Change Is Ongoing

I’ve learned that “change” is a constant within the lives of coyotes — it ebbs and flows overs the seasons, the years, and over a lifetime. Youngsters grow up and leave, loners acquire mates and maybe territories, oldsters lose territories when intruders take over . . . or oldsters just leave because they know they can’t defend the territory or their reproductive years are over or maybe the food supply has dwindled. Death of a loner or dispersing coyote may hardly be noticed by other coyotes (or us), whereas the death of a father, mother, or mate will have far-reaching and life-changing effects on numerous coyotes. Ownership of a territory, can be stable and long-lasting or short-lived and life-changing: I’ve been informed that a coyote female who was driven out of her long-time Presidio territory by an intruder female last year has been found killed by a car in Pacifica. :((  That intruder now claims the territory.

One of the loner coyotes I follow is going through a change. Any observable change in routine behavior is the first clue that something has or is taking place.

Her routine treks through the area started shortening in duration, occurring at irregular times, and then she skipped coming altogether for days at a time, at least during what had been her routine daylight hours. Looking back at my notes, I realize there were some clues which, of course, registered only now with hindsight.

For instance, I documented her angry reaction to what I bet was an intruder coyote in her territory on November 26th [see: Gaping].

A month earlier, it turns out, there was a purported sighting of two coyotes at the site of a “cat incident” nearby.  The possible arrival of another coyote is something I always keep in mind, but neither I, nor anyone I knew, had seen any other coyote, and continued not to. Had another coyote simply been “passing through”? Then again, a shy coyote might be around and hanging low. A new individual would indeed explain some of our coyote’s change in behavior, but there was no evidence beyond hearsay and suspicions.

A month after the gaping observations, on December 21st she seemed to be her usual self (see the first tier of photos below), except for a couple of brief episodes of raised hackles and angry kicking, as seen in the tier of photos below that): none of this behavior suggests anything out-of-the-ordinary occurring. But might the miniscule anger displays have been more telling than I had thought? I’m actually continuing to see these behaviors of hers.

Moseying along as normal and approaching cars to beg which is unfortunate but normal for her.

But occasionally moving along with hackles up or stopping to kick dirt angrily.

After fewer reported appearances for a while, she was again her old self in full-swing on January 2 — she played, hunted, slept, trekked about, and relaxed happily. Maybe what I had been noticing was simply a little hiccup in her behavior? Even though sightings of her had apparently plummeted, those who saw her continued to regard her visits as no different from what they had always been. But I felt that her changed schedule and bouts of anger had to be due to something.

I resorted to placing a trap camera on one of her routine routes at night: maybe the darker hours would reveal a clue? After several days she indeed appeared on the screen at 4 am in the morning. The infrared revealed that she had new facial scars which she hadn’t had before. And then, within less than a minute another coyote passed by on the same path — a larger male. Ahh! That was on January 10th.

Several days later, they again both appeared on the screen and that next morning, my friend Gary who lives closeby, reported that his dog, Ellie, woke him up at 1:30 am, to the ruckus of two coyotes screeching and carrying on loudly in the wee hours of the morning: this “pack howl” is something we don’t regularly hear in this territory.

But the next day, our coyote was out again — alone — during her normal daylight hours. That was on January 15th. Although she hung out and hunted as she normally had, she also spent a long time sleeping on her side by the edge of the road which I’ve only seen when she’s not feeling well, such as after an injury. To me she looked tired and older than she has.

Since then she continues to appear without the other coyote. A week ago, a couple of people reported that they saw a definite “change” in her demeanor and behavior as they watched her, saying she looked “larger” and “different” and “behaved ‘dazed’ and not so secure as normally”.  Could that possibly have been the other coyote? They had no photos to show me.

Today she wandered through her turf uneventfully, hunting a little and then walking purposefully away, down the middle of the street: there was again no indication that anything was amiss. We’ll have to wait and see what, if anything, develops.

This now is the time of the year when coyotes who don’t have mates might be looking for them. Might she be interested in pairing up, or is she, at just about five years of age now, a confirmed perennial loner? Might that other coyote be sticking around?  He seems to have been in the area, even if only off-and-on, from at least mid-October through mid-January. Is he a suitor, or a pursuer — friend or foe? She’s had both types of visitors in the past. There’s always a lot to find out. Please keep your eyes open!

Be An Ambassador for Proper Stewardship of Our Urban Coyotes

You’ll see coyotes on trails in parks and sometimes even on sidewalks in neighborhoods. These are normal urban coyote behaviors and don’t mean the coyote is sick or out to get you.

Guidelines are really simple: just keep your distance and move away, and KEEP MOVING AWAY from the coyote, especially if you have a dog (which more often than not needs to be leashed), but even if you don’t have a dog. Please don’t feed or try to befriend or try to interact with them.

These guidelines are not simply for your own safety — though they are for that too — they are also for the well-being and healthy stewardship of our urban coyotes who otherwise could be (and have been) turned into “stray dogs” who hang around, beg, and chase cars. They need to be kept and valued as the wild and wily critters they were born to be.

Note that too much human “love” is just as harmful to their well-being as a human culture of fear. In some pockets of San Francisco, the pendulum has swung from fear to too much love for coyotes, usually through feeding, coupled with befriending, trying to get near, attempting to communicate, or even prolonged mutual visual contact. This human behavior, over time, can ATTRACT coyotes and break down existing natural and healthy safety barriers, causing a coyote to hang around listlessly, chase cars, approach, and beg — instead of hunt.  It’s best to, ”love their wildness at a distance and maybe just out of the corner of your eye”.

Please be an ambassador for our urban coyotes and invite others into the fold. For further explanations about how human misguided friendliness can impact coyotes negatively, please see: Food: The Behavior Shaper, and  Demand Behavior.



“Fee fi fo fum . . . I smell the blood of an Englishman”. I remember thinking that if the Giant could actually SMELL Jack, then how could Jack hide from him?

This thought came to me as I watched a coyote at dawn hurry purposefully to a spot where she immediately put her nose to the ground and sniffed intently. She immediately kicked dirt: she was decidedly miffed and upset. She continued following that scent with her nose to the ground for the next hour, stopping repeatedly to kick dirt angrily, to mark by urinating, defecating or rubbing, to throw her nose up into the air and whiff the surrounding atmosphere, and to gape.

Someone — either known or unknown to her — had passed through her plot of land — her territory — who was not welcome there. Because of her superb olfactory senses, she not only could tell that someone had been there, and even if not exactly WHO it was, she could read lingering pheromone and other body chemical markers telling her all sorts of things, such as the age, sex, maybe even the social status of the individual involved, and a whole lot more.

Continued gaping

What was new for me was the gaping as she went about sniffing out whoever had been there. I have seen gaping in coyotes who were fiercely warning off and warding off a dog. But here there was no dog or other coyote present, yet that gaping was occurring repeatedly. This was not “yawning” which is more drawn out and accompanied by other behavioral markers. A friend told me that cats gape when they are sniffing/whiffing the scent of other cats. I went online and indeed found something called the Flehmen Response which involves something called Jacobson’s organ or the vomeronasal organ. But the visible behavior of the Flehmen Response was described as more of a grimace or a sneer than simply a wide-mouthed “gape”.  What this does is allows odors in through the mouth instead of the nose causing the odor to be registered as even more palpable than it would be through the nose. The vomeronasal organ consists of two sacs in the roof of the mouth which function more like a “tongue” for scent. This is where the odor is analyzed.

Is this what was going on with this coyote: an intensified “smelling”, or was she just gaping in anger, as though the animal were virtually present? This coyote has never pursued dog scents in this way that I have ever seen, but she has — minus the gaping (or maybe I didn’t notice the gaping before) — towards an enemy coyote.

Whether the gaping was a smelling activity or a show of anger, the coyote’s sniffing, following the scent, repeated kicking dirt angrily, and repeatedly marking in various ways indicate that probably an interloper coyote had been there, and our coyote did not like it. We’ll have to wait for more clues to find out!

Continued gaping

Ranging Bison: An Ecological Win for Everyone! by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

2 years of changes are now being implemented on a ranch I know. A nursery herd of bison was kept isolated for the past 2 years, growing up together, acclimating to land. They had 1st calf this past spring. This new young group will eventually turn into a large herd that will literally roam over 8000 acres.

At the same time, the 100 year sheep operation is in its final stages, and the last lambs are being born.

It’s an end of an era. And a move to create sustainable ranching.

Bison are the very opposite of sheep in every way. They need no protection from predators or dogs. They literally improve grazing if given room. The wildest of erratic weather means nothing to them. They are the future. Ironically, with sheep being removed and many fences torn down, within 2 weeks a band of pregnant elk have began utilizing some areas where they haven’t been seen for years. There’s only a few bison roaming. But already there is a profound change happening. When coyote discover a bison/elk grazed ranch of 8000 acres, no doubt this will be prime territory for a few lucky pairs.

For ranchers who want to survive erratic weather, times, etc…bison are proving themselves more and more.

And where bison roam, coyote are no longer under suspicion.

I feel privileged to see this. How many times are sheep removed….and bison, elk and coyote move in?


Hi Janet,

I forgot to mention, the area the bison have lived past 2 years looks very different from sheep grazed range. The grass is longer. Also, where especially the bulls wallow for dust/mud, depressions develop, holding water, which spring peeper frogs lay eggs in. Their actual grazing is different, and it’s hard to comprehend, but a huge bison has less impact than a sheep in the land.

Like I said, I’m really excited. 8000 acres of ranging bison will be an ecological win. And the coyote that live there will be in prime habitat. No hunting allowed, so I’m sure wildlife will converge here under the new bison banner.

Presentation in El Cerrito

For those who had wanted to attend my PHS/SPCA talk and couldn’t make it, I’ve been invited to give that same talk again in El Cerrito on Tuesday, January 14th. Although it has a different title, it will be the same talk. Again, if you can’t make it, I’ve recorded the talk and made it available here.

The talk is on January 14th at 7pm at El Cerrito City Hall in the city council chamber room, 10890 San Pablo Ave.,  El Cerrito 94530.
[Kensington Outlook, March 2020, Family First: Wily Coyote’s Here To Stay, by Linnea Due.]

Accomplishing The Opposite of What Was Intended

Whereas coyotes are opportunistic omnivores and can eat almost anything animal or plant, we don’t think of squirrels as being omnivores. Although squirrels apparently can’t digest cellulose — which means in the springtime they can go hungry when their buried nuts begin to sprout — they are more omnivorous than most people think. Squirrels eat mostly a variety of plants, including nuts, seeds, cones, fruit and mushrooms, but they are also known to eat meat in the face of hunger: this includes small birds, young snakes, smaller rodents, bird eggs and insects [Wikipedia].

For predators and prey depending on which end of the food chain you are on, you are either at the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time.

Squirrels can evade a coyote most of the time unless they’re caught unawares or have let their guard down. In this photo above, the squirrel had been diverted from its path on the road by an approaching car: that split second of indecision and hesitancy by the squirrel allowed the coyote to catch it. Either or both of these critters could have ended up under the wheels of the car. Instead, nature played out a little more naturally through the food chain — one had to die so that the other could live.

Note that, after catching small prey, coyotes often “toy” with it in a very cat-like manner. I’ve been told that this prevents the animal of prey from biting vulnerable parts of a coyote’s face, such as their eyes or tip of the nose, without which coyotes would have a hard time surviving.

Human interferences changes the equation, of course, most often without the knowledge of the human who is thinking of their generous “kindness” to nature rather than the nefarious effects of their actions. Here is a story about what can happen.

These are photos of coyotes looking up and waiting for food tossed to them by a human from her house.

Several weeks ago I became aware that a youngster coyote was hanging out in back of someone’s house. I decided to watch, and sure enough, a woman called to me from her porch to tell me that the coyote I had just photographed was “her” coyote who came out when she fed the squirrels. Within a few days four different coyotes had waited out there at various times.

I assessed her of the situation: that feeding brings in not only squirrels, but also coyotes, and it was a bad idea to feed coyotes. She defiantly told me that she was not going to stop feeding the squirrels. She closed the door so she wouldn’t have to hear me. She doesn’t realize that she’s not helping the squirrels, she’s “luring” them into a coyote death trap.

Here is the impact of feeding squirrels in a coyote area:

Squirrels congregate in the area at “feeding time”.

These squirrels have become fat which actually slows them down: they are less quick to get away.

Because of the presence of food AND fat squirrels, coyotes now hang out at the back of her house regularly. These coyotes are constantly looking up towards her porch and the door Dotty emerges from to feed the squirrels. Coyotes are associating food with humans.

Younger coyotes are becoming trained to wait out in plain view — it’s much easier than hunting. 

A neighbor complained to me that the woman is attracting rats to neighboring houses.

Another neighbor walking his dog complained to me that the coyotes now are always there and he has to deal with them: they stand on the path and don’t move, blocking the path.

I’ve experienced the coyotes walking towards me and surmise that they’re beginning to protect that area with it’s “valuable resources”. One coyote has “escorted” some of the leashed dogs (following them) out of the area.

Attracting the coyotes to this pathway makes them vulnerable to being chased by unleashed dogs.

Attracting coyotes here also makes them vulnerable to other people feeding them and trying to befriend them — and it makes them vulnerable to accepting harmful, even poisonous foods. They are learning not to run away from humans, and becoming more comfortable with human nearness. 

The woman says she feeds the squirrels only on her porch and in her yard, but I’ve seen bread on the path outside her house, and I’ve seen one of the coyotes venture repeatedly into her yard through a hole in the fence to get food. The effect of what she’s doing is feeding the coyotes directly: see “Food, The Behavior Shaper.” 

Worst of all, the squirrels are unsuspectingly being lured into a death trap. I don’t think this is what the woman intended. I’ve seen two squirrels downed already just while I was there.

Recently, I’ve seen scat from the fed coyotes which looks different from their normal scat. Might the bread diet itself be bad for coyotes? 

[9-21 jim Giles video]

A Story of Positivity For the New Year, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

I enjoy watching a variety of animals. And could spend lifetimes studying. Learning an ecosystem, an area, and patterns takes ages…literally. I can only be content with connections now. But even those inspire. My frustration with modern man systematically hurting life is only balanced by the knowledge that nature will reassert itself in time. Inexorably the universe and cycles will outlast our ways. I don’t claim to know how exactly — but nature always “cleans house” and reasserts its cycles. I suspect mankind will tamper with weather or virus or cycles that will bring about disaster for man. But another era for animals.

I was given some comfort by a local coyote that strengthened me much.

Peg Leg is an “old” coyote who was allowed to hold territorial reign on a remote area of ranchlands some years. He had 2 mates over the years, and successfully reared at least 7 litters. Many pups stayed and eventually took adjoining areas. Peg Leg limped his way through hunts and patrols with true strength. He scavenged deer and bulked up impressively. He was big, bold, and calm. His front left leg, healed but fused straight, lacked mobility. But Peg Leg lacked nothing.

I heard last summer he lost his territory. Several coyotes, possibly fleeing wolf expansion, had displaced Peg Leg and his mate and pack.

I hadn’t seen him for months. Of course felt saddened at the end of the era. But when I spotted him on a distant hill a few days ago, there he was, fit, full, and at ease. He watched us a short time, I believe he recognized us, ……and started tossing a stick.

In my human mind, loss of territory, pack, and control are devastating. I cannot know what Peg Leg thought or felt. But I do know, alone in that hill, he seemed fine. Even playful. His tail was high. His gray face enjoyed the sun. And before he stiffly trotted off, he marked and scratched boldly.

It was just what I needed to see. There are no guarantees in life. Very few happily ever after. And certainly no retirement benefits for aged coyote. It matters little. Peg Leg was still alive. Still indomitable. And still happy enough to toss sticks.

We all have to roll the dice and face life. And the roll often doesn’t go our way. When life is hard, I will forever remember stick tossing Peg Leg. Undaunted, he trots forward as only a coyote can.

Trot long Janet,

“Studying and learning from nature is something I do every day. I have NEVER seen a coyote, raven, crow, etc..feel sorry for itself. And I have met several badgers and one brief moment of a wolverine. There is an indomitable, unbeaten indescribable aura that fills many wild animals. I choose that aura every day. And will keep doing so in all things. So times are tough. But it’s up to us to be tougher. We can make that choice that is reality in nature.

Not long ago I watched some ranch bison grazing in terrible weather (from a distance) The freezing rain meant nothing to them. They grazed half frozen grass in the most content way. And in pure strength and peace. All animals emanate good things we can discern and receive in ourselves. I may look like a tired guy at times. But in my heart the imagery and lessons of coyote, bison, wolverine, bear, wolves etc…never stop.”


Hi Janet,

Another update on “Peg Leg” an older male coyote who seemed to have lost his territory/pack/mate…

He was seen this evening “stuffed” from feeding on mice among cattle. When the cattle settled, so did he. He also was seen….with his old mate!

So he’s not alone. He may have lost old territory, but not his mate. Or his appetite.

Peg Leg continues to thrive and adapt. And be his jaunty self.


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