Coyote Caching and Burying Behavior

I’ve often seen a coyote bury a freshly killed gopher, whole, and then return for it within several days. Caching is a way of saving leftovers for later consumption. Burying food in dirt might help keep “meat” cool and fresh. And hiding the food, or other treasured items in some cases, protects them from other scavenger species, though it’s an extremely fallible system for this purpose, as I’ll show below.

I’ve wondered if caching might be done in times of scarcity — to save something for a rainy day. But I don’t think so. I think it’s done when they are satiated enough — in other words, during times of plenty — they are too full to finish it right off.  Coyotes do not waste anything and this is one method of making sure it is all “finished off” over the several days it takes to do so. I’ve never seen anything buried long-term.

In the above video, you’ll see a female coyote pick up something from the right and bury it on the left: she first digs a little depression, then deposits the item there, and then uses her snout to push debris over the item, possibly more to hide it than actually bury it, tamping it down a few times as she does so. The location is below a backyard fence where I’ve found food scraps tossed — that’s why I set up the camera there. But I have no idea if what the coyote found in the video was a food item — I could not find any food later. After burying the item, she proceeds with her “burying behavior” towards the middle of the screen, where she continues to push grasses and dirt with her snout and tamp them down. I examined this area, which I know was not disturbed after she left because the camera would have shown it. There was nothing there at all. Hmmm.

On other occasions, I’ve seen this same female coyote, the alpha of her family, bury an item not apparently for herself. I say this because I never saw her dig the stuff up again, but rather it was always her mate or an offspring who would unbury the items — they would come around at different times from her. This particular coyote has repeated this behavior often, right here in the same spot for years. I can’t seem to find the video I kept of this — I’ll add it if/when I find it.

Although coyotes predominantly bury dead animals, it’s not limited to food for eating. I’ve seen coyotes both bury and unbury smelly moles or snake skins after toying with them and spitting them out disgustedly — it was very obvious from the coyote’s face that the items were unpalatable — and then roll, rub, and wallow on the item with gusto before just leaving it there, or sometimes burying it. And then several days later, they’d return to the exact same spot — they always know exactly where it is even though there’s no marker there — to either find it lying around or unbury the item, roll on it again and “toy” with it.

I’ve seen a coyote bury their own wretched-up food. And I’ve watched a coyote bury her own scat, not by kicking stuff over the scat, but by carefully “sweeping” over wood chips from the path, using her nose, until the scat was completely covered.

I’ve watched a coyote picking at a raccoon carcass. When she was done, she dragged the remains over to a pile of leaves and sticks which she used to push over the carcass with her nose. I saw her return to the place daily for the next few days. I had the impression she was hiding it from other coyotes — she always looked over her shoulder when she got there, as though she didn’t want to be seen. By the way, when coyotes share such an item, they do so hierarchically: top dog gets first choice and his fill before the others can dig in.

I’ve seen a coyote bury an entire rat as he was spied on by another coyote, his brother, who was hidden nearby. When the burying coyote left, the rat was disinterred and played with joyfully by the spying second coyote. As the second coyote began burying the rat in a secret place just for himself, sirens began to sound. The coyote attempted howling while holding the rat, but that didn’t work too well, so he dropped the rat and went off to howl with the other coyotes in his family pack. The rat wasn’t there the next day.

And I’ve been told about a coyote who buried a rock: might this have been something of “value” to the coyote? I don’t know, but I think it’s interesting.

One of the most interesting aspects of caching is what it reveals about a coyote’s memory: they don’t forget.  Items buried in an open field with no markers are always relocated. Although I’ve only noticed the burying and unburying over a period of less than a week, I’m pretty sure, of necessity, that their memories are on a par with if not better than our dogs. Years ago, I was struck by how my dog ran straight to a tree where he had seen a raccoon two years previously — this in a park where we hadn’t visited for that amount of time. I myself had absolutely forgotten about the incident two years earlier, but was reminded when my dog went straight for the tree which was off the beaten path. Obviously, my dog remembered because it had meaning for him. That was my dog. You can be sure coyote memory is finer tuned than that of a domestic dog.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Toni
    Nov 28, 2020 @ 19:24:42

    it also implies a sense of the future. I don’t think people realize how many species besides us have past, present, and future very well defined.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Nov 28, 2020 @ 21:05:08

      Hi Toni! Thank you! Yes, I probably should have added that to the posting. I suppose there are other things too that indicate a sense of the future: digging a den, heading out to hunt . . . . and memory in and of itself confirms a sense of the past.

  2. B. Mills
    Jan 28, 2023 @ 15:50:42

    We live in a rural area with a lot of coyotes. The other day I found a dead gopher (wet and squished, but intact) buried under apile of wood chips.
    I was so surprised that a coyote would have the instincts to save for later. Especially since so many other predators might steal it b


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jan 28, 2023 @ 20:32:19

      Hi there! Thank you for weighing in! I saw such a soaked gopher today right at the edge of a path, and my thought was again, why might it have been left there? Other thoughts, besides what I posted here, are that another animal might have caught it and left it, such as a dog or even a raccoon, a hawk or an owl. My find was right in the open, so any of these animals in addition to a coyote could have caught it, but you said your find was under a pile of wood chips: I would assume that the coyote caught it and was already satiated from other hunting finds and decided to hide it for a later time. They don’t bury their finds very deeply, so under a pile of wood chips sounds like it was left by a coyote. Coyotes do return for their buried items!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: