All About Coyote Pups: A Primer

I’ve put together some information on coyote pups based predominantly on my own observations. Other information is included, including some hearsay, which I’ve stated as such. Push the underlined links I’ve provided for even more information.

Coyote pups are about two months old now here in San Francisco.

Etiquette: Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please especially keep your dogs away from those areas. Besides cars, dogs are coyotes’ biggest threat in urban areas. You can prevent stress and trauma to yourself, your dog, and coyote parents with new pups by leashing your dogs if you must move through such an area. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about a den’s general whereabouts should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas.

Terminology: Baby coyotes are referred to as “pups” (not cubs)!

Dates of birth: In San Francisco, pups are normally born towards the beginning of April after a gestation of 63 days. Coyotes come into heat just once a year (as opposed to dogs’  twice a year cycle) — they can only produce one litter a year which is usually born sometime in the Springtime. The courting behavior which leads to pups can be observed at the end of January.

Litter Sizes: A “litter” is the group of pups that are born and raised together in one family. Some yearlings from the previous year’s litter or before — those that didn’t disperse (leave) — may remain in the family and may even help out a little by bringing in food for the youngsters. I have seen anywhere from one to seven pups born in one litter in San Francisco: that’s quite a spread!  I have heard of larger litters, as many as 11 to 19 (not in San Francisco), but I’ve also heard (but not seen) that this very large litter size may actually be the result of “den sharing”: two females sharing the same den.

From my own observations, I’ve seen litters vary in size over several consecutive years from the same parents as follows: Maeve and Toughy 1-2;  Ma’am and Monte 2-5-2; Cai and Yote 7-2-? (haven’t had a chance to count this year’s yet); Maya and Ivan (3-4-5-0); Chert and Silver 1-0-0-0-2;. These are all variations of normal litter sizes. The exception was the five litters where there were sometimes no survivals: this anomaly was almost certainly related to inbreeding in this family; Chert went through the motions of having pups during those three years of no pups, but none ever appeared. Besides these normal, small fluctuations, the litter sizes I’ve seen in San Francisco have not changed over the 12 years that I’ve been studying coyotes, even though the coyote population here has grown from an original 8 to several score and appears to be at its saturation point, as revealed by more and more brutal territorial battles that have displaced resident coyotes.

So although I’ve heard it speculated that coyotes “regulate” their litter size: I’ve not seen an indication of this here in San Francisco. They appear to just ‘get what they get’ — like the rest of us (those who don’t take hormones). And rather than the proviso that “locations dictate litter size”,  I would think that litter size might have a genetic component. I know that natural multiple births seem to run in human families, so might litter size also have a genetic component?

Newborn pup size: Coyote pups at birth weigh between 1/2 and 1 pound. This has been measured by wildlife rehabilitation facilities which take in these newborns. Weight can vary substantially between the pups in one family which may include some “runts”. Their personalities also develop differently. Some, right from the start are adventuresome and exploratory: they are curious about everything and wander far, rather brazenly. Others have more of a built-in wariness and fear: they are on-edge and more anxious and keep closer to home. Some are more interactive and social, involved in a lot of rough-house playing and teasing, while others are more withdrawn, preferring to sit back and watch the others. Each of these has it’s benefits for survival: one is not necessarily a “better” personality type than another.

Dens and birthing: Coyote pups are born in dens which were either dug for this purpose by their parents or they were pre-existing “homes” of other animals, such as raccoons or skunks, that were broadened and enlarged by the to-be coyote parents for their purposes.  A den can also be an existing hole in the ground, cavities under tree trunks, a depression with good covering, or a nook under a ledge. I have only seen dens long after they were abandoned, I have never seen an occupied den: I keep my distance from these.

Coyote dens are used only for a short time: for birthing and nursing during the very early life of pups. Dens are outgrown, just as are birds’ nests or human cradles, after which the youngsters sleep in protected or hidden areas as do the parents. At around six weeks of age pups begin venturing beyond the den.

Here is a video of a wolf giving birth: I think we can assume that it must be pretty similar to what a coyote goes through. They emit howls as they give birth, and you hear a little of that here:

Do mothers stay in the dens for an extended period of time after giving birth? Well, if some do [this video shows pups right after, and pups’ first howls], it’s not a hard-and-fast behavior practice:  I’ve seen one mother out within a day of giving birth and I’ve seen others out in far less than a week.

Coyote pups may be left all alone for extended periods of time while the parents go off hunting. So, please don’t “save” what you think are “abandoned” pups — parents are likely simply off hunting. NO ONE can raise coyote pups as well as their own parents. You are actually hurting their chances for survival if you take their welfare into your own hands. If you truly believe they’ve been abandoned, then monitor them for several days before taking them to a wildlife center.

Nourishment: Coyote pups live on their mother’s milk alone for the first few weeks. This diet is soon supplemented with regurgitated food at about one month of age. The regurgitated food consists of whatever the parents consume, mostly rodents, but also fruit, amphibians, insects, birds and even garbage. How long do the youngsters lactate? I’ve seen mothers’ tit size shrink by the end of May, so I assume by that time the youngsters are well accustomed to semi-solid diets and on their way to whole prey soon. First, dead prey is brought to the youngsters, after which the pups are taken out to practice hunting on their own. Interestingly, I’ve seen coyotes over one year of age still being brought regurgitated food from a father: the youngsters approach Dad from below his chin, wedging their muzzles under his upper lip. This causes the regurgitation response. Dad then expels the food onto the ground, and the youngsters grab and eat it.

As the youngsters grow, Dad continues his contributions in the food department by bringing home prey to help feed the youngsters. Both coyote parents, unusually, raise the youngsters and you may find Dad at times sitting out and “minding” the offspring, giving Mom a break.

An interesting observation I’ve made is what I call “facilitating.” When the pups are learning to hunt, a mother will kill a rodent and  bury it where the pups can easily find it!

Survival rate:  Survival rate of pups is known to be low — 20-30% is what the literature says, but what I’ve seen in San Francisco is closer to about 70% from the time the pups can first be seen. However, it should be noted that I myself never know how many pups were actually born because I never intrude into their den areas: I wait to see what a litter is like until Mom brings them out or they are spotted through the bushes. Between birth and when I see them, there could have been more pups who didn’t make it.

First appearances: You might glimpse youngsters now, at two months of age, through the bushes, but it won’t be because coyotes want you to. Youngsters are highly protected as they grow up. And if a youngster sees you, he/she is bound to head straight to the bushes to hide! And parents are bound to come out to warn you to stay far, far away!

Family howl session in response to sirens. The howling family consists of Mom and Dad and two two-month old pups! Note that, although coyotes keep youngsters hidden as much as possible, they seem to have no qualms about being heard!

Here is what coyotes look like during their first year of growth:

Coyotes may leave home (dispersal) anytime after they are about 9 months of age, which is about January in SF. The earliest I’ve seen was a female who left home at 9 months of age. And the latest I’ve seen was a male who didn’t leave until he was 2.5 years of age, even though his father attempted pushing him out almost a year beforehand. The Presidio has tracked some of these dispersals to 60 miles south of the city, and I’ve been able to track some to vacated niches within the city itself. Many dispersing youngsters get killed by cars during this treacherous dispersal time in their lives. They also come across extremely hostile territorial coyotes who make it clear that they are not one bit welcome.

Keeping Their Secrets As Best They Can


Coyotes’ best kept secret is their pups — or at least they try to keep them a secret. If you happen to see any, it will be because the youngsters ventured beyond where their parents’ were trying so hard to keep them well hidden. The pups I know are all about two months old now here in San Francisco, as seen in the video.

And here is this family’s response to sirens: Mom, Dad, and the two youngsters:  Although they might not want to be seen, they don’t seem to mind being heard!!

Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please — specifically — keep your dogs away from those areas. It’s so easy to prevent stress and trauma to coyote families with new pups by leashing your dogs and keeping away. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about the existence of pups should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas with your unleashed dog. Parents will protect and defend their youngsters: why not just avoid the situation to begin with?

If a very young pup notices that s/he is being observed, s/he will run for cover.

A Little Fun With Some Alarmist Ravens

Sauntering down a street, minding his own business, until the ravens focused on him

Ravens serve as general sentinels not only for their own conspiracies, but their cries of alarm are listened to by all wild critters within hearing distance. That sentence might not make sense to a lot of people until they learn that a group of ravens can be referred to as a “conspiracy”, “an unkindness”, “a congress”, or “a constable”. A group of crows, by the way, is often referred to as a “murder” of crows. Ravens croak-up a storm when they see coyotes and often dive-bomb them to harass them out of the area. It’s a territorial thing: both of these creatures scavenge for the same type of foods, so they are competitive in this respect, but also, coyotes have the potential to grab one of the corvids itself and eat it.

So today the ravens were directing a tempest of alarmist croaks at this fella coyote as he sauntered along the sidewalk minding his own business. Most of the time coyotes flee from ravens’ harassment while dodging their sky-diving onslaughts. In this instance, this two-year old coyote decided to play along with them. The two — raven conspiracy and coyote — know each other well from many such previous engagements at this same location: you might call the two “frenemies”.  The ravens had given up their skydiving of this particular coyote long ago, they just emitted loud vocalizations and threatening territorial displays without leaving the comfort of their perches — it was a sort of pro-forma performance. And the coyote’s engagement was simply a diversion: a one-upmanship game: he engaged visually with the ravens, jumping up on his hind legs without any expectation of reaching them — they were way above a six-foot hedge.  Notice the coyote smiling and having a bit of fun. After a full six minutes, coyote walked on and ravens became quiet.

After about six minutes of diversion, he continued on his way.

You can be sure that if the ravens had kept quiet and not focused all that noise and animosity (even if it was faux animosity) on the coyote, the coyote would have walked on and hardly noticed them, but coyotes are keenly aware when they’ve become an “an object of interest” to some other creature. And, by the way, I have seen the same thing happen with some dogs. Dogs that bark at, lunge at, or even blink an evil-eye at a coyote, leashed or not, have communicated their interest — their negative interest — to the coyote. Some coyotes — each coyote behaves differently — might react to this, if not immediately, perhaps on another day, even when the dog is behaving a little more congenially. Coyotes appear to remember previous antagonisms, and one day down the line, the coyote could sneak up from behind to attempt a little retaliatory nip to the haunches of the dog. The nip is a “message”: the coyote isn’t out to “maul” the dog. He/she is simply out to “message” the dog to not mess with him/her, to move on and away. It’s another instance of oneupmanship. The humans around will read this as purely aggressive behavior, but in fact it’s more complicated and is based on previous behaviors.

It’s best to keep the peace by always keeping your distance and by preventing your dog’s barking at a coyote right from the word go: tighten your leash and drag your dog away, making it difficult for him/her to continue barking or looking at the coyote. Walking away sends a clear message to the coyote that you don’t want to engage — that the coyote is not an object of interest to you or your dog. Small dogs should be picked up as you move away from a coyote. Once a coyote gets to within just a few feet of you, you’ll have to add screams and belligerence as you move away: it’s best to move away WAY BEFORE you have to do this.

Coyote Pups: A Tragedy

Nextdoor photo sent to me by a friend. I’ll give credit to the photographer when I find out who that is.

Many “abandoned” coyote pups are “kidnapped” by caring humans who want to “save” them. Of course, coyote parents often leave their pups for a full day or two as they go off hunting, so no pups should ever be removed without monitoring for several days. But situations can be more complicated than this, and this is one of those.

The den was in a residential neighborhood, under someone’s porch. The owner sealed off the area under his porch (hopefully this was done inadvertently). When this was discovered, not for over a week, the area was unsealed and the emaciated and ill-looking, starving pups were removed for treatment, including hydration. They were then put back with warming pads under them. It is after their removal-and-return that monitoring of these pups took place, to see if the parents would return. The parents of course knew they had been taken so they had no reason to return, after all, they hadn’t been able to even get to them for a week. This information comes from our ACC and WildCare who tried to save the pups.

Since the parents did not return, the pups were then transported by an ACC volunteer to a rehabilitation facility where they both soon died. This is a tragedy because a number of people suspected there might be pups. I myself knew there were pups because Mom was lactating, but I had no way of knowing exactly where the den was, or that the porch had been sealed up. No one knowing there were pups would have gone anywhere close to the area: coyotes want their dens kept secret, and I help them keep it that way by staying away and by asking others to do the same.

Were there any signs at all about what was going on? For a month, the male had been acting like a protective father. Then, during the last week, neighbors had been complaining of the male coyote’s following them and gaping threateningly: they said he was acting intensely strange — that maybe he was sick. But he wasn’t. Coyotes are smart. This coyote knew it was humans who had sealed off the pups. He was desperate, and simply “messaging” folks with dogs to stay away so they wouldn’t cause any further damage. Animals sometimes “ask” for help: I don’t know if this happened, but I do know that few people would be able to read such a request.

It’s really important to note that when a coyote’s behavior changes, SOMETHING is going on to cause it. Unfortunately, I did not see the male during that week — only reports by others made me aware of it. This male and female have been in the area a long time, and as far as I know, they’ve always acted appropriately.

PS: I met the German Shepherd which had been followed for four blocks by the coyote: that dog barked at me threateningly. The owners made her sit to keep her from lunging at me.  I was told by her owners that she was a “guard dog”. This is precisely the type of dog, a dog protective of its owners — whether leashed or not — which is most threatening to a coyote. The coyote had a need to let this particular dog know to stay away from him and his den area. I don’t know if there had been a previous incident between the dog and the coyote, but even if there hadn’t, visual communication is acute with coyotes and the coyote could read that dog as a dangerous threat to his family. Know that it’s not the dog’s or the owners’ “fault”. These just happen to be the circumstances which clashed. If you have such a dog, you can help the situation by altering your walking route for several months, or even by altering the time you walk towards the middle of the day. There is always something humans can do to help a situation, if you care enough to help. By the same token, neither is this situation the coyote’s “fault”: he’s doing his job as all coyote fathers do — and as they have to do.