My SF Coyote DNA Study Continues

Monica Serrano in Dr. Benjamin Sacks’ lab (MECU) at U.C. Davis has analyzed the scats that I’ve been collecting and here is her fabulous summary poster! The first samples which I started collecting in 2008 were analyzed and reported in a previous poster by Dr. Ben Sacks’ lab in 2018.

I have been collecting these samples mostly from individuals as I saw them defecate, so I knew which samples belonged to which coyote, and those I didn’t see I knew what family group they were from. And having observed these coyotes over many years — I recognize and can identify each by their face — I knew each individual’s relationships within their families, their birthdates, and their sex (I did not include any of the vast information I have on their individual personalities and interactions). I delivered these, along with my questions, to Dr. Ben Sacks whose lab then did all this work. My questions had been about the population’s genetic relationships beyond their nuclear families which might reveal the alphas’/parents’ original birth-territories (though I also wanted to see what the DNA would confirm about their relationships within their families — which is what I had found out by direct observation), and I wanted to establish what percentage of the population in San Francisco originated from the original Mendocino County coyotes that were found here in 2002, versus any that might have migrated in from the south of the city. It appears none have migrated into the city from the south.

This new DNA analysis is not only interesting for confirming the family units and inbreeding I’ve been seeing (the analyses indicate there were as few as four founding coyotes to the present coyote population of 60 to 100), but also for its potential in further research to determine coyote movements without radio collars, which are extremely invasive. It’s a win-win for our coyote population! [You might be interested in reading about Detrimental Effects of Radio Collars].

Coyote Partner, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet. Wanted to send you a pic of Hank. He’s a semi retired LGD who now spends time with dwarf goats and truck rides into town. He’s a PYR/Maremma cross of 9 years.

In his youth, he ranged huge distances with his 3 brothers, keeping coyote respectful. He fought cougar and bear in protecting the sheep herds.

As his brothers passed, and he no longer could keep up in the land, he was placed in a easier setting. And enjoys himself immensely.

Also, Hank is a partner to a territorial pair of coyote. They don’t bother his goats. And respect his area. He tolerates them as they pass and range around him.

The partnership has developed in that these coyote through the years, have had to contend and see off competing nomads. Territorial integrity is of huge importance to a pair of coyote. It literally can mean life and they take it seriously. So when a serious contender comes in, it can mean intense vicious battles, or weeks of cat and mouse tactics. Its exhausting and many coyote just can’t face the challenge of keeping territory.

This pair can. They have combined teamwork, the land, and utilized Hank, to do so.

When serious challengers arise, this pair of coyote drive the intruder into a draw/dip in the hills. There is a ledge above this, and they harass the intruder into hunkering down into the dip. Pinning down the trespasser they are extremely vocal.

This is when Hank joins in. He will lumber up the hills, then swiftly stalk in. Literally, the coyote hold their foe in place while allowing Hank to rush in unseen by the stranger. At last moment and in cue, the pair step aside and Hank completes his ambush.

I’ve watched the videos of this unravel, and 4 of the 5 intruders didn’t escape. It’s very fast. And the pair of territorial coyote watch the whole thing while marking and calling.

It’s clear there are worlds within worlds in the lives of animals. And the LGD/coyote interactions are not always the same. Dynamics and Knowledge and Familiarity can write whole new chapters.

It’s not common or easy to see coyote demise by LGD. But at the same time, it’s obvious some coyote thrive alongside them.

And some pairs, obviously can utilize the LGD.

Hank has become a partner, or tool, of this pair of coyote.

Some coyote are VERY serious about territory.

In all their shades, I watch.


PS: Hi Janet, I have found that most ranch dogs and coyotes develop at the very least, respectful relationships. Hunting dogs usually don’t abide by the same rules or instincts. And sometimes coyote become aggressive (usually after continued harassment) But most ranch dogs are very pragmatic and most coyote are survival minded.

LGD develop into impressive guards, patrollers and territory holders. But ironically, they can be laid back and rather slow. The bottom dollar is don’t harass my herd or violate my territory or space blatantly. Territorial coyote pairs or packs usually know local LGD very well and vice versa. Especially a pack of 3 or more LGD. They respect them and fear them. This pair which utilize Hanks territoriality seems unique, but nothing surprises me with coyote. Locally they adapt to conditions. And create solutions.

San Francisco’s Coyotes are Back, and They are Thriving, by Bianca Taylor [PODCAST]

Page & Podcast:

[Clarification to the audio: Coyote numbers ‘on the family claimed territories I have been observing’ have remained stable over the past 13 years. This qualification was cut from the audio (at about 6:17), but it’s in the text version. Please know that since 2007, there indeed has been a gradual increase (an incremental increase, not a recent sudden explosion) in their numbers as they repopulated the area they had been purged from, beginning in 2002.]

Old “Peg Leg”, by Walkaboutlou

We don’t have a photo of Peg Leg, but I imagine he might look something like this. [ConradTan]

Hi Janet,

Hope you are well. I wanted to update you on “Peg Leg”[press to read the previous posting about him]. He was the old coyote who lost a territory some months ago with his mate. Last seen, he seemed nomadic but still thriving.

He’s been discovered with his mate, relocated about 16 miles from his old territory. He is on the furthest isolated area of the bison ranch. Ironically, his voice gave him away. Peg Leg’s voice is hoarse and odd sounding. A bit like a Pekingese Werewolf. His unmistakable vocalizations were part of some jokes and conversation and then we realized who it might be. Brief sightings confirmed.

It’s amazing he found and chose this area. But perhaps in his long life he knew it, and the last few years as it’s shifted to bison it’s really become a great area. It’s away from sheep and cattle and LGD patrols. No hunting is allowed. There are the bison, as well as elk, 3 species of deer, and all sorts of small game. Best of all, it abounds in gopher, voles, mice and Jackrabbits. The river that flows by has runs of salmon and trout and there are huge flocks of wild turkey. In summer wild plums and vast fields of grasshopper round off the menu. Peg Leg has made it here, and I’m glad for him. He got driven out by other coyote, only to find this place. I’m so glad he beat the odds. In every way.

Peg Leg is a survivor. Any coyote living in ranchlands is often a target 24 hours a day…for life. They are hunted with staghounds, decoy dogs, traps, snares, long distance rifles and any other means. Even if they come from a “safe” area, one foray outside of it can mean the end.

Most live very fast paced lives. To find a coyote, white faced and stiff with age, is very rare. The fact that he found sanctuary again at the end of his life among bison makes it more poignant.

Its likely his mate is pregnant. Perhaps he has one last season left in him to raise pups to independence.

Peg Leg has made himself a new home with his mate. Among the umbrella of  bison, all the wildlife relaxes a bit.


Hi Lou — This story made me beam from ear to ear, and I’m sure it will make others do the same. There is so much that’s familiar about Peg Leg from two situations I’ve been following, but in different coyotes: one of “my” alpha male coyotes is getting old — not white faced yet, but sometimes stiff in his gait, and I wonder how long he’ll be able to hold on to his territory. And another male is being displaced right now by other coyotes — not so old, but meeker of constitution — he, too, has a “werewolf” low, mournful howl, so I know he still sometimes passes through the area, but I fear it won’t be for long. So, in a certain way, I feel like I know Peg Leg.  :))  Janet

Hi Janet, I thought you likely could relate to Peg Leg with other coyote. Their lives really are full of dynamics. I only saw him briefly, but he seemed very content. His body language wasn’t nomadic mode or unsure. Peg Leg is home. (again)

Enjoy the day.

Happiness is Having Someone to Watch Out For

Basking in the sun

This coyote seems to be extra happy these days as seen here on a very sunny morning! First she lay down and basked quietly in the sun for a while, and then as seen in the photos below, she ever so joyfully twisted and turned, contorted and wiggled, and rolled and slithered all over the place, giving herself a wonderful all-over body scratch and massage. She exuded joy. Maybe she was thinking about the new development in her life, which she would reveal to us a couple of days later!

Two days later I saw and heard a new behavior for her. She had been hunting but suddenly stopped short and began howling in front of a man who abruptly appeared, as if he were the cause somehow. She had never howled at a human before. I wondered what kind of dog the man had, but as he walked on, I could see that he had none. She had only ever howled at sirens and dogs who have chased her; and when she had a companion long ago, she would howl to communicate, but she didn’t have a companion now. . . (or did she?)

(note that the high pitched vocalization is the coyote; the barks are a neighbor’s dog)

After a moment of howling which you can hear in the recording above, she trotted briskly and purposefully up the road and away. I could see that the man had nothing to do with her howling. Within five minutes she had returned over the crest of the hill, and there by her side was . . . . a companion coyote! It became obvious now that her howl had been a response to this other coyote whose vocalization we had not heard.

She appeared to be as smitten with him as she had been with a previous young fellow visitor (a 1½ year old) who had spent four months with her. This new fellow, again, is a younger guy, maybe even younger than the last fellow. Has she become a “yearling caregiver” for dispersing coyote youngsters? I had actually witnessed that previous youngster being forcefully kicked out of his home by his siblings in a fight — that’s how I knew he was dispersing — and then shortly thereafter appear in this loner’s territory, where he was wholeheartedly welcomed. Has this new fellow been welcomed as a kid or as a mate? Only time will tell. Whatever the case, the loner seems super-happy to have him there! A companion to care for!

I should mention that I have seen another male youngster in a similar situation with an older female — he eventually became the reigning male mate. We’ll have to see what happens here. Anyway: Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Him” in the upper left corner, and then the two of them, with her being as solicitous and affectionate towards him as possible.


Sibling Rivalry and Aggressiveness Are Calmed by Siblings in Dad’s Absence

As coyote pups develop and grow, their personalities become more obvious and more firm. My first glimpses of distinct personalities appears during play — some personality traits may be innate inborn tendencies and some influenced by nurture/environment. Each is affected by the other distinct sibling personalities in the litter, by their parents, AND by the environment and the prevalence or shortage of resources.

Some youngsters never seem to want to grow up — they live an extended charmed and carefree puppyhood, playing and teasing boisterously and incessantly, and grooming each other repeatedly. The easier-going ones may form pairs and tight-bonded friendships with those of similar temperament and energy levels: they are friends, buddies, BFF, and comrades. The shyer ones might withdraw during rough play and become more watchful, while the extreme rough-housers may be avoided by the others. Playing and interacting for these youngsters may wane earlier than for the others, and rivalry, flared tempers and one-upmanship may come into play. . . and negative run-ins.

Coyote sibling rivalry I would imagine is not so different from human sibling rivalry. In humans, in some cases it can be deep-rooted and visceral, and at its core, it may never be outgrown. You can search the internet and find young humans who have, for instance, actually killed a brother over such things as a WiFi password, a cheeseburger, aspirin, or any other argument — it’s about much more than the surface argument and more related to a gut reflexive reaction having to do with competition, rivalry, top-dog, and survival.

Relationships with parents are, of course and of necessity, on a different plane — these are very respectful and submissive. At 7 months of age, youngsters were still learning a tremendous amount through parental example and discipline which in this photo to the left involves parental discipline: first a growl, then a show of teeth, and then maybe a snout-grab by the parent. Also note in the photo that the youngster is making himself small by crouching down and pulling himself in, letting Dad know that he’s still a baby at heart — willing to obey and not a threat!

I don’t know exactly when sibling rivalry started in this family, but from November 17th on, we were hearing more and more fighting and growling between them. This posting describes such a confrontation and how other siblings reacted.

It begins with a brother putting down and then attacking another brother. Another sibling with some help from yet another sibling calms the situation. Although hierarchies of course are constantly being established, intense aggressive bullying is not tolerated by parents, and apparently not even by siblings. I don’t know if the reaction of the peacekeeping siblings is due to their innate instincts to maintain order, of if  they have just been quick to imitate how their parents maintain order. The attacker repeats his attacks several times, and the peacekeepers respond accordingly.

I began taking still photos of the altercation, but I soon turned to video which more clearly shows the intensity of the action. I’ve included some of the initial stills and then the video which follows in order to show that it went on and on. I’ve explained what’s happening on the video timeline (by minutes and seconds), below: I hope this is clear.

Note not just their actions, but also their body language and facial expressions: the individual who was initially attacked shows his dislike for the attacker in his facial expression in #3 of the series of six photos above. These six photos summarize what went on initially, before I began to video. After the last photo above, the aggressor slips away from the stronghold of his peacekeeper brother and goes after the “victim” again. In fact I don’t know what caused the attacker to attack. He may have had good reason, one of which, I’ve noted, might be that he was possessive of the one female sibling in the family and dominated play with her, basically excluding the attacker.

Here’s the video: One brother [the aggressor] angrily again attacks a brother [the victim]. At :09 two “peacekeeper brothers” approach the aggressor, and one, ever so calmly, systematically and in-control, pushes the aggressor down and sits on him to calm him down. But the aggressor is able to slip away. This entire sequence is repeated several times. At :35 the victim hurries away from the scene as the peacekeeper deals with the aggressor in the bushes. At :47 the peacekeeper and aggressor emerge from the bushes (peacekeeper on the left). At 1:11 the aggressor reacts antagonistically to the peacekeepers who then circle around him. Notice that the victim has been lying down close by (on the right) watching the goings-on. When the aggressor emerges, the victim runs off, but is again approached by the aggressor at 1:36 and is forced to the ground. Through 2:13 the peacekeeper puts down the aggressor or intimidates him through his upright proximity, but at 2:20 the aggressor again intimidates the victim, and then engages in a full blown attack at 2:32 into the bushes where we can’t see what is going on. The victim is able to slip away, so it’s the peacekeeper who is now engaging in the bushes with the aggressor. The second peacekeeper is watching at 2:42. The victim had extracted himself from the fray and now is sitting off to the side with a sibling who doesn’t want to get involved — they are waiting to see what happens and one gives a stressful yawn. At 3:42 we see the aggressor move out of the shrubbery and away from the peacekeeper. At 4:28 the aggressor moves towards the two lying down — one of those two [the victim] finds this intimidating and moves away. Peacekeeper approaches aggressor again and again makes him hit the ground. But then at 4:44 the victim lies belly up willingly and allows the aggressor to sniff him submissively. At that point, the altercation seems to be over. It’s because this video was taken at dusk that it blurs out at the end.

Disruptive behavior of this sort isn’t tolerated for long in coyote families, and if it continues, it leads to a forced dispersal.

I noticed that, for a time after this “fight”, the attacker and attacked avoided each other: when they saw each other, each went the other way without reacting at all: like ships passing in the night. I then noticed that they hung out at opposite ends of the family territory. This worked for the next little while. I now see neither of these two siblings — they’ve left the area: dispersed. And another male has dispersed to a nearby location about 1/2 mile away in a fragment of the family’s territory. This will serve as a stepping stone or halfway point before the youngster moves on. Meanwhile, he is safe from sibling rivalry . . . at least for a while.

These are the dramatic moments in an otherwise amazingly uneventful family life this year.


Update: Incisive Perception and Ingenuity, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Hope all is well. Just wanted to give you an update on that coyote pair that has taken the 3 new ewes.

An important part of sheep operations is careful steps insuring the biosecurity of the flock. This means any newcomers are kept in quarantine even if all records on health are up to date. This usually means an area set apart for new sheep to acclimate, etc before breeding or being released in land and in flock.

It depends. But 2-5 weeks is often the time frame. A pair of new ewes in quarantine with cameras has revealed much.

A pair of old, experienced and semi retired LGD works the quarantine area. And they are indeed dedicated to protecting that area. But it’s obvious, new sheep are nervous. It takes time to settle with new dogs. As soon as new sheep are in the quarantine, that night the pair of coyote visit. They do not enter the pasture. But between 2 and 5 am, they visit. They sit on hay bales, tractors and nearby hill and study the newcomers. They keep far enough not to challenge or agitate the dogs too much. This pattern of visits indicates these new ewes are picked out and studied weeks before being allowed to joining flock or breeding. And likely, exploring a new range and integrating in a new herd makes them stand out even more, and in very wide spaces out of sight of humans, they likely continue to stand out even more.

So…camera recordings indicate intense scrutiny for many days by this coyote pair. They hunt rodents like normal..but “check on” new sheep nightly. The process of quarantine and biosecurity (necessary on a sheep farm) seems to tell them something. A vulnerability. A claim these sheep don’t quite “belong”. Strangers in a strange land so to speak.

Likely releasing the new sheep signals opportunities not associated with resident herds. Its not black and white. But it shows a weakness in isolation, even with dogs present.

So, right away, we implement changes. New ewes being bred to Ram will stay in guarded pastures. No ranging and roaming for them. They will be kept and bred in security, and shipped back immediately to their respective farms.

I haven’t even touched on the subjects of individuals scent, or bonds with LGD…or lack of them. Those worlds within worlds no doubt are a conversation that sheep, dogs and coyote have often. We continue to study and interpret this best we can.

Sheep. Dogs. Coyote.

It can be a precarious situation. But it’s possible if we learn (and relearn) the language.

(if this seems complex, just imagine tourists in NYC or anywhere-depending on area, they may attract locals in the wrong way. That’s what has been created here.)

PS: At 1st I just couldn’t believe the dynamics. But then actually, we all do this all the time. New neighbors warrant attention. While neighborhoods generate a “feel” and pattern of life that locals tune into intuitively. Most of us now a stranger or changed patterns in our personal space.

These coyote have apparently followed human and dog dynamics. Sheep set apart. Sheep isolated. Sheep kept apart. In nature, long term isolation indicates prey in trouble and not moving as the rest move. Isolated sheep not in cycle with resident sheep stand out, and somehow gave birth to a new behavior. They are an opportunity and green light. Also, we think the dogs are dedicated to territory and livestock to degrees. Some of these dogs have literally nursed as pups from sheep. They create various bonds while offering general protection. It’s possible newcomers or strangers get least protection or need time to create some sort of familiarity. After all, we aren’t close to new people until we know them.

PPS: If one wants to struggle always, then we just do whatever it takes and act fast.. But if one wants to learn, and last, and be aware, and minimize loss and maximize profit, if we want healthier land and livestock, and if want to enjoy wildlife and leave lands for generations to come…then we watch…we study..we listen to nature…and use strategy. Wisdom.

That how a ranch, livestock and wildlife can last generations.

Coyote and Badgers

A friend sent me this wonderful video. These two are behaving like very best friends, and in a certain way they are: they are hunting partners. In fact, badgers and coyotes cooperate during hunts: the two together are more effective that each alone. For more, read “Why Coyotes and Badgers Hunt together”

Interestingly, two “explanations” for this coyote’s behavior have been sent to me by various viewers: 1) that, “see, coyotes DO lure their prey to their deaths”, and 2) that, these are “friends”. What’s even more interesting to me is how many people rely on their first impressions rather than trying to find out more. The best thing about this video is that it is causing many more people to see coyotes in a positive light! :))

Incisive Perception, by Walkaboutlou

The title applies not just to the coyotes, but also to the author and rancher who are figuring this out and willing to change their human behaviors to make it work.

Hi Janet,

This past weekend we got a reminder that while successful sheep raising among coyote is totally possible and achievable, it can on occasions be challenging.

This ranch I check on is very efficient. The LGD (livestock guard dog) are spread out in teams of 2-3. They are all experienced and steady and bonded to their sheep. The rancher doesn’t allow deceased sheep to lay about. All new lambs are birthed in specially designed areas.

Most of all, the local coyote are “trained” well, and live off the abundant rodent, jackrabbit and deer. They rarely test the sheep.

Until recently.

A very strange and particularly specific behavior has surfaced. A pair of coyote have preyed on 3 different ewes the last 2 weeks.

What is so unusual is all 3 ewe were visiting to be bred by the ranch’s top Ram. They were visitors, though to our eyes you couldn’t pick them out among other sheep. They are same breed. Same Looks.

But obviously something has set them apart. We suspect somehow the coyote not only “know” a newcomer, but somehow have been given a green light for predation. The LGD ironically may be subliminally less protective of a “new” or strange ewe. It seems unlikely, but this is totally uncharacteristic. This ranch hasn’t experienced any predator losses for years. Something has occurred.

Whenever any new challenge arises, it’s good to sit back, review and so some analysis. What has changed? What is different? What is the true situation? It’s easy to say “coyote can’t help themselves”…but that isn’t true. Many coyote have shown they can and do refrain from certain choices. And when they have for years…and then suddenly take 3 ewes, 3 VISITING ewe, (one at a time)…you have to sort it out, or at least make it unavailable for them. Another ewe is slated to visit for breeding. She will be kept in small pasture with ram and dog and cameras.

It just shows, the dynamics, changes and circumstances never are 100% predictable. But we’re determined to solve or at least stop this new behavior of new ewe predation by changing our behaviors.


What I’m learning from this is just as guard dogs may not guard a stranger or neighbor’s house…an LGD may not necessarily guard all livestock or livestock it isn’t “bonded to”. It can vary and obviously we don’t know all. We do know that obviously the herd, the dog’s….and coyote…recognize new livestock…and it’s possible there are vulnerabilities here, at least in this ranch, we never thought about.

It seems crazy…but it’s possible that some dogs may give “permission” to coyote in certain situations. Its something we want to avoid and modify. Elimination of this coyote pair isn’t an option because we don’t know what the inevitable replacement would be like. It’s always better to influence and modify coyote behavior rather then see what new nomad shows up. (and it’s always several vying nomads which increases instability for a time) We will change this current canine conversation/dynamics eventually.

It’s always dynamics, fluctuations and new learning with coyote. There are so many variables of behaviors and different situations the coyote is truly a canid chameleon. They are very different in their various regions, strategy and skill. Even individually.

[Read the UPDATE posted on February 5]

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