Death Forensics, with Patti Palmer & Walkaboutlou

I was so interested in your answer here (“Do Coyotes Kill Each Other“). A month or so ago, I found what appeared to be a newly killed/largely eaten coyote just off trail in a regional park. My first thought was it was a mountain lion attack. In that event, I reported it to park rangers. They checked it out, but didn’t close the trail or post warning signs, so I figured maybe they saw something I didn’t. A fellow iNaturalist user suggested it may have been a territorial dispute between two male coyotes. I was skeptical, but there did not appear to be a good explanation. Your post offers clarity, but now I’m back to the larger predator theory…

(I’m a huge coyote fan and your blog is wonderful.)

Hi Patti — All we can go by is what we’ve seen. What I wrote was what I’ve seen; and Lou — based on his own observations for many year — confirmed this. If you happen to see something different, by all means, it needs to be added to our information. So far, your evidence isn’t conclusive. Dogs also may have maul and killed the coyote, and then another predator could have scavenged the body. OR, even a car could have killed the coyote and it could have been dragged to where you found it. In that case, I would think the predator might have been a mountain lion. If you find out anything new, please keep me/us posted here. Thank you for your input! Janet

Hi, Janet, thank you so much for the response. The only other piece of information that was interesting was this death coincided with the injury of a regular coyote I’d been “following” for the past several months. The day I found the cadaver, the coyote I’d been following had blood on his back leg and what appeared to be a small spot of blood on his head. The next day, he was limping. After that, he disappeared (approximately two months ago). The site of the cadaver showed quite a bit of trampled vegetation and tufts of fur. (I have photos, but I won’t forward them unless you’re interested.) Ultimately, you’re right–I don’t have anything conclusive, and, to my great frustration, this will likely remain one of nature’s mysteries.

Hi Patti — Very interesting! It’s like a puzzle, isn’t it? Yes, I’d be very interested in the photos. Would you please send them to Raccoons can also kill coyotes, especially if the coyote is compromised in some way. Thank you! Janet

Good morning, Janet,

Here are the photos. For background, I took them in conjunction with an app I’ve been using the past few months, iNaturalist. During my hikes, I take photos of anything interesting and add them to my iNaturalist page. I’ve found coyotes are among my favorite subjects—all of the circumstances of their lives and deaths, hence the photos. I’m going to share all of the details of what I saw/know about the incident at hand, so you have the full picture, and you can choose as much or as little of the information as is helpful.

I found the cadaver in a Regional Park, Orange/Orange County, California on 14 February 2023 around 11am. It was just off a Nature Trail, a 700-ish-foot long “interpretive” trail that loops around. The relatively small area is enclosed by a tall chain-link fence. The trail is narrow and the vegetation is a little thicker than other trails in the park. Theoretically, dogs aren’t allowed. There are two openings to the fenced area—from the back, there is a chain-link door that can be locked. The main entry is from a controlled access road (no cars allowed). I’ve never regarded it as a widely-used trail, but people do stumble across it.

The cadaver was just off the trail. In addition to the body, the vegetation was trampled and there were pieces of what appeared to be fur all around. The exposed meat was pink and there was no smell of death. Photo 1 is the scene as I first encountered it from one side of the trail. Photo 2 is from the other side of the trail. You can’t see it well, but there was a trail of trampled grass leading to the scene (the clearing where the cadaver was shows just at the top/middle of the second photo). [NOTE: These first two photo I’ve not included in the post since they really don’t show much].

Here was the cadaver itself. It had rained lightly that morning and the area was damp, but it was also fairly protected overhead by tree canopies, so not much sun. It appeared to me the body had saliva on parts of the fur, but it may have come from the rain. I got as many photos as I could, but I was really uncomfortable on the trail. It’s relatively isolated and the kill looked fresh. I was convinced the predator was still in the vicinity. 

When I finished my hike, I reported the find to the park rangers because my first impression was it was a mountain lion attack. They said they were interested and intended to check it out. The next day, I went back and found they had not closed the trail or posted warning signs, so I thought I may have been jumping to conclusions about a potential mountain lion in the area. After I posted the photos to iNaturalist, a fellow coyote enthusiast suggested the possibility of a fight between two coyotes. This death was in the general territory of the solo male I’d been following for a while (see below), and I thought the trampled ground and fur could just as easily have indicated a territorial fight. One further piece of information: I saw a bobcat very nearby the next day. I’m not sure he contributed to the death (or maybe he did), but he may have helped consume the body. 

As I mentioned, I found the cadaver around 11am. This second circumstance coincided with that find.

Earlier that day, around 8am, I encountered one of two coyotes I’d been “following” for a few months. This one had been traveling solo since his partner disappeared a few weeks earlier. He was moving a little slowly. Eventually, he wandered through a brushy area off trail and then laid down (photo 3). It began raining hard enough that I took cover beneath a nearby tree. He continued laying down throughout the rain. I never saw him get back up or leave the area. Later, when I got home, I looked at my photos and saw he appeared to have blood on his back, left leg (photos 1 and 2), and a possible smear across his forehead (photo 1). 

I saw him one more time, 15 February 2023. He was favoring the same back, left leg. I haven’t seen him since. (For context, up to that time, I had been seeing him solo and/or traveling with his mate, at least once a week for several months.) 

I’ve been so curious about what might have happened that I began two e-mails to you, but discarded them both. When I saw your piece about whether coyotes might kill each other, I finally took the opportunity to reach out. 

I hope I’ve given you enough information. In the event that you need more detail/clarifications, let me know. Otherwise, I wish you continued luck with your important work. Thank you for being there for these wonderful creatures. 


Hi Patti —

Wow! Thank you so much for sending. You are as detailed in your documentation as I am — don’t know many people like us! Most people report a sighting, and that’s it. It’s very interesting. And, of course, the bobcat could easily have been involved — though felines apparently don’t scavenge. If the coyote were already compromised, I’m wondering if a bobcat could have won a fight. However, I tend to think it was a dog: that would help explain why the other coyote also had injuries. :( May I forward this on to a friend who knows coyotes well and may have some insights? 


Hi, Janet, 

You’re welcome to forward any/all info.

I’m glad you, too, are detail-oriented. I’m one of those people who believes having too much information never hurts, but having too little can!


Hi Lou —
Hope you and your canine family are enjoying the rain! Wow, what a change from the fires caused by the drought. We’re really swinging back and forth with the weather!

Someone wrote me, trying to figure out how a coyote might have been killed — if indeed he was killed. She found my post on “Do coyotes kill each other” and thought I would be interested in this. Someone had suggested to her that there might have been a territorial fight between two coyotes, which is why she contacted me. Initially, she thought it might have been killed by a mountain lion, so she reported it to the rangers. But since the rangers didn’t close the trail or put up signs, she decided that the rangers didn’t think it was a mountain lion. Of course, at this point we’ll probably never KNOW, but I think we can paint possible scenarios. I suggested that it could have been a dog who killed the coyote. In your last comment to me it seemed as though this was a possibility. I didn’t think another coyote would have engaged in a territorial fight to the death. As for a bobcat, my thought is that if the coyote were at all compromised in any way, a bobcat could (maybe?) take down a coyote, but I’ve read that felines don’t scavenge. 

Might you have any thoughts about it — about this situation she describes here?

At least I thought you might be interested. She said she could provide clearer photos if that might help analyze the situation.


Hi Janet,

Interesting stuff. It’s hard to really develop a clear picture via pics because the land often will tell you alot as well.

I would say either it’s a cougar kill OR someone shot it or it died naturally and turkey vultures scavenged it.

Turkey Vultures definetly trample grass and leave tuft of fur all over. Ironically so do cougar. If there were chewed bones bingo. Cougar. If bones were intact vultures. It looks very well picked. Very hungry cat or..vultures.

Bobcat I would rule out except in case of pups. Dogs are always suspect. I know in some areas here, coyote, ranch dogs and wolves all will feed on each other. But that’s here.

I’ve never heard of or experienced coyote killing each other. I’ve seen them in heated battle and seen some with terrible scars. But with each other they seem to have that switch and scuttling off is always an option. Unlike their enemies of dogs and wolves.

I just was examining an eaten skunk. Somebody was really hungry.

Take care stay safe,


Hi Patti —

Well, here you go (above): more input.  If you examine your larger-file photos really closely, might you be able to tell if the bones have been chewed? Do you have vultures in your area? We don’t regularly have them here in San Francisco, neither do we have cougars, but they do come by on occasion. At any rate, it does not sound like it was a coyote/coyote thing.  Janet

Janet, That was wonderful insight, simply put and helpful: bones intact-turkey vulture; bones chewed: mountain lion. 

If your source wants a closer examination of the area for his own edification, I’m just going to forward this one shot and hope it’s not too big. It’s easier to see what’s going on. There are two bones that appear chewed: one is next to his tail; the other is the foreleg that is draping over his skull (or what is left of it). The latter looks a little shattered. So much is gone–I just don’t see a lot of bone structure left behind at all. This appears to indicate mountain lion.

But yes, we definitely have turkey vultures and I have seen them pick a body clean. I didn’t see any in the area around this time, or the next couple of days, but that’s not to say they didn’t show up at a time I wasn’t there. 

Regardless, it looks like consensus is being reached on the original question, which is whether another coyote was responsible. The lingering question is what happened to the other park coyote, but it could have been a completely unrelated injury that ultimately turned deadly. I was so devastated to lose him. I hope new ones show up soon. Patti  

Hi Patti — Yes! It looks like that: a mountain lion, which, interestingly, is what you originally thought — at least involved in eating some of the remains (we can’t know how he died)!  As for the other coyote, you know, if this one was its mate, that one may have moved on in order to avoid the same fate. Coyotes have more strength when they are in pairs, less so when alone. That one will now have to look for another mate. And that coyote may have been involved in the brawl and been injured, and gotten away. Just speculating, but this sounds reasonable, don’t you think? Thank you for this photo and your further assessment. 

Would it be okay with you if I posted the whole thread — I’m just thinking about it? I would take out the exact location, and use your name only if you wanted me to. Let me know. It was really interesting!


Janet — Of course you can use whatever material you’d like of our interaction (masking the location at your discretion; using my name is fine). It’s the least I can do for all of the help you’ve given me! Again, many thanks for your attention to this. The overall incident upset me, although, ultimately, it was a good lesson in the “nature of nature.” But dealing with you has been such a pleasure! Patti

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MelindaH
    Mar 25, 2023 @ 20:32:16

    Fascinating exchange between everyone—thanks so much!!


  2. Lisa Febre
    Mar 26, 2023 @ 17:07:27

    WOW! Thank you all for this bit of sleuthing!

    I had a similar exchange with some park rangers 2 years ago when I found a dead grey fox — we are not supposed to have these in our area, so the mystery wasn’t “how” it died (clearly it had been killed by the coyotes that live in that area judging by the damage) but “why” it was on our mountain in the first place!! The rangers suspected someone was breeding or using them for hunting training for their dogs. Very sad… but, this also prompted the State Parks Law Enforcement dept. to at least make note that there may be questionable, illegal, activities in the hills.

    This is exactly what all of us nature lovers are here for!! To do right by our fellow creatures. :)


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