Observations of Coyote Behavior On Ranches, by “Walkaboutlou”

“Believe it or not, we determine what they will become.” This quote is from ‘Walkaboutlou’ who just wrote me about his observations of coyote behavior on farms and ranches. Whether you live on a farm/ranch or not, I think you’ll find these observations fascinating!

Greetings! I’ve enjoyed following your posts on Instagram.

I’m just an amateur coyote fan, but after studying them coast to coast for the last 30 years, I find them just as fascinating, and mysterious.

I hate when people say “coyotes always or never do this or that”. The reason why is because like many intelligent beings that live in a variety of environments, and with varying genetics, there are going to be differences. Some slight. Some quite marked. The common theme is survival. But a coyote habituated to humans living in a city may well act markedly different, than, lets say, a hard hunted coyote living among ranches. Or a coyote that deals with wolves rather than people. There’s so much variety. Even the ages and social settings. An established bonded pair will act differently than a footloose nomad.

For the past 5 years, I have been walking and traveling among ranches, inspecting fences, and with my dogs, perhaps collecting escaped cattle. I get walking rights in exchange for my services. And am retired, so I have the time.

Most ranchers are enemies of coyotes. It’s almost a cultural, religious feeling. But one rancher in particular I’ve enjoyed being around. He’s very open-minded, and wise. His rule on his vast property is this: “don’t touch the yotes”. His reasons for this are not sentimental, but learned by his father and passed on to him. He literally feels if you leave the coyote alone, they form pairs or small packs. These groups then become very intimate with the land, and with their neighbors. They learn what is safe and dangerous. They learn, for example, the nature of the dogs, llamas, and livestock. They then pass their knowledge down to surviving pups. And he feels, the permanent coyotes are very jealous of their land and will chase off coyotes that don’t know the “rules” of this ranch.

He literally is practicing science-proven tactics. To help him keep his sons on-board, I volunteered and promised to report any signs of livestock predation. 1st of all, coyotes almost never bother cattle unless the cattle are dead, or a very sickly, newborn calf is abandoned by its mother. And in regards to the sheep of this ranch, they are guarded by really efficient, well-trained experienced dogs, or donkeys, or llamas. They aren’t left lying around if they die. It’s a very well run ranch.

Finally, in the 5 years of checking coyote scat (I wear a mask and gloves if I really am going to study them) I’ve never found sheep wool or bones in the local coyotes. I’ve found exclusively rodents of all sorts, berries from July until early October. Deer/elk hair and bone almost directly coinciding with hunting season. Once in a great while the remains of a feral barn cat that wandered a bit too far. But in 5 years, no wool, or feathers or evidence of raids.

On the other ranches, that’s not the picture. Coyotes are shot indiscriminately, so there are almost never long-lasting bonded pairs keeping a territory. In fact, on the other ranches, I see or hear many more coyotes or their tracks. They are often nocturnal. And there is a more helter-skelter, chaotic feel to their movements and calls. I feel these are either nomadic, younger coyotes, or coyotes that have been hard hunted and are survivors of war. And like any survivors of war, they change. I feel the canine guerilla type of skirmishes ranchers have come to associate with coyote are human caused. It’s true, a coyote has the tendency to be smart and have tricks. They were pulling tricks when the mastodons were roaming those ranches. But when hit super hard, the coyotes become super smart. And they have minimal time to hunt relaxed because of human pressures — so they will hunt harder, and faster, and, I feel, take on certain sheep, or are emboldened to raid a chicken coop or garden. All because of human pressure. It’s a behavior boomerang. At any rate, the rancher with the “no yote” rule continues to have 0 losses to coyotes. While the ranches surrounding him keep up their unceasing warfare with coyote, and the coyotes survive to hit back, so to speak with pressure caused behaviors.

If we keep sharing knowledge , maybe one day we’ll understand how to live with them with common sense knowledge.

Keep up your fine work. And pics!

Walkaboutlou


After 5 years of checking coyote scat on a ranch that doesn’t allow them to be hunted, this is the most common find: rodents (though I almost never have found a partial skeleton like this). Rodents, rodents, and more rodents. With some berries in late summer/ early fall. And deer/elk hair and bone that coincides almost exactly with hunting season. On other ranches, I find cattle hair or sheep wool, but almost always can locate a carcass left by ranchers of an animal that died and was left about. At any rate, I will continue to share this knowledge with my ranching colleagues. Keep up your fine work. [Photo and text from Walkaboutlou]


A Solution Offered For Ranchers: I have found cattle killed by cougar, livestock guard-dogs who roam to kill neighbors sheep (rare), and again, discovered areas where indiscriminate hunting leads to livestock predation. For example, where coyotes aren’t hunted, you will often see them during day, hunting rodents. Its natural, but it takes time to hunt this way. And focus. And standing still, sometimes for periods of time. However, a hunted coyote learns this is a death trap. To be out in open is death. To stand in the open focused on something else means you’re not watching your back. To stay still makes you a target.

Hunted coyotes will obviously still hunt rodents. But they face pressures, time pressures (they’ll become nocturnal if they learn) and will find out the best food sources, as quickly as possible. The scattering of packs, and the forced displacement and high numbers of nomads, also has a bearing on hunting, because nomads never hunt in complete ease. They find food quickly, and keep going. Years of living this way creates coyotes that are quick to move in, kill as much as they can, eat as much as they can, and move on. Hence, scat with wool is almost always a sure sign of hard-hunted, stressed, but also thriving coyotes. I just report what I see. But I also make suggestions. Like, for example, if a ranch has 2000 acres. If 5 acres spots can be saved, even just one or 2, and grass be allowed to grow there, the mice, rodents, pack rats will flourish there. If you can hold off hunting for spring and summer, those little “tall grass allotments” will attract, and hold coyotes all summer, and take pressure off sheep. Its my 1st step in getting a rancher to at least recognize coyote solutions naturally. I call it “Rats or Lambs” program. Coyotes prefer rats in a natural setting rather then the stress that comes with livestock predation. It’s just a 1st step, but a step towards solutions. Sorry I meandered with my words. I’m just a volunteer hiker/walker/ fencelines checker!

Basically, I view myself as a covert coyote conservationist. They are by no means endangered. They will likely outlast our times and governments. It’s just that they fascinate me. I love them. Both emotionally and from a ‘scientific view’. As well as I see ways where both humans and animals can share. So for example, I know that a 3-5 acres of tall, natural grasses are paradise to rodents of all kinds of rodents. Which is a magnet for coyotes. If I can get a rancher, or city planner to give it a try, then the Rancher sees less or no predation on his place, the city isn’t overrun with complaints of coyotes “hunting cats, small dogs, or kids” (often complete hoaxes) and some of the coyotes will stay more natural. If this is repeated enough, people will see the less you hunt or otherwise interfere with coyote, the more apt they are to live lives more in tune with natural settings. [This will at least insure the survival of the more discreet coyotes — and the bolder ones could learn from these]. Either way, coyotes will thrive. I’d rather see natural living, bonded, content and territorial coyotes (easier to study and enjoy and live with) than coyotes living endlessly nomadic, being pushed or hunted ceaselessly, which creates a more desperate, braver, less discriminatory hunter that would have no qualms about jumping over a fence on overfed livestock or pets.

What kind of coyotes do we want?

Believe or not, we determine what they will become.


Addendum from Janet: In the same vein, Timm and Baker long ago wrote about how dangerous habituated coyotes were. In eleven years of many hours of daily observations, I have NEVER seen habituated coyotes become aggressive or dangerous to humans. Could it be that constant or intense hazing (harassing) certain coyotes — which is what Timm and Baker advocate “to keep them wary and fearful of people” — is what might have contributed to any aggressiveness they saw? In other words, again, stressed animals respond in a stressed manner, or, “we determine what they will become”.

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