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.

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MelindaH.
    Jul 13, 2020 @ 00:01:06

    We have actively encouraged coyotes by “wilding” our property with the planting of dense shrubbery and trees on at least half of our property. The remaining half is planted with perennials, veggies, and a few fruit trees. We have been richly rewarded by their visits, including wonderful critter cam footage, serenades, and their seriously keeping in check rabbit and other rodent populations. Their presence gives us a chance to advocate for them with neighbors. We frequently quote you as a resource—so thank you for the education and for helping us spread the word about these wonderful beings.


  2. Jeannie Warner
    Jul 15, 2020 @ 16:56:08

    Janet. Have you been able to check on our new pups? Hope they are ok?


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 15, 2020 @ 23:12:06

      Pups are being moved around by their parents, which means we are never sure exactly where they are. Please remind everyone to keep their dogs leashed and walk away from coyotes whenever they see them.

      I got this email only a couple of days ago and want to share it so you know what is going on:

      “Scout threatened/defended against long-time hill walker and her 2 dogs this morning. The coyote jumped out of the high shrubbery, snarling, baring fangs, with hackles raised. She circled them, being very threatening. They have peacefully crossed paths with Scout for years so this was unprecedented and very surprising.”

      People are seeing this behavior as “aggressive”, when in fact it should be seen a a “message” to “keep away”. It’s so simple to do: just shorten your leash and walk the other way, and keep walking away.

      Thanks, Jeannie

    • Jeannie Warner
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 00:36:57

      Ah, unusual for her. Babies must be close? Like you said, she’s just warning. Still scary I’m sure. Not use to that with her. She’s usually a bit too friendly.
      We need to be mindful about that. I just worry about unleashed dogs now. Perhaps it was her mate?

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 04:57:23

      It was not her mate, it was her: this is what coyotes are like when they need to be protective: we just need to keep away.

      The “friendly” behavior is unnatural — it’s brought on by humans who feed and befriend her, changing her from the wild and wily creature she was born to be into more of a begging stray dog. It’s sad for me to see a compromised coyote like this. Today one of the coyotes was eating a full pizza left for them, and another was gobbling a plate of food (yes, food on a plate) left for them. Onlookers came within just a few feet of the coyote as she ate. The female coyote snarled at a dog that came that close, but neither dog nor owners paid her much heed, and she continued eating, not even moving from where she was as they walked on. It’s so different from the parks where the coyotes maintain their distance and behave more naturally and warily. :((

    • Jeannie Warner
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 14:04:34

      Yes I agree about the friendly behavior.People tend to think they are doing good with leaving food,which they are not.Hope all goes well for her and her pups.Known her since she got here.

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 17:18:25

      Thanks, Jeannie. Please help take care of her by spreading the word and the reasonings behind it all: no feeding, no befriending, no approaching — this is for her own good, to keep her from loitering, begging, being in the street, chasing cars.

    • Mark Warner
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 18:51:01

      I just did in one of the discussions. Watch your dogs,no feeding,She is only showing a warning since she has pups now.Be mindful.

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 19:29:01

      Hi Mark — Thank you for posting. But actually you are hurting matters by ever bringing up pups. You can still say what needs to be said without this. “Watch your dogs” doesn’t go far enough: these people need to “walk away always the minute they see a coyote”. The “warnings” that she and her mate have been giving are also used to protect each other. If people simply walk away, especially if they have a dog, these warnings wouldn’t even come up. The important point is to keep a big distance (not just 20 feet) and to walk away always. Hope this makes sense???

    • Jeannie Warner
      Jul 16, 2020 @ 21:44:50

      Does,make sense. Sorry about bringing up pups.

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