Gypsy Coyotes: One Family’s Territorial Peregrinations

Gypsy: “nomadic and itinerant; inclination to move from place to place.” This is how I can best describe one of my coyote families that has lived in a series of small parks or open spaces in the city.

The other families in the city which I know — and I’ve been following 9 of these more than a dozen families in the city — stick to their territories and the closer neighborhoods, including one loner who at the age of 3 and a half still lives happily alone on her little plot of land. They seem to all have claimed their land permanently. On these territories (except where the loner lives), pups are born yearly and disperse usually between 9 months and 2 and a half years of age, sometimes leaving of their own accord, and sometimes being driven off. When they disperse, of course, they move out and away from their territories for good, as far south of the city as Los Gatos, as discovered by Jonathan Young. Many of those dispersing coyotes get hit by cars. Each family is different in how the youngsters flow through, but what is the same in all except my gypsy family is that the breeding pair have remained on their same land for years and years, and outsider coyotes are driven off.

This is not true of the gypsy family.

This schematic diagram to the right represents a distribution of claimed coyote territories where the same families — as I’ve observed them — have lived for years (the green areas) within the mass of the city surrounding them: streets with incessant traffic, noise and activity, homes, business centers. And my one nomadic gypsy family whose movements have carried them to five different locations (the red starred areas) within the last several years. The movements appear to be associated with pupping.

 

I’ve known this gypsy family for only several years — through the births of two litters. When I first encountered them, they were new to the park, so they had been moving around before this time OR they could have been two of the lucky dispersing coyotes from other parks in the city to find an empty niche within the city: the male soon became omnipresent and readily visible in his small park (Park A) while the female remained much less conspicuous. Then, I noticed this same female on a street, heading towards another park (Park B), which surprised me greatly. I observed her enter the park and saunter through. I wondered if she would have been driven out, as others had, had she been seen by the resident coyotes who have not let any non-family coyotes into their park. I wondered what her connection to this Park B was, because surely there was one.  Again, two months later, for a period of several weeks, I found her traversing the same street route regularly at about 7 to 10 am between her original park (Park A) and this second park (Park B), AND she obviously was lactating during that time. Her mate never made these treks with or without her.

So the plot thickened and so did my questions. Why was she moving between two parks, the second of which was already occupied by another stable and entrenched coyote family? Had she had her youngsters in that park? Was it safer for pups there? Was there more food? Was she keeping the pups away from her mate? OR, were the pups actually at Park A, in which case she would have been just visiting? But why? Soon, all this park-hopping stopped: it turned out to be a temporary situation, because after lactation ceased in June, she again kept to her original park (Park A) and the youngsters, two of them, were seen there sporadically. So I didn’t pursue my questions any further.

Life became routine at that park (Park A), with Dad making his reconnaissance rounds daily, hanging out in his favorite spots between daytime napping sessions, and finally meeting Mom in the evenings as dusk fell for their rendezvous during which they romped together joyfully. The youngsters would join them afterwards for jollity and play. It was always dark by that time and one could only become aware of them with a sweep of a flashlight if they were in the right place at the right time: their reflecting eyes could be seen racing this way and that. Very few people ever saw these pups. This family, during this time, appeared no different from any of the other families I watched.

Then, at the beginning of the next breeding season, in early 2018, both parent coyotes disappeared from their park (Park A), even though their yearlings remained there. The yearlings now took over the daily rounds there during the night. Had that park (Park A) now been ceded to them, I wondered?

Soon I discovered the new whereabouts of the parents: they were in another very small open space (Park C) about two miles away. The male’s appearance here was shockingly decrepit and sad, with new and prominent scars covering his face, an extremely forlorn demeanor, and a perpetual slinking stance. Had he had to fight for his mate? I don’t know. We have one photo of another male in the area. It was still February and it was mating season. Although coyotes mate for life, I asked myself if there might have been some kind of a showdown? Our male was observed at this park (C) for only a couple of weeks before moving on — the female was seen even less — and then they disappeared from this site as well and I lost track of them for a few weeks.

The gypsy-coyote pair and a pup

The next thing I knew, the pair had settled into yet another area (#D), about a mile away, where pups were obviously born — it was obvious because Mom was lactating again. This coyote pair has remained in this area (#D) now for over four months with their growing pups. The male performs his territorial sentry/reconnaissance duty several times a day as any good guardian father would, and in the evening he meets up with his mate for lots of fun and play without the youngsters, and the youngsters join them later.

However, a month ago Dad started returning to his original park (#A) for one-day long visits, always traveling to and from there at night, and always returning to the park where he had his last litter of pups (#C) the next evening. Those visits have become regular, occurring, to begin with, every 2 weeks, and now every week or less, and they’ve grown from one-day visits to 2 and then 3 days in length. During the visit yesterday, BOTH parents traveled the streets at night to the original park (#A) where they remained all day, leaving this year’s pups at the only home they have known so far (#C), and returning to them that evening. During today’s visit, only Mom made the trip for part of the day and returned before evening — walking the streets of San Francisco during daylight.

And there’s actually a 4th park involved (Park E), where several of us watched the female attempt to stake out yet another park for almost a week before returning to park #A after her first litter had been born. This park was clearly inappropriately too small for her needs.

This is a developing story, so there’s sure to be a sequel at some point.

[I spend my time observing and documenting coyote behavior and then writing and posting about them, in order to show people what they are really like. Mine are all first-hand observations, made on my own, usually about family life, which you can’t find much about beyond a few photos of pups on the internet. I get into what is actually going on. I’m a self-taught naturalist who is in the field many hours every day. I don’t know of any academics who are doing this, so this information is not available elsewhere. Hope you enjoy it, learn from it, and then embrace coyotes for who they really are! Janet]

Our Playful Neighbor, by Gina Solomon

I was walking my dog yesterday morning when I spotted movement on the hillside across the road. There, fairly close, was our local coyote in action! At first I thought she was hunting, but it soon became clear she was playing with a ball. She was clearly having a blast, tossing it up in the air, letting the ball roll down the hillside and then leaping after it. Several times the ball rolled nearly as far as the road. She was cautious, however, and always looked around for potential danger before dashing down the hill.

I sat on a rock across the road and watched her for a few minutes. This little video clip only gives a hint of the fun she was having. A few times I laughed out loud because her antics were so cute and funny, and I had to remind myself that I was watching a wild animal in her own habitat, not a dog. The happiness I felt from watching her play stayed with me all day, and I’m smiling at the memory as I write this. We are so lucky to have such intelligent, playful, and athletic creatures in our midst!

My Spot Taken

This had always been my spot . . . until now!

Although I walk all over various parks to do my observations, I have a few favorite static spots where I’m prone to linger and hang out. So, yesterday, after hiking around, I headed to one of my spots. I had in mind 20 minutes of writing and reflecting. As I approached the spot, my eyes were on my pack as I pulled out my pen and tablet — I was not looking where I was going — where I was going had become pretty automatic, so I didn’t need to look.

When I did look up I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t believe one of my coyotes had taken my spot. This coyote had seen me many times at this spot, so she knew it was mine. A couple of times she had even come over to check if I was there. So I wonder what she was trying to tell me by taking my place? Did she not want me there?

She looked at me nonchalantly — see photo — and then looked away. She did not move or get up, and she wasn’t going to. I suppose the spot now belonged to her. I would have to find another place for myself. I myself wouldn’t even think about taking any of her favorite spots!

[this was actually written but not posted on 7/12/13]
071213

Public Coyote Mural/Collage in San Francisco

I think this is fabulous! It’s a large public mural/collage which sits above street level, one story up, and can be seen coming down Divisadero Street. I went into the building, Seniore’s Pizza, to ask about it, and was told simply that a group of young adults approached the building owner and asked if they could get up on the roof to make this, and they were given permission to do so. This happened about two years ago. The owner of the pizzeria did not know their names, and my inquiry to the landlord was never answered, so we’ll have to call it “anonymous” unless someone steps forward. In the meantime, enjoy the artwork, and if you are in San Francisco, drive South down Divisadero Street, you’ll see it on the right hand side at #559 Divisadero.

August 12th update received in a comment: The artist is Bordalo II, and the piece is called “Half Coyote”. Please read more about it at this link: http://www.sfweekly.com/culture/know-your-street-art-half-coyote/

Coyote Dominance Is Not About Brawn

I’m reposting a video I took several years ago showing dominance behavior between two coyote family members. What happens in the video is that the underdog did not like being bumped by the dominant coyote and reacts — he’s annoyed. But the dominant one does not allow him to get away with his disrespectful reaction, and she literally puts him in his place. This is how ranks are confirmed in the animal world. You’ll see there is a slight struggle here, but that it is minimal is the point.

The underdog struggles a little, but the dominant one is much more adept, smarter and wiser. The physical hold is finally let go when the underdog calms down. But not until the underdog reveals that he accepts his place does the top dog actually let go of the psychological hold over the underdog. When the less dominant coyote bows, keeping his head low, and stays that way for a few seconds, he has shown his submissiveness and the little display is over. The ending includes a little playful skip on the part of the dominant coyote. Both then continue grooming themselves and hunting, best friends as ever before.

This particular female was much smaller than the fellow trying to gain the upper hand: dominance is about personality and intelligence, not brawn. This coyote’s control always made me smile. There is literal truth to the phrase “top dog”.  These coyotes get along really well, but it is obvious that the existing hierarchy needed reconfirmation now and then. [see the original posting: Dominance Display]

There is a lot of *order* out there in the animal kingdom — and it’s all there to prevent fighting that could get out of hand — even though that too exists: no different from in our human world, in spite of our systems of order. However, they work for the most part..


I’m including below some interesting dominance observations from Kathy Lally who is in charge of the coyotes at St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve. These coyotes are where they are because they can no longer survive on their own in the wild. These coyotes are no longer truly wild, but their behaviors, of course, are the same as coyotes anywhere:

Sundance

“Janet, your email made me laugh last night.  Sundance, our friendliest female coyote, flipped her mate Yosemite on his back a few weeks ago.  She then stood on him.  His yelping could be heard everywhere.  I was at the next enclosure when it happened so was able to see her standing on him.  She will normally chase him into a den box when she’s had enough of him – this was quite impressive stuff!  Attached a picture of Sundance.  You will notice a large piece of plywood in back of her.  We’ve had to do that to keep the pairs from fighting with their next door neighbors.”[NOTE: Why would they fight? Since coyotes are territorial, they are compelled by their innate territoriality to keep other coyotes out of and away from their territories.]

Yosemite

“Janet, again I was thinking of you and your observations of dominance with your urban coyotes.Of the 3 pairs of coyotes (male/female pairings) which I look after,  two of the females are definitely in charge.  They are friendlier & will put the males in their place in a heart beat. I stuck around a few minutes when I was delivering diets to the coyotes yesterday morning. Sundance, the little rascal, displayed some amusing behavior: After I put the meals down, she immediately went over, sniffed both of them, peed on one, and took meat from the other. Poor Yosemite [her mate].  He just waited until she was out of the way & went over & grabbed what he wanted.”

Individuality: Coyote Faces and Personalities: WHO are they?

Among other things that I’ve focused on in documenting and investigating coyote behavior and family life, is coyote individuality. This little summary actually is from my  February Sausalito exhibit: “Coyotes, Beyond The Howl”, which appeared in the above 5 foot panel.

Coyote Faces and Personalities: WHO are they?

As I wrote in an article in 2011 for WildCare Magazine, “Your average little coyote — only 30 pounds concealed under all that fluffy fur — is intelligent, curious, playful, protective, adventurous, cunning, independent, self-reliant, has family values, a frontier spirit and strong individuality. Hey, aren’t these the same rugged frontier characteristics in which we ourselves take pride? They also exhibit some “softer” characteristics, such as affection, care, happiness, patience, timidity and dejection.”

But beyond these generalizable characteristics, what are individual coyotes really like and how are they identifiable as unique individuals? What their behavior has shown me is that they indeed are very individualistic — they are individuals and should be looked at as such. We should be asking, WHO are they?

Using fur and markings to identify coyotes is not very effective. For one thing, different lighting conditions can alter our perceptions. But also, fur changes over time: every year it is shed and along with that shedding, the markings become muted until a new coat grows back. However, each coyote has a very different face and can thereby be distinguished this way. And the distinctions go much deeper than their looks: each coyote has his/her discrete personality, a unique history and their own social situation — each is an individual, and this is what I see. This is one of the reasons they are so fascinating to study and document.

What characteristics might make one coyote different from the next? First, family situation is very important, with many behaviors stemming from family roles and interactions: Mom, Dad, pups — or the lack thereof for recently dispersed loners. And each of these roles is carried out a little differently depending on the individuals involved.

Personality characteristics also define each coyote: Some are tricksters or teasers, some are more adventuresome, curious, intrepid, shy, bold, bossy, wary, patient, persistent, easy going, tense, care-giving, more or less social or playful. Some are domineering by nature, some are more submissive, and so forth. Some of the traits appear to be ones individual coyotes are born with. Others seem to arise or develop over time, possibly as a reaction to siblings and parents, to repeat situations and environments.

Personalities are a matter of degree: by comparing and contrasting various coyotes, you can see very palpable differences. Here are some very short snippets about seven of the more than 30 coyotes and their family situations I have come to know and see regularly or have known (some of these have moved on):

Maeve, age 6, is a single mom, acutely aware of her surroundings and totally in-charge of her family — a true alpha — in spite of her very tiny size. She knows every single regular walker and dog in her park and knows which may go after her or her pups — she goes into high-alert when these are around, and keeps her eyes on them. She exhibits double the personality and fun of other coyotes. She’s always out doing things during daylight hours and she wears her feelings on her sleeve, which is why it’s so rewarding to watch her. I tend to think she has a sense of humor about herself. She teases her pups good-naturedly.

Silver, age 9, is an incredibly devoted male. He follows his mate around everywhere and wants to be with her, always solicitous and displaying a huge amount of affection. He’s a father who is a harsh disciplinarian with his pups — he’s had six litters so far. He’s the one who is always on the lookout for threats to his den, and on the slightest suspicion of danger, he moves them. As he has aged, he displays less bravado, preferring to hide out — unless his mate is threatened! He’s an alpha by default and often uses brawn to lead.

Gum Nut, aged 2, was the guy who always ended up at the bottom in a vie-for-superiority pileup with siblings. He loved to play and get along, had not an ounce of bad will or competitiveness, spent all his time with his sister and would have become her mate if Dad hadn’t kicked him out. He endured being at the bottom of the totem pole in the hopes of staying with Sis. Daily bullying and harassment by Dad (this was the father role at work) finally got to him.  One day he was no longer there. He existed for the love of his sister, and for their exuberant play, wrestling, grooming, nuzzles. After he left, I found him in another park where he lived for a while as a transient. I no longer know his whereabout.

Chert, age 5, was always the most fearless and adventuresome of her litter. I would find her exploring far afield way before the others did. She’s still very independent, to the point of being aloof, and enjoys going off on her own. She’s affectionate towards her mate, but submissive him, the dominant one. In the past was not a good mother — she fussed minimally over her brood and seemed just to *put up* with motherhood, but Dad filled in for her! This year is different. She’s been minding her brood, possibly because, for the first time, there’s more than just one pup in her litter.

Scout, age 3 1/2, was an *only child* though more infant pups may simply not have survived. Suddenly one day, Dad turned on her and forced her to leave. She had a mind of her own and was somewhat of an upstart, which may be the reason she was kicked out fairly early — at 9 months vs. some who don’t leave home until as late as 3 years of age. She found herself an open space where she has survived for over 2 years as a “loner” coyote. After neighbors’ initial alarm and fear of the newcomer, they took a liking to her — too much so — and fed and befriended her. Tossed food from cars and on the side of the road, this little coyote’s life now is in constant danger from cars.  Please don’t feed or befriend a coyote — it hurts them! She is spunky and full of fun, but much too uppety — approaching some dogs testingly even when they bark at her ferociously. She loves to play with toys, be they sticks, balls, old shoes or jackets, or even bushes, and she seems to appreciate an audience, judging by her eyeing hers repeatedly to see their response and then continuing.

Sonny, aged 1.5, is particularly unique. His twin sister is his opposite: out in front, investigating new situations, not fearful,  and imposes dominance on a younger sibling . Sonny, on the other hand always keeps back. He assesses everything visually from afar, and is quick to flee. But if there is trouble, say from a dog, he’s there to help defend. He is peacekeeper among his siblings: if one taunts or threatens another, he steps in and disciplines with a threatening snarl and snout clamp. He does not like dissension. I saw a Ted Talks video recently which emphasized that these are the markers of a true alpha. Bravado, by the way, is not one of the markers. Also, he consoles any of the others who have been heavy handedly disciplined by Mom. Interestingly, he’s buddies with his Dad.

Ivan, aged 12, is the oldest living coyote I know. He’s also the largest and the gentlest. He’s the alpha of his family, though his mate often attempts wresting control. This fellow just watches it happen, doesn’t respond, and picks up where he left off. Dispersion for his last son of last year was such a joy to watch. There was always respect and encouragement, never any bullying as I’ve seen in other coyote families. Shortly before this last son took off, I saw Ivan encouraging this youngster to play as an equal with him, his dad. The youngster was overjoyed and so was the dad. It was their last play session together before the youngster left. I’ll always see that session as an encouragement by Ivan, and their mutual acceptance that the next step was departure. This easy-going and caring family ruler, however, is a toughie when it comes to intruder dogs who he would message ferociously — no holds barred!

(To be continued)

[Note: What I say here is entirely drawn from my own extensive and long-term, first-hand observations of coyote interactions within their families]

 

Pups Are Left While Parents Rendezvous and Play

“Catch me if you can!” You can see the fun and happiness in their faces.

Dancing around her and inciting her with his twists and turns

Affectionate poking and grabbing while running together

Full grown coyote family members tend to sleep and rest during the day, usually not all together as might be expected, but apart — and usually within the distance of a football field — from each other. They rendezvous after their day-long rest. The get together is the most exciting part of the day for them: it includes greetings with squealing, wiggles and hugs; playing all kinds of games such a chase, wrestling, play attacks, etc.; there are confirmations of ranks, and there is mutual grooming, and finally they all head off trekking together further afield, which is when they hunt and mark their territories, and also explore and investigate. As pups mature and become more secure, they, too, will gradually join in this important daily event.

But while pups are very young during their first several months, they stick close to “home” because it’s familiar and they feel safest here. Of course, the whole family plays together in this area: there’s chasing and wrestling, tumbling and bumbling, play attacking and jumping on each other, and lots of grooming from parents. But afterwards the adults of the family head off for more adult, rougher and farther-ranging fun, and the youngsters are tucked away in a safe spot, or sometimes not so safe spot, as I’ve discovered.

So here are photos of a  rendezvous: they are all blurry because they were taken as daylight faded (remember that photography is about light — the better the lighting, the better the photo), but I wanted to give you a glimpse into coyote life that you might not otherwise see. I’ve attempted to tease out some of the distinct elements/activities involved in the play and name them for you. These two coyotes are seasoned parents, having produced at least two previous litters, yet they themselves are so puppy-like in their all-out, exuberant and trusting play. The adoration between these two is particularly heart-warming among the coyotes I know — it melts my heart every time I see it. Their rendezvous seldom seems to include the greetings, grooming, or rank confirmations — it’s as though their bond is above needing these rituals — and concentrates almost exclusively on the play I show here.

At their rendezvous, from their first eye-to-eye contact, you can actually see their *guard* let down as the happiness envelops them and they start running and jumping all over each other — it’s no different now than it was two years ago: they didn’t grow up out of this. What normally happens first is that they excitedly and joyfully race towards each other to be together. They engage in chase, catch-me, tease-shoving, tease leg biting: all joyful fun showing how bonded this pair is. This same scenario without the offspring, with variations in play methods and without quite this degree of affection, occurs in every family I know.

Meantime, what about the pups who are supposed to be tucked away safely? The pups are three-months old and recently I found them not so safely tucked away, but out in the open, exploring on their own, while parents were having their own fun in an open field hundreds of yards away and totally absorbed in each other. These pups didn’t even see me until I had been watching for several minutes.

The pups were close to some bushes which could provide an escape route from the dangers of dogs, raccoons, and even humans. They ran off after spending a few moment examining me from the distance, so their self-protective instincts are there, though not necessarily keen. I’m sure that if a quick dog had wanted to grab one of them, it could have. Dogs frequent the area.

Pups are absorbed in their own investigations

That parents devote this daily time strengthening and confirming their devotion to and affection for each other, over and above their “duties” as parents, is revealing of just how strong and important that bond is, and also attests to their amazing fun-loving natures.


Know that concern for youngsters is indeed there: these are very responsible parents, and leaving them for periods of time is what all coyote parents do. A few days later, a piercing explosion nearby showed how quick these coyotes’ reactions were to possible danger to their pups. I surmised this explosion might have been a remainder firework from the 4th of July only a few days before. The sound provoked the immediate appearance and investigation by both parents who approached from different directions, one right after the other, close to the pup area. Obviously, neither parent had been with their pups when the noise sounded.

But it also showed, again, how important the paired parent relationship is. First, Dad appeared. The direction of his gaze revealed that his concern alternated between two different points: where the hidden pups were, and away from them. It became apparent within a minute that his gaze away from them was in the direction of his all-important mate. This fellow is always watching out for her which always makes me think of some human catch-phrases: “She’s the love of his life”, and “She’s his raison d’etre”.  When she appeared, he relaxed. She looked around and assessed the situation, and then went to check on the kids. He soon followed

 

Drama on the Fourth of July

Mom red tailed hawk carrying prey

I didn’t watch the fireworks on the 4th, I watched what was going on around them. Here is a two-day drama with many photos (54) for raptor lovers: a photo essay. This story is not about coyotes, except for the fact that they were there. Occasionally I vary my blog with non-coyote stories.

As I arrived at one of my parks for observations, I heard the cries of a young hawk. They were loud and plaintive, insistent and incessant.

The coyote slithers into the brush

I glimpsed one of the coyotes only for a split second at the spot where the cries were coming from: The cries seem to have have caught her attention, too. The coyote slithered away and that is all I saw of her this evening, as the cries then were to absorb me totally because right then, the screeching youngster red-tailed hawk came into view. The cries were frantic and so were the youngster’s movements.  I recorded a few seconds of the incessant sound:

Audio of Cries:

I watched the little fellow awkwardly move along the fence-line and then into some dense bushes. The screaming went on and on and on. He seemed desperate: he didn’t like his situation, but seemed unable to do much about it.

Frantic screeching and movements on a fence

Then I heard another cry. A deeper and calmer cry in shorter bursts. I looked out into the distance, and sure enough there was Mom in a tree. You can tell who Mom is by her deep reddish/brown and dark coloring, as compared the the youngster who was speckled brown and white, with a white bib. I wondered why she didn’t come over to help. She stayed in the distance, several hundred feet away, and appeared to be eating something.

Mom perched in a tree nearby

Then, she batted her wings and began to fly. She had a huge piece of prey in her talons. I was hoping she would bring it to the youngster in distress. But, no. Amazingly, NO.

Instead, she flew back and forth between various trees, carrying that huge piece of prey, as the youngster cried and cried for help or food. Mom seemed to be trying to get the youngster to come to her, enticing it with food. It was obviously a fledgeling: this bird was not depending on its wings.

Feeding the other youngster in a far off tree

Mom continued flying from tree to tree with the prey for a few minutes, and then she landed on a far tree branch where I almost couldn’t see her. But the camera still could pick up her image, and it showed that, at that tree branch there was yet another youngster, and she was now feeding that one, and letting the other one continue to screech — that one was perched on a thick and solid branch. The screeching youngster was in a flimsy tree, with no place for Mom to land, and maybe this is why she didn’t try there.

Unstable and screeching on the flimsy top of a dense bush

By this time our youngster had worked his way from the high bushes to the tree they grew around — it looked like it required a leap of faith on his part.

Once there, he hopped and walked — as though balancing on a tightrope — from branch to branch, higher and higher up in the tree, all the time crying its little heart out. I could see that the effort was tremendous, and the bird fell to lower branches several times.

Walking and hopping from the base branches to the very tip-top of the tree

He made it to a safe spot at the top of the tree

I imagined myself trying to do what the bird was doing, without the use of my arms — it was a tremendous balancing act. And now, no sign at all of Mom, and the day was waning into darkness.

A coyote hides from the firework noise

Fireworks were exploding in the distance — I could see how much the “booms” disturbed the animals, no different from the effect on domestic dogs, except domestic dogs have owners who will take them indoors. A male coyote dashed for cover into the bushes after a loud fireworks explosion. I read where one city was now only allowing silent fireworks — what a great idea for the wildlife and dogs!

As the loud and incessant noise continued — booms from fireworks and distressed hawk cries — I spotted little hummingbirds — so very tiny compared to the baby hawk — flitting around the hawk and trying to console it? Or maybe they didn’t like the noise?  I’ve seen hummingbirds do this to coyotes who are howling and yipping in distress after having been chased by a dog — no more than 2 feet away and right up to their faces: maybe they pick up on the mood of the distressed animal. The hummingbirds had been around the youngster hawk for an hour now.

Then it was dark. The cries became less and less frequent, and finally stopped. Hawks do not operate at night, so the story would have to continue in the morning. At night there is danger to young hawks from one animal: owls. But I hadn’t heard any, so maybe they weren’t in the area.

I returned to the park before dawn the next day and all was still quiet. But as dawn broke, the incessant cries of the youngster could again be heard. I found the tree where the sounds were coming from — he was still in the same tree — but I could not see the youngster itself hidden in the tangle of tree foliage. And I could hear the other youngster again. I could not see Mom. Somehow I knew that Mom would end up feeding the hungry little fellow — both of them. I knew that this was routine drama that all wildlife has to cope with. It was calming to conclude this, but the event was high drama to me anyway.

A coyote makes his daily rounds

The coyote who had been scared by the booms of fireworks now appeared. He was making his daily rounds. It was a new day. I moved on to other parks.

Sleeping through the bird drama

In the evening I returned. I was greeted by the coyote who appeared amused that my attention was absorbed by the bird drama: he looked at me quizzically. Coyotes are much more aware of what is going on than most people think — including of intentions. He curled up not far from me to sleep in the sun and probably keep an eye on me. As the coyote did this, the hawk drama continued.

Day 2: Mom again is out enticing fledgeling to move

Mom now flew again with more prey towards the fledgeling, but it was futile. The youngster had not moved in 24 hours. He was out on a weak limb and she could not land there, which probably didn’t matter anyway since she was trying to get him to come to her, maybe to use his wings.

Blue scrub jays heckle Mom

So she perched in a nearby tree and waited. She was in clear view of the fledgeling and so was the piece of meat. If he wanted it, he would have to come get it. Her situation was not easy: she had to be patient and sit there, and she did so for 2 hours as I watched, as scrub jays heckled her. Their skydiving her and screeches were mostly of an intimidating nature, but one actually pecked her head. AND, the hummingbirds were back to watch the show or offer solace.

Mom patiently waits in a nearby tree

And then two things happened. Out of the blue, the other youngster appeared and awkwardly landed on top of Mom who held the meat. They became hidden from my view within the branches of the tree so I could not see the details of what was going on. And, our youngster exerted himself again and was able to hop/fly to that tree which was about 25 feet away.

Fledgeling makes a daring leap into Moms tree from where he hadn’t budged for 24 hours, from 25 feet away

Once in the tree, and still crying incessantly, he hopped from branch to branch, slowly, eyeing Mom and moving towards her. And then suddenly he, too, made another tremendous effort and jumped on Mom, so now there was a pileup of large awkward hawks on a flimsy outer pine tree branch, causing the branch to sag and the fledgeling to slip. This was lucky for me, because now I could see a little of what was going on.

Once in Mom’s tree he eyes her, continues to scream, and heads her way, on foot, not on the wing

Landing on Mom

He slips and dangles by I know not what, but he has the prey securily in his talons

Within seconds our fledgeling was hanging by I know not what (the branches of the tree pretty much concealed just about everything), with the large piece of meat dangling below from his talons.

This is the precarious dangling situation from which he is able to extract himself without letting go of the prey and without falling to the ground. Pretty cool!

Finally! Gulping down some food!

He had made the effort to come to Mom, which is what she appeared to be angling for, and had wrestled the piece of meat from his sibling! Wow! He proceeded  to extract himself from the dangling situation, and then I noticed a change. It was QUIET. The incessant crying had stopped for the first time in 2 days (except for nighttime). From then on until dusk I only heard an occasional shorter cry, not at all like the previous cries, not distressed and desperate. So, all in a day — or 2 days.

No one else was concerned about the drama

Gorging on Loquats

Two years ago coyotes had been to a friend’s yard and eaten up ALL the loquats. Ahhh. This solved the question I had about some scat I had found in May for the first time. This particular type of scat was everywhere, all the time, and I wondered what the fruit was which seemed to be the entirety of the coyote’s diet. I now knew!

1) loquat fruit with seeds; 2) loquat seeds; 3) coyote scat of loquats — seeds and peels

My friend also said that she took a photo of a coyote eating her neighbor Mike’s persimmons and told him about it. The neighbor thanked her for the warning and decided to harvest it all the very next day, before the coyote ate it all. Too late!! The next morning it was ALL gone!!

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they can eat almost anything — they take advantage of what is available. Although their main staples in the San Francisco area are gophers and voles, they eat lots of other stuff that presents itself. This includes fruit, especially when their regular staples become scarcer. I’ve seen one coyote devour 7 pears in one sitting, and come back each day for about that same amount until the fruit on the ground was gone. The same for apples. A drought, such as what California went through several years ago and over a four year span, affects the availability of food for coyotes. But we humans tend to water our treasured fruit trees here in San Francisco, so in spite of the drought, the trees continue producing, rain or no rain, and loquats are known for doing well in drier climates. Loquat’s become ripe in May through June. So coyotes in the area were relying heavily on this fruit as I could see from their droppings throughout the city.

Most people I’ve spoken to are glad that the fruit helps the coyotes.

The next year, 2017, the fruit tree in Mike’s yard produced not a single loquat, in spite of more and more rains and continued human watering. Hmmm. And the other fruit trees were also mostly bereft of fruit. Apparently it was an “off” year for that type of tree — I did not see that scat anywhere in the city that year.

Anyway, now it is the beginning of July, 2018 and Mike’s tree has been saturated with fruit for months, and we all have been wondering why the local coyote wasn’t eating the fruit — the tree has been more loaded with fruit than ever before. And then, suddenly, it happened — coyote went at them big time, just a few days ago! It appears that the fruit lower in the tree — where a coyote could pick it — ripened last since it had the least amount of direct sun to help it along. Also, the fruit higher up in the tree is now falling to the ground on its own from being overripe: it’s easy for a coyote to just pick up.

The fruit now is over-ripe. That’s when it falls on its own from the tree and is easy to collect for coyotes.

By the way, other fruit from Mike’s yard that coyotes have been eating besides loquats and persimmons are sapote and figs. Mike owns a fruit preserve — his yard — here in San Francisco where years ago he planted all sorts of exotic fruit trees, including loquats, persimmons, sapote, figs and I can’t remember what else. He was picking fruit in his yard today and offered me a slice of sapote which I had never had: it tasted similar to pear but he assured me it was different: the fruit is smaller and has a large seed which pears do not have, and when fully ripe they are sweeter and much softer.

Specificity: An Instance of Coyote Behavior Towards One Dog

I want to address one specific coyote’s behavior towards one specific dog.

We all know that our domestic canine companions themselves can be very specific and particular about who and how they relate to regarding each and every other individual dog, and even individual people. For example, today I was approached by several dogs who knew me and were all hugs and kisses, wiggles and squiggles, towards me when I saw them. Cool!

Then there is another dog who barks at me ferociously — I keep away — the owner herself doesn’t understand it beyond what we’ve agreed on, that just like humans, likes and dislikes exist in animals, and some of these are strong. Maybe my camera equipment initially set off the dog, but now it’s an ingrained pattern. The owner of yet another dog told me that although his dog is outrageously friendly to almost everyone including me, there were two very specific dogs — only two — who raised his dog’s ire whenever he saw them. He didn’t know exactly why it was just these two dogs, but he told me that one of the dogs walks by his house every day, and so there may be a territorial issue involved in that case.

When chemistry is bad between certain dogs, the result is growling and lunging and worse. Fights can only be averted by tightening the leash and walking away. The behavior is first set off, no doubt, by communication that insinuates some kind of oneupmanship: a threatening or even a disdainful *look* from one dog to another, or maybe one dog reminds the reactive dog of another disliked dog in some way, which might explain why some dogs, I’ve been told by their owners, react to only a certain breed of dog. Dogs read each other well and they are constantly communicating, mostly in subtle, body-language ways, unbeknown to most of their owners.

Once a fight begins between dogs, it becomes difficult and even risky to separate them, so prevention in the first place is always best. Note that coyotes, unlike dogs, seldom actually engage on a fighting level with dogs. Any injury to them could spell death. So their strategy is to “message” through body postures. It’s best to heed their warning messages at a distance: just tighten your leash and walk away. As they get closer, they are more apt to engage in a charge-and-retreat messaging system that could involve a nip to your dog’s haunches. Small dogs could indeed be injured or worse, so please keep your distance in the first place!

1) So, the behavior of the coyote I want to describe — a behavior which for a while replayed almost daily — can be described like this:

Early in the morning, the coyote hangs out on a high knoll close to the entrance of a park, relaxing and taking in the view, watching dogs as they walk with their owners, or jumping up to watch any spurts of dog activity, such as barking or running after a ball: she’s curious about what’s happening on her territory and likes to know what is going on. In particular she keeps her eye out for one single dog who makes her feel very uneasy. That dog eventually appears with its owner and proceeds to walk into the park. (The owner is very aware of the coyote’s presence and behavior, and has learned how to deal with it by just walking on).

201806201-2

Hanging out on a little knoll

At this point, the coyote hops-to and starts to follow them. Today, unusually, the coyote was intent on getting closer to the dog, so the owner did the right thing, picking up a pebble and tossing it towards (not at) the coyote and walked on. The coyote distanced herself as expected. In the two years that I’ve been watching this behavior, there have been only a couple of instances when the owner has had to do this — her behavior is almost always at a safe distance.

1) coyote jumps with uneasy excitement when she first sees the dog; 2) sometimes her hackles go up, she lifts her lips and scrunches her nose, and she might kick the ground if the duo turn to look at her for any length of time; 3) she follows.

From the moment the coyote sees the dog-and-owner, the coyote could begin her screech/howling. Sometimes there’s no vocalization from the coyote as she follows, but most of the time there is a distressed, high-pitched, raspy grunt/scream, on the level of a “tongue-lashing” tirade. During these sessions, the 100-pound dog, to all appearances, calmly ignores the coyote — that she is leashed helps. And the dog owner with his dog just continues on his way in-spite of the coyote screaming her heart out in back of them.

 

After about 300 or so meters of this, at the crest of a hill where the coyote is able to keep an eye on the dog as it walks on, the coyote invariably stops following and stops screaming, and watches silently as the man and dog distance themselves around the bend and out of sight within the park. She usually then sits here for a few minutes, looking around, and finally gets up and walks about apparently a little aimlessly, but in fact there is purpose to this: she is waiting, biding her time, because that’s not the end of it.

The coyote eventually meanders over to a ledge where she can see the road below. She stations herself here and waits — about 10-15 minutes or so. She knows the dog and owner will be returning that way eventually, and eventually they do.

They re-appear on the road where she expected them

When dog and owner re-appear into view, she keenly watches them again as they walk parallel to where she is, and then she hurries to a second location, still keeping an eye on them, where she can observe dog-and-owner making their last retreat out of the park for the day. And this is when the tongue-lashing can begin anew — with dog and owner again ignoring it and proceeding as though she were not there: this is their best option for handling the situation. Sometimes dog and owner look back at the coyote and smile. Soon the vocalizations stop, and the coyote simply watches as the two — dog and owner — disappear for good for the day into the distant mass of the city and away from her park, her territory. Occasionally she’ll run a little way after them from far in back to make sure they are gone. At this point, the ritual is over, until the next day or the day after that.

The behavior here is intense and specifically focused on this one dog and no other. It’s alarming for many people when they see or hear it for the first time until I can explain it to them.

I should point out that the dog involved has a past history of chasing this coyote, and even running to the coyote’s favorite hangout areas and peeing there, in a sort of “So, there…”, one-upmanship way. This kind of rather casual animosity — there is no barking or growling — is also conveyed through subtle eye twitches or the raising of a lip: these communications are chalk-full of meaning to canines, no matter how subtle and barely perceptible they might be to humans, and they are ever-present.

In addition though, in the past, this owner used to sit with his dog fairly close to the coyote and “chat” in an attempt to “break the ice”, he told me. The result was the opposite of what was intended. The intense focus  may have actually conveyed to the coyote that she was “an object of special interest”, and may have caused her to become more suspicious and more wary of the dog than ever. If you focus on a coyote, they’ll focus back to figure out the reason for your interest: it’s part of their very inquisitive nature. In the wild, of course, there would probably be a sinister reason for another animal to focus on you, right? So the dog became something that the coyote watched out for. My advice is always to avoid focusing on coyotes when you have a dog — always just walk on.

So this particular dog became this particular coyote’s nemesis, and to a certain extent vice-versa. It is the only dog that gets this treatment from this coyote. We are fortunate that the owner is more amused — and maybe somewhat bemused — than anything else, with the coyote’s behavior. How different it might be if the owner had been fearful and intolerant, or had chosen not to flow with the situation: the situation would have been splashed, detrimentally for the coyote, all over the news, with the coyote’s reputation plummeting and fear levels stoked. Instead, a thorough explanation of the behavior and how to deal with it and even how to avoid it calmed everyone down. So we are lucky the owner of the dog is who he is. Thank you, Pete!

Until I’m able to explain the situation to any newcomers, they often come up to me with questions such as, “What is the coyote doing to the dog”, or the opposite, “What is the dog doing to the coyote?”, or they even come up with their own interesting interpretations, such as that, “The coyote was screaming ferociously for a mate.” But no, coyotes don’t scream for mates, and mating season is once a year, not in June, but in January/February. Once folks understand the situation, they are soothed, and become amused and even charmed. It’s much easier to embrace coyotes if you understand them. Certainly, it’s easier to coexist with them with the proper information.


2) I have seen this exact same behavior in another area of San Francisco: another coyote, another dog, and a different place. The setting was along a wide, paved, inner city park path taken regularly by dogs. The coyote’s behavior was reactive against one particular dog she felt threatened by and was worried about — even though that dog had never chased her in the past. This is self-protective and territorial behavior. The behavior might well have been initiated at some previous time through subtle negative communication or possibly even by a memory of a dog of similar breed, as previously explained.

Here is a video of that behavior. Or you may hear an audio below of this coyote’s upset and distressed deep guttural barking — so entirely different from a dog’s bark — as the coyote follows, with distressed bouncing steps and hackles up, within 30 feet of the dog and walker. This might be very upsetting to someone who does not understand the behavior and doesn’t know what to do. I advised the walker to just keep walking steadily away, and sure enough, as they continued to walk away from the coyote, the coyote soon turned away from them:

3) A somewhat related situation occurred years ago in a park where a group of off-leash dogs — always walking together at the exact same time every morning — were allowed, and even encouraged (unbelievably), to chase and harass the coyotes. It was only this one group of rowdy dogs that the coyotes always watched for and followed until they left the coyote’s critical areas. That group considered the coyotes bold, aggressive and antagonistic so they felt justified in letting their dogs pursue them.

They never did accept that it was their dogs’ behaviors which were causing the problem in the first place. The coyotes just wanted to be left alone.  If the dogs had left the coyotes alone, the coyotes would no longer have felt a need to “push back”. This didn’t happen to dog groups that respected the coyotes by preventing harassment by chasing. By the way, the intense, agitated and distressed vocalization after being chased by dogs can go on for 20 minutes or longer.

The Golden Rule for dealing with a dog/coyote encounter is always the same: Your safest option is AVOIDANCE: Whether you see a coyote in the distance, approaching you, or at-close range, leash your dog, shorten your leash, and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in this video, but know that what’s safest is complete avoidance. [This advice comes to you from over 11 years of keenly watching what works in this situation. This is the best option for preventing any kind of escalation. And here is a complete guide on “How to Handle Coyote Encounters: A Primer”]