The Move

Some coyote parents have pups in the same area year after year. Some move for a year — about a mile away, while still maintaining their home-base territory — and then return the next season. Some move far away to an entirely different territory for good — 5 miles away from their original long-term territory and remain here until a territorial battle drives them away. These are some of the situations I’ve documented. Every coyote family is as different as is every human family.

And I’ve seen numerous instances where pups are moved at about two months of age within an urban territory to about 1/4th mile away. That’s what this posting is about.

Two pups in a den under a house on a construction site

Denning locations in the city are chosen mostly for their inaccessibility to dogs. Dogs are intruders that coyotes detest the most. I’ve seen dens built right along the freeway, beyond a fence keeping dogs and pedestrians out. The noise is incredible — the whooshing by of car wheels on the freeway and force of the wind against those vehicles, in addition to all the motor noise, is deafening. But coyotes prefer this over dogs.

Construction site

Human activity, no matter how noisy, as long as it isn’t intrusive, is also preferred over dogs. Multiple enormous tractors with huge clanky digger-arms and noisy motors, along with a lot of activity and movement of this equipment have not stopped coyotes from denning at construction sites. And it is here, in the middle of such a site, under a tiny cement building, Mom had her pups this year. Mom and her mate along with a yearling could be glimpsed coming and going among the hubbub, and it was obvious that Mom was in a lactating state. And then one day, a tiny head popped out into the open from under the building. For several days we thought there was only one pup, but then a second one appeared. When pups are first born, they stay put, but after 6-8 weeks, they need to start moving — and a construction site was not ideal for them at this stage. Mom knew she had to move them.

It’s not uncommon for mothers to move their pups at this stage — six to eight weeks of age. If you are aware of it, maybe that’s all you see. But by focusing in, I could see all the intelligence involved: planning, forethought, knowledge and work.

Mom must have been planning this for some time. Weeks before moving, every night, she would slither under the fence to the new area and work on digging places where her pups could duck into and hide if they needed to. She worked at this in the thick foliage among a tangles of branches which would be difficult for dogs to penetrate. Remember that a coyote is only 30 pounds and with the bendability of a cat, allowing them to slither under and over things. Not so for dogs. I didn’t capture the digging, just the coming and going each night at that new location.

The time had to be right, and that time would be when the pups began following her around — the same as little ducklings follow their mothers. I caught what I thought of as them “practicing” their following skills, or, possibly Mom “testing” to see how well pups would follow. They did!

Practicing following

On the day of the move, Mom led them to the construction site’s fence line. However, she knew they might not follow in the street where there were too many new distractions. For the street part of the journey, she signaled one of the pups to remain quiet and stay put: it’s a signal all pups know. Meanwhile she picked up one of the pups by it’s back, and carried it out the gate and along the sidewalk, crossing a number of streets, and finally slithering under the hole of the fence to the new area. Within ten minutes of depositing that youngster, she headed back to get the other one, and returned with that one within 25 minutes.

Interesting is the time of day she did this. One might have expected her to make the move at night when no one was around. But she did not do that. One of the reasons may be that the fenced construction site could only be exited from the gates. She herself could slither under the gate, but only barely — the tiny opening under the gate probably was not high enough for her carrying a pup. I had actually seen her walk out that gate at around noon a number of times, probably practicing and assessing what the situation was at that time of day. Shortly before noon every day, even I was able to see that almost all dogs had already been walked, so few would be out to go after her, and traffic was at a low at that time of day. So, when Moving Day came, this is the time she chose: 11:45 for one pup and then 12:20 for the other.

One person saw her walk down the street carrying a pup, and a friend relayed this to me — thank you, Beth — I myself missed it, though I knew it was coming. But I had cameras set up at the hole under the fence at the new location, and that is what I have to show you, below.

Interestingly, this mother followed the exact same pattern two years ago, moving her pups on June 1st of 2021. This year it was on May 26th. Also of interest, only Mom moved the youngsters. She was not helped by Dad or her yearling daughter.

So, just imagine the planning and foresight involved: planning for contingencies on the street, planning her route, planning the time of day this would happen, making sure the pups were ready, planning that it would happen at all, preparing the new denning spot. I think you have to be pretty impressed with the capabilities of coyotes generally, but especially with the capabilities of coyote mothers!

Mom brings first pup in under the fence. Ten minutes later you see her patrolling the fence line before heading off to pick up the second pup and returning twenty minutes later with him.

Injuries and Ailments: A Coyote’s Life is Hard and Short

12 years old is old for a coyote in the city

Life is not easy for a coyote. Among their strifes with each other, humans, and dogs, there are injuries and ailments, and environmental hazards, a few of which I’ll address here.

Lifespan in captivity for a coyote is about 14 to 16 years — it’s about the equivalent of what it is for a dog of that size. But in the wild-wild, I’ve been told, the average lifespan is only 3-5 years — much of that is caused by human predation. Here in the city I’ve known a number of coyotes who reached the age of 12 and almost 12, but, in fact, few actually reach that milestone.

Cars are their biggest killers

Of course cars kill and might be considered their chief “predator” in a city: twenty-four dead coyotes were picked up in 2021 in San Francisco from roadways. There were probably more coyotes hit by cars that were able to scramble under some bushes where they perished but were not counted. And then there were those who survived their car hits. The most notable I knew of happened many years ago: a single mother (her mate had been killed by rat poison) with two very young pups. This coyote managed to drag herself along for months, feeding herself and her youngsters all by herself. After two full months she was again using that leg, gingerly, but she was using it. Over time she did recover: but you can imagine how difficult life was for her during her healing time.

Rat poison has kills

Another coyote killer in the City is rat poison: I’ve picked up several dead coyotes showing no body traumas which could indicate poisoning was involved. Only one was necropsied, but that animal’s body was found to be riddled with four different kinds of rat poison. Rat poison works by causing internal bleeding, so before it kills, it weakens the animal tremendously — and probably hurts unbearably. Some survive milder doses, but their reactions are slowed and subjecting them to further injury. Those with heavy doses die pretty horrible deaths.

Dogs chasing him broke his ankle

Leg injuries are pretty common in coyotes: I regularly see them limping. Although dogs aren’t the cause of all their limping, I have seen plenty of coyotes end up limping after having been chased by a dog. In the uneven terrain, and woodsie areas which they run into in order to escape a dog, the sticks and holes are little booby traps for their fine limbs, and they get injured.

I’ve seen an actual broken ankle — so diagnosed by a wildlife vet from a video I sent her — caused by running from a dog. That ankle eventually, over many months, healed, but it came back to haunt him three years later, when I again saw him limping on the same back leg: he had just lost his mate who had been hit by a car and now he needed to defend his territory and pups from takeover, but he could not do so without his mate. The weakened and then re-injured ankle may have resulted from him trying to defend his turf. He was driven out and I have not seen him for a year.

Dogs chase coyotes constantly in San Francisco
This fella’s left front arm was broken and healed crooked.

I saw a broken forearm (either the radius or the ulna) — I have no idea how it came about. That was an 18 month old during his dispersal time. He returned to one of the territories he had passed through earlier and was lucky enough to hide in the yard of some good Samaritans who nursed him along. Today, at four years of age (he was born in 2019), he maintains his limp — not a huge one, but a limp nonetheless. In spite of his condition, he is the alpha male of his own family — so he’s a real survivor.

Skin lesions from all sorts of pathogens & injuries exist.

I have not seen any cases of mange in the city, but I’ve seen plenty of skin lesions. Below is a case that looked like the result of a mite/flea infestation which then was licked and worked over by the coyote, causing more hair loss than anything else. The wound itself could initially be seen as fiery red, so it must have been painful. I again sent photos of this five-year-old lactating mother here to the vet. The vet replied — this is after the furious red had died down — that the coyote was healing well, that she (the coyote) did a good job of cleaning up the wound, that it could have been a puncture or foxtail wound, and that coyotes seem better at healing on their own than dogs. I don’t usually see skin lesions that are that big — most appear substantially smaller than this one and there are usually many such lesions on an animal.

Bulbous ear growths

Worms and intestinal parasites obviously exist as shown by my regularly seeing diarrhea and seeing “scooting” behavior, which almost always signifies worms, the same as with dogs.

Coyotes are in fact constantly grooming each other to prevent insect infestations. Here are two youngster siblings removing ticks from each other.
Tag caused an ear infection and deformed ear; radio collar did self-release so she’s stuck with it

Scientists wanting to study these animals — besides harassing and terrifying the animals by capturing them — use gadgets that they staple or buckle onto the animals. I’ve seen tagging that resulted in a permanently flopped-over ear, and radio-collars which were supposed to be automatically self-released but malfunctioned so that after five years, these cumbersome objects are still attached to the animals.

Other human injuries are caused by sporting paintguns which can cause internal injuries and even the loss of an eye. We almost never discover the extent of any injury because we hope for minimal human intervention and, besides, nature is one of the best healers.

An injured eye
A lost eye could have been caused by hunting.

Here’s a coyote without an eye. I don’t know what caused this injury. I can just hope it wasn’t caused by a human. This is one of the Golden Gate Park coyote pups born last year who dispersed to Lake Merced before disappearing completely. The coyote was much, much smaller than his siblings, possibly due to his inability to get enough food. Hardship again. And here’s another coyote who only two days earlier was perfectly fine, but now she’s squinting severely with her right eye — again, I hope it wasn’t caused by humans.

These are wounds from a territorial battle. She was driven away from her home, but eventually got it back.

Wounds from territorial battles are not so uncommon. I’ve seen a 4 year old limping home from such a battle. The worst I’ve seen is a five year old father who had part of his lip torn off. And then there was Scout whose flight from her territorial battler I documented extensively on this blog.

Gophers can fight back by biting hard.

But wounds also occur from just simply everyday life. For example, in hunting for gophers, the gopher often, if it can, fights back. This may be one of the reasons a coyote *toys* with its prey: to keep that gopher away from its eyes. I had a friend with a pet python snake who had lost an eye to prey: the owner saw it happen.

Infant mortality is always high in coyotes. Last summer a pup was found dead at the Presidio about ten days after it died — it was too late to perform a necropsy.

And at West Portal last year, one of the four pups was either born with a birth defect or acquired an injury early on to his spine because — he was lame and much smaller than his siblings The vet told me it’s very likely the result of distemper, and the case in the Presidio may be the same: distemper causes neurological compromises that can result in lameness. I saw a cheetah abandon such a pup in the wild — that did not happen here. This fella was not abandoned or ditched. He was allowed to grow up with his siblings who prodded him on. And, miraculously, he improved! He began walking regularly, albeit with a bit of a wobble which over time subsided. At this stage, I don’t know what the effect will be on him as an adult.

You know that there’s an ear problem when they continue to shake their heads. There’s no vet to take care of the infection or remove the foxtail. They learn to cope.

What I have depicted here are the visible injuries and afflictions that I myself could identify. Those diseases that aren’t so readily visible or identifiable, include rabies of which we’ve had no cases in San Francisco, canine distemper — which we can sometimes identify by the injury it causes to an animal, tularemia, canine hepatitis and mange, which is associated with weakened immune systems caused by rat poison.

Scars are their histories — most of the stories we’ll never know, but what we should know is that survival requires some tough beatings. Here are some scars that have stories behind them — and I know only a very few of them. On the left, the scars have healed, but his scars were as disfiguring as these two to the right which were fresh when I took the photos.

So, a coyote’s life is hard and it is short — but it’s harder elsewhere I think, where they are subject to predation mostly by people, whereas wolves used to be their main predator, until we killed them all off. Fortunately, we here in San Francisco have gotten rid of the sinister culture still maintained in many areas: killing them to manage them. One old-timer told me that in the 1950s, San Francisco paid $4.00 bounties for a set of two ears. With all the killing humans have imposed on coyotes — 200K a year — their numbers have not gone down. As a species they are survivors and resilient. As individuals, just like us, they are trying to survive and thrive in a sometimes hostile world. We need to give them a break by simply keeping a distance and walking away from them if you have a dog: that alone will make life more pleasant for them AND for dog owners!

We don’t shoot them on sight here in SF

Cases of Both Mothers AND Daughters Lactating

Threesome raising a den of pups: Mom, Dad & lactating Daughter

I have now seen four cases of both an alpha female mother AND one of her remaining daughters — always a two-year-old who has just come of reproductive age — both lactating on the same territory and in the same denning area. These four cases occurred in separate families and territories. The following names won’t mean anything to most people so I’m just putting them here to differentiate them for myself. 1) Tarn (alpha female), Pink (daughter) and Rookie (new alpha male) in 2022; 2) Chert (alpha female), Squirrel (daughter), and Rookie (new alpha male in 2021); 3) Scout (alpha female), Li’lGirl (daughter), and Skipper (new alpha male) in 2023; and 4) Ma’am (alpha female), unnamed daughter, and Blue (long-time alpha male) in 2021. 

I have been attributing these “double lactations” to two different pregnancies due to the sudden disappearance of the resident alpha male and the quick appearance of a new male who moved into the vacated alpha position. This made sense to me, based on what I’ve read, that “when the alphas are killed, disorganization leads to more litters and the population increases.” [Bob Crabtree]. Indeed, the long-time alpha males totally disappeared in the case of #1, #2, and #3 above, which fit Crabtree’s conditions, but this was not the case with #4. But then again, I was only seeing the #4 family from a distance, and rarely at that, so I figured I was simply missing something from the situation.

So the obvious explanation for me was some sort of polygamy or harem situation. However, this runs in the face of what I’ve seen before over the last 17 years, and it runs counter to what we’ve been told about coyotes: that coyotes are monogamous. And also, younger females are known to be *behaviorally sterile* unless there is a disruption by killing (or a death) — and there was no disruption of this sort in family #4. So everything wasn’t aligned between what I knew and what I was seeing.

AND THEN, I read about pseudopregnancy in dogs which is apparently common phenomenon in canines. I got my information online from a 2017 paper by Robert A. Foster: Female Reproductive System and Mammae”, published in “ScienceDirect”: which is about domestic dogs, but I think it’s safe to assume that coyotes might exhibit the same phenomenon. For how the process works you’ll have to click on the article above, but the relevant information is this:

It has been hypothesized that this condition is an adaptive response to allow non-breeding females to help raise offspring of the breeding female.54 Associated physical and behavioral changes are very broad in scope, ranging from none all the way to the equivalent of pregnancy. Included can be nervousness, guarding an area, making a nest (66.1% of nonpregnant females), abdominal distention, mammary gland development with or without lactation (78.6%)

Through the 16 years that I’ve been observing, I’ve seen many yearlings help raise the young of their parents, but only within the last several years have I seen this “double lactating”. So, my question is, would these be double-pregnancies (and therefore polygamous situations), or are the yearling daughters just “helping to raise their mother’s new pups” by contributing to the milk supply, among other things?

Coyote reveals her lactating state to me.

My observations are all visual, and I never go close to densites, and so I wouldn’t be able to tell which of these two potential situations exists in these four cases: in all cases, the lactating daughter also swelled up in size — but as you have read above, this is a symptom of pseudopregnancy. However, based on case #4 where the long-term alpha remained and was not replaced, and based on what we know about coyotes being monogamous, I’m now leaning towards the belief that these daughters are simply helping their mothers. By the way, in the cases before 2023, all of the lactating two-year-olds dispersed when the season was over, except one who remained until April of this year before leaving. In addition, all of the alpha mothers were about eight years old..

I’ve asked Dr. Benjamin Sacks at UC Davis if he can provide me with his knowledge of, or references to, these situations. AND, since we have the DNA from scats from some of these situations, we’ll be able to tell definitively what the situation is for that family — these are still being worked on. I’ll be following up with more once I find out more, but I wanted to go ahead and post this today, on Mother’s Day!

Our Coyotes: Live Talk at Fort Mason

I’ll be giving a presentation about coyotes at the Fort Mason Community Garden on Saturday, May 20th at 10 am. If you are interested, it will be a poster talk in lieu of a slides because projected slides would just be washed out in the midday light! There should be plenty of time for questions afterwards. The RSVP seems to be an informal request by the FMCG — so far, I see no place on their website to do so. I was told that most people don’t RSVP.

Denning Challenges and Choices. And Good Moms. By Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet, 

I wanted to share with you a student’s observations and leanings. Which lead to more questions. 

Kinky Tail continues to raise her very active litter. There are 7 either there was a miscount originally or 2 have disappeared. They think 2 pups have disappeared because there is a local golden eagle who for years has been seen with coyote pups, fox kits and feral cats. It seasonally comes to this area during lambing and calving times. It has been seen daily flying over den areas.

That well may have encouraged Kinky to move pups as well as..ticks. Locally we’ve seen plague level numbers of ticks. And Kinkys grooming times with pups seemed very long last week. Her last den area was absolutely infested with 3 species of ticks. Ugh.

Now however, Kinky moved pups to a rendezvous of log piles, poison oak bushes, and grazing cattle. 

The student says she doesn’t believe the location was randomly picked. 

The abundance of poison oak keeps people out except rarely riders of horse or quads passing thru. Ranch folk.  

The grazed range grass is short and doesn’t hold high tick densities compared with long grasses or brush areas. 

And finally, having an entire cow to scavenge 2 miles away after move means less animals near pups (scavengers galore) and Kinky doesn’t have to hunt the longer grass fields for voles. Which mean tick pick up. She has the cow or many dozens of caches. Also discovered was she visits an orchard and gleans old fallen Apple’s from last Fall.

This Student feels Kinky’s choice of den was premeditated and thought carefully out. It has minimal tick numbers. Humans rarely come and pass quickly. It’s open with vast vistas and hillsides yet has hiding places for pups. The Longhorns don’t encourage canine visitors. It’s close to dead cow but far enough pups don’t meet scavengers.

She also is study wild turkey brood site selections and says the studies lend to each other. Wild Turkey Hens need to sit on eggs around 28 days. The picked site is obviously paramount. A poorly picked site is disastrous. There are hens that pick poorly or lose patience or dedication and leave eggs too long as well. Then there are hens that cover eggs while minimally foraging for bugs and food and rush back fast. How a Hen Broods means Everything. And not all hens are good moms. 

She says it’s same for Coyote. Some mothers are functional but rather minimal. Or make bad choices. Some..seem to be absolutely dedicated mothers. She feels most coyote are very dedicated Moms. 

So how much is choice and thought when picking a site to hide and raise your kids? She feels Kinky Tail is neighborhood cognizant. 

In her words “No wolf gang signs. No noisy dog parties. No bad nosy people. Riding thru people that she’s known since pup and plenty of longhorns and poison oak seem the latest mood and pic”

Kinky is doing well. She has 7 very active very fat pups. She’s busy busy busy. By day she stays at den. At night it’s cow scavenging, cow caches and long long drinks. And some nights old apples. She grooms her pups even as she comes home bedraggled. Growls briefly but playfully at Mate as he leaves for day shift. 

Real Estate Realities are working out for Kinky. 


%d bloggers like this: