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

Den

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.

Susan

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 (as per Behavioral Ecologist Mary Paglieri). 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 Coyotecoexistence.com. 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! 

Janet

Den secondary hole

Janet,

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.

Thanks,

Susan

View of den from bedroom window

These Small Dogs and Coyote Are Respectful of Each Other

20170206_073518
These two small Yorkies — one weighing a mere 7 pounds and the other 18 pounds even though they are full siblings — are used to this visitor. These dogs bark regularly at this coyote when they see it while they are out walking on their leashes. The coyote understands the barking and keeps a respectful distance away. In their own yard, too, on several occasions, as seen in this photo, they have barked viciously at the visitor to proclaim ownership of their turf, and the coyote, again, always gets the message by not getting too close as the owner, in this case, shoots the photo and swoops in to grabs her two tiny dogs to take them indoors.

Owner Rachel never lets these two roam free and always supervises them out-of-doors. About a year ago the coyote showed up and replaced the raccoons who used to come around. What attracts the coyote to her yard? Possibly the pond, but maybe not — the water level is really low and the coyote could not reach it. In the Spring, there are persimmons in the yard, but not now.

Most of the residents in this area are perfectly happy with this visitor — it adds to their enjoyment of their neighborhood, they tell me! They know there could be issues between their pets and the coyote, so they have educated themselves, and they have taken the proper precautions to keep them apart always. Yay for the community!

How To Coexist With Wild Coyotes — From SF’s Own ‘Coyote Whisperer’ — by Alisa Scerrato

hoodline-for-yipps

This article by Alisa Scerrato is full of information about coexisting with our urban wild coyotes. Press here to be taken to the article in Hoodline, an online journal covering the news in all of our San Francisco neighborhoods: http://hoodline.com/2017/02/how-to-coexist-with-wild-coyotes-from-sf-s-own-coyote-whisperer

Citizen Coyote: Let’s Get To Know Them: An Introduction

The English version of our coyote informational video aimed specifically at younger people and classroom use — but wholly interesting and fun for all ages — is up and running! The Spanish version was posted last week, so students who really want to learn about coyotes AND improve their language skills, may now toggle between the two videos. There are slight differences between the two, which will make working between them a bit more interesting. As with the other informational videos I’ve put out, this one is based primarily on my first-hand observations here in San Francisco, and corroborated by research and by other experts in the field.

Again, we encourage EVERYONE, student or not, youth or not, to create the projects suggested at the end of the video to share with others. The more people we can reach by sharing this information, the better it will be for all concerned: people, pets, coyotes. The end result will be a win-win-win situation without any losers!

The English version was narrated by my neighbor, Stephanie Shmunes, who, you’ll see, did a great job!

 

Ciudadanos Coyotes: Vamos a conocerlos: Una Introducción

Here is our new Spanish educational video specifically for youth — 5th through 8th graders — but fun for everyone! I was asked to create this for some of the Spanish immersion classrooms here in San Francisco. The English edition should be up next week. Students who really want to learn about coyotes AND improve their language skills, will be able to toggle between the two videos.

And we encourage EVERYONE, student or not, youth or not, to create the projects suggested at the end of the video to share with others! It’s only through sharing that people will learn what they need to know to coexist amicably with the wildlife which not long ago began moving into our urban areas.

Ana Bayat, who is a playwright, actress and voice-over artist, and who lives in my neighborhood, provided the narration. Thank you, Ana!

An “Object of Interest”: Territorial Behavior

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Lily is mesmerized by coyotes and watches intently.

Coyotes ignore most dogs passing through their territories if the passing-through is done calmly, without getting too close to the coyote, and without paying the coyotes any heed. I spoke about “motion-reactivity” in my last posting. In this posting I’d like to address a dog’s zeroing-in on a coyote — making the coyote “an object of interest”.

A coyote may respond to this by assuming that, “If I’m an object of interest to you, that spells possible danger to me — a threat”. The perceived threat is particularly true in coyotes’ regular-use areas. In the wild it would occur if the onlooker were “after” the coyote in some way, either a predator or a competitor for the resources in the area. “I therefore need to keep an eye on you, and maybe let you know that I won’t allow you to carry through.” So the dog now becomes an object of interest for the coyote. The coyote may just watch, or he/she may follow, or even try to message the dog to leave or stay away.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

Coyotes see they are being watched intently and wonder why.

The best way to keep your dog from focusing intently on a coyote is to keep moving when a coyote is out there, be it nearby or far away. Moving AWAY from the coyote communicates to the coyote that you are not interested in the coyote. Most of the time the coyote will reflect back this lack of interest.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow -- their interest has been piqued by the dog's interest in them.

As dog and owner leave, coyotes follow — their interest has been piqued by the dog’s interest in them.

A prototypical example occurred today with a dog named Lily. Lily usually ignores coyotes and actually runs towards her owner whenever she senses or sees one. Owner and dog then leave the area together. But today, something about two coyotes caught Lily’s interest. She stood there, mesmerized by them, and they, in-turn, looked back at her. I think the owner was oblivious to the situation at first — this is why it’s important to always be aware of your dog when out.  I probably should have interfered, but the distance was great, and the coyotes were below a bluff, which added another layer of separation.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt -- it's a message to leave them alone.

One coyote watches to make sure dog/owner have left; the other coyote sniffs and kicks up some dirt — it’s a message to leave them alone.

Lily’s interest was intense. She stared and watched them for several minutes, and began flinching in anticipation of something exciting. Her owner then noticed her and felt this would lead to no good. Dog and owner left, with Lily leashed at first, but then unleashed and lagging some distance behind.

As they distanced themselves, with Lily lingering behind, both coyotes — when there are two, they often act as a team — headed in Lily’s direction, excited and at a fast clip — they now were on a mission. I yelled out for the owner to call his dog which he did. Seeing that the dog and owner were together and both moving away, the approaching coyotes stopped.

But it did not stop there — coyote activity never stops where you think it might. They had sensed that they had become objects of interest and now they needed to do something to keep it from going further. One coyote watched to make sure the duo left. The other now sniffed, peed, and kicked-up-dirt where Lily had stopped on her exit path at the edge of their field — a sign of their displeasure. Then they hurried over to the bluff where she had watched them intently for so long. There they again sniffed the area thoroughly. They were trying to find out as much as possible about Lily through any scents she might have left. They did this for some time, covering every inch of the area.

I don’t know what they found out — maybe they were trying to find out Lily’s dominance status or whether she was a male or female — but they left their own scents there — as messages. When they were done they headed back into their field again.

Both dogs and coyotes remember these interactions. The dog may now start looking for coyotes every time she comes to that park — I’ve seen this new sense of purpose occur in many dogs once they become aware of coyotes. But also the coyotes may keep a lookout for this dog, or others, who show such a keen interest in them: an interest, from their point of view, that could only lead to no good in their eyes.

My advice to dog-owners is that, when you see a coyote, leash and continue on and away from the coyote, showing as little interest in the coyote as possible. Please read the How to Handle a Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

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