This is the 10 month old youngster who was warned off by the skunk

As I entered the parking lot of one of the parks, I glimpsed a coyote who hurried back into the park. It was well after dusk, so the coyote at that location did not surprise me. I parked the car and got out to an amazingly strong, pungent skunk smell. It was so strong it was bitter and I could almost taste it. I had a need to get away from it quickly. I looked around thinking I might find a dead skunk, but there was none.

Then I went into the park to check the media in a camera I had set up there: I exchanged media cards, and left. When I got back to the parking lot I looked around again for the skunk. There he was, as alive as ever and facing me. He did not scamper away, he did not turn his tail towards me to spray, he just stood his ground and faced me without moving. Aha — that is where the smell came from, and the skunk probably had sprayed the coyote.

And here he is — the fella that greeted me.

After I got home, I reviewed the media which showed, in the moments before I reached the camera, the coyote trying desperately to rub off the smell of the skunk. He must have been sprayed point-blank, right before I arrived at the scene. I’ve seen a dog do the same thing right after having been sprayed within reach of the skunk. It’s not just a repulsive odor which is emitted: the spray substance consists of an oily and acidic liquid, which at close range is so concentrated that it actually burns the skin and eyes of the hapless victim.

I have a very weak olfactory system, and anyway the skunk had not sprayed his defensive spray directly at me. Nevertheless, the smell was overpowering and repulsive and it encompassed over 100 square feet. Now imagine a coyote, with 100 times the odor sensitivity that we have, and imagine he was probably sprayed at pretty close range. That spray must have burned the little coyote’s face painfully and wickedly. That’s why he’s trying to wipe it off — to get away from it — which is what I had felt even though my experience was secondary and without a coyote’s sensitive equipment.

I’ve seen coyotes avoid skunks. I guess one experience like this might teach a coyote to avoid them. Here is a video of an almost “peaceable kingdom” — maybe the coyote has been through a similar experience? See “Ferdinand, the Coyote”:

Aside: This has me thinking about what I read in Rick McIntyre’s book, “The Reign of Wolf 21”. He suggested that wolf memory is in pictures, and references Temple Grandin’s *thinking in pictures*. I myself have learned that coyotes seem to remember EVERYTHING: all events, all dogs, all people. But I don’t think the memory is in pictures, or at least not predominantly in pictures. I think odors play a big role. And I say this because I myself have opened a long lost book from South America that retained the odors as I remembered them from elementary school 40 years earlier, and those odors recalled whole memories and events that I thought I had forgotten. It occurs to me that coyotes, with their large olfactory equipment and brain to interpret that material, actually form memories in a way we can’t image, that includes odors. Note that we’ve been able to record sounds and visual material (movies, recordings), but not olfactory ones, so we don’t have the ability to *see* or *remember* in the way a coyote does.

The smells in the book didn’t bring back memory images, but rather feelings and things I can’t put my finger on because I don’t have the human-created words for the overpowering sensations that were deep in my memory and suddenly awakened by the smell. Those memories were strongly brought back in the present and inspired all sorts of peripheral associations long buried in the deep of my mind.

Foreign Dirt Sparks an Inquisition

This field-camera video was captured a while back, but it’s of high interest to me for the coyotes’ perception and reaction to something new. I had been putting a field camera in this exact place, on and off, for many months, and the camera was mostly ignored. However, the dirt which was holding the camera up soon wore thin over time and there was no soft ground to support the camera. My solution was to bring in a couple of pounds of soil from elsewhere to give the camera something that would support it.

I gathered the dirt from another park, taken from a pile left by a gopher around its burrow. A doggie-bag full would do the trick, I thought. I dumped the foreign soil into a high pile and then situated the camera on top. The next morning I removed the camera and went through the videos. I was surprised to see this much interest in the new soil. The park where the soil came from has plenty of wildlife, including coyotes and dogs. Any of those smells, and many others, could have come with the soil, but I wonder WHICH of those smells caused the coyotes to investigate so thoroughly — they carefully investigated for over three minutes: first Mom coyote, and then Dad coyote — whiffing in every bit of information — the fine print which that soil could reveal to them, all of which had meaning and importance for them: there was a story there, and they were figuring it out. They knew it hadn’t been there previously. If I had known that it might cause this kind of intense concern, I would never have put it there.

The next day I again put the camera out to see if the interest would continue, but I suppose coyote curiosity had been satisfied, because they did not approach the camera or the soil beneath it again: they had found out what they wanted to find out and they were no longer interested. OR, possibly, the immediate and strong odors from the day before had dissipated enough to smell distant and weak and therefore not of concern. I noted that they hadn’t themselves *marked* the soil in any way — they had just sniffed it intently, which also is of interest.

PS: If you are wondering why these coyotes look so emaciated, it’s for two reasons. The video was captured in June of last year. That is when winter coats have been shed, and the true shape of the coyote is revealed, which happens to be very whippet-like: sinewy, bony, and thin. Also, these are parents who have been regurgitating all their food for their large litter of pups: parent coyotes often look like skin and bone at this time of year because of this. You can see that Mom is still lactating.

❤️ Falling In Love With Coyotes ❤️


This little girl yearling sat atop a knoll to watch the active dogs playing below in a fenced-off dog play area. It must have been a little like watching TV for her. The dogs ran after each other, wrestled, got mad and nipped at each other, ran after balls the owners tossed. There was high energy which must have been very entertaining for the coyote who spent a good half hour there. While she was there, I took these photos of her: it’s so easy to fall in love with coyotes. BUT, please do so at a distance and non-interactively as you walk away.

By clicking on any of the photos, you can enlarge them and scroll through them.

A while after taking these photos, I spoke to a woman who was excited about what I had to say about coyotes. She told me about the coyote she had seen several times across the street from her shop, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood and right here in the middle of San Francisco. We talked at some length — she had lots of questions for me. Then, she asked if she could “touch it” next time and maybe “take it food”. Her adoration for the animals was overflowing. She was absolutely shocked by my response: “please leave them alone and don’t approach them.”  She had no conception at all about the needs of a coyote — their need to remain wild, remain healthily wary of humans, and to hunt for themselves.

I went through simple guidelines with her, and gave her a 3″ business card listing those. I’ve been handing these out because succinct guidelines are not printed on park signs, and aren’t readily known by most people. Please go over them yourself if you aren’t sure about them!! Truly loving coyotes involves loving their well-being, their wildness, and their ability to care for themselves — it does not involve interacting with them in any way, including feeding them. Please remember that feeding them causes them to hang around and approach people which may lead the city to kill them, which happened here in the city last July. Feeding is a selfish need of the feeder — it does not benefit the coyote and actually hurts them. It’s understandable that you may want to love them, but please do so hands-off and at a distance, without feeding! Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤️


Breeding Behavior: She’s Ready

I caught these two only three days earlier in the same place, but at that time she gave him the cold shoulder. Apparently, now she’s ready (video was captured on a field-camera on January 27th between 9:30 pm and 1 am). On this day he licks her and she responds by lifting her tail and accepting his overtures. He attempts mounting. But then her yearling daughter (with another mate) suddenly appears on the scene and seemingly interrupts them. Daughter shows interest in Dad’s equipment — and I’ve slowed this section of the video down because otherwise you might miss it. Immediately afterwards, Mom inserts herself between the other two. She gives daughter a mild nip on the mouth — she needs daughter to stick around and help defend the territory, so she doesn’t want to viciously drive her off. You can then see Mom gaping and daughter’s ears pulled back as Mom escorts daughter away. Mounting then resumes but mostly out of view of the camera. If a tie occurred, it was not captured on the video.

Soon Outsider Male comes by. He’s been in the area for several months but is not part of the family — he is never with them, so I don’t know his role, but I know of one other non-related *outsider* who has been living on someone else’s claimed territory for over a year now, so I suppose this kind of arrangement happens now and then. The outside male can probably detect what went on here just a few hours earlier. He assesses the place, urinates to leave his mark, kicks the ground, and then leaves. Then Mom & Dad return and in turn, they smell who has been there. Dad urinates and kicks. Dad continues his super-interested in Mom and licks her, and then they trot off. The mounting behavior only seen at this time gives us a timeline for when pups will arrive — after a 63 day standard gestation period. The female is viable for only a few short days each season, and that happens to be now.

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