Coyotes and Natural Disasters, by Lisa Febre

Can animals predict disasters? I’ve heard that Native American and Mexican cultures tend to believe that coyotes can give us non-scientific, anecdotal clue as to when something is going to happen. Most times, this has translated to increased coyote activity indicating a weather change: maybe a cold snap or a heat wave is on it’s way. It may be coincidental, but it is fun to hear coyotes at night and the next day an unexpected afternoon rain happens. 

This month, though, we wondered if the coyotes were giving us the head’s up to a bigger disaster on the way: a wildfire. For a few days in a row, there was a noticeable increase coyote vocalizations during the night. It’s not uncommon to hear howling & yipping, but it seemed like they were louder, there were more coyotes involved, and their choruses were lasting longer overall. In the wee hours of the morning of October 14, we captured this on our backyard security camera: 

And 8 hours later, this happened:

Were the coyotes predicting the fire or just an impending change to their world? Possibly. But since the fire, which burned about 2 acres of our Santa Susana Pass Historic State Park, it isn’t difficult to imagine that a bit of their territory has been disrupted and they are a little off balance. My ears tell me that they are not down in our neighborhoods during the night following the fire as much as they were before, and their calls seem to be coming more from inside the park now — distant and a little less frequent. 

We are lucky that CalFire hit this wildfire so quickly, they knocked it down in about 3 hours, but the devastation to the area is obvious. The animals of the park are certainly displaced, and in time all will regrow and repopulate. But until then, we have some incredible, other worldly landscapes to walk through.

Thanks Janet! 

“Sniff”, by LWren Walraven

Through art, we are given new ways to look at reality — it serves as a kind-of filter. Here, LWren beautifully captures a coyote in all the glory of fall colors which in reality serve as camouflage for them . For more, visit her website at

LWren Walraven has been painting mostly animals for over 20 years. Only recently has she begun to incorporate abstract principles into her celebrations of wildlife. Before then she created graphic, illustrative animal paintings that have been used commercially from logos to images for promotional materials. She is thoroughly enjoying her art journey as it evolves and changes.

This painting was inspired by a beautiful photograph of a coyote with her nose in the air by Janet Kessler.

Coyotes September 8, 2020, by Lisa Febre

Hi Janet!

[This] is the video from our backyard security camera in September.

We sleep with our window open in our bedroom mostly to be able to hear the coyotes during the night. As an insomniac, I admit that I love hearing them. They walk up & down our street (and in fact, some have actually walked along the cinder block wall between our house and next to our bedroom window) all night long, so we often hear very close howls. This video, when I was listening to them “live” at the time, I would say that the “gang” was right in our front — maybe not in our yard, but definitely on our street.

The thing that caught my attention with these vocalizations was the almost human-like yell that seemed to be coordinated — hearing them live, that was the only group I was hearing, but when I went back to listen to the camera recording, that’s when I heard the 2nd, and possibly 3rd, group. It’s hard for me to tell if there are 3 groups (the yellers, the yippers and the howlers at varying distances).
Anyway! I thought this was an exceptional capture for our camera — we have many like this, but never this clear or close. 

We live about 3/4 mile from the Santa Susana Historic Pass State Park in Chatsworth, CA (far Northwest of Los Angeles county), so it’s obvious they live up there in the hills and come down at night. 

And as always, so happy to have ‘found’ your blog and you as well! Hope you are staying healthy & safe, and of course sane. Always read each entry even if I don’t comment. I love it!
Thanks again!


Family Interrupted

Seemingly-bucolic coyote family life can be interrupted when one of the adult alphas dies, and that is what happened here. Mom had been the front-guy and always on safety patrol. She always made sure the rest of the family remained hidden and out of view — she didn’t want anyone even looking in the direction of her pups. Shy Dad tended to hang back with the pups — I would see him only occasionally, and then only as dusk approached. And the pups I had only ever seen once. This was the situation when Mom was still there.

Then Mom disappeared, leaving Dad and three youngsters. Several weeks after Mom disappeared, it looked as though the new motherless situation had been accepted by the family: for the first time I began seeing the youngsters playing out in the open during daylight hours, even with Dad nowhere in sight — they were not being supervised like they had been, though they stayed in the distance. I don’t know what control Dad had over them, if any. I only saw him with them at dusk, when they obviously headed out together to hunt. This situation lasted only a few weeks.

Suddenly, into these circumstances there appeared a threesome family unit which I knew from several miles away.  They had come together as a family 10 months earlier: two brothers joined up with a female who became the older brother’s mate. These two males happen to be related to the pups’ mother and had lived with her as a threesome on this territory the prior year, but they had not been around there since then. It’s a small world after all. 

Did they know that Mom had gone missing? Is this why they had come? Or were they attracted by the ever-present garbage which was a food source. Being by a picnic area meant food scraps could constantly be found. OR, speculating further, had they come to take over the territory? I didn’t know the answer, but I wanted to think there was altruism involved: that the two males might have come back to finish raising the youngsters. But this appears not to be the case.

The bolder pup

At the arrival of this threesome, Dad went deeper into hiding, and when I did spot him, only a couple of times, always when the threesome was not around, I could see that he had new facial scars — not major ones, but scars nevertheless. Had he tried battling the newcomers away? The pups no longer frolicked and played out in the open. Two of them disappeared from view — I stopped seeing them altogether. But the boldest pup, interestingly, tried repeatedly to ingratiate/integrate himself into the newcomer pack. But the female would not have it. 

The new males treated that pup neutrally, ignoring him for the most part, and the younger male seemed almost kind to him, allowing comfortable proximity. I wondered if these adult males knew these pups were related? Would it make a difference? 

This neutrality was not the case with the new female. She wanted nothing to do with the pup and was overtly hostile towards “the little twerp”. I use this phrase because she never really appeared to hurt the pup physically, rather, she treated him as a repulsive irritation: she assumed fearsome facial expressions including gaping, snarling and baring her teeth, she charged at him with hackles up, and she even appeared to bite him — though it was probably just a pinch — which resulted in high pitched squeals of hurt, be it physical or psychological: her visceral ire was intense. Pup repeatedly hit the ground in submission and turned onto his back revealing his vulnerable underside with legs splayed: the ultimate white flag. He seemed so badly to want to be accepted.

But the new female wouldn’t have it, she was relentless in spurning him. If she were simply imposing her dominance in a new hierarchy, she would have accepted the pup’s submissive gestures, but she didn’t. The pup further responded to the intimidation, after the put-downs, by repeatedly slinking away with his body hugging the ground, tail held low, as though his feelings were hurt, and then repeatedly came back — inviting more of the same treatment. 

Then one day, I stopped seeing the pup and the father at all, and just saw the threesome at that location, usually together. I thought Dad and pups had been driven from their home totally. But the story continues after this and I’ll need time to stitch it together. For instance, I’ve seen Dad and Pup a couple of times, within the bat of an eye, slinking around the periphery of their homestead, so they still are around.

Also, I’ve seen the threesome back at their own territory every night for the past week — they have been trekking regularly between their territory several miles away and this one at twilight most nights, but not every night. AND, an even newer development, I’ve now seen the pups’ Dad twice, within a flash, at the threesome’s territory where I had never ever seen him before. Maybe what goes around, comes around? OR, I’m conjecturing here, I’m wondering if is it possible that Dad, soon after his mate’s disappearance, might have been searching for a new mate in the threesome’s territory? I’ll review some footage I have during that time slot. If this is the case, he would be the one who provoked the threesome’s visit to his territory. It’s just a thought. The story is already getting pretty convoluted and tangled!  Let’s see what happens!

All photos were taken at late twilight — I’ve been able to lighten them for visibility.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/

I thought pup was pretty brave to face the threesome like this, even if it’s submissively.

Some Dispersal Routes and Family Situations Over The Last Two Seasons

This dispersal diagram on its own, with the several paragraphs that follow it, will give you a nice visual summary of what happens to our coyotes when they leave home. Individual family situations/histories follow [press MORE to read on]: this section is long because I’ve tried to include all their connections. I know each coyote: their personalities, behaviors, family situations and relationships, but it might be tedious reading for anyone who doesn’t. So know that the dispersal diagram section is enough to get the idea across.

A Dispersal Diagram

Have you ever wondered where our coyotes go once they disperse from their birth territories, and what their situations are?

When individual coyotes disperse — leave their birth territories — or for that matter, in one case here, abandon their long-claimed established territories totally — they disappear into the ether almost always never to be seen again by me. Only by chance had I ever seen a few of the dispersed youngsters again, but I didn’t follow through — I’ve always been more concerned with family life, relationships, and individual interactions. However, very recently I’ve been noticing my dispersed youngsters again somewhere else, or on their way somewhere else, and gone from home, so I’ve made a point of following or following-up on a number of these to what appear to be their final (final for now) territory destinations.

Dispersing coyotes are the ones who wander in order to explore their options, find their own territories, and pair-up long-term with mates: their routes are the thin red lines in the diagram. Once they find a territory — be it a vacant or vacated niche, or one they’ve had to fight for — they pretty much tend to stick to that general area: these are the colored circles on the diagram. Most of the dispersals are youngsters, heading out to make it on their own in the world, but I’ve also seen older mated pairs and even an older individual leave a territory to find another. Sometimes a couple of siblings may leave together, but mostly they leave alone, as far as I have seen. Most of the time the breakaway from home is complete and final, but I’ve also seen several individuals repeatedly return home for a period of time before taking a final leave. I’ve seen youngsters leave home slightly before 9 months of age, and as late as 2.5 years of age — they leave of their own accord, when they are ready and without any prodding from parents or siblings, or they are driven out by either parents or siblings. Please remember that what I say here is based entirely on my own first-hand observations: there are going to be situations that I myself have not seen.

I’ve depicted some of these routes and destinations in the diagram above. The colored circles on this map show some of the territories that I’m most familiar with — these are the territories from where or to where these coyotes travelled. The connected circles are fragmented but constitute one territory centered around a park or around one large open green space or an accumulation of smaller green spaces. Park or open-space boundaries hold no meaning for coyotes, so of course the surrounding neighborhoods are a part of these territories. General routes, from their birth territories to their new permanent territorial homes are shown on the map by thin arrow-headed red lines. Naturally, their movements were not smooth lines at all, but rather jagged, erratic, interrupted, and with diversions along the way. In the case of “Wired”, I left off her full-city-length circuits to avoid cluttering. The arrow-head itself is where individual coyotes ended up at their new “forever” homes where they have remained — or in one case remained for a full year and raising a new litter of pups before picking up and moving on again. I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to follow dispersals in the blue circles, but I’ve included some of these in the diagram simply to show there are more dispersals going on than covered in this posting. Two of the coyotes I talk about I had never seen before — they would have come from one of these blue areas or an area not depicted on the map.

Several years ago, before the time-frame of this posting, I saw dispersing youngsters meanly driven away by territorial owners. The flip side of this is that this year, I’ve seen a couple of youngsters warmly welcomed into territories by the resident coyotes. This goes to show that what you might see as a family with pups isn’t always a genetic family!

Then, below, in the second section, I tell a little bit more about the family or territorial situations of the recent dispersals diagrammed above — just bare-bones “to”-and-“from” situational summaries to help round-out their dispersal stories: there are a lot of coyotes and a lot of stories. The diagram covers dispersals over just the last couple of seasons, and one from several years earlier as a precursor to her last year’s story. A number of the individuals I watched grow up from different territories ended pairing up in new territories with others I had watched grow up elsewhere, so in many cases I’ve been familiar all along with both partners of a new pair. In a few instances I know the origins of only one of the new pair. The weft and warp of intertwining individuals has resulted in a tangle in the telling, as you’ll see below!  Any repetitions are to ensure you catch the connections. I’ve grouped these descriptions by family of origin, and maybe this will make it easier. And remember that all of our San Francisco coyotes came from just four original coyote founders.

Several consistencies pop up in my descriptions below. I mention “long-entrenched families on the same territories for many years”. This, along with coyotes’ propensity to mate for life are elements of permanence and stability which can last many years. A stable family can better defend its land than can a loner coyote: having a mate helps. And an intimate knowledge of that land which goes along with ownership better ensures survival because resource locations are known and there are fewer unknown hazards than in the unfamiliar world beyond. Keeping other coyotes out of this territory eliminates the competition for these resources. I also mention “vacated territories” and “forced ousters”, and the “disappearance” of stable oldsters from their lands, which are elements of impermanence and change. Please note that each coyote is an individual: no two stories or situations are the same. So these are some facets involved in coyote dispersal. I’ve sprinked in photos, even though most people can’t tell one coyote from another, but I can, and part of who I’m writing for is myself!  :)) 

The Dispersed and their Family Situations


Sparks, born last year, dispersed at 11 months of age, wandering around for seven months, and even stopping or resting at several locations for 3 weeks to a month along the way (he had a fractured wrist), before settling 5 miles away from his birthplace where he moved in with a 3-year old, Cai2, a mother with 5-month-old pups. Cai’s previous male companion, Stumpf, had disappeared a month earlier and may have been “the sick” coyote that several people had seen but I had not. Into this situation came Sparks who had come from a long-entrenched family that owned the same territory for continuous generations over the last 13 years. He was one of 6 siblings born in 2019, and it was probably sibling rivalry between brothers that drove him out, judging from what I saw. Whether these two coyotes are forming a pair-bond, or Cai2 is simply taking care of a youngster in need, only time will tell. I don’t normally see males pair up at just 18 months of age, which is what Sparks is.

[press the “more” button below to bring up the rest of the posting if you can’t already see it]


Dragon Breath and Bison Wallows, by Walkaboutlou

I received this first email from Walkaboutlou on September 12th, right after the wildfires had raged through the lands that just a few days before were a paradise of western nature: old-growth trees, grasslands, wildlife (including coyotes, elk and buffalo) and ranches interspersed. Lou has been one with the landscape for decades: he lives and breathes it every minute of every day, so he has felt the devastation to his very core: I wanted to put Lou’s words here because they express unimaginable loss — incomprehensible to those of us who will never experience this kind of devastation directly. Wildfires are cataclysmic to all species, causing a reshuffle of what’s there. He goes on to explain buffalo and wallows vs. cattle and pastures, buffalo being the species that evolved with the landscape which includes wildfires.

Hi Janet…truly tough one today. I’m exhausted and empty. My spots and ranges are mostly gone. Just gone. Grandmother trees. Special areas. Gone. A doe ran into my house. She was burned horribly and blinded. How many miles she staggered that way…I gave her water..she drank, eased…and started dying. My neighbor eased her passing. He’s an elderly rancher. I’m a old warrior. We cried and cried. I am hurting for my lands. My trees. I’ll never see the old growth spots again.I’m sorry to share this news. But knew you would understand.

I’m mostly shut in. Brief outings. I know My cascade areas are mostly gone. Burned. My groves of ancient old growth are gone. Most trees killed. My grandmother trees.

I’ve not heard [about] the bison herds. Some cattle were shot to save them from horrible deaths or burning. Some horses have escaped and jumped fences. I’m only hearing some things or call. But by fireman conversations….my cascade ranges…are changed for rest of my life. I have birds dropping dead around home. I have elk where elk never have been. I have to remain calm. I’m exhausted. And empty. My lands and ranges and animals lives and trees….gone. Just gone.

Young, exhausted and safe . . . this young bull made it to bison ranch

Hi Janet,

As we continue to cope with the fires costs and devastation…good things have happened too. The bison ranch with young herd weathered the fires. Some areas burned. But the bison weren’t even perturbed. Ironically, the bison wallows in land broke up the speed of passing fires and dissipated the flames to just tiny send off. The open wallows disrupted flame walls and shorter grasses grazed didn’t turn furnace hot or turn to high walls. Likely there were other factors. But the bison lands burned minimally or not at all. Elk ran for the bison areas. A large bull elk was very grumpy and chased the bison off. But otherwise the elk rested from cascade exodus.

Many animals lost lives or home ranges. I suspect some wolves will have to abandon territorial claims to follow the game. By next year, greens will flourish and elk will return. But for now..many elk had to scatter.

The bison land has proved to be a refuge. I hope many animals can keep finding rest. The short grasses and wallows of bison ranch curtailed any fires that came. Quite remarkable.

Bison wallows are very different [from cattle pastures]. They roll on the ground to itch and create dust baths. Particularly bull buffalo. They are so heavy and massive it creates a “wallow”. An open depression devoid of vegetation. A wallow can hold water in wet months. (creating watering spots for frog homes) It also can be a big dusty circle-that stops fires or slows them to a crawl.

When living with enough space..bisons create wallows that we are learning helps the land. The land definitely prefer bison ranches to cattle.

Also..cattle tend to be harder on pastures and grasslands. They often pull as they graze. This is hard on grass. Buffalo graze more like a lawn mower…cutting grasses precisely. If there is enough space, bison graze and create more robust grasslands and grasses themselves. Bison also utilize less grass way further then most cattle. They instinctively rotate grazing areas if given space.

As I’m able to enter areas…I’ll send you pics. Even public lands are closed in vast areas. And ranch roads inaccessible. [All photos are by Walkaboutlou]


A note about coyotes. Hi Janet, This morning on patrol I had a coyote charge us that then morphed into a full pack skirmish in dark with my dogs and a few coyote. It ended very quickly and no one truly hurt. Its was only much later I realized that it wasn’t the coyotes that lived in that area. The local shy pair or their yearlings would never charge us that boldly. I realized the fires are very likely creating some domino effect in local wolves and especially coyote. They can’t stay in a burned out territory at least for now. We’ve seen elk where we’ve never seen them. It only makes sense coyote and wolf would follow refugees. Adapting and documenting mentally the changes.

Homage to Bonnie

Bonnie in her prime, as a mother and alpha of her mated pair

I’ve seen plenty of coyotes “disappear” from their territories. Usually it’s youngsters who have dispersed which is an eventuality that anyone would expect — it’s part of the ebb and flow of family life and an occurrence we all know will happen. Mom and Dad are the stable ones who remain as a pair on the same land creating a moored family unit which remains intact through many seasons.

So when a “Mom” or “Dad” of a young family disappears, it is not expected and it leaves a hole in the family. And that is what happened on one of my territories. Bonnie, an alpha mom, disappeared over two weeks ago. I had hoped her absence might be due to a recoverable injury or illness and that she might have been hanging low until she was better, but if that had been the case, she would have returned by now, and she has not. So tragedy struck, and I don’t know how, except she is no longer around.

Bonnie is on the right, her two male siblings are to the left

She had migrated/dispersed along with two brothers to this new territory when it was abandoned by its two aging alphas after 12 years of occupation. A three year old daughter of that pair remained on the land all alone for a while until the newcomers appeared, and then her behavior became irregular and nervous. After about 3 months, it appears she was either forced to leave or decided to leave because she didn’t get along with them, and soon we no longer saw her even though she initially seemed to be pairing up with the Bonnie’s older brother. From then on, for a year, we only ever saw Bonnie and her two brothers on the land.

Then this year, the two brothers dispersed together, and I’ve been able to keep track of them, but that’s another story. This year I found Bonnie alone there. By March it was obvious she was pregnant and sure enough, she became a lactating mom in April. It’s only at that time that I glimpsed her new mate, a very shy and elusive fellow. It was obvious that he didn’t like to be seen, so I did my best to keep away from him.

Bonnie was the alpha of her pair-bond. Interestingly, sometimes it’s the male of the pair, and sometimes it’s the female who is the dominant one. I’ve also seen where both alphas are fairly equal, and I’ve seen the role slowly shift from one to the other.

So now, on the territory I’m seeing Bonnie’s three youngsters alone a lot of the time. One of them particularly looks like Bonnie, and from the distance I even thought it might be her, returned, but I was mistaken. I see Dad very sporadically, usually marking. Recently I put out a trap camera hoping to get more insight into what is going on, and indeed something is going on. Another coyote pair, an outsider male and female, seems to come by once a day at midnight and mark. I wonder what will happen next. I wonder if Dad will, or will even want to, defend his territory from them. We’ll find out.

Here is Bonnie with some of her goofy expressions: I think coyotes are beautifully expressive

Bonnie seemed to attract ravens — she dealt with them on a daily basis.

These are Bonnie’s three 5-month old pups. They are appropriately wary, and I’m hoping they stay that way. I see them playing and chasing each other in the late afternoon — life goes on without mom.  :((

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/

Coyote Portals, by Helen Tseng

Introduction: Artist Helen Tseng and I are both absorbed and intrigued by coyotes: it is because of this that we met. Not only have the coyotes themselves inspired her art, but she excitedly told me that she also has been inspired by my photos, some of which she has used as starting points for her own drawings. Hers are thoughtful creations, so please be sure to spend time reflecting on them and on her text: her simple outline art captures coyote movements and charm, and then she dives deeper into questions of her own (and our?) identity and her (our) place in the cosmos and on the globe where our success and expansion as a species has decimated so much of everything else.  

Coyote portals

I started this series in early 2020 as we entered a global pandemic and quarantine – a portal of sorts, both a closing and an opening. The act of making these coyotes became portals to me, as self-portraits and as visual commentary (portal and portrait share an ancient root, meaning through, forward, to draw forth). The narratives and imagery are influenced by astrophysics, literature, language, cultural critique, folk spiritualities, and more. The series is ongoing.

I have been and continue to be obsessed with coyotes, which I often encounter and observe on walks in the Bay Area. The oft-mythologized North American wild canid is genetically adjacent to the domestic dog, man’s best friend, but removed enough from civilization to be marked as vermin. Despite a long history of enduring systematic extermination by settler-colonizers, they continue to survive and thrive beyond expectation.

I appropriate coyotes as a mirror and proxy to mapping the contexts of my existence and the limits of my perception, while creating distance from implied specification and containment. They are an oblique path to examining identity, (im)migration, displacement, intergenerational trauma, adaptive resilience, marginalization, and erasure; a foil to my presence as an omnivorous mammal, apex predator, and unwitting species participant in the mass ecological destruction of this planet; a device for expressing all that defies reduction.

[Click on any of the images to enlarge them and scroll through them all]

Update: Into Sparks’ Seventh Month of Dispersal

I have been able to keep up with the youngster coyote I call “Sparks” who I watched grow up from birth. He began his dispersal at just under one year of age with his sister way back in March to a location two miles away from their birthplace. His first few months away from his birth home seemed to agree with him superbly: it looked like he was having a ball! Freedom from the constraints of parents and siblings obviously felt good. He and his sister rendezvoused every evening after dusk with high-pitched squeals of delight and excitement as they tumbled over each other in anticipation of the evening’s adventures. They were adjusting well to the move. It was unfortunately always too dark to capture images of this.

After a couple of months here, it was time to go, and he moved on to a place that was five miles further away, where life suddenly became harder. He was now alone — sister having returned to their birthplace — and he somehow ended up with a broken leg in this unfamiliar territory. He must have been in severe pain because he returned the five miles to the now familiar place he and his sister had first been, to the quiet of a backyard. There, on an undisturbed and protected hillside, he spent several weeks recovering with the help of humankindness by people who guarded his safety and gently cared for him. I have no doubt that this is what kept him alive.

Three weeks of convalescence in someone’s backyard [above]

He stayed there three weeks until he felt better, but, unfortunately, not until he was healed. He left that place on August 14th, and re-appeared the next day, on August 15th in the Presidio. Then, again, he was off of my radar. Of course, no one else who might have seen him would have known “who” this coyote was. I would have to see him myself or recognize him in someone else’s photos: few if anyone else in the city know who each coyote is, and no one else keeps tabs on individuals.

And then, incredibly, magically, just a couple of days ago, I was documenting another one of my coyote families in the North East of the city, when I glimpsed a coyote that didn’t seem to “belong” there — that I hadn’t seen there before. Suddenly it clicked: this was Sparks! He had moved on yet another five miles!

Of supreme interest to me is that he was accepted and warmly welcomed into this long-claimed territory without incident, and not driven off as an intruder. Why was he not driven away by Mom, especially since she has 5-month-old pups now? I’ve seen many intruders/interlopers repulsed away by the territorial claimants, but that didn’t happen here.

I was ecstatic to see the bantering and show-of-affection between these two as you can see in this series of photos taken the next morning [click on above photos to enlarge and scroll through them]

From my inquiries I learned that it has been only four or five days since he arrived, but I thought I would dive into possible outcomes based on what I have seen elsewhere:

1) Maybe it’s only a very temporary resting spot for him — with a very temporary grant to stay there. Might the alpha mom of the territory have sensed his weak physical condition and foreleg pain, and also his downtrodden mental state, and therefore taken him under her wing? At 17 months of age, he’s still a youngster, though you can see that he’s visibly much larger than the alpha female in the middle photo in the top row above. And she herself, in fact, is only two years older than him at 3.5 years of age. In the photo to the left of that, you can see his left front leg is still bent, and although he can walk on it, he retains the limp he acquired back in July: the limp wavers from barely-noticeable mild to causing intense bobbing up and down as he walks.

2) Another possible scenario is that this isn’t a temporary situation, but that he might have been adopted! I have seen another instance of a female yearling joining another family and, so far, remaining with that family for about 6 months: I think of it as a sort adoption. There were no other females in that family which consisted, before her arrival, of just a father and a son at that point. That “adopted” female is still too young to be a reproducing alpha, though by remaining there without challenge, that’s the position she would grow into. Finding more and more of these not-exactly-nuclear family arrangements have changed my idea of what constitutes a standard coyote family. The variations are beginning to appear to me more and more like our own human family variations!

“Mom’s” young male companion

3) A third possibility is that Sparks could have moved in as the new alpha male, although this seems unlikely because of his young age. But the fact is I have not seen “Mom’s” male companion around lately. In addition, I’ve always wondered if that male companion was actually “Mom’s” mate — he always appeared to be more of a younger brother or even another “adoptee”, though I could be wrong.  Whatever his position/role in the family has been, I have not seen him in the last little while — so the “position” may be open.

As an interesting aside: At the beginning of March which would have been mating season, I found “Mom” with a large gash on her forehead, in the Presidio along with this young male companion of hers. The Presidio is five miles away from her own claimed territory. I wondered what she/they were doing there. The gash was of the type she might have picked up after a territorial battle with another coyote. The Presidio has a very dominant alpha female — the gal I refer to as “Wired” — who has battled other females and driven them away ferociously. Wired’s mate happens to be “Mom’s” brother. Was she seeking out her brother?

This is actually the second instance of where I’ve seen a female head off from her own territory to a foreign territory during the receptive phase of her reproductive cycle, and it made me wonder if it was related to reproductive reasons. My DNA study will not be able to reveal this because DNA taken from scat can only follow the maternal line. So the questions remains: who sired her pups this year? And, will Sparks remain there?

So, it’s into any of these situations that Sparks now finds himself. Time will help us decide which is the real one.

FOR UPDATE, see: Sparks moved to and has been living at the Presidio for several months now.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/


For my continuing long term DNA study of our San Francisco coyotes, I needed some scat (DNA is taken from the scats) from a very specific newcomer male coyote about whose origins I had no clue. I already had scat from his mate — I had seen her defecate many times and afterwards collected it, but I just simply was not seeing the activity from the male. Picking up scat right after seeing it expelled is how I know which coyote the sample came from. I had seen old scat in certain locations several times, but of course I didn’t know WHO it came from.  My solution was to catch WHO that scat came from with an automatic wildlife field camera I put out at night. I ended up putting out two such cameras in the same location. I got what I wanted, and more!

When I went to retrieve the two cameras the next morning, I was disappointed to see that one of them was gone: it had been taken — stolen. I looked over to where the second camera had been placed and was relieved to find it still there — the thief had not seen that one. I wondered if maybe that camera would reveal who the thief was?

Crossing the First Divide: One Milestone at a Time

The video depicts 11 week old pups at the end of June, two months ago. It covers the week before they abandoned their denning site entirely. 

This is a time-lapse video sequence taken over a week’s time, showing coyote pup and parent behavior at the entryway to their denning area. This is not a “video” but a “time lapse” sequence.  I’ve speeded it up to 2.5x — so please remember that the action actually was occurring at less than 1/2 the speed which you are seeing here. Time lapse at original speed is excruciatingly slow to watch. All of the activity occurred in the dead of night when it was safest for them — and with only a distant dim street lamp for lighting for the video: this should explain the jerkiness and the blurriness. But the story is captured! It turned out to be a milestone in their lives, i.e., practicing and first steps for moving out of the den. 

The camera was placed at the periphery of their denning area. The “outerworld” — dangerously full of people, traffic and dogs — is past the stake to the right. Before the video even begins, there was one wise little pup who had caught onto parental departures and returns. Hmmm. So, “Where were parents going? What’s out there? Why can’t I go? Looks scary!” Coyotes, even youngsters, are curious. Sneaking past the pups started not working. Mom or Dad had to turn around, turn them back and distract them, thwart them by carrying them and then leading them back to safety.  This is how they began to learn that “out there” was not safe. Boundaries seem to be understood early on, as they later are in territorial divisions between adult coyotes: coyotes firmly understand these.

The videoed part of the adventure, then, begins with the pups going to, and hovering around, this “exit” area. You can see that they are both apprehensive and excited, as they look around hesitantly. They repeat this approaching of the boundary line in the same way for several days — both fearing the outside world and at the same time drawn to it, encouraged now at this age and stage by their parents. Finally Mom or Dad begin leading them out a little way, but one pup is afraid and opts not to go, sitting down and looking back over his shoulder at Mom and siblings beyond the exit. The two beyond the exist see their brother and also get cold feet — decide to hold back too, and they hurry back. It takes a while to get the minds and bodies of the pups all moving in the same direction at the same time! This “sticking their toes out the door” happened once a day. They were getting used to the idea and any new stimulation right there close to home. It’s probably overwhelming to begin with.

By 1:50 in the video, the pups have now finally begun venturing out as a family and this is them returning. Mom anxiously makes sure everyone is in. You can almost hear her “Whew!” She lovingly mouths one of the youngsters (2:40 in the video) over and over: “Good job, Kids!”

The sequence after that, which is the next day, shows them now returning without too much fanfare — it’s old hat by now!

The move obviously required forethought, aim, intent, and direction on the part of the parents who were on the same wavelength with each other, working together and in unison on the project. They were able to communicate this to each other and then to the pups. Their communication isn’t something humans have a handle on — it’s too complicated for us!  I know that the ultimate goal and objective had been to prepare the pups for the move — the area was vacated the very next day. It took over a week of working on this project before it was actually carried out. Coyotes think ahead, plan, retain the plan in their minds, and communicate to each other about it!

Most “denning areas” I’ve observed remain “home” for months, but not in this case. After abandoning this site, the pups were moved every few days to at least four locations until they settled down in the safest spot, where they now have remained through 4 months of age.

The Coyote and The Buffalo, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet!

Somewhere in times past I saw this pic somewhere on internet in regards the true nature of coyote among cattle. I kept it because it was so true. I’ve seen this many times. Coyote enjoy how cattle stir up rodents/grasshoppers etc for a snack.

I wanted to share a development witnessed by a rancher who has switched to bison. They range an enormous area now and are the core group that hopefully turn into large herds.

This area was where Bad Leg aka Gimpy went when he was ousted from his old territory. He has done well. Even white faced, old and limping, he has a loyal mate and has been raising a litter this year. The rancher has really enjoyed watching this ancient male defy the odds and still be a Pack leader. He also enjoys coyote because…they are no threat to his bison.

He has seen Bad Leg hunting, walking and napping all summer among the bison herd. And rolling in bison chips.

However, a true danger approached Bad Leg one day.

2 Anatolian LGD roamed onto the ranch. Sometimes in the growing territorial integrity they have, they seek more places. And they also seek predators. Likely the scent of Bad Leg and his family was discovered. And silently walking around, they found Bad Leg literally napping.

According to the rancher, Bad Leg’s mate actually raised the alarm, barking and calling frantically. Bad Leg awoke, and rallied. The pups were further away in a rendezvous, but the danger to his pack was real. These dogs can and do hunt down and decimate/scatter coyote.

Bad Leg’s mate seemed to make a run for the pups to lead them away. (they were later found a few miles away resting safe)

Bad Leg limped toward the 2 massive Anatolian, barking and challenging the giant dogs. The rancher yelled to no avail. He was too far to be effective.

But the bison were there. And responded. Likely the dogs annoyed them and stirred them in anger and defensive mode. Also, these bison have met and rebuffed wolves. They know the drill.

In addition, the rut is starting in bison. The males are surging with testosterone. And looking for a fight.

2 bulls came alive and charged the dogs. And Bad Leg stepped gladly aside. The rancher saw the Anatolian dodging and running while the bulls and whole group of 25 chased the dogs. Bad Leg ran behind the herd, barking and yipping the whole time down a valley. Then he swerved up a hill, his panting, white face alight in victory.

A bison herd can not only stomp up the mice. They can be great allies for an old, tired coyote.

Bad Leg triumphs again. Surely, there is magic in an old, surviving coyote. To Bad Leg. May the white fur on your face see many more days and moons.


Hi Janet, I have heard, and believe, that coyote and bison instinctively just meld. They have been coexisting untold thousands of years. All their behaviors and “vibes” meld naturally.

Incidentally, the rancher has reported a vast increase in wildlife since he removed sheep, created more acres of native grasses, and allowed the bison to range. Deer have increased. The ponds have deepened with wallowing-and frogs, fish and turtles have appeared where he never saw them. Elk are seen resting with calves near the bison. Wolves have visited, but quickly seem to leave. It seems bison are not in the menu, and often escort any large canine off quickly. White Faced Bad Leg, and other coyote, and finding such transformation welcoming. Bison create a very vibrant grassland ecosystem. The coyote find wonderful territory where buffalo range. There is over 5,000 acres here that will be range for growing, free ranging herds. Coyote heaven.

©linaizzie: the buffalo and coyote

Dispersal: One Youngster’s Trajectory Over The Last Five Months

All photos in this posting were taken after his dispersal from home.

We’re on another leg of the dispersal of a coyote I call Sparks. He and a sister, at just about one year of age, stepped away from home [see map below (1)] and out into the wider world where they came to rest and stay about two miles from their birthplace (2).They remained here close to two months — long enough to make me think that this might become their new home, but they did not remain there at this point in time. Maybe they weren’t ready to claim the area as theirs? Maybe they wanted to explore greener pastures, possibly less fragmented pieces of property? Anyway, Sparks’ dispersing “walkabout” — which I think is an apt term — was not over yet, apparently.

By the second week in July Sparks was spotted way up in the Presidio — a full six miles away from his birthplace, whereas the sister returned to their birthplace where I continue to see her romp with her other brothers who vie and compete for her attention. But Sparks had been dominated by these brothers — there may even have been a battle between them — and there was no going back for him.

So Sparks continued to roam in that area for the better part of a week, and by the third week of July found himself in the north-western corner of the city (4), where he was seen limping severely again on that left front leg. It was either a new injury, or the original injury was acting up. The original injury had occurred way back in mid-February and was severe enough — very likely a break, and very likely caused by chasing dogs — for him to retain a severe limp and keep off the leg entirely for over a month. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that injury even though he regained use of the leg.

By July 31st and through August 5th — possibly because the new leg injury had deteriorated so badly from continued use — he returned to that two-mile distant spot (5). This was a space he was familiar with and where he felt safe, including from other coyotes. Here he was observed numerous times with what now had become an identifying characteristic: the severe limp. A worried neighbor spotted him on the hill in back of his house curled up in a ball. The last sighting was of him running, three-legged, licketsplit through the main park of the area on August 5th. UPDATE as of August 15th: Sparks left his neighbor’s yard at the beginning of the heatwave, after almost 3 weeks in a neighbor’s backyard. The neighbors have been worried about what became of him: well, he is now again roaming around in the Presidio! His leg has not healed.

Dispersals, as we’ve seen before — and again, these insights are from my own first-hand observations over the past 13+ years, but also include several photos sent to me — have coyotes exploring through distant corners of our city and some even exiting the city to the south. On the other hand, coyotes who are entrenched territorial claimants seldom have a need to travel such distances, so they don’t: although they still trek away from their homes, it’s not usually the vast distances as the dispersing/exploring youngsters. The territorial owners seem to stay nearer to their homes where it is safe and they know the terrain.

When do coyotes disperse and what causes them to do so? They leave home, as far as I have seen, anywhere from about 9 months of age and up to 2.5 years of age. They do so either on their own initiative and timeline, when they themselves get the urge and without any prodding or provocation from other family members, or they may leave because of growing rivalry and repeated battles aimed to drive them away.

This dispersal period might be navigated with ease and little danger — it could be a piece of cake — or the opposite, with extreme difficulty and constant danger. Territorial claimants might fight them off viciously, or might welcomingly invite them to stay a while — the latter is something I’ve seen only with young dispersing females. Many of the dispersing youngsters have miraculously found vacant locations right here within the city limits itself — spaces either vacated by other coyotes, be it because they moved or died, or some of the maturer dispersers might have fought the resident coyotes — the ones who may have become weak due to old age or even sickness — and won. One of the biggest dangers for dispersing youngsters in urban areas is traffic: they regularly get killed by cars. The city counts about ten such deaths a year officially, but you can be sure there are more that were not reported.  Those youngsters who can’t find vacant spaces within the city have been found to move south and out of the city according to the ecologist at the Presidio. Dispersal is a treacherous time for coyotes and contributes to their notoriously low survival rate: it is claimed that only 30% of coyote litters survive to adulthood, which is their one year old mark.

I don’t know where Sparks will move next. I don’t know if the injury will hinder his ability to survive. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come across him again. If I do, I’ll post about it.

By the way, it’s not necessary to know the dispersal trajectory of every single coyote to understand the process. A few examples give the idea, and I have provided a number in this blog, with maps. The coyotes I’ve been able to follow I do so visually and by examining photos: I recognize them each by their unique faces, so that radio-collaring and tagging are absolutely unnecessary: these heavy and bulky contraptions are intrusive, hampering and even harmful, and not needed to find out what indeed is needed to coexist with them.

Photos taken by other folks during this part of his dispersal “walkabout” [click on any of the photos to scroll through them]

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/

Fed Up

I’m reposting this from two neighborhood sites here in the city — two places where feeding coyotes is out of control. In both cases, we have coyotes who are being perpetually fed. It has altered their behaviors which have become increasingly troubling and alarming not only to neighbors and dog-walkers as evidenced by their reports, but also to authorities. If you love the coyotes, you’ll leave them alone and walk away from them as soon as you see them, if you don’t, you may be contributing to their possible death warrants.

Dear Neighbor:

There has been increased feeding of our coyotes, inclusively along roadways and from cars, and humans are approaching and being “friendly” towards them: This not only endangers their lives, but it’s altering their natural behaviors, causing these coyotes to hang around, including in the streets, waiting for food and approaching people and cars for food, instead of hunting which is what they should be doing.

People tell me that these coyotes look as though they are “starving”. They aren’t. Coyotes are thin, scrawny, and lithe so that they can move quickly and efficiently — more like a whippet than a bulldog. Please don’t be deceived by their naturally skinny builds, especially now, in the summer when they’ve lost their 3″ fluffy furry coats. These will grow back in the fall.

In addition, coyotes have been approaching dogs with insistent “messaging” displays, and/or following or “escorting” dogs: these are DEFENSIVE MESSAGES aimed to move your dog away from them, members of their families or an area. Please heed the message: walk (don’t run) away from them, and stay as far away as possible with your dog. THIS IS WHAT THE COYOTES WANT — it’s what they are asking you to do and it’s so easy to do.

Please be an ambassador for them: help others understand what is going on and what to do.


Janet Kessler
PS: If you have questions or need one-on-one help in dealing with a coyote issue, please contact me directly through

Two Youngsters Take A Tentative Step Towards Dispersal

[Note: This posting has been revised! After revisiting my photos, I realized I had mistaken a coyote’s identity. This is so easy to do among siblings who very often look very much alike, and whose facial bone structures continue to grow and therefore alter their appearance, even if ever so slightly, even after a year of age. The change is that Sparks did NOT return home with his sister, which is what I had written, but continued his dispersing “walkabout” to the north of the city. I have edited this post to reflect this].

These two siblings — a brother and a sister — left home together in March when they were just about a year old. I assumed they were leaving for good — dispersing. A couple of months into their absence, I was thrilled to recognize the male when he showed up in another park about two miles away: I’m always exhilarated when I find dispersing youngsters who I’ve watched grow up because most, of course, I never see again after they leave. This male comes from an exceptionally large litter, most of whom I was seeing very irregularly and sporadically recently, so now I had to figure out which sibling was accompanying him, or was it someone he had met and hooked up with from a different family?

That second one remained too distant and seldom appeared in daylight; it was always at the darker end of twilight when I saw them, and this one always seemed to be moving away from me, so it took me a while longer to figure out which individual it was: I have to see their faces to know who each one is. To help me (though it didn’t help) I put out a trap camera on a narrow path close to one of the entrances to the park where I had seen them, not really expecting anything to show up on it.

Apparently I placed the camera well, because I caught these few seconds which, although they didn’t help me identify the second coyote, they did tell me how much fun these guys were having in their newfound freedom! In the video below you’ll see the two youngster coyotes who had been running along a narrow, sandy path. They’ve just jumped over a bush where the camera is hidden, and this is where the short video starts.. They stop to communicate their joy through eye contacting, touching and joyful jumping before continuing on. It’s only a few seconds long, but long enough to tell this part of their story.

People noticed them and told me about them: not only were they spotted in the fragmented parks of the area and on the streets in-between, but they were also seen in several backyards, where they were seen successfully hunting, once even with prey — a white cat — in their mouths.  They seem to have learned to navigate this new area well. Finally I was able to see her — the second coyote’s –face: these photos below have been substantially lightened to make the individuals visible —  they were essentially taken in the dark. Even so, the coyotes are very identifiable.

Far and away from home (above)

I pondered if these two would move on or become entrenched in this newfound location. The area has served as a sort of temporary “stopping off place” for several coyotes I’ve kept track of as they traversed the city, so would it be the same for these, or would it become a more permanent home — even though highly fragmented — since available territories within the city have been dwindling. I checked up on them only a few times as I continued to hear reports of them, and then, one day, suddenly, they no longer were being spotted. Where had they gone?

WELL, as of mid-July, the female, at 16-months of age, was back at her birthplace, after four months of absence! I guess she wasn’t quite ready to disperse lock-stock-and-barrel yet, even though she seemed to have a lot of fun and excitement during her AWOL adventure. And certainly the two of them escaped family tensions during that time “abroad” due to coming-of-age relationships which were beginning to show strain among the brothers.

Rivalry between siblings escalates over time, especially between brothers, and that seems to be kicking in and growing between these two stay-at-home brothers.One is more dominant and he’s displaying a lot of bullying these days. “Underling” brother kowtows towards him, and it’s precisely this kind of behavior that may have driven out Sparks, the dispersed brother this posting is about.

Back to family politics: the two remaining brothers vie for the affection of their sister

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/

PostSript: The information in this article was gained by simple recognition of individual coyotes and from a vast knowledge about them gained through first-hand direct observation — without the use of radio-collars or identifying tags which are intrusive and harmful. My direct observations engender a much deeper and more expansive knowledge and understanding of coyotes than can be provided by simply mechanically tracking their movements.  “Look, Ma, no hands”. Try it! My “hard” facts include both photos and DNA from scat.

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