Territories: Closer Quarters in San Francisco

The territories I’ve mapped here in San Francisco — just under 20 of them — have all encompassed large parks, or fragments of various smaller parks. You can see the map and read about my methods here. These territory sizes and configurations have, with minor exceptions, remained incredibly stable, some for 20 years from the time coyotes first re-appeared here in San Francisco in 2002, and some newer ones I became aware of in 2014, since that time.

Each territory has always harboured one family: mom, dad, possibly one or two yearlings born within the previous two years, and any pups born within the year (always in March/April). All except the alpha parents eventually disperse so that the territory remains in control of just one breeding parent pair, the same pair usually, over many years. Eventually, absolute newcomers or even offspring of these territorial parents, have taken over the territories no longer defendable by the aging alphas, who also may just pick up and leave — in either case, the territory remains in the hands of one mated pair of coyotes and eventually their offspring. There have been minor variations to this prototype, such as a family of three siblings who remained on a territory after their parents disappeared.

This, with just a few deviations, is the standard I’ve been seeing as long as I’ve been documenting them. However, more recently, over the last couple of years, I’ve seen some bigger variations pop up.

For example, in three of the territories during the last two years, not only the alpha female, but also a much younger two-year-old female — a daughter of the alpha female in one case, and likely the same situation in the others — both produced offspring, apparently sired by the same alpha male. I don’t know if this is a trend, an anomaly, or a simple standard variation that only now is occurring.

Another change: an entrenched family spatially expanded their territory up to and onto the border of another, so that actually two standard coyote families are now denning in the same large park, although in separate and exclusive territories — 1/5th of a mile apart — and both families had pups.

Another example occurred three years ago when a yearling male dispersed from Glen Canyon into a border of the Presidio and made this his permanent home. He was recovering from a broken arm when he first moved there, and possibly that’s why the resident coyote pair allowed him to stay there. Now he appears to be an integral, though non-related — member of the family. He has either moved into the alpha male position, or he simply helps guard and babysit the new litter, and is there for them at their evening rendezvous when the parent/s are not.

So these examples point to closer-than-seen-before living quarters for the coyotes. Is this because the territorial market is saturated? Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?? A couple of years ago I saw a temporary reconfiguration of three separate family territories into just one owned by one of the three families for over a year. The other families had members die or simply disappeared from my radar possibly from old age, but now, again, it is divided into three separate territories and owned by three separate families.

And here’s more. Until recently, with the exception of a few dispersing youngsters who’ve never hung around for long, the coyotes I’ve seen in the neighborhoods have been those that owned the adjacent or nearby parks, be they large parks or a series of fragmented parks. But now I’m seeing that this is not always the case, whereby more coyotes over the last few years have been carving out territories in the interstices between the fairly stable park-centered territories. These have sprung up within our residential neighborhoods, especially those with plenty of small garden plots or small plots of denser shrubbery, or with a large lawn nearby such as Dolores Park, or barren hills such as Hawk Hill and Turtle Hill. When you see a coyote — and it’s always the same coyote — trekking regularly on the same peripheral route daily, or twice daily, for more than a couple of months, it’s probably an indication that they are claiming/defining the territory.

An example of a fairly newly carved territory involves the small, young female coyote depicted below. She does not “return” to any of the territorial parks I’ve mapped, and anyway she doesn’t belong to the families in those parks. I don’t know where she came from — I’m not able to keep up with all dispersals and origins. Her main area encompasses a handful of square blocks, some with and some without abundant street plantings to help conceal her. She covers this terrain twice a day — sometimes more often — stopping routinely at her known food sources, marking along the way, and taking in who is around (in terms of people, dogs, wildlife) and what is happening: she’s been doing this for at least three months that I have seen and possibly, from what I’ve hear, for almost a year. I and others have spotted her as far away from this main area as a mile, which would encompass a large enough space to be a territory.

Intermittently a larger male coyote has been seen alone and even apparently with her in the same area. I thought he was a dispersing youngster, but if others have seen him around, then maybe a relationship is brewing?? Be that as it may, she did not produce pups this year. Maybe this male is a suitor who will be moving in?? I’ve added his photos at the bottom.

The two photos below are of her occasional male friend.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Elizabeth Starr
    Jul 09, 2022 @ 20:36:50

    I love these tales of the Coyote families in. SF. Here in Maine, they aren’t as safe as it seems they are there…though they’re not really safe in our country yet, the way we want them to be. Your work documenting their lives will surely lead to better coexistence with humans. Thank you. Liz Starr, Bath Maine

    Reply

  2. zignorp
    Jul 12, 2022 @ 18:53:10

    Hi Janet, it’s Wendy! Dave saw a coyote last night waking down York St., that was a first here! Wendy

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 12, 2022 @ 20:05:13

      Hi Wendy!! So great to hear from you! It’s time for us to catch up again! Thank you for this input. I have no idea if this is a dispersing coyote or if a new territory is being carved here. Off and on we’ve had dispersing coyotes staying in the Potrero Hill area, even for extended periods of time, but it never appeared to become a permanent situation. If you hear or, or see one, again in the area, please, please let me know. And thank you, Dave!! Warmly!!!

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