Raven Comeuppance

“If a raven can alert a coyote to potential live prey or carrion, both species benefit.  Common Ravens feeding on other predators’ kills is well documented, but ravens leading predators, such as coyotes, wolves, bears, or cougars, to potential live prey or carrion, by using vocalizations, is not as well documented, but may also exist. See “Communication Between Common Ravens and Eastern Coyotes” by Joan Collins.

However, here in San Francisco, where we have no large prey such as deer, ravens don’t like coyotes: they constantly harass coyotes with their loud cries of alarm and by swooping down or skydiving them. Raven alarm cries consist of incessant, piercing shrieks, which in some ways have the same alarmist intonation that we might use as we warn a fellow human: “Danger! Danger! Danger!” or “Run! Run! Run!” And the cries seem to run in groups of threes.

I happen to love ravens: their supreme intelligence, their long-term family life, and that they also mate for life. A “flock” of ravens, by the way, is known as either a “murder” of ravens, or an “unkindness” of ravens. Flocks of other blackbirds are referred to as “clouds”. When you have twenty to fifty of these birds shrieking all at once, it can be deafening.

This mama coyote, below, put up with 20 minutes of unceasing bullying, cawing, and skydiving by a single raven, the raven pictured above. She remained on edge and alert as she watched it. She reacted, as seen above, when the raven came within reach: “Kiai!”

Coyotes and ravens share many of the same resources, and it’s the competition for those resources that probably is at the root of the animosity. But not entirely!

The day before I took the above photographs, I found myself in a park broadcasting the most horrendously loud commotion of ravens. There must have been 100 of them. It sounded as if a real murder was in progress. And then I glimpsed the fomentor: a coyote hidden in the foliage. The noise was deafening and unceasing. A couple of the ravens skydove her — it happened too quickly to capture on video.  Her uneasiness could be seen through her erratic movements. Besides dealing with the ravens, she also was maneuvering to avoid people or being seen by them, evading a kid and his dad bicycling through the rough terrain who didn’t see her and weren’t even aware of the significance of all the noise.

The coyote moved around nervously. And then she got mad and kicked and scratched the ground angrily before disappearing from my view, but the super-penetrating, shrieking alarm cries continued. I decided to video the tree from where the cries came to record the absolutely amazing intensity of the noise. Two runners stopped to investigate: they saw the coyote and wondered why she didn’t flee. They asked me if the ravens might kill her. I smiled and said she’d be okay.

I then located the coyote with my camera in the distance. I took a few still shots and then switched to video again so that I could continue to capture more of the sounds: the sounds were much more impressive than the images of the coyote.

As I filmed, . . . well, just watch the video. Maybe the ravens should stop harassing coyotes.

The FIFTH Generation of One Direct Family Line — Documented

Fifth generation: born April, 2020

Life just keeps moving forward, spinning and weaving itself out as part of nature’s inexorable web. I’ve been able to follow a tiny segment of this web with my coyote documentation work. I’ve been able to keep track of a whopping ten new litters this year here in San Francisco, of which there are plenty more.  Of particular interest to me is one family line I’ve managed to follow generation after generation (not to be confused with litter after litter, which for years will be part of the same generation) since 2008. The youngsters depicted above are from the fifth generation (or fourth, depending on which line you follow) of that family, born this year.

Background: Coyotes first re-appeared here in San Francisco in 2002 after many years of absence, having been exterminated as “vermin” in the 20th century. Times changed so that environmentalism (of which coyotes are a part) became the new norm by the end of that century: coyotes made a comeback after a trapper brought several into the city. They now thrive under the new ethos here. According to DNA analysis (from my ongoing scat study begun in 2008), all of our SF coyotes came from just four founding individuals — they can all be traced back to that point. This posting portrays the genealogy — or the underlying “scaffolding” — of one of the many families and individuals within those families whose unique stories I’ve been writing about.  That family’s stories as a whole might now constitute a sort of family “saga”!

1st Generation: I began following the lineage in 2008. Although I don’t know the age of that first coyote I started with, I would say she had to have been three years old or older when I first met her, based on her surpassing wisdom, and that she had a singleton pup at the time: so she would have been born sometime before 2005. Yet she was obviously youthful and could not have been older than 6, so that would place her among the first coyotes to be born here in San Francisco after their return (Nisei?).

An original emigrant coyote

Possibly an original founder: To the left is a photo probably of one of the original four to six brought in. He was an aging old man when I met him in 2007 — born well before 2002. I’m including his photo here even though I don’t know if he is a direct ancestor of the line I’m describing here — though chances are high that he is.

Born before 2005 — I’m guessing she’s from the first generation actually born here in SF

Depicted above is the coyote I’ve named/labeled as Maeve, born before 2005 — making her one of among the first coyote generation actually born here in SF. Her mate, however, may have been one of the original four. He was older than her, and very wary and reclusive which is why I have only a few fuzzy photos of him — my guess is that he was this way because he never recovered from the trauma of having been trapped and removed from his previous situation. Every coyote is different, and some are much more sensitive than others.

2nd generation born in April, 2009

2nd Generation: Maeve’s litters, then, born over the next several years became the 2nd generation to be born in San Francisco. These eventually included a son, Silver (above), born in April, 2009, part of a litter of just two. His father, as I stated above, may have been one of the original four coyotes: I say this based solely on his older appearance and incredible wariness. I called him Toughy. He died of rat poisoning (as did a domestic dog at the time) and it is Silver who then filled in his shoes (paws?).

This posting is simply a pulling together, in skeletal outline form, of a this family’s genealogy, a bare-bones scaffolding exclusive of the stories about them. It is the stories about these individuals that reveal the “WHO” about these individuals and which bring this scaffolding to life. Knowing the genealogical connection just makes their story that more interesting by adding another layer to it.

3rd generation, Chert, above left. Silver, above right, is a 2nd generation coyote.

3rd Generation: At the age of four, in April 2013, Silver produced his first litter, constituting the 3rd generation of this coyote line. This litter included Chert (above left) who was one of four pups born by Maeve and Silver that year, and the one to remain on the land, and therefore the one I would continue to follow in this line.

On the turn of a dime, events can occur and circumstances can change, without our necessarily knowing the ultimate cause. Maeve, who became Silver’s mate (she was also his mother) disappeared suddenly when their youngsters were only 7 months old, never to be seen again. And this is where the story gets twisted a little because within a year, Chert moves into Maeve’s position as the female alpha of the territory: her father Silver  (above right) becomes her mate (yes, there’s lots of inbreeding in this line), so we have now a 2nd generation and a 3rd generation uniting to produce the next generation, which could be called either 3rd or 4th. I’m calling it 4th.

In 2015, I put together a 275 page book with over 700 photos about the family up to that point. It was entitled and focused on “Chert: One Day In The Life Of An Urban Coyote”. I was asked by a would-be publisher to transform what they called a “field guide” into a “story”. I never summoned up the bandwidth to do this, so the manuscript/monograph languishes on a bookshelf in my study. With two more generations to add to it, the story would now become a true “saga”. 

Scout, above left is the 4th generation. I do not know her mate’s lineage (above right).

4th Generation: Chert and Silver’s various litters constitute the 4th direct generation of this line. Scout (above left) was their first, a singleton pup, born in April 2015. Scout dispersed from this territory: she is the first youngster I’ve followed AFTER her dispersal which occurred at an early 9 months of age, whereas the previous generations that I’ve kept track of in this line simply “inherited” the property on which they had been born, and that’s where they reproduced. So her story continues on a new territory not so far away.

Scout’s mate (above right) is a newcomer to me — I don’t know his background. We’ll have to wait for DNA to find out his lineage. Dr. Ben Sacks at UC Davis has, or will be, analyzing all of their scats to “scientifically” confirm the relationships I’ve documented, and to find the connections between the coyotes whose backgrounds I don’t know..

5th Generation: Scout’s is a long and fascinating history, many aspects of which I’ve written about on this blog. It was not for many years, until she was five years old, that she acquired a stable and faithful mate and had her first litter in April of 2020. This litter, then, is the fifth generation of this one family line: the pup photos in this posting are hers.

So the story as a whole continues with new generations continuing as they have from the beginning of time, and with my relaying individual stories that serve to individualize and distinguish each coyote from the next — it’s not unlike what goes on with us humans. :))

Below is a standard genealogical chart — just the chart without any stories — of the family from 2008 (or from before 2005 if you incorporate Toughy and Maeve’s birthdates) to today. The stories about the individuals, including their personalities and interactions, can be found in this blog. However, I never mention locations, and seldom have I used their names in my postings, and this has been done in order to protect them.

©  All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com

Another Youngster I Knew Before Dispersal Seems to have a New Territory!

“Blondie” in early 2020, almost 3 years old, after dispersal.

After watching individual coyotes grow up and leave home, I resign myself to thinking that I will never see them again. So you can imagine my thrill in recognizing them in a new location. It’s like coming across a long-lost family member of my own!  Here you have such an individual — one of a growing handful of coyotes that I’ve re-discovered on territories within the city after they’ve grown up and dispersed. Many of our dispersing youngsters appear to move south and out of the city, and a substantial number are killed by cars. Those I find are survivors who did not disperse far.  [Here is a posting about some of the others].

This male is from a family of four siblings to survive into adulthood, ALL of whom I’ve been able to locate in their new territories. I use no collars or tags, just simple recognition. These are animals I had gotten to know well as youngsters through watching and documenting their family interactions as they grew up, including that of their parents and siblings, and recording their immediate family relationships.

The significance of this — its impact — is that I’ve been able to trace the major movements of a number of coyotes within the city, and I’ve been able to construct a limited genealogy of their relationships. Dr. Ben Sacks has extracted DNA from my scat samples and determined that all of our present coyote population here in San Francisco came from just four original founding coyotes: that means they are all related in some way and those connections which I’m unable to put together from visual recognition, his lab will be able to relate through DNA.

The fellow in this posting I named/labeled “Blondie” due to his appearance as compared to his siblings when he was a youngster. Here is his photo as a yearling youngster in 2018 before he dispersed:

Blondie, almost a year old

These photos are all somewhat blurry because they were all taken under almost no light, right at the break of dawn.

I’ve also followed the mate he hooked up with in late 2019, a female born in the Presidio in 2018. She dispersed permanently from that territory in 2020 when a new coyote alpha pair took over that property. When I first re-discovered Blondie and his new mate, they were regular trekkers to Lafayette Park and Alamo Square, but they abandoned that route early this year and moved on, looking for greener pastures. They’ve ended up at Lands End, close to her birth territory, but across town from his. Since they’ve been here a while and they’ve had a family, it is their claimed territory where they will remain. This is the same female with the infected ear which I wrote about in March earlier this year. The ear remains permanently damaged because the infection was not taken care of, but, hey, she still seems to be going strong!

“At home” in their claimed territory

©  All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with permission and with properly displayed credit.

“Fait d’hiver”, a kinépoème, by Deylan Caylon

Here’s an enchanting artistic piece from France and in French! A Gary Snyder poem has been rendered in French, recited, and set to images in a video as “visual poetry”, or kinépoèmes, as Deylan Caylon calls these.  Beautifully and minimally, it captures and conveys a fleeting impressionistic winter scene at the edge of the forest — the frontier between two separate worlds coming together for one brief instant. For me, the multimedia was all-encompassing: I felt that I was there, that the experience was mine. As with all poems, leave time to contemplate and immerse yourself in the moment. :))

Deylan Caylon wanted his work to be in step with my approach, as well as with that of Gary Snyder’s: “It was difficult for me to find one of his poems that could fit with a visual & musical construction of mine. When I found this one, I thought,Yes, that’s the good one, but only if Janet agrees to give me some photos.'”

*A lisière is an edge or border, of a garden or forest or road or river, planted or where plants change from the type on one side to the type on the other — connotations of change, of frontier. For more about Deylan Caylon’s work visit his website: https://www.lisiere.com/

Coyote Pups are Now Two Months Old: What to Know If You Have a Dog, and What You Can Do [a reminder]

Two-month old coyote pup

We are smack-dab in the middle of pupping season: coyote pups are two months old now! Coyote parents will keep the youngsters hidden away if they can, and they will be very defensive towards any dogs and even people approaching their hideaways. These hideaways are frequently “moved” by coyote parents to keep the pups safe, which makes it hard often to know what areas for us to avoid, so you just have to be on the alert always for their presence and keep your dog well away from them. For a quick summary of what behaviors you can expect if you have a dog, and what you can do to avoid conflict, please click HERE.

Dad with three month old pup

Sacrificial Grapes mean no Sacrificial Lambs, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

I hope you are well at this time. I thought I would share a nice outcome we are seeing take shape in regards a coyote solution.

A local rancher has been diversifying his lands in regards stock and crops. However, one new venture was experiencing a lot of coyote conflict. The past few years a maturing vineyard has lost almost all it’s grapes…to coyote. It started with cameras catching several coyote raiding grapes. His answer was trapping 4 of them. This was futile, however, because that summer, 4 coyote turned into at least 14. I explained to him likely the scenario was he trapped the territorial pair/pack, and at the height of dry season (and pup season),  he suddenly opened a very rich food resource (grapes and rodents) and all peripheral coyote pairs flowed in…and with growing pups in tow. The result was a summer long feast and big loss of grapes. And more coyote than ever.

So we talked, and he implemented some changes. 2 years in, the results are showing.

He planted a long, peripheral vineyard along some woods at the distant end of his agricultural land. He then allowed native grasses to grow among the grapes. This created a rodent rich grassland within a season. In addition, he obtained a permit to collect road killed deer and elk on his road. He takes the road kill and disposes of it in woods adjacent to the peripheral vineyard. The result is in the last year, a pair of coyote has taken over this area. The scavenging from occasional roadkill in woods, and the hunting of rodents in created grasslands, curtails their roaming. They jealously repelled all other coyote as they claimed this rich area. They don’t even range or forage in the older, mature vineyards. Also, the neighbors sheep herds and free range chickens have not had any coyote predation. By changing the landscape and locations of resources, and by utilizing a natural weekly/monthly bonus (roadkill deer are natural…not trying to encourage feeding human foods to coyote) he has allowed a territorial pair to develop and become landlords. They aggressively chase out all other coyote in region. By the pics he’s shown, they are very large, prime sized and powerful. If they want grapes…the peripheral vineyard provides the sacrifice. But literally stuffed with grassland rodents and deer/elk leftovers, they leave most grapes and all livestock alone.

Not everyone can do this. I balk a bit about the roadkill, but he felt he took a situation, and created coyote contentment into better future behaviors. Nothing wasted, and I admit-this strategy created some home loving coyote that are very settled, yet still totally wild.

As spring turns to hit summer, the pups will grow in need. But these coyote parents will enter a grassland/vineyard, and hunt rodents by the thousands. The pups will start foraging here as well. And yes, likely feed on some sacrificial grapes. But between the rodents, the roadkill deep in woods, and some grapes, lambs and chickens are literally ignored. Apparently an abundance of rodents, a side dish of leftover deer/elk, with a dessert of grapes turns coyote into predictable, and full, good neighbors who keep riff raff out as well.
🐾🐾🌾🐀🍇
Take care,
Lou