Dispersal: One Youngster’s Trajectory Over The Last Five Months

All photos in this posting were taken after his dispersal from home.

We’re on another leg of the dispersal of a coyote I call Sparks. He and a sister, at just about one year of age, stepped away from home [see map below (1)] and out into the wider world where they came to rest and stay about two miles from their birthplace (2).They remained here close to two months — long enough to make me think that this might become their new home, but they did not remain there at this point in time. Maybe they weren’t ready to claim the area as theirs? Maybe they wanted to explore greener pastures, possibly less fragmented pieces of property? Anyway, Sparks’ dispersing “walkabout” — which I think is an apt term — was not over yet, apparently.

By the second week in July Sparks was spotted way up in the Presidio — a full six miles away from his birthplace, whereas the sister returned to their birthplace where I continue to see her romp with her other brothers who vie and compete for her attention. But Sparks had been dominated by these brothers — there may even have been a battle between them — and there was no going back for him.

So Sparks continued to roam in that area for the better part of a week, and by the third week of July found himself in the north-western corner of the city (4), where he was seen limping severely again on that left front leg. It was either a new injury, or the original injury was acting up. The original injury had occurred way back in mid-February and was severe enough — very likely a break, and very likely caused by chasing dogs — for him to retain a severe limp and keep off the leg entirely for over a month. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that injury even though he regained use of the leg.

By July 31st and through August 5th — possibly because the new leg injury had deteriorated so badly from continued use — he returned to that two-mile distant spot (5). This was a space he was familiar with and where he felt safe, including from other coyotes. Here he was observed numerous times with what now had become an identifying characteristic: the severe limp. A worried neighbor spotted him on the hill in back of his house curled up in a ball. The last sighting was of him running, three-legged, licketsplit through the main park of the area on August 5th. UPDATE as of August 15th: Sparks left his neighbor’s yard at the beginning of the heatwave, after almost 3 weeks in a neighbor’s backyard. The neighbors have been worried about what became of him: well, he is now again roaming around in the Presidio! His leg has not healed.

Dispersals, as we’ve seen before — and again, these insights are from my own first-hand observations over the past 13+ years, but also include several photos sent to me — have coyotes exploring through distant corners of our city and some even exiting the city to the south. On the other hand, coyotes who are entrenched territorial claimants seldom have a need to travel such distances, so they don’t: although they still trek away from their homes, it’s not usually the vast distances as the dispersing/exploring youngsters. The territorial owners seem to stay nearer to their homes where it is safe and they know the terrain.

When do coyotes disperse and what causes them to do so? They leave home, as far as I have seen, anywhere from about 9 months of age and up to 2.5 years of age. They do so either on their own initiative and timeline, when they themselves get the urge and without any prodding or provocation from other family members, or they may leave because of growing rivalry and repeated battles aimed to drive them away.

This dispersal period might be navigated with ease and little danger — it could be a piece of cake — or the opposite, with extreme difficulty and constant danger. Territorial claimants might fight them off viciously, or might welcomingly invite them to stay a while — the latter is something I’ve seen only with young dispersing females. Many of the dispersing youngsters have miraculously found vacant locations right here within the city limits itself — spaces either vacated by other coyotes, be it because they moved or died, or some of the maturer dispersers might have fought the resident coyotes — the ones who may have become weak due to old age or even sickness — and won. One of the biggest dangers for dispersing youngsters in urban areas is traffic: they regularly get killed by cars. The city counts about ten such deaths a year officially, but you can be sure there are more that were not reported.  Those youngsters who can’t find vacant spaces within the city have been found to move south and out of the city according to the ecologist at the Presidio. Dispersal is a treacherous time for coyotes and contributes to their notoriously low survival rate: it is claimed that only 30% of coyote litters survive to adulthood, which is their one year old mark.

I don’t know where Sparks will move next. I don’t know if the injury will hinder his ability to survive. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come across him again. If I do, I’ll post about it.

By the way, it’s not necessary to know the dispersal trajectory of every single coyote to understand the process. A few examples give the idea, and I have provided a number in this blog, with maps. The coyotes I’ve been able to follow I do so visually and by examining photos: I recognize them each by their unique faces, so that radio-collaring and tagging are absolutely unnecessary: these heavy and bulky contraptions are intrusive, hampering and even harmful, and not needed to find out what indeed is needed to coexist with them.

Photos taken by other folks during this part of his dispersal “walkabout” [click on any of the photos to scroll through 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.

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