sudden darts, looked up and around. And then he continued on his way, sometimes ignoring these interferences as he got used to them while keeping his head low, and sometimes reacting to the unexpected, like the release of a tight rubber-band. What struck me was his total and keen awareness of every detailed effect of that spooky wind, which heightened my own awareness of it all as I watched him, and heightened my awareness of him in his environment: today I appreciated him as a really gutsy coyote!

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What Coyotes Do: Deliberately & Consciously Weighing A Risk

We were out on a trek this morning. I say “we” because I am allowed to tag along in the distance sometimes. Not always, and not even often by any means, but sometimes. Today I wasn’t given the “look” which says, “please don’t follow me”. It wasn’t an invitation to come along, but neither was it a “no, you can’t come.” So I tagged as far behind as I could without losing sight of him, as this male coyote made his circuit — or at least for most of it.

This is the last 1/2 minute of a 5+ minute howling session. You can hear *her* faintly in the distance at the end.

The day “for us” began with me finding him in his park howling in response to a siren as dawn broke. His mate responded from far, far off — barely audible, but distinctly her response. I’m sure he knew where she was. I did not, this time. She was obviously tucked away and safe, which gave him one less thing to be concerned about at that moment. So off he went, with me bringing up the rear at about 100 feet. It was very uneventful. We met few people or dogs and then only two at the very end of the trek.

Over hill and dale, within the park, we remained on a long path, he stopping to sniff now and then, and mark sporadically. At one point he pooped — diarrhea — and I wondered at the cause.

We came to the edge of the park, and here he paced along the edge of the road, watching out for traffic. Coyotes trek through areas much larger than their park territories — this is part of their daily behavior. As he began to cross the wide road, one car whizzed past. When this happened, he edged his way slowly and carefully back to the sidewalk, away from the car, where he stood very still and on full alert, with all of his senses focused and with every muscle taught and ready to respond. He had obviously gone through this experience many times and had learned to avoid the risks of quick-moving traffic. When the way was clear, still focused and tense, he crossed the road quickly and directly, and headed towards the long open space in back of the houses lining the street.

There were no fences between those apartments or between their backyards, so it was a perfect coyote-corridor. Here, he continued stopping, sniffing and marking the length of the very long block of connected apartments. He was always on alert. Sometimes he would stop longer at certain spots. Occasionally, nonchalantly, he turned his head, or head and body, just enough so that he could keep an eye on me.  This one knows I’m interested in him. He also knows that I’m not at all interested in getting close — it’s probably confusing for him. Other animals who would be interested in him would either be interested in him as prey, or in messaging him antagonistically. I simply didn’t fit the bill.

After about half an hour of trekking, he came to a fence with a plank missing. The gap was big enough for him to fit through. Should he try it? He spent well over a minute intently assessing the opening. His head would go forward and then he would withdraw it and look up and around in all directions, including at me. He did this maybe about 8 times, and finally, bravery won the day and he went through. I went up and examined the opening: the opening abutted the low support beams under a porch, and these were less than a foot off the ground. The coyote would have had to squeeze tightly and then bend to make it through. There was no chance for me, so I returned to the park, thinking my observations were over for the day.

But, within twenty minutes, who should come trotting up the path to the spot where I had first seen him howl in the morning, but Mr. Coyote himself! He continued along the path, now going in the other direction, somehow avoiding detection, between a couple of runners. He climbed a steep knoll where he then spent a few moments surveyed his domain — this “surveying” is a common coyote activity — and then he continued on his way, over hill and dale, through a field of waist-to-chest-high dense brush. I hurried over his lookout hill to the field below and was able to, at times, see his back as he slithered along, hidden by the bushes. When a dog and walker appeared in the distance, the coyote loitered behind one of these bushes until they had gone, and then he himself hurried along his chosen route and disappeared into a dense thicket, and I knew he had “gone in” for the duration of the day. His trek lasted a little over an hour.

slithering away in waist-to-shoulder high shrubbery

slithering away in waist-to-shoulder high shrubbery

Cindi’s Coyote Puppies in Pacifica, by Cindi


Here is a pic of the family …First time I saw all 4 puppies.

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This is a photo of one of the new coyote puppies. I took this last week on August 7th. .I was under the impression that there was just one puppy when in fact there are four!! I was happy I was able to get this shot with my zoom lens as puppies run and hide so quickly. He has his father’s beautiful almond shaped eyes!! He is about 3 months old..

[Note: Coyote pups in San Francisco are about this size now — they are about 4 months old]

My Coyotes In Pacifica, by Cindi

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I live in Pacifica California. I have a coyote that has been behind my backyard for 6 years. There is a new family..mama and 4 pups..The male sits in the sun and I see him there for hours at a time..there is a eucalyptus grove behind me with lots of undergrowth. My large collie sits in our yard and thankfully this coyote is afraid.. I leave him alone but love watching puppies play..I take tons of photos..
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The male coyote is called “Mama” because for a year we thought he was a female. He has been on my hill for six years now. These photos are from two years ago, when we were redoing our yard and had NO fence. . .


My collie Kody and the mom and dad coyotes. I DO NOT leave Kody outside when coyotes are on the hill.
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Question: Did you build the fence specifically because of the coyotes — to keep a barrier between coyotes and dog? No, we took down a 6 foot deer fence because we built a new step up patio so we could have a view of Montara Mountain. We just put a 42″ wrought iron fence so it would not obstruct the view!! As a matter of fact the puppy coyotes have been walking thru the slats and coming into my yard at different times of night! There is no food out there but one night two were playing on my artificial lawn!

Circling the Wagons Around Our Coyotes Here in San Francisco: Open letter to our City Officials and the Public:

This coyote has jumped off the trail and into the bushes to avoid a runner. The runner was thrilled to see him.

This coyote has jumped off the trail and into the bushes to avoid a runner. The runner was thrilled to see him.

Seven years ago I stood under the “Owl Tree” in Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco.  The large eucalyptus had become known as the Owl Tree from having been the nursery for the previous 16 years for the same pair of great horned owls. I had been documenting these raptors growing up — there were *three* owlets that year. People would stop and talk with me regularly as I did my observations. One such conversation was extremely bizarre. A woman stopped to say something about “the one surviving owlet”. I let her know, excitedly, that there were in fact three owlets  — that she could see them if she waited long enough. She bluntly told me that there was only *one* baby, that *all* owls kill and eat *all* their other chicks, and that she had read this in an “official” book. Then she walked away, not interested in seeing the photos of the three owlets — she didn’t want to discuss it further! For her, what she read from so-called “experts” stood as the truth above the reality which was staring her in the face.

When our City officials and “experts” don’t get it.

In Stern Grove, at Pine Lake, a long string of metal police barriers was put up in the Fall of last year as a warning to keep dogs and walkers away from where some people believe is a coyote den, way up the hill. Folks at the time had been hearing from each other that there was a den under the row of porches and openings on the northern edge of Pine Lake at Stern Grove Park, above the dog-play area. How did this belief come about? Several park visitors apparently heard squeals — *adult* coyotes greet each other with this sound — and saw a couple of coyotes up there on various occasions. In fact, many of the public’s ideas about coyotes evolve in this manner: an isolated observation leads to a knee-jerk interpretation and the word is spread. And this rumor, fueled by fear of protective coyote parents and more coyotes who might interact with dogs, spread.

At Pine Lake there is a string of police barriers at the edge of a dog-play area below a rumored coyote den which has trails leading up to it

At Pine Lake there is a string of police barriers at the edge of a dog-play area below a rumored coyote den which has trails leading up to it

Indeed, the area immediately below and adjacent to those houses has been used as a lookout post and a corridor by coyotes. But there is no den there and there hasn’t been for years. I can confirm this from my own ongoing first-hand coyote observations in the area, from my various ongoing examinations of the site, as well as from conversations and feedback from the residents of these houses. Dogs run up to this row of porches continuously. A wise coyote — which those at Pine Lake are — they’ve been there quite a few years — is not going to den in such an exposed place with dogs constantly running up. A young, first-time mother might make that mistake, as has occurred in Golden Gate Park, or even on Capp Street, but the Pine Lake coyotes are older, and they are wise, not ingenues. Signs of a den are actually in a more remote area on the opposite end of the park. So the barriers at Pine Lake were installed because of a faulty site evaluation and a rumor which was corroborated by city officials in charge of coyotes. I think we can do better than this. Shouldn’t we be relying on higher caliber information than just “officialdom”?

Who is in charge of our coyotes?

The coyotes in San Francisco are under the purview of ACC (Animal Care and Control) and RPD (Recreation and Park Department), even though our coyotes are “owned” by the State of California. These two agencies have a limited knowledge about coyotes, so they brought in an outside coyote consultant to help them, particularly with education. If this were working, all would be fine and well. But it isn’t. Little if any useful information, help or support gets out to the public, and an informational meeting which was held last October did nothing to calm the public’s anxiety level — it was a disaster. Based on responses of educator (an educator who was not in-tune with the public nor about SF coyotes) and public (a public which was upset about this) to each other, it is clear to many that the city departments needed an infusion of help and information to handle what is required. But the way it is set up now, this isn’t going to happen.

Input or participation from other veteran specialists, which has been suggested and offered, has been blocked by those departments in charge and their one consultant. Rather than opening-up and welcoming discussion, input and cooperation from various entities, which could help with the coyote issue — entities with specific knowledge of San Francisco coyotes, specialists in coyote behavior, and those with a knowledge of the specific human population dynamic in San Francisco, having lived here and interacted daily with the park visitors here — ACC instead has closed-in on itself more than ever: they are circling the wagons, as if everyone else were an enemy instead of a resource. But coyote coexistence does not function well as a ‘cookie cutter’ program imposed from the outside — it needs input and knowledge which already exists in the community — yet the City authorities aren’t tapping into this knowledge. It’s a catch-22: need help/reject help. That the Supervisors — Supervisors are the city’s “bosses” — are allowing this exclusion and exclusivity, in a department with this track record, is astonishing. To be fair to the departments, it’s the consultant who apparently is promoting this exclusion — but then, how is this benefiting them (or maybe they, too, are in a bind)? And now there’s the “management plan”… Let’s back up a little.

A consultant was chosen from outside the city based on her national outreach and on her impressive list of notable and highly educated biologist “advisors” — they are a boon for her reputation. These advisors are all involved in conservation and in the coexistence cause. Other than that, they have studied or are working on a wide variety of issues from wolf introductions, wolf conservation, livestock and predator issues, bringing down the infamous Wildlife Services, even on wild coyotes and more. Their work is increasing our understanding of various forms of wildlife and making the world a better place for all of it, often by clearing up long-held but erroneous conceptions about them. Kudos to them all!

But therein lies the rub: None of these advisors has studied, or has had experience with, urban coyote activities and behaviors in urban parks — so they don’t really have a knowledge base in urban coyote behavior, or the expertise in this to formulate or advise upon strategies for coyote coexistence, and specifically for San Francisco. Due the public’s overwhelming dissatisfaction with ACC’s current laissez-faire coyote program and the disastrous meeting last Fall, this is actually what ACC has now been charged with by the Supervisors: coming up with an urban coyote management plan for San Francisco.

Tagged and radio-collared coyote

Tagged and radio-collared coyote

For lack of turning up anything effective, the “ACC and consultant team” has instead been supportive of radio-collaring and tagging coyotes as a “management plan” without thinking these tactics all the way through. Tagging and collaring are tools which might be suitable for a graduate academic study, not for a management program. Collars and tags may look dramatic for a news story, but, when all is said and done, they provide no data useful for a management plan: And they can be damaging to coyotes.

Fortunately, the City Supervisors, who make the final decision on such a plan, know this. If any cataloguing of individual coyotes or family units is needed to help understand their territory dynamic, it can be accomplished knowing their behavior or through sightings and ground transects. A coyote management plan is a blueprint for how to coexist. It will require a description of relevant urban coyote behaviors and how to respond to certain of these behaviors in order to keep the interface between humans and animals safe for both humans and coyotes.

So far, this system of relying on one single and exclusive consultant, by all accounts, has been a disaster. Outreach has been minimal and solutions offered have been insufficient or ineffective, so much so that the department is being skirted by residents in the City, and a more knowledgeable and seasoned expert has been called in repeatedly by various neighborhoods — Mary Paglieri, a Behavioral Ecologist and Human-Wildlife Conflict Expert/Manager who has been studying, and working hands-on with urban coyotes for over 17 years. But she is being kept out of ACC’s loop. 

The starting point for a “management plan” —

It is through learning about and really understanding urban coyote behavior, family dynamics, territoriality, and habitat within particular environments, that you can actually glean much more pertinent information for management than anything you might gain through tagging/collaring. The exact “specifics” about coyotes, which tagging and collaring might approximate, are in constant flux — it’s only the overall picture which will inform for this purpose. For instance, the parks where I have been documenting coyotes for the last ten years continue to have ONE family in them, even though that one family continues to vary in size from two to six and back down again, etc., over time. Also, coyotes move around — and their dens are also moved — so pointing out specifically where one is located at any particular time is not going to aid anyone and may create a false sense of security or even the opposite, a greater sense of fear. In almost all cases, dens are off and out-of-the-way in very secluded places — knowing exactly where one has been will have zero impact for management unless it is right on or extremely close to a path in which case, yes, it should be marked and foot-traffic should be diverted. But dog walkers in any area of the parks will continue to be caught unawares and off-their-guard unless they remain vigilant. And this is what needs to be addressed.

Male coyote looks worriedly over his should at people and dogs coming towards him on a path. He trots on to avoid them as they get closer.

Male coyote looks worriedly over his should at people and dogs coming towards him on a path. He trots on to avoid them as they get closer.

What CAN be done? —

1) There needs to be much more signage and intensive educational outreach — “no dog-owner left behind” — including at all pet-adoption centers and possibly distributed when dogs are licensed.

2) The most important information which needs to be imparted is the guidelines, especially that a dog walkers’ first line of safety in dealing with a coyote always should be vigilance and awareness.

3) Then, we need to teach that, when you are walking your dog, whether a coyote has been spotted in the distance, is approaching, or suddenly appears right next to you, the *first line of action* should be total avoidance — not hazing, which is engagement. Avoidance means tightening your leash and walking away from the coyote, while keeping your eyes on it. This is an easy protocol to follow, especially for dog-walkers with little or no coyote knowledge or experience, and those who are fearful. A person needs simply to get their dog away from that coyote — disengage and move away. TOTAL AVOIDANCE.

This protocol was formulated by Mary Paglieri. It’s really not practical or fair to ask elderly people or those who are afraid of coyotes to “haze”/harass them which is what ACC has been teaching. Walking away accomplishes what is needed: the coyote’s entire intention in approaching is to move your dog and you away. So, do it! It is not something that happens frequently, but it has occurred, and dog walkers need to know what to do when it does.

Vulnerable smaller dogs which might be viewed as prey should be picked up immediately. If the dog is small enough, tuck it under your shirt or jacket to remove it from view as you are walking away from the coyote. The point is to be pro-active, not reactive, where dogs are concerned.If a coyote were to come close enough, you would be creating the circumstances under which a coyote might try nipping your dog or even grabbing a smaller dog, and then you’d have to fight back. By preventing proximity, you can prevent the situation from ever reaching this point.

4) Let’s provide more secure fenced areas for small dogs to play in.

5) Let’s educate people about coyote behaviors and the “why” behind these behaviors so that people will understand them better and develop compassion rather than fear and hate due to lack of knowledge. At the same time, tolerance for coyotes can be increased by improving communication with the community (you can’t just say, “learn to coexist”). Coexistence can’t work if humans remain hostile. So this is something that can be worked with.

6) It would also help to understand the gamut of human behaviors, attitudes and perceptions about these animals, and how these developed. Questionnaires to gather this information and written reports of coyote encounters are not used by the City, but could be. For instance, every reported incident needs to be prefaced with the setting and what led up to the incident. Also, each incident needs to be written up as to exactly what happened and how the incident could have been averted: these would be real examples turned into educational tools.

7) Finally, let’s stop removing the dense, impenetrable — impenetrable to humans and dogs — large areas of underbrush and thickets which coyotes use as harborage. In an urban setting with so many people and dogs, coyotes need these areas to escape into. Removing this dense foliage makes them more visible and it allows dogs constant access into what once was “their” exclusive areas — this results in more negative encounters between dogs and coyotes. It also may make coyotes more prone to look for equally “open” spaces elsewhere, outside the parks, as they get used to these constant intrusions.

In the last ten years, I’ve witnessed the increasing removal, year by year, of what once was their protected forested thickets and dense underbrush, either for “maintenance” purposes, or for the questionable “nativist” program which many in the city are opposed to. Habitat, habitat, habitat. It’s the most important factor affecting wildlife.

Inviting knowledgeable participants to help with the task at hand

Since no effective or acceptable “plan” has been presented, ACC has now been charged with coming up with an emergency response plan for coyotes, like the plans the City has for fires and robberies. But more can be done, as the steps listed above which come from entities which have been excluded from the process. Shouldn’t ACC be seeking, and open to, input and collaboration from more than the one source whose performance and knowledge have proven to be inadequate for what the city needs?

Coyotes have their own lives to lead -- they want to avoid humans. However, if they find the dog you are walking is intrusive or threatening, or if a small dog opportunistically appears close by, they may attempt taking advantage of the situation by attempting to "message" the dogs to stay away, or even by attempting to grab a little dog if they are close enough and if that looks possible. You can prevent the circumstances which allow this behavior to be carried out.

Please learn about coyote behavior: by doing so, you can learn how to avoid negative encounters.


About Janet Kessler: I observe, photo-document and write about specifically-urban coyote behavior, including their behavior towards people and pets, in San Francisco parks. I’ve been doing this daily for ten years — it is a labor of love, and it is intense. Zeroing-in or zooming-out with a powerful lens during long sessions of observation, along with the resultant bursts of camera shots and videos, allow me a detailed view of what’s going on in the coyote world. Few biology or ecology experts have done this in urban parks, and none have here in San Francisco. Please see, “Coyotes As Neighbors”, a YouTube presentation (it can be Googled), created from first-hand observations and photos taken in our parks.

Road-sitting, Stinson Beach Coyote Needs Our Help

Photo by WildCare 2013 photo contest winner, Tony Koloski. This is one of my favorite photos of all time!

Photo by WildCare 2013 photo contest winner, Tony Koloski. This is one of my favorite photos of all time!

Inquiry from a concerned observer:

“I am writing to you because I saw a coyote this morning and wanted to report what I’d seen to someone who might be able to use this information. My spouse and I drove to Stinson Beach. On the drive up Highway 1 about 2 miles South of Stinson Beach at about 7:20am, a coyote sat in the middle of the road on the yellow divider line. We slowed so as to not hit it. It paced a bit in the middle of the road. Another vehicle had pulled over off the road before us and the driver had a large telephoto lens and was taking photos of the coyote. The coyote didn’t run from either vehicle. We wondered if it had been hit and was confused. It moved about without apparent injury. We drove on.”

“After a coffee in Stinson Beach, my spouse began his hike and I drove back toward Muir Woods to read a book until he met me at the end of his hike. At 8:12am and 2.1 miles South of Stinson Beach (around the bend of where we’d seen the coyote earlier) a coyote charged my car from the hillside but then stopped again sitting on the center yellow divider line of the road. There were no other cars in front of or behind me at the time. It appears to be the same coyote. I slowed and then proceeded on as it sat there. I am not sure how long this coyote will live under these conditions and wanted to let someone know who might be able to help this animal or track this data.”

Explanation about why the coyote doing this

Thanks for writing to tell me about the coyote. It’s a real shame. That coyote is sitting there simply because s/he has been taught to do so by folks feeding him/her from their cars. S/he’s been rewarded for this behavior. I’ve seen this happen in one of the neighborhoods here in SF. I’ve actually been told by folks that they are “helping” the coyotes by feeding them this way, as if the coyotes couldn’t find their own food. Human food sources are not good for coyotes, and most importantly it will be hard to un teach this behavior of waiting for food from cars. What you can do to help is let everyone and anyone know please not to feed coyotes. And doing so from a car puts the coyote in double jeopardy. There’s a phrase, actually coined by my Behavioral Ecologist friend, Mary Paglieri: “A fed coyote is a dead coyote.” I will pass this on to her.

And again, thank you for sending me the information about the little road-sitting Stinson Beach coyote. I’ll do what I can to get him/her help.

What we all can do to help:
If you’ll be going to Stinson Beach anytime real soon again, or know of a friend who is, I’ve been given the best protocol for helping the little coyote on the road there. Please pass this on to friends, and use it yourself if you see the little fella on the road — or any other coyote who looks like s/he’s begging for food.
You should take a couple of water balloons. Then, if/when you see him/her on the road, you should slow down your car and act as though you are going to feed him/her. As the coyote approaches, surprise it with a water balloon. The water balloon can either hit the coyote (it won’t hurt him) or hit the ground next to the coyote. The balloon should be handleable by you but filled tight so that it will rupture upon impact. The element of surprise and the unexpected will make the coyote uneasy about approaching the next car. However, it probably should be reinforced a couple of times. Don’t limit yourself to just teaching this particular coyote — ANY coyote which approaches a car should be given this treatment. And any friends of yours who are willing to help can be called part of the water-balloon brigade!
Okay, I, too will make a trek over there to help.
Thank you for your concern and for contacting me about this!

Coyotes, Indeed, Are A Happy Species!

This little coyote is one of the coyote loners in our city, without a family, but that hasn’t stopped him from being resourceful and finding a way to entertain himself and enjoy his time. Take a look at him playing with a found ball at his park. He exudes happy, happy, happy, fun, fun fun!  It’s an utter joy to watch him so self absorbed in this exuberant merriment! And it’s especially nice to hear that the neighbors have adopted him — at arms length, of course — as their very own special neighbor! Yay, Bernal Hill!!

The Bernal coyote playing with a ball on Bernal Hill @bernalwood #bernalheights

A post shared by Rally Pagulayan (@rallyp_157) on

Video taken by neighbor Rally and posted on on 8/8

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