Sacramento Bee Writes A Profile About Me

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Drones never bothered me, until one day they did.  It was in a park where I go to escape from the mechanical noises of the city. It was a beautiful day, as most days are in the parks, when suddenly an incessant buzzing/humming noise interrupted everything pleasant about the park. I looked around, and saw this flying object hovering right over me. It stayed there, then came down practically next to me, and then shot up again. I looked around for anybody who might be controlling the drone, but saw no one at first. As I continued looking, far in the distance I saw someone who looked like he was holding a board which he was manipulating with both hands. I decided to walk in his direction. As I got closer, the flying object zoomed over to him, he packed up and left before I could reach him. I’ve encountered dozens of people who have had similar experiences which they were not happy with.

That was my first drone encounter. I’ve had several such encounters since that one, and I’ve been able to reach the controllers. Most are very courteous  and take their objects out of the sky. Some have not been — they tell me there is no “law” against doing what they are doing, and that they have a “right” to fly. It’s when I found a drone descending on a coyote — which I’ve seen three times now — that I decided to pursue this further.

I went to the internet and found that these objects are banned from national parks, and from any proximity to people. Then I wrote the San Francisco Parks Department, asking them what the rules were for flying drones in city parks in San Francisco. I was told that they had to have a permit, and that permits were not too commonly issued. This was a relief to hear.

So the next time I saw a drone over a coyote (see photos) I approached the controller and told him that it wasn’t appropriate for the wildlife. The droner pulled out an app which he said came with the drone: it showed where droning was not allowed. It did not cover any of the parks in San Francisco. I think the app only lists national parks, because the Presidio was included, but none of the city parks run by RPD had any restrictions. The droner decided he was right, and I was wrong, and I had nothing to prove otherwise.

In the situation depicted in the photos, I hurried into the park, not knowing what was going on except that a coyote was howling. When I arrived, the howls had stopped, but the scene was of a little coyote hovered on a hill with a drone flying above it — the drone was departing as I arrived. There were several onlookers, but they were only concentrating on seeing the coyote howling — wow, pretty exciting, I agree — and they hadn’t noticed if it was the drone that had triggered the howls. I only got there afterwards, so I won’t ever know this. But I do know that if the drone is bothersome to me, both in terms of its noise and as an object hovering over me, I’m pretty sure it would be bothersome, even frightening, to a coyote, whose sense of hearing is so much more acute than mine and who is wary of all intrusions into its personal space, and probably especially by an object it doesn’t understand.

I’m hoping RPD can make these regulations a little more easily available for everyone.

Daybreak After July 4th

We humans live our lives often forgetting about the other creatures who are around. On the 4th, there were beastly loud and continuous firework blasts and scary lights in the skies, judging from the reactions of some dogs and some people. Our activities affect the myriad of animals, wild and not wild, who mostly inconspicuously inhabit our city with us. You can see our effect when you are able to zero-in on an animal’s sudden change of routine behavior.

Out-door concerts in the parks also affect animals. They affect me: I find that they are too loud to be near for too long, and the noise prevents me from doing other things. The noise is very loud and continuous over multiple days — it’s a long period of time. Throngs of people upset the equilibrium of a normally calmer park which the animals are used to. The fences put up, say in Golden Gate Park, to make sure everyone who goes to the concerts pays their way, in fact often separate animals from their families and each other, and from their food and water sources, with no way to go around or under them. Caring humans who are in-the-know try hard to fix problems caused by interminable fences, but maybe, might it not be better to have the concerts in an enclosed space, such as Cow Palace, where the disruption wouldn’t be quite so brutal to all other forms of life?

In San Francisco for the 4th, besides the big fireworks in the Bay which were put on by the City itself, people put on their own fireworks displays throughout the city, some on the periphery of parks.  I did not go to these celebrations, so I was unable to see any coyote’s reaction to all of it.

But the first thing I saw in the morning of the 5th was the used fireworks debris strewn all over the intersection of a road, mostly along the curbs, next to a park. A burning odor permeated the area, still. The noise had been tremendous and lasted for many hours, and I was told that crowds of people had gathered in the parks to watch — another disruption for wildlife.

Then I glimpsed the little coyote who I normally see sitting calmly on a bluff overlooking her domain or engaging in apparently happy play in the wee hours of the morning. This coyote was not at its usual spot or engaging in its usual activities. In fact, the coyote hurried stiffly from I-know-not-where to the edge of the park. It looked worried and preoccupied and didn’t even glance my way. It looked far out in all directions. And then it abruptly turned and hurried at a brisk trot, very purposefully, past me and away, down several streets and out of sight, rather than remaining, as was its routine, to watch the passers-by.  Is it coincidental that July 4th was the previous night? Or might this animal’s anxious (my word) behavior be tied to the disruptive (my word) activity of the previous evening? You decide.

Last year an observer told me that, after five days of heavy concerts-in-the-park, the little family of 5 coyotes she had been watching regularly suddenly vanished never to be seen again. The family probably just took off.  Maybe we should think about our human impacts a little more seriously?

On Being Alone: My Observations

Summary/Abstract: Coyotes are highly social. They mate for life and have families. Interacting, including playing with each other, is a mainstay of their existence. But when they disperse they may find themselves alone in the world with no one (of their own species) to socialize with. They become bored and lonely. Here one rekindles some fun and interactions for herself.*

Coyotes are very social animals: they have an intense family life and interact constantly with one another within their families. But youngsters grow up and must leave home due to their territorial imperative, so they either *disperse* on their own, or are *dispersed* by the parents. This keeps the population down in any particular area, ensuring that there are enough resources for those who remain — for the mated pair who claim that territory and for their future offspring.

So dispersed individuals head off on their own: they may remain *loners* for a while. Dispersal can be a treacherous time for them. Some have made it all the way to Los Gatos from San Francisco, as discovered by Ecologist Jonathan Young, but many if not most get killed by cars. A few have been able to find vacated territorial niches right here in the city. In my ten years of observations, I’ve only seen two youngsters, whose birth locations I knew, find locations in the city, including this one. Others, of course, must have, but I don’t know which of the parks they dispersed from. The previous coyote who lived where this one now lives, remained a loner for many years until he was killed by a car. It is his vacated territorial niche which this coyote now occupies. Will she ever find a mate, will she ever move on? Each coyote is a unique individual, so we’ll only find out with time.

Being the social animals that they are, but without a social group to interact with, loner coyotes can become excruciatingly bored and lonely. I say this based on my own observations and based on comments from other people who have observed the same coyotes. The time normally directed at family interactions — including playing or hunting together, figuring out and maintaining their relationships and hierarchy in the family, and even the sheer entertainment of living in a family unit — are simply not there for the loner. They must figure out how to fill in with some substitute activities. Each coyote is a unique individual with a unique personality: not all coyotes will follow the patterns of behavior I’m describing here. In fact, I’ll describe quite a contrasting loner coyote in a future posting.

Boredom: To fill her time, this loner coyotes often engages in innovative play using her creative imagination. This is no different from the coyote youngsters I’ve watched who are still connected to their families. I’ve watched this particular little gal play with a ball and with many other objects, including poop-bags, crackling water-bottles or boxes, sticks, torn-up shrubbery, almost anything! I’ve seen her pester bees and then chase them around trying to catch them and interact with them. I’ve seen her run away from a cat she approached in a playful manner — the cat rejected her advances by hissing at her, and the coyote ran off. Her play can be very intense, as though she’s battling some dangerous prey, or very mild, as when she just rolls a ball around and rubs on it caressingly — small prey is often treated this way.


Stressed out? Turid Rugaas wrote me about her observations of wildlife when I sent her several videos of this coyote playing exuberantly, which a dog-walker, based on her own knowledge of dogs, claimed showed the coyote displaying “displacement behavior”. Turid disagreed with the dog-walker. She said that in the USA (as opposed to other places where she has taught), there is a high demand from owners for a dog’s obedience and following commands which often creates stress in the dog:

“So among dogs in USA I will agree that doing these things might often be a result of stress and nervousness, simply because they are never allowed to be natural. But start observing wild animals and learn how they behave – and their natural curiosity will, when there is nothing more interesting to do, come out in creative playing and doing other things. And because they develop naturally, they also become very smart and creative. 

Of course the coyotes play ! and wolves – and dogs – and all animals – they will find things to do for fun, and especially if they have no big family they live together with they will activate themselves, – they do not need to be nervous to do that ! They need an outlet for their curiosity and active brain, which is so important . Observing wild animals could teach the trainers something instead of getting hung up in theoretical and scientific blabbering.

Playing means activating the brain, and getting mental stimulation, and that is completely necessary for humans and animals for the development of the brain. It creates curiosity which is necessary, and the mental stimulation makes the growth of new brain cells, which in its turn helps them cope with problems and difficult situations in daily life.”

So, according to Turid, dogs’ nervousness and anxiety (the displacement behavior) is caused by them being forced to do something unnatural — there is no escape from the demands of their owners for them — so they calm themselves with repeat behaviors that don’t fit the situation. Coyotes are not constrained by the same circumstances of needing to please a demanding owner.

Another advisor, a 40-year-veteran wildlife behaviorist from one of the large wildlife organizations here in the city, also confirmed that *fight or flight* still rules supreme, and a little coyote will not put herself into a stressful situation if she can avoid it. Certainly an urban environment will create stresses for a little coyote — it does for all of us. I’m suggesting that this coyote’s playful behavior is driven much more by being lonely and bored than by stresses from the urban environment, based on my observations over many months.

Loneliness: In addition, coyotes often watch the world around them — maybe it’s entertaining: to sit in the distance and just watch. They get used to the goings-on, and to the dogs and people seen daily — habituated to it all — and then, again because loners are social animal, they may seek interactions and even action. They may attempt to actually *participate* on some level, say by approaching a dog simply to get noticed and to get a reaction.  Some people have noted that they seemingly enjoy attention from onlookers — could it be that they actually might be *performing*? It must be very frustrating for them to be alone. These coyotes may feel a push-pull towards, and away from *the madding crowd*.

It is often hard for folks to stand back from such a situation, as has happened to this coyote. For a while, when she first appeared in the neighborhood, some dogs were allowed to interact with her, some people approached closer and closer, and some even fed her — some even throwing food from their car windows so that this coyote grew attracted to cars and to chasing cars in the street in hopes for a handout. By educating everyone about the need to stay aloof and apart — to *love her wildness* at a distance — and by stopping the feeding, I, with the help of most walkers in the area, lessened these interactions immeasurably. But it takes a village, and not everyone is on-board.

A period of increased energy. Last week, this little coyote’s playful activity suddenly picked-up. Her bouts of play with objects increased, she approached more dogs either with her play-bows or by dashing in-and-out around them. Chasing birds became a regular activity. And her chasing cars increased to several times a day (up from *zero to at-most a couple of times a week*).  Her activity often begins with her excited pogo-stick-like leaping and then she sometimes takes off after a car, or towards a dog who has piqued her interest. Dog owners have been advised to simply keep walking on, and, if needed, to toss a small stone angrily towards her (not at her). It should be emphasized that everyone has noted that this coyote is not at all aggressive — she is just plain playful. In the case of the cars, she mostly has been running parallel to the road and not on it, but also she has been in the street, even reaching for the cars’ tires as if to bite them. A couple of onlookers informed me that chasing cars is seen commonly in South America by stray dogs and by dogs on farms, dogs who also are bored and looking for entertainment — they do it for thrills. The onlookers suggested that this might be an explanation for why the coyote was re-engaging with cars suddenly after she had stopped for a while — i.e., for the fun and thrill of it due to boredom! It’s worth considering because it sure looks like this to me, and these observations have been seconded by a veterinary behaviorists who knows canine body-language.

This coyote also has been engaging in more bouts of what we call *the zoomies*. Anyone who has a dog knows this crazy behavior: the dog races around, sometimes jumping on the furniture and sometimes in circles, full of energy, defiantly, daringly, a bit naughtily, as though testing you. Well, coyotes do this, too. I’ve repeatedly observed youngster coyotes do it, especially in the presence of their parents, exactly the way your dog does it! In the case of this lonely coyote, it was happening in-between other energetic activities, be it car chases, attempts to engage dogs, or gleeful play, as with a ball.

Coincidentally, during this sudden phase of increased playful and exuberant activity, a new coyote was sighted in the neighborhood — the first new coyote seen since our loner coyote appeared there over a year-and-a-half ago. Are these two things related? Let’s see! It could just be a coincidence. Another explanation comes from my wildlife behaviorist contact who told me that if you stop reinforcing a behavior with food, or ignore the behavior, the behavior will eventually extinguish, but that *extinction bursts* may occur before behaviors are totally extinguished — this is when the animal will try a little harder to get the reward she’s been given in the past by, say, running more after cars, or play-bowing more intensely to get the attention of dogs. Could this be what is going on?

This increased activity level lasted several days, and then it plummeted during the next three days of almost full-time hunting, which pleased all of us no end. We’ll just have to keep a watch to see how this story develops. It might be of interest to everyone that her scat these days is loaded with fur (indicating she’s hunting) and/or is liquidy-dark (indicating high protein) and/or full of seeds (indicating she’s eating fruit). And I’ve documented her with apples, dead lizards, mice, gophers, a bird (yes, she even caught a bird and ate it) and even an opossum! Yay! Last November, when she spent most of her time panhandling, we almost never saw her hunt, and her scat was grainy and dog-like, instead of being twisted and rope-like and full of fur or seeds as it is these days!

Generally, in all the parks where I observe here in San Francisco, be they loners or family groups, the coyotes are doing well. There was a fearful reaction to a coyote in the Presidio recently that was in the news. Trails were closed around the den where the incident happened to all dogs for the remainder of the pupping season: this protects coyotes, dogs, and people from having to deal with a similar encounter: it’s a perfect solution!

People are, on the whole, slowly learning about our coyotes. They are learning to live with, and to accept, them — and, best of all, to love them. My request to everyone is to love them at a distance — love their *wildness*. Don’t ever feed them, don’t be overtly friendly towards them, don’t approach them, and please keep your dogs away from them. If a coyote approaches you and your dog, simply tighten your leash and keep walking away without running — and keep walking away, dragging your dog if you have to. If needed, you should pick up a small stone and heave it angrily towards (again, not AT) the coyote to dissuade it from continuing to approach. It’s pupping season, and they have a job to do as family protectors. Their method of choice, if you’ve encroached on their space, is through *messaging*.  Their message towards your dog could become very insistent: it could begin with little in-and-out darts towards your dog in an attempt to move the dog away, as cattle-dogs do, or standing their ground and displaying a menacing-looking Halloween-Cat pose — indeed scary looking — or even nipping your dog’s haunches to get it to leave. Please, just heed the message and move away from them quickly without running. As you leave, they may even follow: please just keep walking away.

For additional pertinent information, please see the presentation video, Coyotes As Neighbors:  And visit other postings on this blog — it is full of information about coyote behavior here in San Francisco, which I’m sure is no different from elsewhere.

 [*My postings are based on my own dedicated observations, as stated in the introduction to my blog].

Friendly Coyote Video, by John Cremer

It started when I was playing with Minnie when the Coyote appeared. She watched for a bit, and then started romping around as I threw the ball to Minnie. I tried to remain quiet and still and eventually she came down near us. I did not encourage any contact, and broke off play with Minnie and the coyote moved along.

At no time did I feel threatened, same goes for our dog, who basically ignored the coyote.

Für Elise

coyote appears on the fire-lane

As we were leaving a park late in the afternoon yesterday, out trotted Mr. Coyote. He would be out for either of two reasons, maybe for both. One was for food — this coyote is being fed by some park visitors — please discourage this if you see it happening. It is feeding which leads to food-conditioning and a coyote approaching humans. When in close proximity to humans, the chance for a bite, even if it is inadvertent, increases many times over. The other reason, just as important, is the coyote’s need to show/message folks and dogs that he is there — the proud owner of this domain, so, “don’t even think about moving in, folks”.

messaging dogs not to get close

We ran into Elise, a regular walker there, and chatted as we watched. Elise asked me to post the photos I took to a blog, which is why I’ve written this up and given it this title.

As usual, the resident coyote came to within his normal 20 or so foot distance from people and dogs and stood still, right in the middle of the wide fire-road. We all stayed well away from him, allowing him to feel safe and ourselves, too. Elise’s dog was very focused on the ball and, along with keeping a safe distance away, chose to ignore the coyote, and vice-versa. The little 35-pound dog we had with us stood perfectly still and watched the coyote with us, but this little dog may have been messaging back at the coyote in ways we are unaware of.  The coyote messaged him mildly, as shown in the photo above, and we backed further away. The coyote’s message was clear: stay away. 

Visitors to the park who found themselves right there at that moment and didn’t know the coyote were the best at respecting the coyote’s space and giving him a wide berth, and walking away from him if he began approaching. The long-time visitors to the park had already had time to assess this coyote’s behavior and had decided this coyote really wasn’t dangerous — that if the coyote happened to look ferocious, it was all bluff.  Several of these — most were large dogs and owners — walked calmly right by the coyote with their dogs unleashed but apparently under voice control. As expected, the coyote did not approach them and even backed away, but the coyote’s messaging intensified as these individuals came too close (see photos below).

At this point the little 35-pound dog was taken away from the scene and Elise walked on, so there were no dogs now, just spectators — about 8 people — watching him. The coyote stood in the middle of the road, wandering at times to the edge where the grasses began. He kept watching everyone, watching their every-move for danger and for signs of a handout. And then, the show began.

a mouse escapes from the coyote

At the edge of the road, in the grasses, there was movement. Quicker than a flash, the coyote caught the mouse. Coyotes are superb hunters, but whether through design or ineptness — I think the former: look at how fine-tuned the coyote is with his teeth: carrying that mouse by its tail and later by the scruff of its neck without hurting it — the mouse escaped, and kept escaping, and the coyote persisted in re-catching it, without trying too hard.

What is of greatest interest here is that the coyote repeatedly passed back and forth in front of the spectators, showing off the mouse, and sometimes just showing off himself without the mouse. He did this many more times than the video shows. Towards the end of the video (it is several videos spliced together), the coyote spends a long time apparently scratching himself, but in actuality he was probably thinking. Coyotes are much more intelligent and wiser than most people give them credit for.

It occurred to me that coyotes may think we humans, and certainly our dogs, are not terribly bright sometimes. “Don’t you know what a mouse is and what it’s for? Why has no one come after me for it?” I’m playing with an idea here — I don’t really know what script was playing in the coyote’s head. Coyotes do assess dogs in order to thoroughly know the animal they are having to deal with. Then again, maybe the coyote was checking on how much humanity any of us humans really had — it was obvious we had none for saving the little mouse. ;)

Coyote Den In A Backyard


Hello Janet,

I found your wonderful blog and fabulous photos as i was researching coyotes on the google machine. I really like your respectful approach to wildlife. Thank you for sharing your photos and observations.

I started learning about coyotes this spring, when i found a coyote den on my property. I live in Portland Oregon, on the outskirts of the city. I found a large hole in my yard about a month ago, and as i was sitting near the hole trying to decipher the tracks in the mud around it to figure who might live in there, i heard some high whimpering coming from the hole (pups!). After an entire day of watching the hole from a window i finally saw that a coyote mother crawled in there after cautious observation to make sure nobody was watching.

I have not told anyone about this den for fear that someone in my neighborhood would call animal control and ‘remove’ the animals. People have so much fear and disdain towards coyotes.

I have mixed feelings about this den. On the one hand, i am honored that they would find my yard safe to inhabit. On the other hand, i have cats who go outdoors during the day (but i keep them indoors at night). If it weren’t for the cats, i would have absolutely no problem with this den here.

I am not sure how to proceed. These cats harass me all day long to go outside. I find it unfair to trap cats indoors who are habituated to going outside (what good is prison life?). What is the likelihood of coyotes hunting cats during daytime? There are conflicting opinions on the internet.

I get the sense the coyote mom may have moved her pups this week- I haven’t seen her at all in the yard. She knew i knew where the den was. I spend a lot of time in my garden and that probably made her nervous. Do you know if coyotes return to their dens after a period?

I want to coexist peacefully with this family of coyotes. I found your blog to be a great resource for understanding coyote behavior. I have so much more to learn. I want to understand them so that i can avoid conflicts and allow these beautiful creatures to live peacefully. If you have any advice or resources you could point me to, I would be so grateful.

Thanks again for everything you have shared in your blog.


Den (with coffee mug for size reference)

Hi Susan —

I’m so glad that you like the blog and that you like my approach to wildlife! Thank you!

Cats could be a problem for coyotes (and vice versa) for a number of reasons. Yes, ultimately, some coyotes do see cats as prey. But also, cats and coyotes are competitors for the same resources (rodents), which, if resources are low, could cause conflict between the cats and the coyotes.

A half-way solution which would allow the den to remain undisturbed and your cats to have *some* freedom would be a catio. Of course, a catio isn’t really the out-of-doors, so it may not be a solution that would work for you.

Coyotes do move their pups between several dens during the pupping season. Creating a slight disturbance everyday — as apparently you have — will cause the coyotes to move to another location. If your coyote mom moved the pups for this reason, she may not return. If she moved them simply because it was time to rotate them to another den site, then she could come back. If you don’t want them back, continue to create a disturbance around the den — or put some soiled human socks close by and walk around the den opening a few times for several days in a row to leave your scent. If you want them back, you might stop the gardening for a while (no guarantee they’ll return).

As you say, people have a lot of fear and disdain towards coyotes, so we need to keep in mind that the coyote could move her pups to a place where they are absolutely not welcome. This is the biggest problem to be aware of.

In addition to my coyoteyipps blog, there is a website I contribute to a website called These two sites will answer a lot of your questions. THEN, if you are lucky enough to have the family return, spend time watching them! This is how you are really going to learn about them.

I would be really happy to post any of your observations and photos. Your story is very interesting! Let me know, and also please let me know if you have further questions! 


Den secondary hole


Thanks so much for your quick reply and helpful suggestions!  The Coyotecoexistence website had some really helpful videos (i had found that before, and didn’t realize it was related).  The ethics of hosting domesticated pets is challenging, and continues to be a source of daily conversation and questioning in our household, with no clear answers on many of the nuances (i.e. pet food, cats hunting critters, prisoners of the house, and on and on…)  An unintended positive effect of the coyote den has been that it put one cat on high alert and very cautious behavior outside, so she did not have a chance to hunt anything.  The yard became the hunting grounds of the coyote mom from the cat’s perspective.  One of the clues that the mom is gone is that the cat acts more brazen now in the ‘enemy territory’ part of the yard.  The other cat is ‘sweet and dumb’, and i doubt she knew anything about the coyote’s threat. I watched her stick her head in the den out of curiosity at a time when i knew there were pups in there.  Not the brightest crayon in the box. I like the catio idea, and will see if it’s feasible in some part of the yard (although it doesn’t solve my prisoner issue).

I attached some photos.  The den is dug under an old abandoned ‘root cellar’ type concrete outbuilding that is built into the hillside.  You’ll see it’s visible from my bedroom window, so it’s really close to the house.  They must have decided we pose no threat to their offspring.  The den has two holes that i know of – a main entrance (which i deemed too small for a coyote before I actually saw one squeeze herself in there) and a smaller hole that is definitely too small for an adult coyote.  I included the mug in the pictures for size reference.



View of den from bedroom window

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