Moods: Good Days and Bad Days

I don’t think most of us think about wild animals out in their habitats in nature as having ups and downs, good days and bad days similar to our own. We tend to see an animal and possibly what it is doing and move on, and are thrilled at the sighting.

For us humans, things often go smoothly and well, and we have feelings and reactions to these, and sometimes things go badly and we have other reactions and feelings to these. A particular experience or set of experiences might affect us for much longer than the immediate moment of that experience, and these color our behavior and reactions for a while moving forward. Wildlife, too, has good days and bad days and even mood swings — and that includes coyotes!

I’ve seen coyotes in their element: successfully pouncing for gophers, basking comfortably in the sunshine, enjoying the help of rain causing gophers to emerge from their tunnels, being groomed affectionately by a mate, playing ecstatically with siblings. They are obviously feeling good and having a good day. And I’ve seen them out of their element because of an infestation of fleas, a broken ankle caused by a chasing dog, dealing with a constantly bullying sibling, or evading hostile territorial coyotes during dispersal or even dogs during pupping season. I’ve seen a coyote down in the dumps and anxious after being driven viciously from her own territory by an intruder. Coyotes aren’t reacting to things unfeelingly — their emotional states are intense and very obvious when you are watching them.

Here is a video I captured in a field camera that shows the same pair of coyotes on a bad day and then on a good day. On their bad day — it seems to actually be HER bad day — she lunges at him with teeth bared, letting him know exactly how she feels and letting him know to bug off. Then the video flips and you see this same pair, three weeks later, on a good day: here she is overjoyed and jumping ecstatically all over him and even rubbing affectionately against him, while he smiles (yes, smiles — they smile when they’re having fun playing) and seems to enjoy her behavior towards him. Listen also to the two very different vocalizations with each behavior: one upset and angry, and the other contented purrs.

Indiefest: “don’t feed the coyotes” will show at the Roxie in SF on April 14th at 6 pm

This is a documentary film by Nick Stone Schearer. You may get your tickets online by clicking HERE. [PS: I’m in this film!]

The Chronicle wrote a review of the film.

This is the Q&A session afterwards

Pupping Is On!

A seven year old pregnant coyote shortly before giving birth

Out of the 16 territories I’ve mapped here in San Francisco (and I fully assume there are several more that I’ve missed), I’m able to follow six and sometimes seven of the families more closely. The expectant mothers I’m keeping tabs on this year range in age from 5 to 7, 8 and 9. I can only guess the age of two of them, but they appear younger than 4 years old. Of these, four have given birth over the past week, and I haven’t yet been able to confirm the other two, but they are imminent. Pupping season is in full-swing!

An alpha female’s change from pregnant to postpartum last week.

It seems that expectant coyote mothers avoid being out in the open where they can be seen. Since February, my sightings of them have been extremely sparse. I think it’s because they feel more vulnerable — the same as after they’ve sustained an injury, and the same as when they get old, as debilitating deteriorations set in. They keep themselves protected by keeping out of sight. So I have sparse images this year of obviously pregnant coyotes, but my field camera was able to capture the above images of the same alpha female over the last week, showing her change from quite pregnant to postpartum.

Here is a five-year-old nursing mother who recently gave birth. She’s on her 3rd litter this year. She’s still young and takes her mothering duties in stride!
Note the triangle of fur dipping below her abdomen which helps protect and hide the swollen mammary glands of this older mom.

Younger mothers seem able to hide their nursing status much better than older moms, especially as the weeks go by. The abdomens of all nursing moms becomes bald — the better to feed the youngsters — but a triangle of fur sometimes hangs down and conceals what’s going on unless you know what to look for.

. . . like an island in an ocean of grass
Here is an exhausted older mom who I found resting in the sun, far away from any pups.

Nine years old apparently is not too old to have pups as confirmed by one of the mothers I’m keeping my eyes on. However, it appears that giving birth is particularly taxing on older moms, and raising the youngsters I’m sure won’t be as easy as it was when they were younger. The above eight-year-old mother looked absolutely exhausted and even depressed to me following her birthing ordeal when I spotted her in the distance as a bump on the vast golf green: when she finally noticed me, she moved only her eyelids to look at me and then closed them again. She was soaking in the heat of the sun a good 1/4 mile from the general area where I know her den is. I won’t know how many pups were born to any of the families until June at the earliest, if then — most coyote parents are very protective of their pups and often don’t even like them to be seen, and they’ll move them if they think you might be interested in them. I usually get a glimpse of some of them in June as they begin exploring further afield.

Not all coyote territorial mated pairs produce litters, or possibly, they produce them but the pups don’t always survive. Last year, we saw a 4-year-old female who had been bulging at the sides and was initially lactating but no pups were ever seen by anyone, so we assume they all perished. Pup survival rate is notoriously low for coyotes. This would have been that female’s first litter, even though the previous year the conditions were right for her — she had a territory and a mate and she was over two years old — but a litter never materialized. Other territorial mated pairs I observed never showed any signs at all that they were expecting or birthing, and there were no pups ever seen, even though the pairs had been together for over a year at least.

In one family this year — the same as occurred last year to a different family — there is a mother and daughter, BOTH of whom had been very pregnant on one territory. Last year, the daughter and her pups disappeared soon after the birth, and I’m wondering if they even survived. That mother had developed a 12 inch square gaping and angry red wound on her side which may have led to her end. Possibly her surviving pups, if there were any, were adopted and incorporated into the other family — hopefully the DNA we’ve collected will reveal all that. We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is for the double motherhood on a territory this year: it’s an unusual situation and seems to come from less than stable or solid alpha pair relationships.

Dad guards the birthing area — and waits and waits. Birthing is occurring right now in San Francisco.

Another sign of what’s going on right now is that dads have been hanging out and guarding near their den sites. For years I used to look for the *birthing rock* where one of SF’s father coyotes hung out while Mom gave birth. After I realized why he was hanging out there, I would always look for him at this time of year, and always found him there during this short birthing period, year after year, until last year. That father passed away last year, but other dads have been doing the same thing: finding a lookout post close to their mates’ birthing dens where they stand sentry, guarding the precious new litter while Mom is unable to do so, still recovering from birthing.

How Coyote the Trickster Sneaks in and Twists a Story, by K.M. del Mara

Always lurking behind the scenes in my new book, Twist a Rope of Sand, is Coyote the Trickster. You may not notice him nosing amongst boulders, but he’s there, observing all comings and goings, never missing a thing, not even the Chopin nocturnes someone practices daily. Music does soothe the savage beast, they say, and Coyote knows those nocturnes to the last note.

Although Coyote Trickster turned out to be essential to this book, it was not my intention to feature him in any way. Granted, the previous book in this mini-series, Vagabond Wind, also had a trickster figure who put mischievous ideas into peoples’ heads, or brought unlikely loners together. But I thought I was finished with merry pranksters when I closed that book.

That tricksy character, though, had other ideas. Somehow he transformed, grew fur and ears, and popped out from behind a rock. Scared me half to death, too, if I own the truth, having only seen a coyote once in my life. But as this new story settled itself into the high desert of the southwest, I realized, even as I tried to ignore him, he would not go away. Then, wandering around online, I tripped over Janet Kessler’s wonderful site. I am learning a lot reading her posts, but the thing that first drew me in was a remarkable image she captured, of Coyote and Raven in the very midst of an altercation. How Janet ever caught such an interchange on camera is beyond me, but that image wrote the first chapter of the book. And, spoiler alert, more besides.

They say authors succumb to writer’s block when their imaginary friends stop talking to them. This coyote, though, will not keep quiet. He still whispers in my ear even though I’ve closed the cover on that book. I’m thinking that, if I can pass him along to a few readers, maybe he’ll leave me alone. But I warn you, beware! If he puts his nose over your doorsill, you never know what will happen. And so, allow me to offer you a chance to meet Señor Coyote. But watch yourself carefully if he’s around. That guy is not to be trusted.

Twist a Rope of Sand, by K.M. del Mara

It’s available from Amazon here.

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PS: [Raven/Coyote story can be found here]


Have you ever wondered how a coyote ages, or even thought about it? It’s similar to us. Most of the changes occur during early-life growth and then during old-age and decline. In-between these more obvious changes, there are slower and more subtle changes as the animal continues to mature and evolve, weathering the elements and bearing the tatters and tears of everyday life. No different from your dog’s. No different from us.

Chert just turned nine years old — Happy Birthday Chert. I’ve known her her entire life and witnessed the changes she’s gone through. She was born into a litter of a three surviving pups. She herself had her first litter — a singleton pup — at the age of two, and she’s not done yet! It appears that she’s having another litter this year! Go Chert! And she still has four just-turned-yearlings at home who have not dispersed out of a litter of five born last year, one of whom has dispersed. I know Chert’s ancestors going back to before 2009 and several two generations of descendants in the city.

In this posting I’m concentrating on ever so subtle changes of facial features through the years. A coyote’s face is covered with fur which hides many things, but you can see some of her *history* in the visible scars on her face. They are pretty minor: Chert has lived a fairly easy life. A big change in her appearance surfaced at about the age of 5. No one recognized her after she had been absent for many weeks, and even I had to see her face-on before I could tell it was her.

Of course, there are huge physical and psychological changes that also occur through a lifetime, beginning with drastic seasonal fur changes. On a longer time scale in the physical realm, old age will bring loss of hearing, difficulty with vision, arthritis, and more. In other words, life will become more difficult if it hasn’t already. I’ve seen a number of coyotes live to be 12 years old here in San Francisco.

Psychological changes also occur as new and different situations are confronted and dealt with throughout a coyote’s life: Coyotes, as we, are constantly learning and becoming wiser as they age.

One thing I’ve notice the most about aging coyotes is that they are less out in the open, less visible, the same as after injuries earlier in life. I imagine it’s because they feel more vulnerable and are less willing to take the risks they took earlier in life. One of the big risks of being visible is dogs chasing them.

9 years old (March, 2022)
7½ years old
almost 6 years old
5 years old
3 years old
Two years
7 months old
2½ months old

The Many Faces of Dispersal

I hope this posting clarifies rather than confuses or convolutes what goes into dispersal. I think I’ve covered enough examples to enlighted, but not too many so as to confuse! I’ve included plenty of links to YouTube videos and previous postings of mine.

Dispersal is not a simple cut-and-dry process that occurs on a set schedule: it occurs at any time of the year and has a variety of causes pushing and pulling it. I’m sure we all can appreciate that it’s always safer to have a territory and remain on one than not: coyotes are familiar with existing dangers and food sources on their own territories whereas they are not outside of that area. From what I’ve seen, the majority of coyote deaths occur during dispersal, away from their territories, most of those in urban areas by cars, though of course younger and inexperienced coyotes aren’t much safer from cars within their own territories. So that’s an important factor involved in dispersal.

Video of youngsters playing

Another factor is the changing quality of play over time. Initially, coyote littermates learn by playing innocently with each other — it’s great to have a bunch of companions! They learn invaluable and nuanced social skills (how to get along and how not to!), communication skills, hierarchy assessment, etc. They learn their limits, and they learn the limits of their siblings: they learn when they’ve gone too far. Most play is on the level of horsing around, teasing, provoking, and competitive. It includes chase-me, keep-away, wrestling, tug-of-war, pouncing, stealing, grabbing, etc. Very little of it is cooperative, except that they are engaging with each other and learning the rules together and through each other, learning to apologize in order to keep a game going, etc. Even so, I’ve seen plenty of cuddling and grooming, and the growth of very special sibling bonds as seen in the two photos below. Above is a video of siblings playing, showing how rough and tumble it is.

opposite-sex youngster siblings grooming each other affectionately
Youngsters love to play, with increasing challenges as time moves along, until one day it becomes cut-throat rivalry
Sweet Face wasn’t interested in rough play

Roughhousing can escalate: if they want to play with a sibling who doesn’t like the roughness, they learn to tone it down. Those individuals who withdraw from rougher play either can’t keep up, don’t like it, or are innately less socially interactive than their siblings: innate personalities which they are born with are always a part of the equation. They may prefer sitting to the side and watching, or going off on their own. This little girl to the right remained aloof of rough play, but the little girl in the video above resigned herself to being batted around rather than be excluded.

These photos above are of brother siblings whose playing has turned more serious: more of, “Take that, and I mean it.” One youngster still wanted to get along, but the other wanted brother gone.

Unwelcome teasing, bullying, one-upmanship, all of which are involved in establishing a hierarchy or challenging it, can segue into visceral dislike and antagonism, and ultimately avoidance of a sibling. OR their internal clock begins telling them to exclude others of the same sex, especially the males. For females, growing antagonism appears to be more often on a mother-daughter level as far as I’ve seen. After all, coyotes live pretty much in long-lasting monogamous pairs, so this is ultimately what they are programmed for: reproductive rivals must be excluded. They are *nuclear family* animals as opposed to *pack* animals.

This video above shows sibling rivalry between an older sister and a younger brother: I haven’t seen as much male/female sibling rivalry, but here are two examples. 1) The young male in the video has taken on their mother’s attitude towards his sister. Mother had been regularly attacking the sister in an attempt to get her to disperse. Sister sulked but didn’t leave. The mother’s repeated negative treatment of Sister seems to have given license to this brother to ceaselessly taunt her and egg her on as in this video. Note the purposeful teasing and body slams for no other reason than to annoy her and cause a reaction. And here is more brother/sister “Friction Between Almost Two-Year-Old Siblings”. Sometimes the differences are worked out, keeping the family intact a little longer, but soon there are departures.

In the photos below, you see on the right, bowing submission to the hackles-up guy who could no longer stand his brother’s presence: the kowtowing brother was soon driven out forcefully at 1.5 years of age. He desperately wanted to stay, hanging on as long as he could — he and his mother shared a lot of affectionate interactions and grooming — but the onslaught of his domineering brother become a daily affair. Biting resulting in visible skin wounds and squeals of pain preceded his departure as seen in the photo to the left.

Most of the time, according to what I’ve seen, parents allow youngsters to work out their own interpersonal differences without interfering. But this has not always been the case as when a parent develops a special attachment to one of the youngsters, in which case the parent may discipline the aggressor or soothe the youngster they want to stick around: the aggressive sibling begins to think twice about bullying if the parent is around.

In one very convoluted and complicated case, Mom, repeatedly groomed her two-year old son, Scowl, obviously inviting him to stay on the territory and be her mate. Her long-term mate (the pair was together 9 years) had died of old age the year before, and a new alpha male intruder had come into the picture and even fathered her last litter. But no one in the family liked him as could be seen by their behavior towards him, and Mom kept paying particular attention to Scowl, to the exclusion of that fellow. Scowl was the apple of her eye, and within the new pups’ 4-month birthday, that outsider male left. Now Scowl, at three years of age, rules the roost with his mom, which is what they all wanted ever since Mom’s previous mate passed away. And they are all now apparently very happy!

Antagonism and negativity aren’t always the instigators of dispersals. At some point, some yearlings just pick up and go — negativity or not. However, others stay on, even with growing negativity and battling because there’s usually something else attracting them to the area. Such was the case with Gumnut several years ago. His dad kept attacking him, but Gumnut always submitted and slunk away, skirting the dispersal issue. He and his sister were inseparable best buddies. Mom had died, so Dad actually had his eye on his daughter as his future mate, and at two years of age, through domination, he indeed took her over. (Yes, there’s lots of inbreeding in coyote families). Gumnut stayed around until the single pup who was born to Dad and Sis turned 7 months old, braving it through repeated attacks from his father, and then, suddenly one day, at 2 1/2 years of age, after hearing a particularly painful long-lasting squeal from him which I gathered indicated he was bitten, we never saw him again. That he put up with the severe put-downs and blows handed out by his Dad for so long was amazing to me. Gumnut had been undeterred because something more important was drawing him in: his best buddy and sister. I’m sure they would have become a mated pair had Dad not intervened.

Mothers may start harsh discipline of daughters early on: I’ve speculated that it’s because of reproductive rivalry. I haven’t seen it often, but I have two video examples of it: 1) Maeve beating up her seven-month old daughter: this dominant and aggressive treatment might also ensure rank is established early on, making dispersal that much easier. Might this daughter have been exhibiting a dominance streak, or even cozying up to her dad?? Again, this is speculation. 2) Here are two brothers vying for sister’s affection: notice the second brother repeatedly inserts himself between his brother and sister. Three is a crowd, so one will eventually leave. Interestingly, in this particular case, the female ditched both related males and paired up with an outsider. 3) And here is another instance of Mom, Maya, attacking her yearling daughter Sissy. On the flip side, I’ve also seen a daughter who stayed and ended up den-sharing with her mother. As I say, there is nothing cut-and-dry about dispersal.

Mom beginning harsh discipline suddenly at 7 months of age — establishing this harsh relationship early on makes dispersal easier. This is the earliest case of this I’ve ever seen of mother/daughter harshness.

Here is more on Beating and rank issues leading to dispersal. And here is a mother roughly disciplining her son as the father watches: rank issues are kept alive right from the start which makes dispersal issues that much easier.

Hawkeye teases and frolics with his dad on this day before his dispersal at 14 months of age. There was no antagonism leading up to the even, except his own towards his sister who avoided him.

Another several examples of dispersal behavior, and behaviors leading up to dispersals can be found in THIS posting. Here, I describe three dispersals from the same family, beginning with a very friendly send-off by a Dad, Ivan, to his son, Hawkeye, who was 14 months old. I got the sad impression that both father and son were very aware of the mites and bugs infesting the son’s coat, meaning his immune system was down. Possibly they both knew son wouldn’t make it even though he would try. Again, this is simply my interpretation. After this sendoff, I never saw Son again. Another son of Ivan’s began distancing himself from the rest of the family by keeping to the fringes of the territory at a great distance from the rest of the family, and then one day he simply left — he was ready to go at 1.5 years of age. The last instance in the above posting is a father’s, Ivan’s, return to check on his daughter, Sissy, on a territory he and his mate had abandoned, possibly due to its being the end of their reproductive years, leaving daughter on that territory. Had they ceded the territory to her? He seems to be checking on her, and even saying goodby. He never came back after this visit. Ivan was the most benevolent of fathers — I never saw him attack or discipline any of his children (though he did so to intruders), rather he always parted on good terms: he was the epitome of a leader, whereas you have seen from some of these videos that that is not always the case.

That’s Sparks to the right, with the sister he originally dispersed with. She returned to her birthplace.

And my final example is of Sparks. He preferred not dealing with a brother who began trying to dominate. He initially left with his sister, the one in the video linked below, but she returned to her birthplace whereas he continued on and found a permanent place to live on the edge of another family’s territory. I have not seen him with another mate, though I’m hoping this situation might come about. His present status, at 3 years of age, is sort of an interloper with a fairly permanent and defined territory (which is a contradiction). Sparks: A Happy Springtime Update. Sparks came from a litter that had formed incredible caring bonds with each other, and here is a video showing his sister’s concern and care for him. In the video, Sparks was the coyote youngster with the injury.

Denning: Kinky’s Choices, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet! 

Spring is coming in hard and fast. And for local coyote … particularly pregnant females…the most important choice of year is here.

Where to den.

It means your children may live or die .. by your choice. Like all matters … there’s variety. Some coyote seem to raise pups wherever they seem to be. But most seem to pick very carefully, best they can. 

Kinky the yearling coyote and survivor of wolf decimating raid on her pack, is pregnant. She is very bossy of her mate. And been seen checking out many areas it seems.

She is often where she was born, a series of cliffs. Hot and waterless in summer,  they offer a fortress of invulnerable protection. 

We think and hope she chooses wisely. Her possible mother or older sister Janet also is pregnant 4 miles away. New mate. But … facing same situation as last year. A wolf pack periodically patrols through. They will dig up any coyote dens found. As well as certain Livestock Guard Dogs. 

Janet has a food rich den poor territory. Kinky has great denning options but they are seasonally poor for food.

Choices. Choices. Choices. 

Most people never dream of the choices parenthood bring animals in spring. An ill placed den or nest will likely mean failure. 

We know both Kinky and Janet are incredible survivors and will do their best as moms in coming spring and summer. 

And I wish them good choices. 

Also affecting den choice …

Hundreds of miles of forests and territory have been lost to fires. As wolves and coyote need cover for dens … and wolves need space for quality lands to hunt, they absolutely will converge upon coyote territory. Where to den and when will be especially hard this year in this area. 

But coyote will handle this. 


By entering “Kinky” or “Walkaboutlou” in the SEARCH box, you can find stories leading up to this one by Walkaboutlou

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.


This is the 10 month old youngster who was warned off by the skunk

As I entered the parking lot of one of the parks, I glimpsed a coyote who hurried back into the park. It was well after dusk, so the coyote at that location did not surprise me. I parked the car and got out to an amazingly strong, pungent skunk smell. It was so strong it was bitter and I could almost taste it. I had a need to get away from it quickly. I looked around thinking I might find a dead skunk, but there was none.

Then I went into the park to check the media in a camera I had set up there: I exchanged media cards, and left. When I got back to the parking lot I looked around again for the skunk. There he was, as alive as ever and facing me. He did not scamper away, he did not turn his tail towards me to spray, he just stood his ground and faced me without moving. Aha — that is where the smell came from, and the skunk probably had sprayed the coyote.

And here he is — the fella that greeted me.

After I got home, I reviewed the media which showed, in the moments before I reached the camera, the coyote trying desperately to rub off the smell of the skunk. He must have been sprayed point-blank, right before I arrived at the scene. I’ve seen a dog do the same thing right after having been sprayed within reach of the skunk. It’s not just a repulsive odor which is emitted: the spray substance consists of an oily and acidic liquid, which at close range is so concentrated that it actually burns the skin and eyes of the hapless victim.

I have a very weak olfactory system, and anyway the skunk had not sprayed his defensive spray directly at me. Nevertheless, the smell was overpowering and repulsive and it encompassed over 100 square feet. Now imagine a coyote, with 100 times the odor sensitivity that we have, and imagine he was probably sprayed at pretty close range. That spray must have burned the little coyote’s face painfully and wickedly. That’s why he’s trying to wipe it off — to get away from it — which is what I had felt even though my experience was secondary and without a coyote’s sensitive equipment.

I’ve seen coyotes avoid skunks. I guess one experience like this might teach a coyote to avoid them. Here is a video of an almost “peaceable kingdom” — maybe the coyote has been through a similar experience? See “Ferdinand, the Coyote”:

Aside: This has me thinking about what I read in Rick McIntyre’s book, “The Reign of Wolf 21”. He suggested that wolf memory is in pictures, and references Temple Grandin’s *thinking in pictures*. I myself have learned that coyotes seem to remember EVERYTHING: all events, all dogs, all people. But I don’t think the memory is in pictures, or at least not predominantly in pictures. I think odors play a big role. And I say this because I myself have opened a long lost book from South America that retained the odors as I remembered them from elementary school 40 years earlier, and those odors recalled whole memories and events that I thought I had forgotten. It occurs to me that coyotes, with their large olfactory equipment and brain to interpret that material, actually form memories in a way we can’t image, that includes odors. Note that we’ve been able to record sounds and visual material (movies, recordings), but not olfactory ones, so we don’t have the ability to *see* or *remember* in the way a coyote does.

The smells in the book didn’t bring back memory images, but rather feelings and things I can’t put my finger on because I don’t have the human-created words for the overpowering sensations that were deep in my memory and suddenly awakened by the smell. Those memories were strongly brought back in the present and inspired all sorts of peripheral associations long buried in the deep of my mind.

Foreign Dirt Sparks an Inquisition

This field-camera video was captured a while back, but it’s of high interest to me for the coyotes’ perception and reaction to something new. I had been putting a field camera in this exact place, on and off, for many months, and the camera was mostly ignored. However, the dirt which was holding the camera up soon wore thin over time and there was no soft ground to support the camera. My solution was to bring in a couple of pounds of soil from elsewhere to give the camera something that would support it.

I gathered the dirt from another park, taken from a pile left by a gopher around its burrow. A doggie-bag full would do the trick, I thought. I dumped the foreign soil into a high pile and then situated the camera on top. The next morning I removed the camera and went through the videos. I was surprised to see this much interest in the new soil. The park where the soil came from has plenty of wildlife, including coyotes and dogs. Any of those smells, and many others, could have come with the soil, but I wonder WHICH of those smells caused the coyotes to investigate so thoroughly — they carefully investigated for over three minutes: first Mom coyote, and then Dad coyote — whiffing in every bit of information — the fine print which that soil could reveal to them, all of which had meaning and importance for them: there was a story there, and they were figuring it out. They knew it hadn’t been there previously. If I had known that it might cause this kind of intense concern, I would never have put it there.

The next day I again put the camera out to see if the interest would continue, but I suppose coyote curiosity had been satisfied, because they did not approach the camera or the soil beneath it again: they had found out what they wanted to find out and they were no longer interested. OR, possibly, the immediate and strong odors from the day before had dissipated enough to smell distant and weak and therefore not of concern. I noted that they hadn’t themselves *marked* the soil in any way — they had just sniffed it intently, which also is of interest.

PS: If you are wondering why these coyotes look so emaciated, it’s for two reasons. The video was captured in June of last year. That is when winter coats have been shed, and the true shape of the coyote is revealed, which happens to be very whippet-like: sinewy, bony, and thin. Also, these are parents who have been regurgitating all their food for their large litter of pups: parent coyotes often look like skin and bone at this time of year because of this. You can see that Mom is still lactating.

❤️ Falling In Love With Coyotes ❤️


This little girl yearling sat atop a knoll to watch the active dogs playing below in a fenced-off dog play area. It must have been a little like watching TV for her. The dogs ran after each other, wrestled, got mad and nipped at each other, ran after balls the owners tossed. There was high energy which must have been very entertaining for the coyote who spent a good half hour there. While she was there, I took these photos of her: it’s so easy to fall in love with coyotes. BUT, please do so at a distance and non-interactively as you walk away.

By clicking on any of the photos, you can enlarge them and scroll through them.

A while after taking these photos, I spoke to a woman who was excited about what I had to say about coyotes. She told me about the coyote she had seen several times across the street from her shop, right in the middle of a residential neighborhood and right here in the middle of San Francisco. We talked at some length — she had lots of questions for me. Then, she asked if she could “touch it” next time and maybe “take it food”. Her adoration for the animals was overflowing. She was absolutely shocked by my response: “please leave them alone and don’t approach them.”  She had no conception at all about the needs of a coyote — their need to remain wild, remain healthily wary of humans, and to hunt for themselves.

I went through simple guidelines with her, and gave her a 3″ business card listing those. I’ve been handing these out because succinct guidelines are not printed on park signs, and aren’t readily known by most people. Please go over them yourself if you aren’t sure about them!! Truly loving coyotes involves loving their well-being, their wildness, and their ability to care for themselves — it does not involve interacting with them in any way, including feeding them. Please remember that feeding them causes them to hang around and approach people which may lead the city to kill them, which happened here in the city last July. Feeding is a selfish need of the feeder — it does not benefit the coyote and actually hurts them. It’s understandable that you may want to love them, but please do so hands-off and at a distance, without feeding! Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤️


Breeding Behavior: She’s Ready

I caught these two only three days earlier in the same place, but at that time she gave him the cold shoulder. Apparently, now she’s ready (video was captured on a field-camera on January 27th between 9:30 pm and 1 am). On this day he licks her and she responds by lifting her tail and accepting his overtures. He attempts mounting. But then her yearling daughter (with another mate) suddenly appears on the scene and seemingly interrupts them. Daughter shows interest in Dad’s equipment — and I’ve slowed this section of the video down because otherwise you might miss it. Immediately afterwards, Mom inserts herself between the other two. She gives daughter a mild nip on the mouth — she needs daughter to stick around and help defend the territory, so she doesn’t want to viciously drive her off. You can then see Mom gaping and daughter’s ears pulled back as Mom escorts daughter away. Mounting then resumes but mostly out of view of the camera. If a tie occurred, it was not captured on the video.

Soon Outsider Male comes by. He’s been in the area for several months but is not part of the family — he is never with them, so I don’t know his role, but I know of one other non-related *outsider* who has been living on someone else’s claimed territory for over a year now, so I suppose this kind of arrangement happens now and then. The outside male can probably detect what went on here just a few hours earlier. He assesses the place, urinates to leave his mark, kicks the ground, and then leaves. Then Mom & Dad return and in turn, they smell who has been there. Dad urinates and kicks. Dad continues his super-interested in Mom and licks her, and then they trot off. The mounting behavior only seen at this time gives us a timeline for when pups will arrive — after a 63 day standard gestation period. The female is viable for only a few short days each season, and that happens to be now.

Old Slim Jim is Now Nearly Blind, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet, 

This time of year is very busy for our wild canid. Foxes, Wolves and Coyote are prepping for parenthood, deep in courtship or fending off competition.

But not Slim Jim.

You may remember him from past reports as the very old Patriarch of a coyote pack. His mate and most pups and grandpups were killed by wolves last summer. He was injured badly, recovered and survived with his adult son, and 3 pups. 2 males and female Kinky Tail.

Fast fwd … Kinky Tail matured extremely fast and inherited their territory. Amazingly, this pup is courting and being courted. It appears she’ll be a yearling mom later this year. 

The male pups and Yearling Male Big Brother dispersed. Slim Jim decamped for territory edge. It took the ranchers a while to realize he is not only ancient (10-13 years approx) but he is literally, nearly blind. 

Slim Jim’s eyes by day are thickly white with cataract. By night…he just stares blankly at trail cams. Unblinking and bumping but moving well enough.

The Ranching family that knows and sees him often has viewed his cataracts on both eyes growing thicker especially last few months. Also .. if he’s with bison he moves freely with them. But when he’s by himself he is very tentative in certain spots. They have caught him in trail cams and literally he’s bumping into things. He never blinks when a trail cam flashes. He merely stares wide eyed and casting for smells.  Finally … he doesn’t look at new items further away whereas formerly he was instantly aware. His senses of hearing and sight are clearly dulled greatly. 

He attached himself last summer to a nursery herd of ranch bison. He literally follows them. Sleeps near them. And easily catches the countless rodents they disturb grazing. This Bison herd grazes nearly 5,000 acres in slow rhythmic moving and Slim Jim follows them in much of it. He has become nomadic because … the bison are so accustomed to him they are like guard and friends. Both calves and older bison treat him as non-event. I think he instinctively and by choice realized..the wide ranging but slow Bison are perfect. They stir up rodents every step. They chase any canid away (but have long accepted Slim Jim) They see, hear, and push away any dangers. They are a wall of protection. Also..this is a nursery herd. They are the nucleus of much bigger goals and herds. For now, the 25 or so bison are left alone to breed and range. So it’s perfect for Slim Jim’s last days. 

The various packs on this property are either descended from Slim Jim, or long know him or don’t even bother him. He holds no threats from his battered old aura. He also doesn’t howl or bark messages any longer it seems. He is very low key as befits a lone old coyote. 

His daughter does seem to welcome him when he comes round like a circuit traveler. And her new mate is calm and doesn’t drive him off. Slim Jim moves onward. Ever with bison.

The Bison also keep all non-coyote away. Any LGD, wolves or ranch dogs that go to bison range are in great danger. Several Bulls would love to score their horns on any canine. So Slim Jim … old, nearly blind, dull toothed … carries on.

He is stiff but moves well. And he tosses sticks and bones about. He listens long and seems distant. He seems very content. Its extremely rare to see a really old coyote in ranchlands. They don’t often make 4 or 5 years. His white face, battered body and wise demeanor are a real testament to so much. It’s fitting his last days are roaming with bison friends and guards as he meanders among descendants in his nomadic old age. 


[For more on Slim Jim’s past by Walkaboutlou, see Spring Madness, The Dilemma of Denning, Pack Strategies and Growing Pups, Nature, Family Update, and Kinky Tail, or put Walkaboutlou into the search box.]

Breeding Behavior: Pull-Push

The coyote breeding season takes place just once a year, and it’s occurring right now: there’s only a very short window of opportunity for this to happen. This 17 second video shows some of the behavior involved. Note that SHE gives him two little nips and then rubs against him and faces away from him. HE is enticed and gets all excited about what seems to him to be an invitation: he eyes her intently and swishes his tail excitedly, or nervously. But the minute she sees his intentions and his lust (I guess that’s the right word!) she bares her teeth and growls at him: “Cool it, fella!” He gets her message and is completely respectful of it, or maybe he just doesn’t want to be bitten. Anyway, he’ll have to wait. When she’s ready, she’ll let him know. He runs off, and she runs off, happily, after him! Caught on a field camera.

For more postings on breeding behavior, see: *Courting Behavior in Full Swing*, and *Breeding Season: NO!*, *Breeding Season: Smells and Walking on Eggshells*, *‘Tis The Season*, and *Mood Swings: Two Different Days*.

Four-Minute Slice of Nightlife

As the last bit of daylight flickered out, I was able to see this coyote and able to take a couple photos. The photo to the left approximates what could initially be seen in the little light there was, and that light soon faded away. After just a few shots, the camera would no longer focus automatically. It was too dark to see with one’s naked eyes — all I could really see now was that there was movement — but the camera’s amazing video setting (manually focused as best as I could) and an at-home edit which boosted the light, brought a few short moments of a mated coyote pair’s nightlife and interactions to light, as seen in the video below. Coyotes are very social and interact all the time, and the video at nightfall shows several minutes of them doing so.

Mom was chilling on a knoll of grass, obviously waiting for her mate to appear because when he finally arrives, she hurries over to be with him. The scene takes place along a roadway, and you’ll see cars passing by which don’t disturb the coyotes. I’ve learned from observing over the last 15 years that coyotes feel safer under cover of darkness — they know our human vision is not very good at that time.

HE had picked up something and was nibbling on it. Was she reacting to this, or simply greeting him? She raises herself against and over him, and nips the back of his neck. She is the *boss* and she may be emphasizing this. HE stands there and puts up with it UNTIL she gets down, at which point he makes a dash to evade her reach!

She appears to gape in disgust: “Ahhh. Men!” Then she stretches and gapes again before heading in his direction. Before reaching him she passes something smelly and decides to roll in it to absorb its fabulous odors. They both scavenge and appear to find tidbits.

In the meantime, cars pass, one after another which doesn’t affect them in the least. Both coyotes wander towards and away from each other as they find scraps of food. BOTH coyotes *gape* now and then: it looks like a big yawn, but I’ve seen it often as a sign of being upset over something.

Mom looks intently overhead at something and then comes to the edge of the road and looks around as though she’s trying to figure out what is going on. She puts her nose up in the air as she whiffs to *see* beyond the cars: they are always scanning for safety. Again she looks up at the sky and then suddenly both coyotes flee in fear. That’s when I look up and I see what’s bothering them: someone is flying a kite right overhead.

Now it’s too dark even for the video setting of the camera — amazing as it is, it can only go so far. But against the lighter sky, I’m able to capture the kite — this is the only section of the video I did not have to brighten to make it visible. The video is mostly blurry because of the lack of light, but at least you can see what is happening.

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