Neighborhood Coyote Chat

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Come hear about our SF coyotes! Janet Kessler will give a crash-course on their population and population  dynamics, their family life and interactions, and guidelines/stewardship for coexistence, with plenty of time for Q&A. This is Janet’s first out-of-doors talk, and she will be using posters instead of slides because there is no outlet for a projector. Let’s see how it goes!

About Janet: She’s been documenting our coyotes daily over the last 14 years here in San Francisco — she’s likely the only person who knows just about all of them individually, their families, and the extent of each of their territories. She will talk briefly about the neighborhood coyotes, as she has done in her recent presentations to West Portal and North Beach.

  • WHEN: Sunday, June 20th, 2021 at 11:00 am
  • WHERE: St. Mary’s Park Bleachers – wear your masks
    • Enter from Murray Street, either at the intersection at Crescent or on the other side of the park off of Justin Street. You can’t miss the bleachers once you enter the field.
  • CONTACT: Nancy Ganner through Bernal Heights NextDoor, or Janet through coyotecoexistence@gmail.com

Pack Strategies, Growing Pups, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet!

I hope all is well with you as the season progresses. This time of year flies. I am walking well after hip surgery and slowly recovering.

The updates on the 2 mom coyote pack continue thanks to the careful work and amazing skills of the knowledgeable ranch family who have allowed coyote to share their massive ranch properties. Decades of tolerance and behavior modifications have created a land where coyote, livestock, wildlife all thrive. (LGD dogs are big part..but thats another story) The extended family all take turns monitoring and studying the coyotes. They are documenting great stuff.

Old SlimJim, (father) Chica (Mom) Janet (daughter and 2nd mom) and Big Brother (yearling) all thrive. They indeed, moved the pups from the rocky cliffs to the open Oak Savannah ecosystem. Incredibly, all 9 pups have still been accounted for. Originally 11, it’s still a big group of pups.

One adult is almost always with or near pups. They have had several moves and it seemed Slim Jim initiated every move. The family discussions about why Slim Jim moves them so much are awesome to hear. Was it because the local cougar made fresh marks nearby? Was it because soon a salmon run will deliver salmon to a riverbank where Slim Jim gathers the expired fish? Is it because the wolves come around and scout? One ranch youngster has an observation. “Bigger Grasshoppers and more Voles” he says. “Slim Jim took the pups where the grasshoppers are already big and the voles are everywhere there”.

It’s true-the pups are already foraging and catching rodents and grasshoppers. It is very important for pups to forage and feed themselves ASAP. 

It’s likely a culmination of all these and more. Slim Jim is an old coyote who knows all these areas. And the food sources. He has literally moved his pack where this summer, rodents, insects, wild plum groves, and expired salmon all will be. Slim Jim also has a unique skill which he’s shared with Big Brother his son. A few miles away a ribbon of country road unfortunately delivers deer being hit and killed, or running off to die. Slim Jim takes full advantage of such road killed deer. And delivers huge meals of venison. It is very rare for pups to eat so well. Big Brother and Dad have hugely impacted pup nutritional provisions.

Other note: All the adults are super lean and seem exhausted at times. They seem to take turns pup sitting. Big Brother the most. Pups are weaned it appears. Of the 9 pups, one with kinked tail sleeps with adults rather then littermates. Kinky Tail seems a favorite. It is groomed more than any pup.

Turkey Vultures make the pups duck or hide, indicating the local golden eagle may be why 2 pups are gone. 

Pups also seem to hunt then bolt at times.  Its suspected snakes are instinctively avoided at least by pups. Many rattlers here. So snake aversion is good. 

The Patriarch of Ranch family has studied “his” coyote over 60 years. He is house bound usually. But still listens to coyote news and gives his thoughts. 4 generations of family discussing coyote packs is very special.

His thoughts: “That’s a really big litter. By summer’s end the adults will be tired and ready to stop providing. The pups will develop extra fast and really scatter about. And Big Brother will be a great dad after raising all those pups. Janet the Daughter will get a new hubby. Old Slim Jim…well, let’s hope best.”

Big Litter, lots of food, and tired but skilled adults here. A structured but unusual pack going fwd. And a Ranch family sharing it all from 10 years to Great Great Grandpa.

Take Care Janet, 

Lou 🐾

[All photo credits are from the author, Walkaboutlou]

Provoking a Reaction

This is not an aggressive coyote. I know this coyote well — he simply wants to be left alone. The dog and walker in fact came upon this peaceful fella calmly sunning himself — that’s how it began. This is a defensive coyote being threatened by an aggressive dog. The dog is provoking the reaction by focusing on the coyote, barking and lunging at the coyote. IN RESPONSE to both the dog’s presence and the dog’s behavior, the coyote is displaying its scariest behavior, trying to warn the dog to stay away (“hey, look how ferocious I am; you might want to stay away”) and to get the dog to leave. The coyote is messaging the dog and owner, in the only effective way it knows how, to move away from itself and the area, and not focus on it.

Rather than heeding the message and moving the dog along and away, the dog-owner plants herself and her dog in sight of the coyote to take a sensationalist video for Facebook — it’s a clear provocation to the coyote. All she had to do, was walk away from the coyote, dragging her dog if she had to.

Please heed the message: walk away from coyotes, especially if you have a dog! Please remember that we’re in the middle of pupping season, when coyotes will particularly defensive about themselves and areas close to their dens. [Video extracted from Jennyfifi Facebook]

The Dilemma of Denning, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet. 

The continued scouting of the 2 mom pack carries on and is really amazing.

So the situation was Chica Alpha Mom, and Janet the Yearling Daughter (possible) denned together to combine 11 pup litter. The Alpha male is Slim Jim, old but more than capable. Yearling male, Big Brother, rounds out adult pack. 

Mom and Daughter early in denning were fed regularly by the males. Deer scavenging, and Bison afterbirth proved to be fortuitous finds for males. About 3 weeks into denning, both females suddenly went back to foraging and hunting. Big Brother was relegated to #1 pup sitter which he seems made for. He alternatly is playful, guardian, and cleans pups for hours. At night he is relieved, it seems, to forage and water for himself.  

Last year the pack denned in hilly country, surrounded by thousands of field rodents, etc. This year, they moved their early dens to a rocky series of cliffs-like terrain miles from the hills. This is very likely the regular passing area of foraging wolves. Also…this year is far drier. There are less rodents.

The cliffs are perfect for tiny pups to start. But they aren’t ideal to raise a older litter. We suspect the calorie and water needs for large litter, will mean a move soon to a late spring/summer rendezvous area. It also will mean pups can start foraging for rodents and grasshoppers themselves. This is pivotal. I think especially of Slim Jim and Chica weighing denning safety vs feeding family. Its really a process. The cliffs mean some safety. The hills mean pup development and food. And the hills hold danger in every way. 

It has been a great start for the den but not perfect. The pups went from 11 to 9. A golden eagle who regularly soars over is suspected. For 2 days the pups seemed to stay in den. And Big Brother snarled up into the passing sky silhouette. We dont think this a coincidence. 

Also, Old Slim Jim showed us how seriously he takes denning. Coyotes are vocal. Notoriously vocal. Big Brother was yipping and howling and was even joined by several pups. It seemed he was literally leading a puppy chorus when Slim Jim came racing up to the den and literally slammed Big Brother down and gave him a very big round of discipline. Big Brother slunk to a nearby rock, chastised and mournful.

The watcher (the family members are taking turns in observations) was pretty stunned at Slim Jims ferocity. He is actually a very laid back guy (and really tired and slow) But then we discussed-how many times have they vocalized at this den? Well…until that incident, no one has heard vocalizations. It would appear, Slim Jim, Chica, and Janet have been mute here for some weeks.

We think we know why. Trail cams reveal passing wolves just miles away every few evenings. As they trot through, they no doubt are hard at work raising their litters too. But wolves are very hard on coyote dens. They will not hesitate to raid and dig out denned pups. We believe Slim Jim knows too well, the risks of denning with wolves about. And he has perfected ghost like habits this year. Big Brother learned a big lesson.

So…Slim Jim, Chica, Janet and Big Brother all are working hard and 9 of 11 pups still thrive. They likely are on the cusp of moving their litters to the hills and spring/summer areas. BTW-every night Chica and Janet clean the pups and attend them. Big Brother leaves. And when pups go down, Slim Jim hops a tall rock to do the night’s sleep sentinel post. Chica often approaches him. She grooms and nibbles his face and sparse coat. He seems to greatly relish this short time. His old tired white face relaxed and strong. 

I am very moved at this pack. And old Slim Jim’s efforts to raise his latest family. 

1) rocky cliffs; 2) This area of vast foothill ranges will be likely where this year’s pups will be taken for summer rendezvous. It is much more dangerous but this is where the pups will need to be. It’s here they will learn to be Coyote survivalist. 

Sparks: A Happy Springtime Update

Update: My own smile extended from ear to ear this morning as I spotted the coyote I’ve labeled as “Sparks” — all my coyotes have pronounceable labels instead of numbers to make them easier to remember — sauntering along a path with his easy, bouncing little trot, contented and happy as as a lark, with a huge grin on his own face! See photo below. Life is good for him now: more stable and settled, more predictable and secure, than it was 6 months ago and before. He paused, looked at me, sat down to scratch, and then continued comfortably on his way. 

Interestingly, another coyote family lives here in the Presidio, where he seems to have ended up his dispersal journey: they are a mated pair — territorial claimants here for over a year — who share the same pathways with this guy — I haven’t seen a shared territorial arrangement before here in San Francisco. The Presidio is the largest of the territories I’ve documented here in SF: there has been basically just one family in that park, but maybe there’s actually room for two — or at least one family and one additional single guy. I have seen no sign of a mate with Sparks, and as far as I have seen here in SF, males wait until they are 3 or 4 years old before settling down with a mate and starting a family.

Maybe there’s a truce or pact, or some kind of understanding between these coyotes. OR, might it be that Sparks has been adopted into the breeding pair’s family in a distant sort of way? He had been allowed to remain on another family’s territory for several weeks during an earlier part of his dispersal peregrinations — he was actually welcomed and interacted with warmly by the alpha female, the mother, in that family: I thought of it as an adoption, even though it lasted only several weeks. Possibly he was allowed to stay there, and here at the Presidio, on account of his leg injury, or because he is a youngster, or both!  I myself have not seen him interact with the Presidio family pair, or even seen them together, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I’ve heard a number of reports of him having been chased (chased out?) angrily by one of the resident alphas, starting in mid-January, but then he always turns up again, so maybe that’s not what was really going on. Or maybe he’s become a very savvy and successful interloper, living on the fringes of the alphas’ territory where they repeatedly try driving him off: Chicago, according to a graduate student I’m working with, is apparently full of this category of coyotes, but not San Francisco . . . . yet. Then again, maybe these two entities simply avoid each other. Until I see them interact, I can only offer speculations about what might be going on. At any rate, the important point is that they’ve been seen in the same areas and on the same paths over the last 6 months. So this is Sparks’ situation now.

I’ll repeat Sparks’ dispersal history here (I’ve posted this before). Being able to keep up with a coyote’s journey after leaving home is very exciting, and that’s what I’ve been able to do in more and more cases. Sparks just turned two: I’ve known him since his birth in 2019. He was one of a litter of five that year: two females and three males. That’s the largest litter his parents had produced — all previous litters, and the one after that one, numbered one to three (and even none during a couple of years). He dispersed from his home a year ago at almost exactly one year of age, having been the second in his litter to do so. A sister left a couple of months before him at 9 months of age and I’ve been able to follow her as well. A brother just recently left at almost two years of age, and two of his siblings — now two years old — still remain at their birthplace and in what remains of their birth family.

When Sparks first dispersed, a year ago, he hippity-hopped to various locations in the city, remaining at each for several weeks before moving on. During the summer he managed to severely break a foreleg — so there were tumultuations during his early roving adventures. As it happens, previous to that, he had severely sprained the other front leg, and recovered over time. With this new break, he hobbled around for months, unable to put much weight, if any at all, on it. The pain must have been horrific because he ended up painfully retracing his steps back to one of the safer areas he had been through earlier on. Here, he remained in someone’s protected backyard where he spent many hours sleeping over a 3 weeks period. It took a long time to heal, but it eventually did with the help of the neighbors who made sure he was not disturbed in any way.

These concerned neighbors indeed sought outside help, but were told they should leave the animal alone. I totally agree with this policy. In my 14 years of observations, I’ve seen a substantial number of debilitating injuries in coyotes: among them, two broken legs and a broken ankle, and I’ve also known these coyotes’ individual intense social situations and how much they stood to lose were they to have been removed for rehabilitation by humans. It’s hard to go back to your previous situation once you’ve been removed and assumed dead. Nature is an excellent healer, and all of these animals healed on their own by leaving them alone.

Sparks’ human “guardian angels” allowed him to heal on his own. He then left his human protectors’ yard when he himself felt ready to go, which surprisingly occurred before he was completely healed. But he must have felt ready because he left. He continued with a limp for a long time after that, but some weight could be put on that leg by then: he was much more actively mobile after 3 weeks. And now he’s make the Presidio his home.

The bottom photo shows how that foreleg, above the wrist, is somewhat thickened: coyotes wear their histories as bumps and scars on their bodies! I should point out that probably no one else would notice this slightly deformed foreleg. Anyway, he obviously feels very at ease and at home where he has now been for over half a year, and it looks like he’ll stay. At two years of age, he’s still, from all appearances, a loner and a bachelor, and a happy one at that! What will come next? . . . to be continued!

As I beamed with joy at seeing this coyote and took a few photos (I’m not in the Presidio very often), a runner stopped to ask me if the coyote was dangerous. “Nah,” I replied.  I reminded her that all she had to do was keep her distance and walk away without running. Also important: never feed or try to interact with them by trying to become their “friend”. These are wild animals and should be respected as such, even though they are citizen coyotes. Definition of citizen: a resident of a city or town; a native, inhabitant, or denizen of any place.

© 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/coyoteyipps.com.

 

Human Interference/Interactions with Coyotes

The Moraga/Lafayette coyote (or see PDF) we’ve all heard about and which is still on many people’s minds, should be seen as a strange anomaly: a single coyote apparently inflicting five bites over an 8 month period — something of this dimension has has not been heard of before. More than likely, there was human involvement in the way of hand-feeding and friendly interactions which may be at the core of what went on. A handful of innocent coyotes were put down before the “culprit” was identified. In other words, innocent animals were condemned. But also, even the “culprit” was simply following through on a trajectory initiated by humans.

I was sent the photographs below, along with a note from the photographer, in February of 2009 but I never published them because I found them very disturbing. Now might be the time to finally get them out there. And here is a video of a human playfully taunting and encouraging interaction with a coyote — the author calls it, “Coyote Attack: Best Footage Ever,” — he obviously published this video for its effect. You just have to look at it to see the coyote isn’t attacking at all so much as being incited by the human doing the videoing — the coyote is not snarling nor in attack mode. The videoer is almost playing tug-of-war-with the coyote as he extends out his foot. When I recently heard of a coyote going up, grabbing and then pulling on an individual’s pant leg, these are the things I thought about. You have to ask yourself, why ever would a coyote do that unless he had been incited by someone to do that?

Interactions with humans are what may lead to what happened at Moraga/Lafayette. This along with an innate higher feistiness of a particular coyote. Please don’t hand-feed or interact with coyotes for their sake as well as for ours. Although it might seem as though these interactions are benign, and most of the time they are innocent, there’s a lot more going on than that initial interaction, and in the end, it’s not good for anyone involved: coyote or human.

click on the photos to enlarge them and scroll through them

Coyotes in Whistler, BC
I happened onto your site. I have had a few interactions with the critters and have a series of photos of one of them. Here is a description of the episode.
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Coyotes at pit. My hand was attached to the fingers in the pic. This process took about 4 meetings. Only one was curious enough to get close, the other would only take a biscuit if I tossed it 30 feet from me. The curious one would come up (I had to be crouched, otherwise it would not come close) get close, sniff me and walk right around me.
_____________________________

Hi ‘Coyotes in Whistler, BC’ —

Thanks for sharing your photos with me.

You know, I’m an advocate of coyotes and want people to know how to get along with them. One of the issues which comes up is feeding coyotes — especially hand-feeding them. This may cause them to eventually approach other people who are actually afraid of them. It could cause demand behavior.” Those people end up reporting “aggressive” and “dangerous” coyotes to the authorities, who then go out with guns to shoot them. So in fact, this kind of activity is discouraged by those of us who really like the animals.

I would love to post your photos and story on the blog, but it would be with the above advice, and that it is at the expense of the coyote that a person might engage in feeding them.

Please let me know if you would allow this. Thanks!! Janet

________________________
Hi Janet —

I appreciate your advice and admonition.If you want to publish them as a bad example and it helps you get your point across, go ahead, it is a good cause.

Proclaiming

The previous day an unleashed dog had seen the coyote hunting in a field about 300 feet away. The dog took the opportunity to leave the beaten path where his owner was walking with him, and dashed after the coyote into the field, into what has been a safe-haven area for the coyote family. Most dogs are restrained to keep them from going after the coyotes here. Coyotes do not like being intruded upon or chased: they simply want to be left alone. The coyote fled, but stopped short. This intrusion was cause for the coyote to react. She turned around and paid that dog back in kind, pursuing him right at his heels. She may have tried to nip the dog’s heels, though the dog remained uninjured. The message from the coyote to the dog was clear: “leave me and my area alone.”

The very next day in the same area, another large dog, this time one that was leashed, caught sight of the same coyote  an 8-year-old mother, and her 2-year-old son. The dog tugged hard on its leash and lunged as best as he could towards the two coyotes. The owner struggled to contain the unwieldy dog, but anyone watching could see that the more the owner remained in that spot, the more frenzied the dog became.  The dog’s struggle to go after the coyotes went on for way too long when it could have been stopped immediately by the owner just by heading in the opposite direction and thus diverting the dog’s attention and containing his energy. The 2 coyotes reacted to the frenzied dog by going into a long, 13 minute BARKING and screeching session. They were proclaiming their anger, and proclaiming that this area was theirs, warning the dog away. The owner finally heeded the advice given to her: she turned around and left. I’ve seen often that dogs, even simply messaging their intent to go after coyotes in their territories create reactive coyotes — on-edge and readier to respond defensively — rather than coyotes who remain calm because they are left alone.

Here is a video-clip of the barking from that day. I videoed the whole 13 minutes, but have cut that down to about four minutes. Barking (as opposed to howling and yipping) is an angry response — a warning. For comparison, watch and listen to the smaller video below: that one involves two coyotes calling out to each other in upbeat yips and howls.

Airplaned Ears

Like dogs, coyotes may lower their ears, plastering them tightly against their heads when they are nervous or fearful, even as they approach another coyote seemingly happily to interact. It’s a very submissive approach used around parents, or even towards a more dominant or bullying sibling. This photo is of a youngster listening to his mother’s distressed howling after seeing a dog chase her: the youngster is anxious and frightened.

On a different plane are lowered ears which are not actually pinned back against the head. I call these, “airplaned ears”. These lowered ears seem to mean that they aren’t going to rock the boat or challenge the established hierarchy in any way. One of the ways coyotes communicate is with their ears. Lowered ears are an indicator and a communication of their mental state: harmless/unthreatening/accepting/no-contest. You might see a relaxed and contented coyote off in a field holding his/her ears this way.

Around humans, coyotes have customarily been wary, alert, but also at times curious and investigative. Around humans, their ears are normally alert and up in order to acutely capture sounds and attitudes that would warn them of danger. In areas where humans actually exploit coyotes, these traits are strong — it’s a clear-cut life and death matter for them to stay aware and alert, even at the furthest distances from humans. However, over more recent years here in San Francisco, and in many urban environments, this is different. Here, although coyotes remain wary of humans, humans are not seen so much as enemy killers, but simply as creatures to stay away from, out of caution, for the sake of coexistence.

Recently here in San Francisco, I’ve been seeing a number of coyotes assume an airplaned ear stance around humans. People and coyotes cross paths regularly in urban areas, and almost all of these encounters are without incident: the biggest negative reactions tend to be frightened humans. And over the last several years, a lot more humans are out in the parks here in San Francisco than there were 15 years ago during which time the park department has cleared out a huge quantity of underbrush so that coyotes are more visible, and there are some more coyotes, all of which translate into more sightings and encounters with humans than ever, with more non-negative encounters and more positive interactions between people and coyotes — including, unfortunately, approaching, feeding and befriending them by humans. As a result, some of these animals are responding in a more docile manner to humans: instead of fleeing to out-of-sight areas, they are simply moving off a little distance — maybe just a few feet — which is the opportunistic distance at which they know they will be safe.

Once they learn that our species can actually be of benefit to them, being the opportunists that they are, some have taken advantage of the situation by hanging around human-frequented areas and assumed the non-threatening posture of lowered ears. I’ve seen several of these guys even casually approach people and look directly at that person with a look of expectation for any signs that the person might offer food: these coyotes are the most blatant examples of airplaned ears: I’ve watched the whole development take place in several instances.  I think of these animals, sadly, as having had their wariness robbed from them. Not all coyotes, of course, respond this way to humans, but some do. The bottom row of photos in the gallery below are of adult coyotes who have been regularly hand-fed by humans and assume that “fallen ears” posture around people.

The rest of these photos in this posting, including the two larger ones, are of a youngster, taken before he was even a year old, and before he had time to develop the airplaned ears from human interactions. He seems to have learned from his parents to behave this way around humans when they are watching him close-by or when they approach. Coyotes in fact have “culture”: parental knowledge is passed on to the youngsters of that family. I wonder if their natural strong self-protective instincts (high strung readiness, defensive biting) are also waning/diminishing as people close in on them, enticing them into tameness — or at least the appearance of tameness — with their airplaned ears. I wonder: will airplaned ears over the course of the next few generations become floppy?

I’ve listed a couple of books about the taming of foxes below, where their genes were actually spontaneously self-altered as they became more and more tamed: the ears fell and eventually became floppy: they became “cuter” to humans. I have no idea if this same process might apply to coyotes, but the fox study is fascinating. It’s food for thought.

See: Urban Foxes may be self-domesticating in our midst, by Virginia Morell, Science June 2, 2020; and “How to Tame a Fox” by L.A. Dugatkin and L.Trut, UC Press, 2017.

Addendum 3/19: The coyote caretaker at St. Augustine Wild Reserve (animals that are unable to be released) noted that she has never seen these airplaned ears in her captive animals, who are fed at close range by humans. The behaviorist I’m in touch with says, “I like thinking about how and why some animals develop the behavior. Scientifically we know that any behavior that is reinforced will increase. Perhaps the wild ones developed the behavior purposefully because more people fed them when their ears were in that position. The other thought is that it is a superstitious behavior. Maybe they approached people with their ears in that position and think it is part of the criteria for being fed. I think as far as the sanctuary coyotes go, they get food daily regardless of their behavior and ear position so they may be less likely to develop the behavior.” Below is a short video clip by Kathy Lally showing a coyote being enriched through lunch in a box. Of interest is that the ears are not airplaned.

© 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/coyoteyipps.com.

Zoom Talk: Coyotes in San Francisco: Population, Family Life, Stewardship

For those of you who wanted to come and missed it, here is the Zoom Talk I gave on Tuesday for the residents of North Beach in San Francisco. It covers the coyotes generally in San Francisco, with a short aside about the coyotes in North Beach. I received great compliments on the talk, and I’ve been asked to give it again in several other neighborhoods, with asides on those coyotes, so I will post dates for those talks as they come up. My presentations are all based on my own first-hand observations, along with my own photos, videos and maps of those observations, with just a few exceptions. New in this video (not covered in my previous talks or videos) is a section on my observations and documentation of coyote population dynamics here in San Francisco: how the population is divided and situated into discrete territories, and some of their dispersals. I am now collaborating in a City-wide population study at UC Davis.

San Francisco COYOTES: WHERE they are, WHO they are, and HOW to get along

I’ve been invited to give a Zoom presentation at the end of the month on December 29th at 5pm.  I’ll talk about coyote population in San Francisco, family life, and guidelines for stewardship and coexistence — all based on my first-hand documentation work. Attendance will be limited, so contact me (jannyck@aol.com) soon if you’d like to be admitted.  Janet

Paradigm Shift . . . or change our behavior?

On her way to a park, like everyone else.

Are we witnessing a paradigm shift for coexistence with our urban coyotes — a sort of growing “desegregation” and an increased co-mingling at closer range??

I’ve been observing a scenario that seems to be increasing here in San Francisco: an actual mixing of people and coyotes comfortably and amicably in the same close spaces. Interestingly, according to Malcolm Margolin, the author of, “The Ohlone Way”, coyotes mingled comfortably among the Ohlone people in this area when the Spaniards first arrived in the mid-1700s. In a couple of parks here in San Francisco, I’m seeing various instances of this these days. The difference today being — because we are not all that used to it — that no one here actually *ignores* the coyotes as the Ohlone did, but rather, the coyotes remain a sensation for everyone who sees them, and some people actively encourage interactions. Interactions of any kind never lead to any good as far as I have heard, especially for the coyote.

A couple of weeks ago I watched a coyote emerge from a fenced-off area — fenced off to humans and dogs — where she had safely tucked-in her 6-month-old pups for the day. She exited from that enclosure by squeezing agilely under the ragged fence and crossing the street to the grassy lawn of a parklet. So far, so good. But that’s when a man who had seen her cross the street whistled for her from his parked red car as he held up his iPhone camera, and she came running back into the street where she circled his car and remained in the street looking into his driver’s seat window from 3 feet away, waiting for the food she has learned to expect, particularly coming from cars. This has happened often to this coyote — the dead-giveaway clue being the coyote’s behavior. I’ve witnessed it many times.

She comes running to a car for food when she’s whistled for.

I quickly approached and asked the man to please not interact or call the coyote — that we were trying to keep them wild and out-of-trouble and didn’t want them approaching people or cars. He didn’t want to hear it and rolled-up the car window so he would not have to hear me. Feeding didn’t happen this time with me standing right there — most people know not to feed, even if they engage in it. However, and unfortunately, there continue to be many people who apparently don’t know this, or defy it in order to “help” the animals. This type of human interaction — and our being oblivious to the consequences — has shaped our coyotes’ behavior towards humans.

Seeing her opportunity for food cut off when the car window closed, the coyote I was watching headed off along the street adjacent to the parklet — cars passed her and so did walkers and runners along the way. 

Stopping at a grassy rise where she hung out long enough to meet walkers eye-to-eye.

She soon stopped again at another grassy rise alongside the curb of the road and started foraging and ever so craftily looking at people straight in the eye for the subtle hints which convey food is forthcoming. After a few minutes here, and no donors stepping forward, the coyote continued her trot, mostly in the middle of the street but also along the sidewalks through a handful of blocks and intersections that would take her a half-mile to the next park over. At intersections she paused and looked both ways before crossing.

Everyone who saw her was excited and enchanted: “Look, our coyote right here!” Over the last few years here, the widespread culture of fear towards coyotes has been waning considerably. Two cars tailed her closely as they took photos. Others, on foot, approached to get photos as she continued trotting along, minding her own business probably less than she was letting on — she was keenly aware of people and slowed her pace around them — it appeared that she wanted to be seen.  She had purpose in her trot: she knew what she was doing and where she was heading.

She knows how to cross the street: you wait, look both ways, and if it’s clear, you cross, and you keep looking.

These across-the-neighborhood jaunts by coyotes have been occurring here in San Francisco ever since coyotes reappeared in the city in 2002, but they usually occur during the darker hours. When they’ve occurred during the day, it has usually been with the coyote slithering quickly by and away, and keeping its distance. But lately I’ve been seeing a quality change in comfort level for a number of coyotes in several parks. On this day, for instance, there were a dozen people and dogs whose presence didn’t perturb or influence the coyote’s pace or cause her to alter her route. Opposingly, in the parks where this type of feeding is not going on, coyotes still keep themselves very separate: close encounters with people and dogs — scary for the dog-owner more than anything — are occasional and mostly just inopportune events. These are parks where coyotes, humans and dogs often see each other, but from a distance.

No one fed the coyote on this particular walk despite her soliciting it, though she licked some crumbs off the sidewalk.

Nibbling sidewalk food and marching right along seemed normal and not out of place.

Most people she passed seemed to LIKE that she was among them. She was a sensation. People told me they liked that she was part of the city, part of the community. The small park where she so purposefully headed is where we have found hand-feeding and where piles of food have been intentionally left for her — including piles of dog food, ribs, whole still-feathered chickens and pizzas — in addition to the garbage and leftovers thoughtlessly strewn hither and thither. I’ve seen people flicking cupcake crumbs and hotdogs in a nearby coyote’s direction to draw her closer for a photo shoot, and even heaving several pounds of steak — “$17 worth”, I was told by one bold feeder: “only the good stuff” — at her because they “wanted to help her”: “the poor skinny critter must be starving since there is no food around for her”,  usually from cars. My listing the abundance of natural and easy foods didn’t sway that feeder. This has happened so often that, in an ironic sort of way, when small stones have been tossed towards this coyote to scare her away, she actually runs for them hoping they are food.

Passing people at close quarters or eyeing people in their cars for possible handouts — this wasn’t a problem for her or anyone else.

Is this closer mingling becoming a new standard? Are our coyotes going to be accepted as sort of stray dogs who interweave their lives with ours — more “citizen” than “wild”? Whatever the comfort level — “proximity tolerance” — of the coyote, please remember the guidelines for safety: keep your distance, leash and walk away, don’t befriend, never feed. I’m wondering if we can even stop the feeding. I’ve tried with this particular coyote for over four years with solid results that then always reversed themselves. The city has no enforcement laws, so the feeding will probably keep on, and that in turn will continue to propel coyotes in the direction of proximity and co-mingling, hence, the paradigm shift.

Although the co-mingling seemed entirely benign with this particular coyote, it’s really important to remember that coyotes are as different from each other as are humans from each other. A mellow reaction from one coyote in close proximity does not guarantee the same from another coyote, or from the same coyote over time. During certain times of the year, mostly during the 9-month long pupping season, coyotes become more reactive towards dogs than usual. In other words, the mellow coyote you had been passing on the street for the last several months will suddenly be snarly and pushy and nippy to message your dog to keep away. Towards people, a coyote could become demanding. A dozen people recently voiced concern to me about such a change towards them and their dogs, and they wanted to know what was going on. My advice as always: walk away from them. You could be impelling a not-so-positive outcome by not doing so rather than averting one. Approaching or encouraging proximity and any kind of interaction (including feeding, whistling for, talking to, or allowing your dog to react to them at close range) are not in everyone’s best interest, especially the coyote’s, who could pay the ultimate price in the end.

Rounding the last bend and making for the finish line — she’s just about where she wanted to go!



A concomitant aside: IMPROVING SIGNAGE IN SAN FRANCISCO (and elsewhere).

Keeping coyotes distant from people and dogs, and on the wary and wild side, where they mind their business and we mind ours is the ideal urban coyote situation we’ve all been aiming for. It’s an ideal which is easy to achieve with a simple set of guidelines. The ultimate goal has been to prevent incidents between dogs and coyotes which can happen at close visual encounters, and to ward off the possibility of human/coyote negative interactions. HOWEVER, many people don’t know or understand the goal, and don’t know how best to handle sightings or even encounters. They don’t know that they, as we all, are responsible for the proper stewardship of the coyotes: everything anyone does influences the outcome of coexistence. It takes a village.

I’m digressing here for a moment about inadequate signage in our parks. Over the summer there had been an uptick in scares in one of our parks due to pupping season. I’ve witnessed, and been told about, a handful of incidents where a dog owner indeed “leashed” their dog, as suggested by the park signs, but the coyote STILL behaved threateningly — which is how a coyote *messages* a dog to move away.

These run-ins with the coyotes, when they occurred, were inevitably due to people simply not knowing what to do. The current park signage didn’t offer anything beyond a mellow, tiny texted, “don’t feed” and “leash”. Leashing of course is never sufficient — you must also walk away from the coyotes.

I looked at WHAT could be done to improve the situation. Immediately my eyes fell on the park signage. Signage is a good way to get information across to people who walk their dogs to parks — that’s where it can be seen and where it is needed the most. I looked at the existing signs and I asked people about them: they were unattractive, the small text wasn’t being read by anyone, and people thought of them as clutter — just so many brown signs staked-into-the-ground, I was told. The signs were inadequate as far as giving people guidelines for what to do: the guidelines needed to be clearly stated, straight forward, simple to grasp and remember, and presented in a non-cluttered way. The signs needed to be more eye-catching and entitled in such a way that they weren’t “warnings” (i.e. “danger”) but rather “invitations” to participate in proper stewardship to keep the coyotes wild, safe, and trouble-free. Fewer and fewer people nowadays felt “threatened” by a coyote’s presence, so “warnings” were the wrong approach — these people felt those signs were for other people, not them. 

I tried making myself heard by Animal Care and Control (ACC) over a five month period but my emails were not answered. The issue was urgent — these scary encounter incidents were mounting and folks were calling these particular coyotes “aggressive”, when I knew they were not. The coyotes were just becoming more protective of their surrounding space because dogs were getting too close to them, especially during this pupping season which was in full swing — and particularly dogs with *attitude*. So I took it upon myself to design and fabricate, at no little cost to myself, some well-made, metallic signs and put them up. Within days they were removed by the Park and Rec Department (RPD). When I asked, “why?”, it turns out the park’s need for hegemony was more important to them than fixing the situation: I was basically told to bug off — “they” were in charge and didn’t want my input, thank you very much. 

Signs should be eye-catching. The guidelines need to be concise, retainable, readable. The signs need a title which will help it attract, inclusively, people who have made their peace with the critters, and might be going too far in the direction of friendliness towards them, which is as bad as the culture of fear we’re surmounting.

This was an important and urgent matter. I persisted, and finally I got a response from RPD: they will indeed create new signs incorporating my input. Thank you, RPD! But WHEN, I wonder? It will take months and months for those in charge to design signs and have them made, when they could so easily and at no cost to themselves have used what I’ve already fabricated. So, in the meantime, you’ll see these signs that I’ve made on lamp posts and utility poles surrounding the parks, rather than within the parks, where the problems have been occurring. Also, I’ve been distributing 3″ business cards with the same information.



© 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/coyoteyipps.com.

Advancing Best Practices . . . , by Lesley Sampson & Lauren Van Patter

I am pleased to post this original research paper by Lesley Sampson and Lauren Van Patter. The paper is logically and well written, and emphasizes precision in use of language as well as precision in defining and dealing with human-coyote conflicts. Most importantly for me, it counters the misconception that there is a “progression in habituation which leads to aggression” — a fabricated dictum that suggests “removal” of coyotes is appropriate when an arbitrary “threshold” of “habituation” is reached — something that has no basis in reality. “Habituation” is a nebulous term which has been misused and has been historically convoluted so badly, that Lesley and Lauren eschew it entirely and instead use the term “proximity tolerance”  which is a much more accurate term. This will become clear to you as you read the paper. If your community is looking for a ‘coyote management plan’, this paper alone could serve as the backbone of such a plan. By the way, prevention of antagonistic situations in the first place is much easier than dealing with a problem once it comes up: keep your distance, leash and walk away from coyotes, don’t interact or befriend, never feed. Prevention is that simple. Scaring coyotes off should be reserved only for when they are actually approaching you and in your space. Once there is a problem, authorities should handle the situation, as the paper states.

Downloadable: press image to view original article

Advancing Best Practices for Aversion Conditioning (Humane Hazing) to Mitigate Human-Coyote Conflicts in Urban Areas, by Lesley SampsonCoyote Watch Canada and Lauren Van PatterQueen’s University, Kingston, Canada

Coyotes (Canis latrans; Figure 1) are increasingly recognized as a permanent feature of urban environments across much of North America (Hody and Kays 2018). As highly adaptable generalist omnivores, they are proficient foragers who make use of a range of natural and anthropogenic foods within cities (Gehrt et al. 2011, Murray et al. 2015, Poessel et al. 2017). Heightened public awareness of their presence and concern over the potential for negative interactions, especially with domestic pets, have increased community interest and the dialogue surrounding human–coyote conflict (Alexander and Quinn 2011, Elliot et al. 2016, Draheim et al. 2019).

Continue reading here: https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1625&context=hwi

Our Beagle Attack, by Lisa Febre

Little Beagle at the vet, still in shock, and waiting to be seen. The attack happened on Friday, April 13, 2018 (yup, Friday the 13th!)

Our former 3rd dog (he died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 19 years old, in June 2019) was a mix of beagle & dachshund, so he was shorter than a beagle, but still weighed around 26 pounds. Solid little bowling ball!

The attack happened on Friday, April 13, 2018, at almost exactly 5am, and was 100% my fault. I was getting up with my son for school, and let the dog out alone, my two basenji mixes stayed inside. I was not paying attention, I just opened the door & out he went. I have since made it a habit of never letting the dogs out without looking first — turning on lights, flashing the flashlight around the yard, and in some cases, I go out first and walk around the yard (especially in the middle of the night if someone is asking to go out) to make sure the yard is empty!

So, within just a few minutes, I heard the beagle screaming (I’m sure you’re familiar with beagles and their very dramatic noises!) and ran out there. The coyote had grabbed him right off the back patio and tried to drag him away — but being 26 pounds, he was just about as big as the coyote and I’m sure the coyote quickly discovered he couldn’t make off with someone roughly his own size!

When I went to pick him up after the surgery.  He had a drain & a ton of stitches, heavy pain meds.

When I got out there, the coyote was about 10 feet away, and my poor stunned little beagle was wandering slowly away in shock. I picked him up in my arms and faced down the coyote. It was watching me pretty intently, I just stared at it, I didn’t make any noise except to speak to it. I don’t remember what I said to it, but it decided to turn around and jump back over the wall into our neighbor’s yard.

Our little beagle had a rip in his neck and had cracked his jaw on the patio during the initial grab. But he survived, though he was never quite the same after that.

This last picture is of his best friend (one of the basenji mixes) who I believe was either nipped or sniffed by the coyote this summer on our walk.

I guess, between the beagle attack and the close encounter I had this summer, I have become more fascinated with them. Both situations might have been scary at the time, but looking back and analyzing them, I see where I went wrong and never in either of the situations was the coyote doing anything outside it’s instinct. I’ve learned more about coyotes thanks to both of these!

Thanks again!

Lisa

 


Hi!

I LOVE the advice at the end!!

So… after, when I told people what had happened to the beagle in the attack, the first reaction was “did you call animal control?!” NO! I did not and I never would!! OMG. Just the thought of that made me so upset.

The vet, actually, gave me some great wisdom when I went to pick him up that afternoon. He said a few things saved the beagle: the noise he made would have startled the coyote, and his size. I didn’t get a picture of the wounds before the surgery (as you can imagine, we were very stressed out at the time) but the vet said judging by the puncture wounds, the coyote would have been a young one, between 20-25 pounds, and got overly excited seeing a “small” dog it thought would be easy pickings! Not so!

I think it’s really important for people to understand that coyotes just do what they do. They don’t do anything out of malice, or to “terrorize” us, they are just coyotes.

I still keep coming back to the day the coyote “escorted” us out of her territory on the mountain in July — she was so close trotting along next to me, I could’ve reached down and petted her!

It’s really no wonder why these animals are revered. I’m so glad to have “met” you even if it is just online!

I think the more people who show that there’s nothing to be so upset about, the more people will realize that living near coyotes is actually a fantastic thing!

Lisa


Note from Janet: This was a hard learning experience for Lisa. She and I are hoping you can learn from her experience instead of having to learn from your own personal experience. Please, in a coyote area: Stay vigilant. Don’t allow pets to roam free. Always walk away from a coyote with your leashed dog. Pick up a small pet as you walk away. Learn how to scare them off effectively from your yard. Follow these simple encounter precepts on this card to help coexistence work. And press this link for more details on How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

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.

Thanks!

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

Coyote Pups are Now Two Months Old: What to Know If You Have a Dog, and What You Can Do [a reminder]

Two-month old coyote pup

We are smack-dab in the middle of pupping season: coyote pups are two months old now! Coyote parents will keep the youngsters hidden away if they can, and they will be very defensive towards any dogs and even people approaching their hideaways. These hideaways are frequently “moved” by coyote parents to keep the pups safe, which makes it hard often to know what areas for us to avoid, so you just have to be on the alert always for their presence and keep your dog well away from them. For a quick summary of what behaviors you can expect if you have a dog, and what you can do to avoid conflict, please click HERE.

Dad with three month old pup

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