Death — Not By A Car

This posting was prompted by these photos I was sent of a dead coyote along a roadside in the Presidio on July 11. The caption stated that the coyote had not been hit by a car but it was presumed the culprits were the resident alpha coyotes in that territory.

© David Soren Harelson, all rights reserved [a walker added the flowers]

I was surprised, based on what I know, by this Presidio wildlife manager’s assessment. Certainly the resident alpha female has shown herself to be an aggressor, but she has never fought to the death — her targets have always fled rather than fighting it out to the end. I have never seen, or even heard of coyotes actually killing one another. They flee from vicious attacks, as did two other coyotes who were assailed by this aggressive female.

I would think this death should be investigated as a vicious dog attack and not assumed as caused by another coyote. That aggressive dog would still be out there at large and needs to be reined in. Teeth wound marks can be examined by those in the know for what kind of animal was the aggressor. If it indeed was caused by a coyote, then it actually should be stated how unlikely and rare such an occurrence would be.

I sent the photo with my assessment to my most knowledgeable friend/colleague, Walkaboutlou, who has had over 30 years of direct experience with this type of thing. He agreed. I’m including his response for its information and educational value:

“Good morning Janet,

Thank you for sharing this information and pictures with me. Your question is a valid one, especially in view of the pics.”I will say at outset what I say always with coyote: Anything is possible. However, in over 30 years of actively studying, tracking and observing coyote coast to coast, I have never seen coyote kill one another in territorial or inter-pack aggressions. I have seen evidence of some fierce fighting, but all indications were coyote flee, or stop, before death. Then, from what I could see in pics, there are the forensics of the bite. I can almost guarantee the tooth measurements don’t match a coyote tooth spacing/size etc. And the lacerations are very “sloppy”. The extent of damage indicates severe violence and power — more than any coyote gives out in fighting. My dogs have hunted for over 30 years as well. I’ve seen what they can do. I’ve also seen many species give bites/injury to my dogs. Including coyote. They can be graphic, but not in this pattern.

I’ve seen this type of bite/attack in 2 settings.
1) I’ve seen it when LGD [livestock guardian dog] catch a trespassing canine, dog, or coyote. (but even this is rather unusual.)

2) Many years ago, I helped infiltrate and break up a dog fighting ring. It was a very proud moment to have those people arrested and jailed. It also meant I saw some horrible things. Many bully type dogs, when fighting, will create damage like this. It’s rather sloppy, powerful, wide and more of a tearing, thrashing bite. Unlike coyote, but very much like a bully/pit bull type or a large, powerful and ultra aggressive dog. I would say this is the result of a very aggressive, powerfully built dog.

That’s just my assessment. Behaviorally and physically, this appears to be dog on coyote fatality. Not coyote on coyote.

© David Soren Harelson, all rights reserved [examination by a Presidio wildlife specialist]

I believe scientific research and PROOF is invaluable. But other than that, it’s based on feelings, belief and inclination. Really, we have to study any situation as a culmination and truly look at evidence. If they wanted true answers, the bites and trauma would be forensically examined. Bite/tooth marks measured. And the ample previous studies perused. Dogs and wolves routinely kill each other. We have literal evidence of that by the hundreds. It simply doesn’t exist in coyote. They can fight (and do) but they are a coursing predator. They usually avoid serious injury and prolonged fighting. I’ve seen dogs kill other dogs and coyote/foxes/cats etc…this is typical trauma for a very powerful, specific type dog (bully type, LGD (rarely) or staghound hunter) In this environment I would say a very powerful bully type latched on. It might even of been a loose dog. It had a lot of aggression. Might have even been “told” to get coyote. This isn’t a normal outcome. I’ve never seen in life, film or study, coyote on coyote fight to death.”

Keeping Pups Fed Can Be Demanding

Coyote pups were born during the first week of April here throughout San Francisco, and now they are three months old — the pupping season is progressing! As of the latter part of June, pups became completely weaned from their mother’s milk. They continue to be fed pablum which is being supplemented with small prey brought to them by the parents. Parents are working extra hard to keep up with the growing nutritional needs of their broods, sneaking in and out of their mostly hidden denning sites: it takes both parents to keep them nourished. While parents go off to hunt, youngsters are left alone for many hours at a time.

Lactating mom

Moms, of course, right from the start, need extra nourishment to insure the development of their pups before birth, and then for the six weeks afterwards to produce enough milk for them. But this is hardly the end of it.

Even before the youngsters are completely weaned in June, both parents introduce “pablum” to the youngsters’ diets: this consists of prey and other food that they’ve chewed up and ingested — and partly digested. They carry this food home in their bellies and regurgitate it for the youngsters. The following is a time-lapse video giving a glimpse into the time-consuming and often hectic task.

In the video you’ll see Mom hurries into the area — hurries so as not to be seen but also maybe to keep herself from digesting the food she carries in her belly — and quickly summons the youngsters who, of course, hurry after her until she expels the food onto the ground. The youngsters then lap this up voraciously. When she’s satisfied that they’ve cleaned most of it up, she’s off again for more, again hurrying through the gateway between her hidden den and the outer world. This process goes on multiple times a day.

Now, in July, whole foods are being introduced. The ending scene of this clip was captured only a week after the first clip, Mom is bringing in a small whole food — in this case a gopher. Both pablum and small whole food will be brought to coyote pups for the next little while as they learn to hunt for themselves, and as their digestive systems learn to handle the harder-to-digest foods.

It should be noted that every coyote parent is different. What you see here are two dedicated parents whose pups are foremost on their minds. But I have seen some parents who are not quite like this, specifically some mothers who were much more laid back, and whose mates seemed to take on the lion’s share of the feeding after the pups were weaned.

Story of One of My Oldest Coyotes, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Not quite 10 years ago I was living and roaming in eastern Washington state. The area’s ecosystems were called scablands, mainly made up of harsh, semi arid regions with natural pockets of green oasis. In these pockets you could find rare native swan, pelican, and Moose. In one of these pockets I took a rest, and in marsh reeds, found one of the oldest coyote I’ve seen.

He was a male, and newly deceased. I spent hours scouting and reading around him, as well as carefully examining him best I could. His face was literally grey/white. He was well fed but scruffy and looked worn down. To all appearances, he appeared to curl up in a reed bed, and die in his sleep. No grimace of pain, no kicking struggles or spasms. Just curled up in sleep, and in that position, the fire of his life went out. It was the most peaceful setting I’ve ever seen a wild coyote die in.

What shocked me was his teeth. Most were gone. The remaining teeth worn or broken. This guy was an elder.

I left him there. I collected old reeds covered him and hoped nature would keep him there awhile. I went back repeatedly, and nature absorbed him, leaving his bones in the reeds.

I have had some naturalists and a dentist look at his skull for any insights. All remarked he must have been fairly remarkable to survive so long. Estimated age between 9 and 14 years. Tooth loss was extensive but so was healing. The empty sockets were filled with bone regrowth (mostly) and infection was minimal.

Please click on the images to enlarge them so you can actually see the lack of teeth and how many of the tooth holes were filled in by his own body over time.

This old coyote’s teeth tell only part of an incredible story. The region he lived in fostered some of the most virulent coyote hunting I had ever seen. Every method to hunt and exterminate them was applied regionally. I wondered at his life, his eras, his times and stories. How many pups did he raise? Did he have a mate or mates as the years passed? What did he see and feel and know? To live that long in the tough scablands, he had to be strong, beyond smart, and full of strategic living. And to face aging-the inevitable aches of arthritis-who of us could carry on and keep healing as one tooth after another slowly fell out? No help. No dentist. No doctors. But the indomitable spirit of being a wild coyote was his medicine and support.

I feel honored to have seen his gray/white face at peace in his reed bed. He was absorbed into the landscape, instead of hanging from a ranch fence. When the land left only his bones, I kept his skull and often still look at it in wonder. The spirit of all nature is wonderous. But the indomitable spirit of coyote is still can’t adequately explain. We can only wonder, at such a survivor. And be glad there are many more out there…singing every night.

Lou🐾

Urban Denning Areas Within The City

Plenty of water found in streams, lakes and spigots, along with great hiding places can be found in large city parks, but so can dogs which are the main issue and problem for coyotes. Intrusive people come second.


More than enough water, vast grasslands and thickets can be found on golf-courses where it’s safer from dogs, but not totally free of them. In some golf-courses, as in the parks, the thickets which afford hiding places are being removed.

Habitat removal occurs in all these areas, either through felling of trees and clearing brush, to clearing for construction.


Backyards in the more spacious green residential neighborhoods and fragmented smaller parks also provide enough water and cover, but these offer more of a challenge for coyotes from surrounding traffic, people and dogs, yet that hasn’t stopped coyotes from moving in there. Water, as elsewhere is found in fountains, spigots and puddles caused by watering and fog.


Urban dens run the gamut from those nestled inconspicuously into remote lush natural areas with streams or ponds of water nearby, thickets, trees and grasslands — these include most the larger parks and golf-courses — albeit some more accessible to dogs and people than others — to the scruffy no-man-land dumps off the shoulders of freeways with their incessant and penetrating loud whirring traffic noise, pervasive gas smells, and human refuse which includes sharp metal edges, splintered wood pieces, nails, rust, plastic bags and bottles, broken glass, needles, etc. Most urban denning areas include some aspects of both extremes. Den areas are the cradles coyote youngsters are born into, and none is without hazards and dangers of some sort.

“Away from dogs and people” — i.e., “away from danger” — is the main criteria for coyotes’ choice of den site: this is what makes one den site “better” than another. In fact, the “dump” dens are often less accessible to intruders. Also, such dens seem to have more challenges so that pups born there begin learning about life — urban life — much sooner than pups raised in grassy green or woodsy settings. These neglected empty spaces, or junkyards, have more obstacles and stimulation of all sorts which might spur more and sooner learning and even opportunistic innovation for negotiating dangers — that is, for the 30% who survive to adulthood. So it’s not for us to say, of these two extremes, that one site is “better” than the other based on what we might like. Coyotes have different standards and criteria than we do for our homes.

Please note that coyotes usually also “own” the land in the neighborhoods surrounding their homes in parks or open spaces, even if they live in larger parks, so being sighted in the neighborhoods as they make their rounds, either “marking” (to keep other coyotes out) or even hunting,  is not uncommon.

Coyotes were deposited by a trapper in the Presidio in 2002, so that vast park is where they made their first home and where the first sightings occurred in 2003. By 2004 to 2007 they were already living in the variety of locations throughout the city where they live today, including other larger parks such as Golden Gate Park, McLaren and Glen Canyon, on our many golf-courses, and in smaller and fragmented spaces surrounded by a sea of traffic and people such as Bernal Hill, Coit Tower and even some backyards. Many of the areas claimed long ago are still occupied by descendants of the coyotes who first moved there, but some have more recent immigrants, including in the Presidio where a new family moved in after kicking out the aging coyotes who had claimed the area for so long, or Lands End as well as some of the golf courses where the newcomers moved into previously owned but now vacated spaces without incident.

Professor Ben Sacks of UC Davis found that dispersing coyotes tend to seek out environments similar to what they had been raised in: those raised in the mountains seek out mountains, those from the desert or from riparian areas tend to seek out those areas to claim as their own territories. When coyotes first re-arrived here in San Francisco, the larger parks would have been environmentally closest to the rural areas they were used to in Mendocino County. But even in these parks, people and dog visitors have increased substantially over time, so any coyote raised in those areas would eventually have grown accustomed to more and more traffic, people, dogs and have been more and more comfortable dispersing to areas that included these and even sparser cover.

Anyway here are some photos of denning areas, from large public parks and golf courses, to fragmented smaller parks and neighborhoods, to no-man’s-lands off a busy highway. Each and every den itself, within a denning area, is totally different from the next. I’ve included only one actual “den”. Not only have the dens themselves been abandoned by now — pups are 3 months of age — but in some cases, the entire denning area has been left behind.

By the way, dangers to urban coyotes begin at the den site and continue through life. Coyotes, especially youngsters, get killed by cars — it’s their biggest killer in urban areas. They break wrists and ankles or pull tendons after being chased by dogs, they die of ingesting poisons such as car coolant left out by humans or rat poison, they get cut and stabbed by our debris. Those are some of the human/dog impacts. One of the biggest human impacts is humans attempting to interact with them (feeding and befriending) which impacts their behavior and compromises their wildness. Beyond those impacts caused directly by humans or our dogs, are more “natural” impacts many of which, however, may at their roots be caused indirectly by humans: for instance a coyote/coyote territorial fight might be the result of habitat destruction by humans — not always, but I’ve seen it. Mange often takes hold due to weakened immune systems which in turn are caused by rat poison ingestion. The one big danger they avoid in cities, at least here in San Francisco, is they don’t get indiscriminately shot on sight: they are much safer than their rural counterparts.


Vacant out-of-the-way lots or junkyards overlooking freeways in many ways may be the “better” denning areas for urban coyotes.

A vacant right-of-way is ideal as a denning area, in spite of 2-inch rusty nails sticking up out of the boards the youngster is standing on.

Debris is not an eyesore for coyotes, though it includes many dangers unknown to them: poisons, rusty metals, sharp edges.

Constant whirr of loud traffic noise and gassy smells are less of a problem for coyotes than human and dog intrusions.

Busy traffic noise can be heard at denning sites close to busy roadways, and especially close to freeways: it results from tire friction and from the flow of air stirred up into a strong wind as each car travels: multiply this by the number of cars on the road and it can be loud, stressful and unsettling. Noise is less of a concern for coyotes than safety.

© 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.

Wild Plums, Eagles, Runt and Big Sis, by Walkaboutlou

“We are entering wild plum season, with blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fast approaching”

Hi Janet.

I hope you are well as summer flies. We are already entering wild plum season, with blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry also fast approaching.

Of course, this is appreciated by our local coyote. I was talking with one property owner who has been spying on some coyote pups the last 3 weeks. I enjoyed his observations and here are some.

“The pack consists of parents and a female yearling daughter with 5 pups. The pups were moved to a “rendezvous” area at around 6 weeks. Immediately, they changed dramatically. They started foraging for, and catching crickets, grasshoppers and mice/voles. There are also several plum trees in rendezvous area and the pups feast on plums daily. They are so full of fruit, bugs and mice, they sometimes ignore parents returning with food. They were at first scared of deer, but now playfully charge at them.

An incident occurred when it was noticed the “runt” pup had lacerations to his back and it seemed had trouble with back legs. Evidence indicates a golden eagle, as the pups hid for at least 2 days before being moved again. And an eagle kept returning to site and sitting in trees surrounding area. On 3rd day pup seemed listless, and then the older sister carried it a bit then groomed it some time, then slept with it. For several days she stayed with injured pup while parents fed pups AND older daughter while she cared for runt. The pup, though stunted and weak, is rallying again and hunting bugs and eating fruit, as well as being fed by parents.

No doubt it wouldn’t have survived without big sister’s week long special care. When the parents returned with venison (from scavenging road killed deer) the big sister guarded the runt while he ate a slice of meat as big as himself! He might be an undersized underdog, but he is grabbing the chances his big sister gave him. We see a coyote trotting along….but are almost never aware of the family bonds and life saving deeds they often share.”

Lou🐾🌾

“Most people don’t realize golden eagle are more than happy to take a young fox, coyote or wolf. This pup was very fortunate to escape, and have a big sis. ❤🐾