The Birthing Rock

Every year, soon-to-be-dads wait out the birthing event. Their job is to stay away and to keep a lookout not far from the den area to ensure that everything remains safe for the birthing mother and pups. Birthing, of course, is a vulnerable time for all of us, and the male, in this manner, puts extra effort into his mate’s and offspring’s protection and security, and goes the extra mile for their needs, including bringing home food. For me, this activity has always served as a sort of secret “birth announcement”!

Of particular interest is the fellow above on the rock. For years now, when the time comes, he hangs out on the same rock regularly for up to a couple of hours a day for several days as his mate gives birth. Because of this, I call it “the birthing rock”. Several days ago, I decided, “it’s time”: I had seen these two mate a couple of months earlier.  I began visiting the rock daily. When you can predict coyote behavior, there’s a feeling that maybe you’ve “arrived”: that you know coyotes as well as it is possible to know them. For several years now, I’ve been able to predict a bunch of behaviors, which always impresses those I’m talking to as much as it impresses me myself! :))  I’ll state what is about to happen, and then it happens! So I knew this guy would imminently be on the birthing rock, and within a few days of looking for him, there he was!

So pups are either being born or have already been born here in San Francisco. Another tell-tale sign will be lactating mothers, if you can find one: behaviorally, most coyote mothers I know generally keep themselves more secluded and hidden when their pups are very young: maybe this is a security precaution — keeping themselves out of danger’s way — to make sure they are around to nurture and take care of their growing and dependent pups. In many coyote moms, their condition is pretty much concealed, especially in younger moms, but in others, especially older mothers, their maternal state is more obvious, as seen below. They will be lactating through the beginning of June when regurgitated and then solid food begin taking over.

Mark Twain’s Description of a Coyote

One of the most famous descriptions of a coyote — which was also known as a “prairie dog” by Lewis and Clark — was written by Mark Twain in his 1872 book, Roughing it. For those who have not read it yet, here it is. Twain goes to the extreme to wake up the reader, using over-the-top satire for effect, to depict a standard negative view of coyotes held by Americans at the time. The brilliant irony is exquisite: Clemens sullies and defiles a coyote’s “sorry looking aspect”, but in the end he shows his admiration for the coyote who gets the last laugh when put up against any dog, and wishes him the best. The so called “miserable looking creature” is actually an intelligent, brilliant survivor.  

Along about an hour after breakfast we saw the first prairie dog villages, the first antelope, and the first wolf. If I remember rightly, this latter was the regular coyote (pronounced ky-o-te) of the farther deserts. And if it was, he was not a pretty creature or respectable either, for I got well acquanited with his race afterward, and can speak with confidence.

The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolfskin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spirtless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely! -so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful.

When he sees you he lifts his lip and lets a flash of his teeth out, and then turns a little out of the course he was pursuing, depresses his head a bit, and strikes a long, soft- footed trot through the sagebrush, glancing over his shoulder at you, from time to time, till he is about out of easy pistol range, and then he stops and takes a deliberate survey of you; he will trot fifty yards and stop again- another fifty and stop again; and finally the gray of his gliding body blends with the gray of the sagebrush, and he disappears. All this is when you make no demonstration against him; but if you do, he develops a livelier interest in his journey, and instantly electrifies his heels and puts such a deal of real estate between himself and your weapon that by the time you have raised the hammer you see that you need a Minie rifle, and by the time you have got him in line you need a rifled cannon, and by the time you have “drawn a bead” on him you see well enough that nothing but an unusually long-winded streak of lightning could reach him where he is now.

But if you start a swift-footed dog after him, you will enjoy it ever so much- especially if it is a dog that has a good opinion of himself, and has been brought up to think he knows something about speed. The coyote will go swinging gently off on that deceitful trot of his, and every little while he will smile a fraudful smile over his shoulder that will fill that dog entirely full of encouragement and worldly ambition, and make him lay his head still lower to the ground, and stretch his neck further to the front, and pant more fiercely, and stick his tail out straighter behind, and move his furious legs with a yet wilder frenzy, and leave a broader and broader, and higher and denser cloud of desert sand smoking behind him, and marking his long wake across the level plain!

And all this time the dog is only a short twenty feet behind the coyote, and to save the soul of him he cannot understand why it is that he cannot get perceptibly closer; and he begins to get aggravated, and it makes him madder and madder to see how gently the coyote glides along and never pants or sweats or ceases to smile; and he grows still more and more incensed to see how shamefully he has been taken in by an entire stranger, and what an ignoble swindle that long, calm, soft-footed trot is; and next he notices that he is getting fagged, and that the coyote actually has to slacken speed a little to keep from running away from him- and then that town dog is mad in earnest, and he begins to strain and weep and swear, and paw the sand higher than ever, and reach for the coyote with concentrated and desperate energy. This “spurt” finds him six feet behind the gliding enemy, and two miles from his friends. And then, in the instant that a wild new hope is lighting up his face, the coyote turns and smiles blandly upon him once more, and with a something about it which seems to say: “Well, I shall have to tear myself away from you, bub- business is business, and it will not do for me to be fooling along this way all day”- and forthwith there is a rushing sound, and the sudden splitting of a long crack through the atmosphere, and behold that dog is solitary and alone in the midst of a vast solitude!

It makes his head swim. He stops, and looks all around; climbs the nearest sand mound, and gazes into the distance; shakes his head reflectively, and then, without a word, he turns and jogs along back to his train, and takes up a humble position under the hindmost wagon, and feels unspeakably mean, and looks ashamed, and hangs his tail at half-mast for a week. And for as much as a year after that, whenever there is a great hue and cry after a coyote, that dog will merely glance in that direction without emotion, and apparently observe to himself, “I believe I do not wish any of that pie.”

The coyote lives chiefly in the most desolate and forbidding deserts, along with the lizard, the jackass rabbit, and the raven, and gets an uncertain and precarious living, and earns it. He seems to subsist almost wholly on the carcasses of oxen, mules, and horses that have dropped out of emigrant trains and died, and upon windfalls of carrion, and occasional legacies of offal bequeathed to him by white men who have been opulent enough to have something better to butcher than condemned Army bacon…. He does not mind going a hundred miles to breakfast, and a hundred and fifty to dinner, because he is sure to have three or four days between meals, and he can just as well be traveling and looking at the scenery as lying around doing nothing and adding to the burdens of his parents.

We soon learned to recognize the sharp, vicious bark of the coyote as it came across the murky plain at night to disturb our dreams among the mail sacks; and remembering his forlorn aspect and his hard fortune, made shift to wish him the blessed novelty of a long day’s good luck and a limitless larder the morrow.

Images by J. C. Amberlyn

Hello Stranger!

Today, who should appear across a chain-link fence but this fella I knew well from a place miles away, but hadn’t seen in many months. Although most coyote families I document are long-time residents of their territories, a few leave their homes for greener pastures. What an amazing surprise! He saw me from the distance and came up to investigate, recognized me, and lay down in the grass facing me but on the other side of a chain-link fence. He remained there, watching me with soft eyes: closing his eyes repeatedly ever so slowly in recognition and acceptance, and I, of course, beamed inwardly and blinked back!

I stayed only long enough to snap a few record shots because I know this is denning time and coyotes don’t want their hideouts discovered. When I began walking away, he knew the visit was over: he got up and stretched and watched me go, and then he turned around and went in the other direction as I looked over my shoulder. He had come over specifically for a little visit with someone he recognized from his past life!

I suppose that I had been somewhat of a fixture in his life as he had been in mine: he had watched me frequently call out to folks to please leash their dogs when he was around, and I’m sure this coyote knew exactly what was going on: that I was watching out for him. I meticulously respected him and his space, and over time he came to know this: the trust and respect were mutual, which was confirmed by his coming over to see and acknowledge me with a, “hello there!” from way across the fence.

Re-Wilding: The Presence of Wolves, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Lou! I love reading what you write: there’s always so much in-depth understanding and wisdom to what you say. This wisdom about the wolves serving to re-wild the deer herd and the cattle — and the guard dogs and coyotes — is a good paradigm for what I’ve been seeing in a slice of the coyote world: Life became too easy for one coyote: to see her frolicking on a hill totally carefree, every day, within mere feet of people and dogs made me feel that she’d been robbed of her essence — she seemed more pet than wild animal. I did my best to keep people from being friendly or feeding her, but her wary/wildness seemed to be something she no longer had: there was no need for it. And then one day another coyote came into the area with a territorial agenda of her own, driving our coyote out. Because of this, our displaced coyote appears to have been re-wilded in the sense you speak about, having to look over her shoulder for danger and use her wits to survive. She is more careful, more wary, less out-in-the-open, more, as you say, wild and natural. It’s a good way of looking at the situation here, based on what you’ve said about the presence of wolves and their effect on “re-wilding”. Thank you for your insights!


Timber wolf hunting in mountain (Reprinted with permission; Credit: Byrdyak)

Hi Janet!
This is Lou. We’ve had some interesting times on some of the ranches bordering BLM lands and the canine dynamics are in change I think. Our area has been verified by locals and biologists as having a [new] resident pack of wolves. They have not bothered livestock to anyone’s knowledge with predation, but there are definite changes noted. Elk which used to gather rather lazily out in open are now very alert and quick moving.

Fuzz the ranch dog has given up roaming at night. He stays closer, and has ceased long distance ranging as well. This is most unusual for him. Also, the LGD are much more vocal at night and at times seem quite agitated as the evenings come. The biggest change we’ve seen is among the coyote on the coyote friendly ranch. They too, have seemed to change. They are very vocal and act unsettled though no hunting or skirmishes with dogs has happened. Both LGD dogs and coyotes seem to avoid one area of ranch which connects to Cascade forests.

One thing for sure-no one seems to pay much attention to coyote when wolves are known to be in area. The old gentleman on the ranch is touching. He’s worried about his sheep, his dogs, “and the local coyote.” He says “I hope they keep far from that pack” I assured him his coyote would be pretty careful around wolves. Packs of territorial wolves are known not to tolerate coyote or dogs in their woods. All the same-the canine conversation and dynamics will continue. I feel dogs, coyotes and wolves can exist-with caution-and coexist well.


Hi Janet! In essence, once wolves become established as a pack, they are the “top dog” in woods, with exception of a pack of experienced LGD. Yes, I’ve seen films of wolves on coyote. No mercy there from the wolves. I don’t know what the effects ultimately will be but I know [the coyotes] will survive.

The rancher who enjoys them is pretty upset with wolves being here. He says he doesn’t expect wolves to wipe out his cattle. But he feels “coyotes are easy to live with, are smarter and adapt to living with people.” Regarding wolves he says “They are hard to live with. They are harder on the land. They scatter the elk and make them skittish. They cost cattlemen money not because of lots of predation but because of lost weight. Cattle get spooked by wolves in area and move alot more. Eat less and are much more alert. They don’t gain as much weight for summer, which means herd wise thousands of pounds less for Fall sales, and that’s financial disaster.

Coyotes eat mice and grasshoppers literally sometimes under cattle. A wolf moving through cattle, or a pack, will cause fear. And finally the guard dogs are respected and feared by coyote. A wolf pack only respects another pack and then only if its very powerful”. He seemed without anger or prejudice with these words. But felt very strongly Coyotes are good neighbors and small ranged, whereas wolves are alot harder to predict and gave huge ranges. I do feel he’s quite upset by the great change he feels have taken place with “his” coyote. He says numbers have dropped, and that denning areas have been abandoned on the wooded side of his ranches and that the pack that lived there has disappeared. He also feels his dog Fuzz is terrified of the wolves and this is why he’s staying close to home.

I think the coyote are going to be viewed as almost harmless by ranchers compared to wolves. So the coyote may well recieve less attention from human hunters, as he gets new attention from the new canine neighbors. Or old predator returned.


Hi Janet! The cattle weight loss is very revealing, because it hits the truth about the situation. Rightfully so, ranchers are concerned about financial affects. A herd of fat, relaxed cattle vs a herd of leaner, fit cattle means alot of money lost.

Also, with hunters, I know what upsets them. Elk here haven’t seen wolves almost 100 years. They tend to be relaxed and congregate in large groups that move and feed slowly. Hunters like this. The elk are predictable, easy to find and hunt to a degree. When wolves arrive, they do not wipe elk out. But the effect on elk is electric. They become skittish and scatter into the landscape. They become alert and elusive and move often. The wolves take many young, old, unfit or those who make mistakes. Literally, wolves make deer and elk very wild. They cause game animals to reconnect to instincts of evasive living. Hunters don’t like that. A morning hunt can no longer be so easily scheduled, and may turn into days of effort that some may not have time for.

So wolves cause an effect in the land and animals. And some do not want that. Wolves make wild things wild, instead of an extension of farming. I know some wolves will be poached. But they are colonizing all over and really can’t be stopped now. The wise and wary wolves will stay in wilderness and stick to deer and elk. The too bold or inexperienced may visit ranches or unsuitable places-and may pay for it. But I feel wolves are here to stay. Plus for now they are federally protected.

In all this I’m just going to keep sharing and talking with my neighbors. I feel with a large influence of LGD dogs, canine conversation among guard dogs, wolves and coyote need to be allowed to happen. 2 in the morning among the pastures and hills and land, humans are non functioning. We can’t communicate with wolves. But LGD can. They can literally be everywhere by scent, sound and sight. A pack of LGD dogs is canine battle lines-wolves want food not fighting. So I feel most wolves can learn like coyote. It’s exciting yet turbulent too. But I know some wolves will make it. Funny thing is, my pack has learned to cope with coyote and LGD-wolves are just another canine neighbor we hope is shy and fleeting. But besides my own pack, the coyote remain my favorite. I’ll watch them and follow their lessons. ❤🐾

Two grey wolves showing affection (Reprinted with permission; Credit: RamiroMarquezPhotos)

Adversity Continues

Wired coyote has returned

After brutally driving off our 3-year resident coyote and hanging around the area for about two months, the Wired intruder headed off to an area several miles away where I serendipitously encountered her a number of times. She appears to be roaming the entirety of San Francisco, from corner to corner. I wondered if she had permanently moved on. I wondered what her plans were. But she was gone less than a week and is now back patrolling the turf she battled for and won.

Ragged: tattered and torn in body, but not in spirit

During those two months, our previous resident coyote had been staying away and hanging low as she recovered from her severe wounds and infections. Then, during the last week she, of course, became acutely aware of her rival’s absence and was making daily forays to her old turf, bravely sticking her toe in the door — so to speak — moving to reclaim her domain. We of course no longer ever saw her romping joyously at the top of hilltops, Queen of her domain and ever so happy, but rather slithering by quickly and surreptitiously through inconspicuous places. Her tentative forays were not being met with resistance from her arch-rival and things appeared to be going well for her. That was during the week the Wired coyote was away. But now that she’s back, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of a truce, if any, is worked out between them. Let’s hope there’s not another fight.

It’s been an amazing drama, and a scary one, if you care. One has to wonder at the stress and tension being sustained by this brave little creature willing to risk her life to defend her turf. Coyotes are known to kill each other over their territories: it goes to show just how important their exclusive land-claims are for their survival. Again, I want to point out how intense coyote lives are, with ups and downs to match anything going on in the human world.

See: Detrimental Effects of Radio-collars