Novelty Spurs A Super Playtime At The Rendezvous

A while back I was told by someone with some animal behavior training, that “novelty” is something coyotes stay away from. That novelty and smelly human socks were things coyotes avoided and therefore could be used to drive coyotes away.

Actually, the opposite seems to be true. I’ve seen coyotes absolutely delight in smelly old human shoes, their socks, coats and hats: they tend to actually be attracted to these things and to anything novel, including balloons waving in the wind, and even large objects like huge dirt piles and tractors — and no matter that the size and configuration of the huge dirt piles changed daily over a five day period, that the tractors were never in the same places, that the huge log piles grew and then slowly disappeared over a five day period, the coyotes returned for their play there day after day.

The morning that I took these photos, a huge, deep hole had been dug into the very level ground. It went down as deep as the piled up dirt was high. You can’t really tell from my photo, but the pit is very deep. My fear when I saw the hole was that if I, or a coyote from the family which roams the area were to slide in, there would be no getting out without help. Luckily, everyone was sure-footed and no one fell in!

So, after the tractors had done their work in the morning, I arrived at the huge pit and dirt pile. It was rendezvous time, which is the evening get-together when coyotes meet-up for play, grooming, re-confirming their family positions and eventually trekking. At the allotted time — and I must say that I don’t know how each coyote knows to appear at about the same time because they emerge from different areas of the park — possibly they’re just waiting and watching — they raced excitedly and playfully towards each other with greetings.

Initial play and greetings before heading over to the novel items

Their greetings were full of fun, as usual, and then they headed straight over to the three huge tractors and dirt pile that hadn’t been there the day before, where they exploded in play: running around as though these things had been placed there specifically for their enjoyment! They ran and chased each other along the top ridge of the dirt, and up and down, they explored the tractors, they explored and clambered all over the high wood-pile. And they smiled at all their fun. They did not avoid anything new, and it all was new. Enjoy the fun!

Smiling and happy after an intense chase on the ridge of the dirt pile

Coyote Speaks Her Mind, An Update

I want to update the continuing story of the loner coyote I wrote about in: Coyote Speaks Her Mind to the Dog Who Chased Her Three Weeks Ago! The story through that posting evolved from a dog who repeatedly chased the coyote, to the coyote finally vocalizing her distress at being chased while remaining hidden in the bushes.

Soon thereafter, this coyote would follow that dog, which is now kept leashed, screaming out her anguish, now in plain view — no longer hidden in the bushes. For months this behavior continued, daily, and then the vocalizations stopped, but the following behavior still continued, always at a safe and great distance. 

One might ask, “Why would a little coyote follow a dog — even a large 100 pound dog — if she were fearful of the dog?  The answer appears to be that ‘following’ is used by coyotes both to escort out and to assure themselves that a threatening (or perceived as threatening) animal is leaving an area. It is a territorial behavior. Coyotes’ survival depends on their territoriality: they claim, and exclude other coyotes, from the land which will supply them with, and ensure them a supply of,  food and protection from competitors. The screaming, which incorporates deep raspy sounds, is a brave warning, more bluff than anything else, but also a release of the coyote’s distressed feelings. The coyote appears totally aware that the dog is tethered: she has fled like a bullet when the dog got loose and turned towards her.

The little coyote’s behavior towards that dog is continuing to evolve. Yesterday, after seeing the dog in the far distance, she simply ran the other way and disappeared from view over the crest of the hill before the dog had a chance to see her!

A few days ago, having seen the dog from a great distance, she ran off and hid rather than take a chance at being seen.

Crouching low the minute she saw the dog, in hopes of not being seen

And today, the little coyote didn’t notice the dog — the dog is walked daily in the park — until the dog already was close by. Her evasive strategy this time involved crouching down into the grasses and ducking so as not to be seen. She was not seen by the dog, but she was seen by the owner.  She remained in her crouched-down spot as the dog didn’t seem to notice her (the dog was leashed and couldn’t have moved towards the coyote even if she had wanted to). 

The coyote got up and watched them walk away and disappear over the horizon and then took after them, but remaining out of sight.  She spotted them at the crest of a hill where she sat and kept an eye on them from the distance until they left. This owner is doing as much as he can to avoid conflict by walking his dog on the leash and always walking away from the coyote. Fortunately, he is fascinated and amused by her behavior!

By the way, I have seen this same behavior in a number of females, and one male coyote — it’s not so unusual, so folks with dogs should be aware of it so they don’t freak out if it happens towards their dog. What to do? Simply shorten your leash and keep walking away from the coyote. Also, try to minimize visual communication between your dog and a coyote — the communication is most likely to be negative, so why even go there? Again, simply shorten your leash and walk on and away.

Fraternizing with the Raccoons?

A dog walker approached me in the dark, before dawn, to ask me about a strange sound he heard: hissing and a breathy growling. He told me he decided not to enter the park with his two small dogs because he wasn’t sure of the sound; he asked if it might have been a coyote. I told him that it could have been a coyote, however, the local neighborhood coyote is not one who reacts to dogs and walkers this way: she’s an accepting gal who keeps away from dogs unless she has been chased, and even then she comes back only to make sure the dog has gone away.

many sets of eyes in the dark – there were actually 5 sets

I finally approached the area where the sound was heard, and I heard it: a loud, raspy, breathy growl that came across as an intense explicative.  I shined my flashlight on the spot, only to find five set of eyes huddled together. Yikes!  Then I saw with my flashlight that one set of eyes belonged to a coyote. No one was moving — they were just sitting still, all five of them together, eyeing my flashlight. I gasped, knowing that this coyote, a loner, didn’t have a family — so I wondered if she had invited another family of coyotes into her area. It was something I had never witnessed.

One set of eyes belonged to a coyote

Ahhh! Soon I was able to see that each set of eyes belonged to a masked and stripe-tailed raccoon! It was a mother and three youngsters, in addition to the one coyote. The youngsters kept to the bushes. Mom and coyote appeared to know each other. They  walked around, inches from each other, totally ignoring one another. There was no aggression between them: probably a truce had been achieved long ago. The coyote wasn’t going to mess with Mom Raccoon and Mom Raccoon wasn’t going to mess with the coyote.

However, the coyote was pawing at the bushes where the youngsters (almost full-sized) were hanging out, provoking and testing what their responses might be, hoping for some kind of reaction.  Mom every now and then discharged a raspy, growly exhalation in warning. BTW coyotes make this same warning sound towards each other, but not as loudly. The coyote backed up a little but did not leave. This state of affairs continued, unchanging, for about half-an-hour. Finally, the coyote went off into the distance, where she sat down and waited patiently for something to happen: treed raccoons were not much fun!

Dawn now was slowly creeping in and more people were arriving at the park. Maybe the coyote knew the raccoons would make a run for it at some point? With her gone, the raccoons indeed soon edged their way through the bushes down to the street and then ran across — three and then the fourth — with the coyote now at their heels once they were out in the open, running with them.

Raccoons are tough customers for coyotes, and although I have seen coyotes eat raccoon, most encounters I’ve seen end up in a standoff. It’s the juveniles and enfeebled raccoons who are most vulnerable to coyote predation, as well as those who might find themselves unexpectedly separated from their families when confronted by several coyotes. This particular coyote seemed more into entertainment, and maybe even company, than anything else — fraternizing?! I’m sure this coyote could have grabbed one of the youngsters had she wanted to, but she seemed more interested in simply testing their mettle. When they got to the other side of the street, the raccoons scrambled up a tree, and the coyote was left down below, all alone. NOTE that this indeed is an unusual coyote: she flees from cats at the slightest provocation and has even tried gingerly interacting with them — or maybe she was testing their responses.

Coyote in SOMA of San Francisco

Coyote in downtown San Francisco

A few days ago, this little coyote was spotted at Third and Folsom, South of Market, near Moscone Center, right in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown, and right during hustle-and-bustle prime time: it must have been pretty scary with all those people, cars, and trollies, and with all the activity and noise. The coyote had either taken a wrong route or run out of time in her/his journey, because now it was daylight and the city’s downtown was filling up with activity.

Photo: courtesy ACC

We’ve seen coyotes up on buildings in the downtowns of various large cities, including New York. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens, and each time it makes headlines. In addition to its serving as an escape from all the noise and activity at street level, a building provides an *up*. In the wild they often seek out high points from which to survey their territories and to see what the lay of the land is. This coyote may have been looking for a higher spot as a means of finding her way out of the situation in which she found herself.

I don’t know this particular coyote, but I can take a guess at what was going on. If she/he had been dispersed from a nearby territory (coyotes may be dispersed at anytime of the year), as she moved away from her home territory, she could have become caught up in our labyrinthine downtown which has no thickets to hide in.  Coyotes live in our parks and in the larger green/open spaces of the city. ACC would not have been able to return her to where she/he came from because, 1) no one knew for sure where she/he came from, and 2) dispersed youngsters will not be welcomed back to the place they were harshly driven from.

So, for the first time, probably, the animal was on its own and needed to find its way out of the city. Most coyote territorial niches are already occupied within the city, so where could she go? South of the city is where the ecologist for the Presidio, Jonathan Young, has found several of San Francisco’s dispersed coyotes which he had radio-collared. Dispersion is a hazardous time for coyotes and a time when their survival is at high risk.

Potential problems, besides a few fearful people, were dehydration and being hit by a car. Water, in fact, can be found all over the the city from spigots, etc, so the real danger is from traffic.  Come nighttime, she would have moved on, but a full day is a long time to sit up on a building. ACC hurried the process along by clearing traffic down a street, which gave the coyote a way out. It is always best to allow coyotes to find their own way — possibly with a little help as was offered by ACC. Thank you, ACC!

Deb Campbell of ACC wrote me, “We were trying to get the coyote (a crowd had gathered, and our original plan to wait until nightfall was not going to work), but it slipped away and ran down Folsom Street towards First Street. The police had stopped traffic, so it had a cleared escape route. We looked, but couldn’t find it, and we’re hoping that s/he made it back to a green space.” Deb generously supplied me with this photo.

San Francisco, with the help of ACC and RPD, promotes coexistence through education: we are one of the most progressive cities in this respect (in fact, in many respects).  ACC is here to help with sticky situations such as this one . And, of course, they have their hands full with every imaginable animal contingency in the city, for instance, now they’re busy looking for the pit-bull who last week mauled a leashed chihuahua. Our animal residents keep ACC occupied.

“Messaging” May Include Growling

Coyotes live in all of our parks, and they can be seen on the streets sometimes. So always remain vigilant when out walking your dog. If you see a coyote, keep away from it. Most of the time coyotes will flee as they see you coming, but sometimes they may not, and I want to address this potentiality here. The safest protocol always is to shorten your leash and walk the other way, no matter how far or near a coyote is. This sends a signal to the coyote that you and your dog are not there to challenge the coyote’s personal or territorial space.

If you see a coyote while walking your dog, shorten your leash and go the other way.

Coyotes are territorial animals. They don’t allow coyotes other than family members into their territories unless they’re maybe just passing through. The good news about this is that territoriality keeps the coyote population down naturally in any particular area. You and your leashed dog should just keep walking on and away from the coyote — just passing through.

Coyotes and dogs know how to read each other on a level that we humans are not very tuned into: the same thing occurs between dogs: one twitched facial muscle reveals their position to other dogs.  So, when walking your dog, please don’t stop and allow this communication to take place or be acted upon — just keep walking away, dragging your dog after you if you must, showing the coyote that you have no interest in her/him.

If for some reason you find yourself closer to a coyote than you should be and the coyote growls at your dog — know that this is a warning message meant to keep your dog from coming closer: “please stay away from me”, “please don’t come closer”, “please go away”.  It may be set off by the dog being in, or heading for, the coyote’s personal or territorial space, and/or may involve negative communication between the animals. It is not necessarily an indication that it’s “an aggressive coyote”, rather,  it’s more likely to be “defensive” behavior aimed at making the dog keep its distance or leave. Please heed the message!  Coyotes and dogs generally do not like each other. Every coyote I know has been chased multiple times by dogs, and they remember this and are ready for the next time, or the next dog. You can prevent this message from escalating by shortening your leash and walking away — this shows the coyote you aren’t a threat, and the coyote will learn this.

If you have a dog, always walk away from a coyote, dragging your dog if you have to.

This also holds true for when you are in your car with a dog. If close enough, the coyote might growl if he/she perceives your dog — who is usually hanging out the window and staring or even barking — as a territorial or personal threat. It’s best to drive on rather than allow visual communication between your dog and a coyote.

A coyote who is walking towards you, again is messaging you more than anything else: making sure you are aware of its presence so that you and your dog will know he/she is there, i.e., that the territory is taken, and possibly even assessing if the dog will come after it. There’s an aspect of curiosity here, but it’s more investigative. Again, just walk away, and keep walking away with your short-leashed dog in-tow, even if the coyote follows you for a little bit.

Prevention is always the best policy, and that involves keeping your distance. Once your dog and a coyote have engaged, you’ll have to try your best to pull your dog away and then keep moving away from the coyote. Scare tactics — such as making eye-contact, lunging at (without getting close), clapping and shouting aggressively at a coyote — do not always work. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in the video at the top of this blog: Coyotes As Neighbors: what to know and do, but know that it’s best to practice utter prevention proactively than to reactively have to scare off a coyote who comes too close.

Here is a concise flyer on  How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

[These guidelines are the most effective, and the safest I have seen, based on my daily observations of interactions between coyotes, dogs and people in our parks over the past 11 years]

Intrepid Cat vs. Playful Coyote


Addendum: This posting should be a lesson to everyone that cats are not safe unattended out-of-doors. This story has an unexpected twist which is amusing because it is unexpected. Small pets will inevitably encounter other animals, be they coyotes, raccoons or dogs, all of whom have their own agendas which you cannot predict, and they will encounter other dangers, such as traffic which could threaten a pet’s life. Please keep your cats indoors and only let them out if you can supervise them.

Thrill vs. Fear, by Anca Vlasopolos

Two days ago I saw a very healthy-looking coyote, photo attached. It got a laughing gull off the shore and took it presumably to a den, then returned for more. My two friends were freaked out, although the animal was quite far away from us and wouldn’t have approached us, I’m sure, since it looked very capable and healthy.

But we did tell a group of women coming to the beach with a toddler in a carriage and a lab whom they wanted to let loose to swim in the ocean that they should not let the dog or the kid run around too far. They too freaked out. I’m not sure I’d want a coyote too close to our fenced-in yard where Haggis runs around, but he’s never unsupervised.

Anca generously allowed me to publish her photos and description of her recent coyote encounter. What’s of interest here is how Anca’s two friends reacted: it’s a reaction which is more common than most of us realize. She adds, “Not surprisingly, I went with the same two friends to the Audubon sanctuary in Wellfleet, on Cape Cod where we live, and we had an encounter with what I think was an Eastern hog-nose snake. Again, my friends got very upset about its existence, one saying that there was no reason for snakes to be on earth. I did tell her that I’d take a snake over a rat any day and that we’d be overrun with rodents if not for snakes, but my powers of persuasion were not up to the task. The poor shy snake took off so fast that I didn’t have a chance to get a photo.”

Please let’s all help get information out to folks so that fear doesn’t dominate their wildlife encounters, and so that thrill will! By the way, Anca is a renown writer and poet: please visit her site at: www.vlasopolos.com

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