Eating Himalayan Blackberries in San Francisco

Notice how gingerly the coyotes move around. That’s because thorns hurt them as much as they hurt us humans. Both coyotes carefully rummage through the patch of berries, picking just those that are perfectly ripe and delicious. They spent over half an hour doing so.

I’ve been noticing a lot of fruit seeds in coyote droppings everywhere lately, so coyotes all over are enjoying summer fruit. What I don’t know is if they are being drawn to the fruit simply because it is delicious and they like it, or if it is because their usual rodent pickings are scarcer at this time.

Please note that Himalayan Blackberries are an important food source, not just for coyotes, but for all sorts of wildlife, including birds, AND even we humans love to pick and eat them. They are a Horn-of-Plenty for so many species, not only as a food source, but also as an impenetrable, thorny thicket, which serves as a protective habitat barrier for wildlife from dogs and humans. It tends to be invasive, so it may need to be controlled in places, but let’s think twice about altogether exterminating such a useful plant.

Sibling Best Friends Become Arch Enemies

I missed capturing the first skirmish in this battle, and when I finally turned on the video camera, the three coyotes were in a standoff — standing absolutely still, facing each other, tense, waiting, daring an interaction, prepared for the other’s next move. There was no physical activity during this time; the activity was all psychological and internal. They held this stance for many minutes. I cut out that long section from the video, but know that for several minutes before this video begins, that was going on. The video actually begins right before a snarl that leads to more fighting.

On reflection and with hindsight, all the activity of that early morning was headed in the direction of this showdown. Instead of their normally exuberant playing, exploring and hunting, the two coyotes I was observing in the video remained fairly immobile, with their eyes fixated on a far-off object which I could not see. That they remained this way for more than 15 minutes, with just slight movements, should have been a dead giveaway as to what was going on. These two were waiting for any false move or “moving in” from the coyote they were watching. And that coyote, no doubt, was watching them just as intently, assessing what his own next moves would be, and what theirs would be, possibly daring the situation into a showdown.

Finally the two rushed up apparently to head off the third coyote who decided to enter this area, and that’s when the first skirmish occurred.

The fighting here includes snarling, teeth displays, raised hackles, intense biting and punching, jumping on, charging and slamming against, and brutal tail-pulling by two siblings, a brother and a sister who joins him, against a third brother who cries out in pain (about :44) and fights back, but who ends up running off after the showdown. The sister’s behavior is interesting and I’ve seen this before: a subordinate coyote joins in the fray led by an aggressor in ferociously attacking a third. In a couple of cases it made sense because there had been a bit of antagonism between the two subordinates, but I’m not sure this is always the case. Maybe the sister was primed instinctually to team up with the would-be-winner as a population control mechanism? I’m speculating because I don’t totally understand this why a third would join in.

This fighting is not a simple family spat to resolve who gets what or who sits where: those issues are worked out by hierarchical behavior which is less intense. This fighting here, in its consequences, will decide fates and destinies that will be monumental for the lives involved. It will decide who gets to live a privileged continuance of patterns and routines he has known all his life and within a territory which he knows every inch of, and who will be put at risk for hardship, survival and even death by traveling away from the familiar and into the unknown through hostile territory (with unfamiliar routes, cars, other territorial coyotes, people), where food and water also will be scarce and hard to find.

That’s the physical side of what’s going on, but there’s also an emotional side: that of finding oneself all alone and self-dependent after a life of intense family interactions, companionship, and mutual care. Dispersal can be a trying time, and it is often initiated like in this video. This rivalry here hasn’t been going on for too long — these fellas were still buddies less than a month ago. The rivalry has reached a crescendo now. Hopefully the underdog is resilient and lucky and will survive and become a stronger individual through his uncharted trials.

Already the siblings in this family are down to three from seven. One was killed by a car when under a year old. Two were found dehydrated and beyond help (I’m told by ACC), probably poisoned by some human element — possibly car coolant left out in the open. A fourth female recently picked up and left amicably of her own accord. She was the one who had always held back and was not totally a part of the fun of the others.

And now it appears that this brother has to go: there’s no room in one territory for the two males, and the remaining sister has taken sides. Eventually these last two siblings will also leave, and I wonder if they will go off as a pair: I’ve seen that inbreeding is not so uncommon in coyotes. Because of dispersion, we are not overpopulated with coyotes. At this point, these particular yearlings are 16 months old.

Red Tailed Hawk Fledgeling Plays With A Rock

For variety, occasionally I write about other animals than just coyotes — and this post is about one of these non-coyote animals.

I found the Red Tailed Hawk fledgling I wrote about several weeks ago playing or practice-hunting with a rock. I had never seen anything like this before and wonder how ordinary, or quirky, or super-intelligent (or the opposite) this behavior is to be able to play like this?  Then again, maybe it’s an indication of character, individuality and special interests as in anyone else — why not?  She was persistent in her play and really fun to watch — almost as fun as watching the coyotes! A few days later, I saw her playing this same way with a pine cone, and before that I saw her attacking a gnarled twig on the ground as though it might be a something edible.

Addendum: I spoke to our local bird specialist, Dom Mosur, who told me that this is normal behavior, that hawks indeed do play with rocks!!

Gypsy Coyotes: One Family’s Territorial Peregrinations

Gypsy: “nomadic and itinerant; inclination to move from place to place.” This is how I can best describe one of my coyote families that has lived in a series of small parks or open spaces in the city.

The other families in the city which I know — and I’ve been following 9 of these more than a dozen families in the city — stick to their territories and the closer neighborhoods, including one loner who at the age of 3 and a half still lives happily alone on her little plot of land. They seem to all have claimed their land permanently. On these territories (except where the loner lives), pups are born yearly and disperse usually between 9 months and 2 and a half years of age, sometimes leaving of their own accord, and sometimes being driven off. When they disperse, of course, they move out and away from their territories for good, as far south of the city as Los Gatos, as discovered by Jonathan Young. Many of those dispersing coyotes get hit by cars. Each family is different in how the youngsters flow through, but what is the same in all except my gypsy family is that the breeding pair have remained on their same land for years and years, and outsider coyotes are driven off.

This is not true of the gypsy family.

This schematic diagram to the right represents a distribution of claimed coyote territories where the same families — as I’ve observed them — have lived for years (the green areas) within the mass of the city surrounding them: streets with incessant traffic, noise and activity, homes, business centers. And my one nomadic gypsy family whose movements have carried them to five different locations (the red starred areas) within the last several years. The movements appear to be associated with pupping.

 

I’ve known this gypsy family for only several years — through the births of two litters. When I first encountered them, they were new to the park, so they had been moving around before this time OR they could have been two of the lucky dispersing coyotes from other parks in the city to find an empty niche within the city: the male soon became omnipresent and readily visible in his small park (Park A) while the female remained much less conspicuous. Then, I noticed this same female on a street, heading towards another park (Park B), which surprised me greatly. I observed her enter the park and saunter through. I wondered if she would have been driven out, as others had, had she been seen by the resident coyotes who have not let any non-family coyotes into their park. I wondered what her connection to this Park B was, because surely there was one.  Again, two months later, for a period of several weeks, I found her traversing the same street route regularly at about 7 to 10 am between her original park (Park A) and this second park (Park B), AND she obviously was lactating during that time. Her mate never made these treks with or without her.

So the plot thickened and so did my questions. Why was she moving between two parks, the second of which was already occupied by another stable and entrenched coyote family? Had she had her youngsters in that park? Was it safer for pups there? Was there more food? Was she keeping the pups away from her mate? OR, were the pups actually at Park A, in which case she would have been just visiting? But why? Soon, all this park-hopping stopped: it turned out to be a temporary situation, because after lactation ceased in June, she again kept to her original park (Park A) and the youngsters, two of them, were seen there sporadically. So I didn’t pursue my questions any further.

Life became routine at that park (Park A), with Dad making his reconnaissance rounds daily, hanging out in his favorite spots between daytime napping sessions, and finally meeting Mom in the evenings as dusk fell for their rendezvous during which they romped together joyfully. The youngsters would join them afterwards for jollity and play. It was always dark by that time and one could only become aware of them with a sweep of a flashlight if they were in the right place at the right time: their reflecting eyes could be seen racing this way and that. Very few people ever saw these pups. This family, during this time, appeared no different from any of the other families I watched.

Then, at the beginning of the next breeding season, in early 2018, both parent coyotes disappeared from their park (Park A), even though their yearlings remained there. The yearlings now took over the daily rounds there during the night. Had that park (Park A) now been ceded to them, I wondered?

Soon I discovered the new whereabouts of the parents: they were in another very small open space (Park C) about two miles away. The male’s appearance here was shockingly decrepit and sad, with new and prominent scars covering his face, an extremely forlorn demeanor, and a perpetual slinking stance. Had he had to fight for his mate? I don’t know. We have one photo of another male in the area. It was still February and it was mating season. Although coyotes mate for life, I asked myself if there might have been some kind of a showdown? Our male was observed at this park (C) for only a couple of weeks before moving on — the female was seen even less — and then they disappeared from this site as well and I lost track of them for a few weeks.

The gypsy-coyote pair and a pup

The next thing I knew, the pair had settled into yet another area (#D), about a mile away, where pups were obviously born — it was obvious because Mom was lactating again. This coyote pair has remained in this area (#D) now for over four months with their growing pups. The male performs his territorial sentry/reconnaissance duty several times a day as any good guardian father would, and in the evening he meets up with his mate for lots of fun and play without the youngsters, and the youngsters join them later.

However, a month ago Dad started returning to his original park (#A) for one-day long visits, always traveling to and from there at night, and always returning to the park where he had his last litter of pups (#C) the next evening. Those visits have become regular, occurring, to begin with, every 2 weeks, and now every week or less, and they’ve grown from one-day visits to 2 and then 3 days in length. During the visit yesterday, BOTH parents traveled the streets at night to the original park (#A) where they remained all day, leaving this year’s pups at the only home they have known so far (#C), and returning to them that evening. During today’s visit, only Mom made the trip for part of the day and returned before evening — walking the streets of San Francisco during daylight.

And there’s actually a 4th park involved (Park E), where several of us watched the female attempt to stake out yet another park for almost a week before returning to park #A after her first litter had been born. This park was clearly inappropriately too small for her needs.

This is a developing story, so there’s sure to be a sequel at some point.

[I spend my time observing and documenting coyote behavior and then writing and posting about them, in order to show people what they are really like. Mine are all first-hand observations, made on my own, usually about family life, which you can’t find much about beyond a few photos of pups on the internet. I get into what is actually going on. I’m a self-taught naturalist who is in the field many hours every day. I don’t know of any academics who are doing this, so this information is not available elsewhere. Hope you enjoy it, learn from it, and then embrace coyotes for who they really are! Janet]

Our Playful Neighbor, by Gina Solomon

I was walking my dog yesterday morning when I spotted movement on the hillside across the road. There, fairly close, was our local coyote in action! At first I thought she was hunting, but it soon became clear she was playing with a ball. She was clearly having a blast, tossing it up in the air, letting the ball roll down the hillside and then leaping after it. Several times the ball rolled nearly as far as the road. She was cautious, however, and always looked around for potential danger before dashing down the hill.

I sat on a rock across the road and watched her for a few minutes. This little video clip only gives a hint of the fun she was having. A few times I laughed out loud because her antics were so cute and funny, and I had to remind myself that I was watching a wild animal in her own habitat, not a dog. The happiness I felt from watching her play stayed with me all day, and I’m smiling at the memory as I write this. We are so lucky to have such intelligent, playful, and athletic creatures in our midst!

My Spot Taken

This had always been my spot . . . until now!

Although I walk all over various parks to do my observations, I have a few favorite static spots where I’m prone to linger and hang out. So, yesterday, after hiking around, I headed to one of my spots. I had in mind 20 minutes of writing and reflecting. As I approached the spot, my eyes were on my pack as I pulled out my pen and tablet — I was not looking where I was going — where I was going had become pretty automatic, so I didn’t need to look.

When I did look up I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t believe one of my coyotes had taken my spot. This coyote had seen me many times at this spot, so she knew it was mine. A couple of times she had even come over to check if I was there. So I wonder what she was trying to tell me by taking my place? Did she not want me there?

She looked at me nonchalantly — see photo — and then looked away. She did not move or get up, and she wasn’t going to. I suppose the spot now belonged to her. I would have to find another place for myself. I myself wouldn’t even think about taking any of her favorite spots!

[this was actually written but not posted on 7/12/13]
071213

Public Coyote Mural/Collage in San Francisco

I think this is fabulous! It’s a large public mural/collage which sits above street level, one story up, and can be seen coming down Divisadero Street. I went into the building, Seniore’s Pizza, to ask about it, and was told simply that a group of young adults approached the building owner and asked if they could get up on the roof to make this, and they were given permission to do so. This happened about two years ago. The owner of the pizzeria did not know their names, and my inquiry to the landlord was never answered, so we’ll have to call it “anonymous” unless someone steps forward. In the meantime, enjoy the artwork, and if you are in San Francisco, drive South down Divisadero Street, you’ll see it on the right hand side at #559 Divisadero.

August 12th update received in a comment: The artist is Bordalo II, and the piece is called “Half Coyote”. Please read more about it at this link: http://www.sfweekly.com/culture/know-your-street-art-half-coyote/

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