A Coyote Defends Her Turf

Territoriality is a huge component of coyote behavior: it is a prominent thread that runs through many of my postings, including my last four, and now this one.

Lickety-split down the street

The day’s observations began when I saw this coyote run down the middle of the street, away from an open space. Something important was going on for her to run off at a full speed gallop, lickety-split, like that. Coyotes may run  like this from dogs, but there were no dogs after her, and I sensed she was the one leading this charge, doing the pursuing. She disappeared down a distant street and I didn’t think I would see her again anytime soon. I decided to explore some of the surrounding streets that included little habitat niches as I took a morning walk in the pouring rain.

Soaked through and through

Within half an hour I saw what I thought was a new coyote because it did not look at all familiar — I know all the coyotes well in the various territories where I document, including this one, and this, I thought, was not one of them. As I continued to watch, this coyote’s “behavior” revealed to me that this was none other than the lickety-split runner I had observed earlier. She looked so completely different because she was absolutely water-laden: she was SOPPING like an old rag, including all the fur on her face which lay matted down and made her look different, so she was unrecognizable by her appearance alone. She climbed up a nearby slope slowly and laboriously, which also threw me for a loop at first. As she crossed the street, she attempted shaking out all that water contained in her coat a number of times, but she faltered. She was unable to do so. This is why she was so water-laden. I knew something was amiss. Might she have a neck injury?

Just then a siren sounded in the distance and she began soulful and mournful howling — it wasn’t something I’ve heard from her before. I’ve heard this type of howling before as a very upset warning sound for intruders. After howling only a short time, she again tried shaking out the water from her drenched coat, but she could not accomplish the task, possibly due to pain. Within a minute she crossed the street, and then ran when she felt she was threatened by a dog (the dog was leashed), and disappeared into a thicket. In urban areas, coyotes need thickets to get away from people and dogs.

This type of howling in the video above I’ve heard repeatedly associated with intruders

When I got home, I reviewed the photos in detail. And there it was: there was a bloody gash on the left side of her forehead. As I examined the photos, I also noted bright pink/red skin poking through her fur on the right side of her head, including her ear. I wondered if she might have been hit by a car.

Wounds

Again, thoughts swam through my head about helping this coyote. But as has happened before, my instincts told me that if she could heal, she’d do it on her own. That the worst outcome would be human intervention which would tame her even more than she’s been tamed. And if it’s her time to go, she should be allowed to do so. She was totally mobile which is my benchmark for interfering with nature.

The next day I met someone who was anxious to reveal the very unusual sight THEY had witnessed the previous morning, down the street where I had seen the coyote go: two coyotes had been battling. I was told that one was initially under a parked car (this is used often as a protective hiding place for coyotes from, say, dogs and even people) and there was blood spattered on the sidewalk and side of the car. One coyote had on a radio-collar — we don’t see this too often in the City. Radio collars are not used in San Francisco except within the small national park section of the city known as the Presidio. I know the ecologist there and contacted him to find out if any of his radio-collared coyotes had been in this area — radio telemetry would reveal that. Yes, he said there was a 2+ year old female who was roaming the area. She was not from the Presidio, but had wandered in, and so he collared her on January 3. So that was the explanation: there had been an intruder and a territorial battle.

Swollen eyes, snout, neck

Territorial battles can be brutal and disfiguring. Several days after the incident, this gal’s face looked different to me who knows her well. The skin under her chin had been strangely pulled out, and there was swelling around her eyes and snout. Hopefully that would soon go down. I’ve seen an instance of where an entire chunk of skin was bitten off during such a territorial fight. A territory is a coyote’s livelihood. For them, the outcome of such a fight could mean the difference between life and death.

What was the outcome of this territorial dispute? Who won? There is only one alpha female in any given territory — one Queen Bee — so I’m supposing there had to be a “winner”. I’ve seen both female coyotes since the incident, each on separate days (not together). Both coyotes are at least several years old: both are mature and wizened coyotes.  I wouldn’t think that the resident coyote would give up her Queenship too readily. We’ll have to wait to see how this pans out.

The intruder, too, is looking for a place to live

FULL LIVES: This might be a good place to point out that coyotes have amazingly full and intricate lives: there’s lots of depth and breadth to what is constantly going on with them. They aren’t just hanging around eating and reproducing. Once you get to know them, you learn that there’s always something happening: it’s like watching a soap opera with constant cliffhangers! They are as social as we are and they have many of the same drives that come from being social: they mate for life, both parents raise the young, they play,  there’s kindness, altruism, jealousy, competition, rivalry, fear, etc., and there are the broader concerns, including territoriality and battles with unknown coyotes, dispersal, life-cycles, etc. Getting to know them through their interactions and their individual behaviors has allowed me to piece together who they are on a variety of levels.

MY FOCUS: Most scientists and academics appear to be concerned with data: numbers, measurements, trends, repetitions. So, for instance, Stan Ghert radio-collars coyotes, counts pups, takes blood samples, weighs and measures them, and graphs or maps where the animals go. A lot of this information can be gleaned and compiled mechanically (radio-collars). Or focused slices of their lives might be examined: Chris Nagy, for instance, is an ecologist, so he’s interested in how coyotes fit into the environment; Christian Hunold examines potential political ramifications.

I’m more concerned with everyday individual lives and individual histories: i.e., with what it’s like to be a coyote. I observe with my naked eye and photo-document observable coyote behavior (though I’ve done scat studies).  I’m mostly concerned with their individual interactions, their individuality (WHO they are) and how each coyote fits into its family situation, and also the human interface within the city and how that is evolving over time. These observations are direct and first-hand and take lots of focused time, similar to the way Jane Goodall observed her chimps, only Jane actually interacted with her charges, and I make it point never to do so — I’m always on the outside looking in. My guidelines I’ve refined, based on first-hand observations of what I’ve seen works best in our parks here in San Francisco.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cindie White
    Feb 10, 2019 @ 03:30:55

    Another heart pounding, nail biting story that had me breathless til the end. AH! I love these coyotes so much! When you tell your stories and offer the photos/video I am right there. I am every coyote. This is what it means to be alive, on the edge and fully present with what is…..as hard as it can be sometimes to feel their agony, loss and pain – so much better than being numb. Can I say it again? I love these coyotes so much and feel them deeply. Thank you Janet for creating lines of deep connection to my heart.

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 10, 2019 @ 03:37:09

      Thank you, Cindie. It would be wonderful if more and more people were to feel this same deep connection you feel. I find myself feeling successful with comments like yours! :))

  2. MelindaH.
    Feb 11, 2019 @ 02:40:37

    I wait for your weekly posts, and find myself totally drawn into their world. While I avidly follow our backyard coyotes, I am not there hours at a time. You and your coyotes have taught me so much. I can hardly wait for another episode. You have made me so aware of how rich their lives really are. When they choose to reveal themselves to me, I am so grateful to them and you.
    Thank you!

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Feb 11, 2019 @ 04:28:28

      I count my work as a success when I hear comments like yours: “You have made me so aware of how rich their lives really are”! I couldn’t have asked for a better pat-on-the-back! Thank you so much, Melinda! :))

  3. Scott Jensen
    Feb 11, 2019 @ 03:33:54

    I have seen two Coyotes recently in Mesa Arizona.

    Reply

  4. Cindie White
    Feb 12, 2019 @ 03:48:22

    Hi Janet! I’m wondering if you have seen this girl since your last past? How is her injury? The thing I can’t stop thinking about is her inability to shake off the water! I know she got a reprieve with no rain the past couple days – but more rain is coming. Sorry! I just keep thinking about her…..

    Reply

  5. Cindie White
    Feb 13, 2019 @ 20:47:46

    Thank you. Bless you.

    Reply

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