Update: Incisive Perception and Ingenuity, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Hope all is well. Just wanted to give you an update on that coyote pair that has taken the 3 new ewes.

An important part of sheep operations is careful steps insuring the biosecurity of the flock. This means any newcomers are kept in quarantine even if all records on health are up to date. This usually means an area set apart for new sheep to acclimate, etc before breeding or being released in land and in flock.

It depends. But 2-5 weeks is often the time frame. A pair of new ewes in quarantine with cameras has revealed much.

A pair of old, experienced and semi retired LGD works the quarantine area. And they are indeed dedicated to protecting that area. But it’s obvious, new sheep are nervous. It takes time to settle with new dogs. As soon as new sheep are in the quarantine, that night the pair of coyote visit. They do not enter the pasture. But between 2 and 5 am, they visit. They sit on hay bales, tractors and nearby hill and study the newcomers. They keep far enough not to challenge or agitate the dogs too much. This pattern of visits indicates these new ewes are picked out and studied weeks before being allowed to joining flock or breeding. And likely, exploring a new range and integrating in a new herd makes them stand out even more, and in very wide spaces out of sight of humans, they likely continue to stand out even more.

So…camera recordings indicate intense scrutiny for many days by this coyote pair. They hunt rodents like normal..but “check on” new sheep nightly. The process of quarantine and biosecurity (necessary on a sheep farm) seems to tell them something. A vulnerability. A claim these sheep don’t quite “belong”. Strangers in a strange land so to speak.

Likely releasing the new sheep signals opportunities not associated with resident herds. Its not black and white. But it shows a weakness in isolation, even with dogs present.

So, right away, we implement changes. New ewes being bred to Ram will stay in guarded pastures. No ranging and roaming for them. They will be kept and bred in security, and shipped back immediately to their respective farms.

I haven’t even touched on the subjects of individuals scent, or bonds with LGD…or lack of them. Those worlds within worlds no doubt are a conversation that sheep, dogs and coyote have often. We continue to study and interpret this best we can.

Sheep. Dogs. Coyote.

It can be a precarious situation. But it’s possible if we learn (and relearn) the language.

(if this seems complex, just imagine tourists in NYC or anywhere-depending on area, they may attract locals in the wrong way. That’s what has been created here.)

PS: At 1st I just couldn’t believe the dynamics. But then actually, we all do this all the time. New neighbors warrant attention. While neighborhoods generate a “feel” and pattern of life that locals tune into intuitively. Most of us now a stranger or changed patterns in our personal space.

These coyote have apparently followed human and dog dynamics. Sheep set apart. Sheep isolated. Sheep kept apart. In nature, long term isolation indicates prey in trouble and not moving as the rest move. Isolated sheep not in cycle with resident sheep stand out, and somehow gave birth to a new behavior. They are an opportunity and green light. Also, we think the dogs are dedicated to territory and livestock to degrees. Some of these dogs have literally nursed as pups from sheep. They create various bonds while offering general protection. It’s possible newcomers or strangers get least protection or need time to create some sort of familiarity. After all, we aren’t close to new people until we know them.

PPS: If one wants to struggle always, then we just do whatever it takes and act fast.. But if one wants to learn, and last, and be aware, and minimize loss and maximize profit, if we want healthier land and livestock, and if want to enjoy wildlife and leave lands for generations to come…then we watch…we study..we listen to nature…and use strategy. Wisdom.

That how a ranch, livestock and wildlife can last generations.
🐾

Incisive Perception, by Walkaboutlou

The title applies not just to the coyotes, but also to the author and rancher who are figuring this out and willing to change their human behaviors to make it work.

Hi Janet,

This past weekend we got a reminder that while successful sheep raising among coyote is totally possible and achievable, it can on occasions be challenging.

This ranch I check on is very efficient. The LGD (livestock guard dog) are spread out in teams of 2-3. They are all experienced and steady and bonded to their sheep. The rancher doesn’t allow deceased sheep to lay about. All new lambs are birthed in specially designed areas.

Most of all, the local coyote are “trained” well, and live off the abundant rodent, jackrabbit and deer. They rarely test the sheep.

Until recently.

A very strange and particularly specific behavior has surfaced. A pair of coyote have preyed on 3 different ewes the last 2 weeks.

What is so unusual is all 3 ewe were visiting to be bred by the ranch’s top Ram. They were visitors, though to our eyes you couldn’t pick them out among other sheep. They are same breed. Same Looks.

But obviously something has set them apart. We suspect somehow the coyote not only “know” a newcomer, but somehow have been given a green light for predation. The LGD ironically may be subliminally less protective of a “new” or strange ewe. It seems unlikely, but this is totally uncharacteristic. This ranch hasn’t experienced any predator losses for years. Something has occurred.

Whenever any new challenge arises, it’s good to sit back, review and so some analysis. What has changed? What is different? What is the true situation? It’s easy to say “coyote can’t help themselves”…but that isn’t true. Many coyote have shown they can and do refrain from certain choices. And when they have for years…and then suddenly take 3 ewes, 3 VISITING ewe, (one at a time)…you have to sort it out, or at least make it unavailable for them. Another ewe is slated to visit for breeding. She will be kept in small pasture with ram and dog and cameras.

It just shows, the dynamics, changes and circumstances never are 100% predictable. But we’re determined to solve or at least stop this new behavior of new ewe predation by changing our behaviors.

Lou🐾

PS:
What I’m learning from this is just as guard dogs may not guard a stranger or neighbor’s house…an LGD may not necessarily guard all livestock or livestock it isn’t “bonded to”. It can vary and obviously we don’t know all. We do know that obviously the herd, the dog’s….and coyote…recognize new livestock…and it’s possible there are vulnerabilities here, at least in this ranch, we never thought about.

It seems crazy…but it’s possible that some dogs may give “permission” to coyote in certain situations. Its something we want to avoid and modify. Elimination of this coyote pair isn’t an option because we don’t know what the inevitable replacement would be like. It’s always better to influence and modify coyote behavior rather then see what new nomad shows up. (and it’s always several vying nomads which increases instability for a time) We will change this current canine conversation/dynamics eventually.

It’s always dynamics, fluctuations and new learning with coyote. There are so many variables of behaviors and different situations the coyote is truly a canid chameleon. They are very different in their various regions, strategy and skill. Even individually.

[Read the UPDATE posted on February 5]

Presentation in El Cerrito

For those who had wanted to attend my PHS/SPCA talk and couldn’t make it, I’ve been invited to give that same talk again in El Cerrito on Tuesday, January 14th. Although it has a different title, it will be the same talk. Again, if you can’t make it, I’ve recorded the talk and made it available here.

The talk is on January 14th at 7pm at El Cerrito City Hall in the city council chamber room, 10890 San Pablo Ave.,  El Cerrito 94530.

‘Tis The Season Of Sharing – Let’s Share The Earth With Coyotes, by Katherine Howard

This write-up by Kathy Howard — perfectly timed and appropriately named for the season — appears in the December issue of the Castro Courrier. Kathy has taken information about coyote family life from my recent presentation at the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA and filtered it into her own words in a fun and informative way. Enjoy! Happy Holidays to everyone! [Digital version in the CastroCourier. It will appear in the WestSideObserver soon].

Press the above image to continue reading (the linked paper can be enlarged by pressing the “+” button).

Insistence in Coyotes

Dear Janet,

My name is Lynn and I live in Berkeley.  About one year ago my friend Billee told me about something that happened to her son Tod, who’s about 20, when he was walking home late one night from a cafe where he played guitar.  He was on a tiny narrow street of houses en route to his house which is near that mountain that has the cross on top of it.  He noticed some– what he thought were dogs– slipping around him and then two coyotes faced him in the road.  He’s an outdoors guy, he’s always been an independent kid, and their family is a very kindly anti-materialist family with ancient pets who live forever and are cherished the whole time– just so you know.  Well to Tod these two scared him so much– he could not pass them, and I believe him.  It went on a long time and he ended up yelling for help and a woman called to her husband to open the door when she looked out from an upstairs window.  He opened the door and Tod ran inside their house.

He could not get used to the feeling that these animals really felt such ill will toward him.  But that was clear to him.

When he got home,  nobody could believe in this experience, especially his brother who picked him up.  But I believe it must have been true because why should he lie?  He just isn’t like that.  I thought maybe someone was feeding them there, and they thought Tod had come to steal their food.

I’m so glad to be able to ask you about this.  I read about coyotes in the book, “The Secret Lives of Dogs”.  I think that’s the title.  It was very poignant, about the coyotes. It said, “they know people hate them.”  If that’s true I hope they don’t know it.

Sincerely, Lynn


Hi Lynn —

Thanks for contacting me about this story! It’s an interesting one, and I’ll give you my thoughts about it.

I think there are various things that might be coming into play here. First, late night and shadows can play tricks on human imaginations — especially if the human is tired or might have had a little bit of alcohol or such? But also, depending on the time of year, a parent coyote could have shown a little more bravado or insistence than normal if a youngster coyote was nearby that the parent wanted to protect. And I’ve seen males become protective of their females in the same manner at certain times of the year. Another possibility is that these coyotes could have been protecting a source of food that they just found — say some garbage.

If a coyote is insistent, which is what Tod was saying, it can be VERY frightening. This actually happened to me once years ago. It was the coyote’s insistence that was so scary because it left me feeling helpless: none of my actions caused the coyote to move, and resorting to screaming for help did not work either (no one heard me), but walking away, with my dog in tow, did help. This is what the coyote wanted.

There is also something known as “demand behavior”: (see “Demand Behavior”). You speculated that Tod might have looked like someone else who had been feeding them. I suppose this also could have been driving those coyotes’ behaviors.

It’s important for everyone to know that anyone can save themselves a lot of anxiety and fear by always backing off and moving away from a coyote the minute you see one, before it ever even comes to what happened to Tod. Tod’s kind of encounter doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s best for us all to remember to take the step that’s easiest, most comfortable, and most effective for us and the coyotes: move away and then keep moving away. That’s really what they want.

I don’t believe the coyotes were after Tod due to ill-will towards him or humans in general. IF coyotes harbor any ill-will towards humans, as far as I know it would be in areas where humans caused that ill-will in the first place. I’m in contact with ranchers who have confirmed my own observations: where coyotes are respected and left alone, coexistence works well. But where coyotes are persecuted/killed, there’s a never ending battle revolving around a coyote’s need for survival. Read some of the postings on my blog by Walkaboutlou. So yes, I’m sure they know and feel the hate and antipathy towards them where people indeed have persecuted and hated them. Interestingly, I myself have felt the continued animosity of several walkers who I’ve had to confront about their unleashed dogs chasing coyotes: it’s palpable.

Hope this helps? Let me know if you want to discuss more!!

Janet

The minute you see a coyote, even if it is in the distance, walk away from it rather than getting closer and closer.

Canine Chess, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Fall continues on. And so does the canine chess on local ranches. It’s frustrating yet fascinating at same time. The ranches that don’t allow coyote hunts have some really interesting packs and dynamics. The spring pups are now foraging and moving about independent of parents. Sometimes you see them meeting other youngsters and you can tell by their excitement and inexperienced body moves they are still pups. But learning who is who and where is where. Some are too bold and vocal, in regards ranch dogs. But that will change in time.

On other ranches, the development of a new local hunt is underway. But incredibly, the local coyote are already responding with canine chess moves.

There are dogs of greyhound/staghound/deerhound/ wolfhound crosses who are being developed in packs to run down and dispatch coyote. These packs are young yet, but already proving they are good at this.

However, coyote response has been instant and shown new insights.

Coyote territorial integrity is a fluid thing. Normally highly rigid, territorial rights can vanish with certain situations.

For example, a dead deer, elk or cow will draw in many coyotes, no matter who holds the turf. The resident pair will contest, snarl, and sometimes fight and chase new arrivals. But they cannot hold entire groups off for long. All local coyote hone in on huge carcasses. Then feast over, they retreat to respective territory.

On the ranches where sighthounds are hunting, the coyote are developing strategies. They recognize a sighthound now, and even at a distance, hide. Or, they disperse and literally run for hills and woods. Open pastures and land is forfeited.

And finally, they run for the ranches where LGD live. They actually beeline for the Pyrenees/Anatolian and other livestock guard dogs. They pass the sheep and make for these huge rugged dogs. If the sighthounds cross into these lands in pursuit, the guard dogs engage them. No dog can stand before these guard dogs. And they normally are in groups of 2-5.

They scatter the sighthounds who now have to run for their life. And the coyote quickly disappears.

I don’t necessarily enjoy the dynamics of a pack of huge sighthounds closing in on a single coyote. But I and other locals are astounded by the ever changing ingenuity of these coyote. Ironically, the LGD don’t bother much with coyote. Because the coyote fear them and keep distance. In a sense, they submit to these massive powerful guards.

And apparently, they have no qualms about using LGD to ward off fast footed hunters.
Take care,
Lou🐾

Feeding Hurts Coyotes Physically, In Addition to Altering Their Behavior

Several people voiced their concern that a particular coyote was “fat”, making me aware that it wasn’t just my imagination. And neither were her looks due simply to a thickening of her winter coat, which indeed can change a coyote’s size appearance drastically. I’ve watched coats grow and thicken beautifully in the fall on lots of coyotes over the last 12 years, and then fall out and thin out in the late spring. This case here involved more than this seasonal change. 

Size and Build

Coyotes have thick, three-inch fluffy fur in the winter. This is shed in the late spring so that by July a coyote has only his/her undercoat, revealing the true smaller animal that the coyote is. In July, hip bones may protrude, back leg bones can be seen through their skin, jaw bones protrude: the visible bones aren’t caused by coyotes losing weight in the springtime, this is just how coyotes are built, and these skimpy builds show after they’ve shed their winter coats. Now, in October, winter coats have grown back in. See the difference this fur change can make in their appearance: normal fur changes.

Function

Coyotes are light and lithe underneath their fur because they need to be to function properly. Being lean and light allows them to run swiftly at 43 miles per hour during pursuit. Because they are so light and lithe, they can run up and down very steep inclines quickly and easily, wearing out a heftier pursuer such as a wolf, or even a dog whose weight includes a meatier/muscular build. I’ve seen dogs collapse in exhaustion, unable to keep up with a coyote as he ran up and down a 50% grade. Their lightness allows them to leap high and far for prey, and to jump over high fences. Coyotes are built a little like whippets, but with much more spring to their bodies, including to their trot: these animals, especially the Western coyotes, are composed mostly of thin and light bones, sinews, tendons and minimal muscle mass.

Activity Level

Coyotes weigh more or less 30 pounds in San Francisco. They can go days without eating anything: their bodies are made for that. At all times, whether food is or isn’t so readily available, they are using their bodies searching and hunting for food, and keeping both their minds and bodies in prime shape by doing so. It takes constant activity to stay fit: just look at yourself, or anyone who wants to stay fit, including any athlete or runner: they work to stay in shape and keep their skills honed because that’s what it takes. The same is true for animals.

Food Requirements

Coyotes are superb hunters. This is a gopher.

What coyotes are fed in captivity (those who are being rehabilitated or because of an injury cannot survive in the wild) amounts to a several rats and miscellaneous insects and vegetables a day. The amount of food recommended for a dog that size, again a much meatier animal usually, is two cups of kibble a day at most. Coyotes may need more than this, but they don’t need huge amounts of food. They are fabulous hunters: unless there are extreme weather conditions such as a long drought or where fires have devastated the land entirely of its resources, coyotes can hunt what they need. Here in San Francisco, prey consists of gophers, voles, squirrels, rats, mice, birds, skunks, raccoons, insects, reptiles which I see coyotes catch constantly in addition to fruit and roots. When they catch prey, they eat the whole thing: bones, skin, fur, organs, muscle and all — they don’t waste any of it because their nutritional needs require it all. They’ll even pick through garbage sometimes, which is always available in urban areas. What coyotes do NOT need is to be purposefully fed by more and more people who don’t think the coyote can make it on its own, or they want to make life easier for the animal. These people may be well intentioned but they are absolutely misguided.

Feeding

Food left DAILY for one coyote by one feeder — other people were also feeding this coyote. The sheer quantity of food is mind boggling.

What I’ve seen:  More than several people are feeding a number of our coyotes copious amounts of food every day, leaving it out along the street or hidden among the bushes behind a pedestrian guardrail in little buckets or just on the ground. I’ve seen pounds of meat being tossed right at these coyotes from across the street or in parking lots: places where people drive to regularly after they have found a coyote begging there. I’ve seen whole chickens, feathers still intact, and all types of meat, both cooked and raw, much of it highly processed or salty, including whole packages of bacon tossed off to the side of the road for them.  If this stuff is bad for us, and even our dogs, you know it is bad for them also. And this is in addition to leftover pizzas, burgers, McNuggets, partial sandwiches left on trails in the early mornings, or five pounds of dog kibble — I know because I took it home and weighed it. If you have a dog, you know how harmful cooked chicken bones are for them, yet whole roasted chickens from Safeway have been put out where coyotes have been seen.

One feeder confessed to me that she whistles for the coyotes who have learned to come at her beck and call. She told me, “They are so, so cute. I LOVE them. I go to several parks to feed them. There’s nothing for them to eat so I HAVE to feed them.” No matter how often I repeated to her that there IS food, and I named all the foods they might find, she always returned to original statement, “there is no food for them.” These people think they are “helping”, they think they are being “kind”. In the cases I have seen, it is not “kindness”: it is whittling away — robbing them — not only of their coyote “essence”, but also of what they need to survive which includes continual practiced hunting skills. Lithe abilities require practice, and a quick and lean body.

Detrimental Effects

There are no caloric expenditures for food being tossed to or left out for the wild animal. The result is added weight on the animal which hampers quickness and response times.  If you have trouble relating to this, think of your dog. A heavy dog — an overweight dog — is unable to turn on a dime, leap, or run swiftly: they “waddle”. A fat coyote will lose their quick edge and that could spell disaster for them on the road where only a few days ago we witnessed a car slam on its breaks in order to miss one who has gained a lot of weight from being fed.  This coyote is being fed from a number of cars — people tossing food out the window as they drive by — which is what is drawing her into the street in the first place.

I’ve never seen a coyote gain weight precipitously — or otherwise — until this coyote depicted below. The weight gain occurred in less than six weeks: it was actually shocking to compare before and after photos. Some people were asking me if she was pregnant. This could not be the case because estrus occurs only once a year for coyotes, in January/February, and anyway, there is no male around for her. By comparing photos, the change became obvious, even accounting for winter fur growth over those few weeks

Here are photos taken six weeks apart. A little bit of hunger is what spurs the activity to hunt. Sitting around close to human activity and begging, and chasing cars, is not going to end well for her. Please know that it is illegal to feed wildlife in California.

In addition to possible body damage caused by feeding, which is what this posting is intended to shed light on, there are behavior changes caused by feeding: See Food: The Behavior Shaper.

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