Prey Drive — for Fun?

As I drove to one of the parks this morning, I came across what I thought was roadkill. This was in a dense, residential single-family-home neighborhood. I got out of the car to take a photo and move the raccoon carcass to the side of the road. The body was rigid, so death had occurred sometime during the nighttime. Right then, the Park Department drove by and and prepared to pick up the animal.

At the same time, another driver came by and stopped. The driver blurted out, “That was quick”. He had apparently called the Park Department about the carcass in the street. Then he said, “It was like watching Attenborough, and it happened right there on the sidewalk.” He pointed to a place 20 feet from where I had found the carcass.

” . . Attenborough?”, I asked. “Yes, it was a coyote and raccoon battle.” “Then there must have been more than one coyote?” I inquired. The driver said yes, there were three coyotes, and the death was not at all instantaneous. And after killing the raccoon, the coyotes left it there rather than eating it or dragging it to another location to hide it for later consumption.

Maybe the coyotes had planned to come back for it, but they didn’t for the entire night. Might the coyotes have been scared off by a dog or human who came upon the scene, as the driver who saw the incident? Or, might these three coyotes — probably just the youngsters of the resident family — have left it because they are still being fed by humans and didn’t need the nutrition? The Park person said that their scat showed very little fur recently, indicating that they indeed were continued to be fed by humans. The three, as I said, most likely youngsters, could have gotten into it, being egged on by their own adrenalin and the activity of the other two coyotes — much like a chase that, once it has started, is hard to stop: driven by instinct. Coyotes are not known to kill for *fun*. Raccoons eat many of the things a coyote eats, so territoriality and exclusion may also have been involved.

It’s the first time I’ve seen killed prey, totally uneaten, left behind by coyotes.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cindie
    Mar 05, 2022 @ 00:52:02

    This is a fascinating story. Ah. My heart goes out to the raccoon, even though I recognize that death is an integral part of life. This story really overlaps with a lot of my life and is very illuminating. Thank you. I am constantly picking up roadkill and moving those animals onto nearby soil (which I think is illegal but I can’t stand to see them run over 50 times by cars, feels so disrespectful). This story will shed new light on my future animal encounters, because now I know not every animal dead in the street was killed by a car. Also – there is a pack of 4 coyotes who yip and howl just outside my door quite often in the night. They moved into this territory 3 months ago (I live in Nor Cal, midpeninsula, on the edge of wilderness & civilization). I hadn’t seen coyotes on my property for 4 years! Shocking. But there were far more mountain lion sightings in that timeframe and I wondered if that had something to do with it? Long story short, the coyotes are back. I LOVE COYOTES. I love all animals. Well this pack of coyotes got my neighbors cat right away. So far my cat has survived. But at the end of January, there was quite a commotion of Coyotes not far from my front door. The next day from my window, I saw tons of Turkey Vultures out there flying low. However, I was in an all day zoom workshop and was not able to go outside and check it out. The night when the workshop ended it was nearly dark and the coyotes began hollering and yipping again. So I immediately went out there – couldn’t see much through the trees, but there was quite a commotion. I could tell they were very close and it was intense – my heart was racing. I heard growls and scuffles and heavy breathing. Next morning I went out to find a deer carcass that had been picked nearly clean by the Turkey Vultures. Tracking all of this, the deer went down on a Friday night. The Turkey Vultures came on Saturday. Saturday night I was out there very close to a coyote scuffle. Sunday morning I went out there during daylight to find a carcass cleaned down to the bone. It was nearly intact. The only thing not attached to the intact spine were the two front legs and the lower jaw bones… I wondered if the deer was taken down by a Mountain Lion and then coyotes scavenged? Or did the pack of coyotes take down the deer? Or did the deer die from being hit by a car or die and end up in that spot for scavengers to find? I collect wild animal bones, and am very familiar with them – one thing I noticed was a broken (snapped) ankle on the deer. I’ve come across and inspected 100s of deceased animals in all manner of decay and I’ve never seen that kind of a snap. Maybe the deer was injured and was more easily taken down?


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Mar 05, 2022 @ 06:40:14

      Hi Cindie — Your story is even more fascinating — sooo interesting! And of course we all want to know what exactly transpired, and the sequence of events from death to cleaned bones. Next time tell your Zoom meeting that you’ll need to take a short discovery break! :)) Thank you for sharing this, both the incident and your interest in bones. As I said: fascinating!

  2. MelindaH
    Mar 05, 2022 @ 02:17:54

    Such an interesting find !


  3. Jo Thompson
    Mar 05, 2022 @ 12:45:22



  4. Maura Lucus
    Mar 07, 2022 @ 00:58:51

    Have you seen any evidence of canine distemper in the coyotes you observe? I hope not! I just saw a report of a fox in the Presidio which appeared very ill and was behaving in a very unusual way.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Mar 07, 2022 @ 04:20:40

      Hi Maura — ACC has asked me to keep my eye open for it: lots of skunks have been brought in with it. But no, I have not seen any signs of it yet in coyotes. So sad about the Presidio fox. :((

  5. Lou
    Mar 14, 2022 @ 17:39:47

    Coyote at times here..indeed..seem to have killed for fun or opportunity..its just another aspect of individuals. Humans can be “quirky” and so can coyote.
    Coyote have killed raccoon, young bobcat, and mink. They almost always eat some of racoon but well fed city coyotes likely have luxury of leaving it.
    Also..we have seen surplus killings almost never among established pairs but definelty among nomadic young coyote…OR…very hard hunted veteran coyote. It can be erratic and bizzare. One coyote east of us lost his mate to hunters then his pups dispersed or were caught. Those ranchers recognized him by trail cams. About 2 weeks after mate was killed, he returned to her spot of death..and killed 17 lambs. Touching none to eat. Predation, killing, is normally a functional natural part of coyote. But…as I’ve can become also the outlet for other urges barely understood.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Mar 14, 2022 @ 20:32:29

      Hi Lou — Fascinating. The killing in this posting was, I’m sure, done by youngsters — same as your nomadic young coyotes. But most bizarre of all is the *retribution* killing of 17 lambs you talk about. Seems more like something wolves might engage in. Are they sure it was just the ONE coyote involved in the slaughter? Janet

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