Reflecting on an Exile and Return

Coyote families, and even loners, may leave their claimed territories for any number of reasons, or they may stay in that one location for generations. I’ve known both situations. Of those that leave, the primary reasons seem to be inability to defend the territory from another hostile coyote, or dwindling resources. In some cases, but not always, the same coyotes may come back. Here are some of my reflections and a background recap, along with a video of snippets I put together, on one such coyote’s return to her old home.

Exiled: In this case, the coyote — who I will refer to as “our coyote” — was forced to leave her long-term claimed territory by another intruder coyote whose attacks left her no alternative. During her absence, she became a transient, an interloper with no home of her own, existing in-between other territories in a sort of no-man’s land, and moving about constantly while being repulsed by any hostile territorial coyotes whose properties she slithered through. Maybe her odyssey was necessary: six months of wanderings which had the potential for forcing her to revert to some more essential coyote behaviors and away from all of the humanizing influences which she had lived with for so long — equivalent to an Australian Bushman’s “walkabout”.

Where did she go when she was driven away? It was an odyssey for her. I was able to follow most of her trajectory through extensive swaths of the city: to Glen Park, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, Dolores Heights, Twin Peaks, and McLaren Park, among other places. And wherever she went, soon the strange hostile/exiler coyote appeared. I was able to catch up with her through friends’ photos, several trap cameras I put out, and Nextdoor postings with photos of her: the postings inevitably warned, “Please watch your cats and dogs”. Few people knew this coyote actually fled from cats! So our coyote kept fleeing. She would travel at night, dusk or dawn. Her amazing intuition told her how to distinguish friends from non-friends, and who would tolerate her presence and maybe even protect her when she took refuge in their yards. Some people named her. Some people fed her out of sympathy and concern: few people are aware of how negatively feeding impacts coyotes, as it already had in her “previous” life when she had been the reigning queen of her slope. Intermittently she tried returning “home”, but invariably she was repulsed again by the hostile intruder coyote gal who kept at her heels.

Tentative return: After months of wandering, remaining in places for a couple of weeks at a time before moving on, our coyote finally returned again to her old turf and, voilá, there was no hostile exiler around to drive her away for the first time in six months! At first people didn’t think this was our same coyote because her behaviors were so different from before: mainly she spent huge amounts of her time marking and “kicking dirt”, as though she were saying to the coyote who stole the site from her, “take that!” Even humans, in a language older than words, if they know what is going on, can read this type of animal body language.

So for weeks after her return, she spent her time reclaiming her territory, walking around while making visual and olfactory checks of the area, marking and kicking dirt extensively, self-grooming for long periods of time, absorbing odors and leaving hers, trotting her old routes, hunting, and generally trying to fit in again. This video depicts some of those activities when she first returned.

In some ways, she seemed wiser when she first returned, and on the whole, more elusive than before her odyssey: she spent less time out in the open and even stayed away for days at a time. I was happy to see this. Many people who knew her were hoping that she might have regained some primary coyote wildness while “abroad and dealing at times with an unfamiliar world”: it was a huge test, with the possibility of bringing into play survival skills which she never had used before. BUT, after only a few weeks back, she relapsed into responding to repeated misguided “human kindness”.  Food was again being left by roadways, so she was back in the streets searching for free handouts instead of hunting. She’s relapsed into again chasing cars and biting at their tires as they drive by: two days ago a car slammed on its brakes to avoid a direct hit. And she made several attempts at begging with a straight-in-the-eye look at people who passed by her. All of these behaviors of hers are a direct response to HUMAN behaviors. We need to change OUR behaviors in order to help her: please don’t feed her or leave food out for her. Coyotes are superb hunters: we can help her be that instead of the dependent beggar we are turning her into.



Recap of early life for those who haven’t followed her story: Until the point in her life when she was forced away, her life had been beyond charmed: unfolding as a fairy tale to many who observed her, and maybe even to the coyote herself. But many observers hadn’t taken the time to reflect on the larger picture: she had spent the first four years of her life being indelibly humanized and she needed to get back to normal — to her essential coyote self. This exile forced her to do so, but the results may be short-lived.

Her early-life urban-situation inherently fueled problems. At one point, she was hit by a car, leaving her with a temporary hip injury. Luckily the injury didn’t hamper her for long: she never lost her mobility — though she toppled over time and again as she attempted walking after the incident — and she stopped limping in less than two weeks. She had been prompted to chase cars by misguided people throwing her food from their cars — it took two years of everyday outreach before I could stop that behavior by halting the feeding. She was lucky that a car hadn’t killed her during that time: her predecessor in that location had been killed by a car which is why she was able to move in there — she had filled his vacated niche. Dogs chased her continually during her early years there, often right into street traffic, endangering both them and her. But actually, over time, people had been getting better and better at leashing up when they saw her, so this was happening much less than ever before. There had been other issues all perpetrated by humans, such as repeatedly feeding her, approaching too close, and befriending her, which little by little had eroded away her “coyote essence”, but these were all being corrected by more and more people abiding by, “just walk away from her; leave her alone and give her space”. On the whole life was pretty good to this happy-go-lucky coyote. It appears that the niche she had found and made her own worked for her: finding the right habitat apparently is primary for survival. I’ve heard that evolution is less about the “survival of the fittest” as previously thought, and more about “finding the right habitat”. Our coyote had chosen hers well.

And then things fortuitously got even better. How could things get better than this? But they did: a male companion appeared on the scene and became her best friend. Although he was a wanderer and seemed to have another lady-friend in another location, he always returned after only a few days’ absence during the four months they knew each other, and he and our coyote spent gobs of quality time in each other’s company simply enjoying each other. No one had ever seen our coyote — who had been a loner up to this point — happier. An added perk of this friendship: he was a supreme hunter, and this began rubbing off on her.

However, unbeknownst to our little female coyote, trouble was already brewing. Her best-buddy fella-friend had some family that followed him to her location, and that, ironically is what led to her life unraveling for the next six months. Few people are aware of how intense coyote internal lives, relationships, and their emotions are, or of their individuality and personalities, all of which have nothing to do with humans: not all good and bad which confront a coyote are created by humans, though, of course, a lot is, as this story points out.

So our coyote was driven away from her haven AND even pursued by a relative of the fella who had made her so happy. The relative was another female transient, an interloper, over two years of age who had recently been radio-collared in the Presidio. San Francisco does not radio-collar coyotes, but the Presidio which is federally owned, does. At the time of radio-collaring, it was found that this coyote had larger teeth than normal. Hmmm. . . Why? More interesting was her angry look. Did she harbor anger from being manhandled when she was collared?? Or from having to wear the large contraption around her neck? My friend Lou has noted that first-generation coydogs often have angry looks about them. Might she, then, be a coydog: a half dog?

Detrimental Effects of Radio Collars

The once happy-go-lucky coyote is now wounded 

I cried when I next saw the coyote pictured above. She had more wounds and was thin and frail looking. Only a month ago she was so infectiously happy — she brought joy to all who observed her. This is the coyote who was displaced from her own territory by another coyote a month ago, on February 5th. She returned several times, but the newcomer’s presence drove her away each time. Her appearance and demeanor reflect her story: The fur around her entire neck has been pulled and torn — it’s damp from oozing. Through the fur you can see the injuries on her neck front, with a flap of skin hanging down. On the side of her neck is another deep gash. Her legs are covered with wounds. Her face, as you can see here, has a number of lacerations.

Everyone who knows this gal knows her upbeat personality. She’s good-willed towards everyone: people and dogs. She has always been sprightly and playful, even as a loner, and when a male arrived she was welcoming, loving and playful with him — incredibly so, to the joy and amazement of all onlookers. Then the intruder came in, displaced her, and, in short, put a crimp in everything she had going for her. Nature is nature, and we have to accept that: that coyotes have their own internal affairs to work out. BUT here there was human involvement which needs to be examined.

About the Intruder: We know the intruder had been wandering about for the last little while because she ended up in the Presidio where she was nabbed and radio-collared on January 3rd, even though she was not an inhabitant of that park. At the time she was collared, she was deemed 2+ years of age. And that’s all you need to know about her to understand this story.

Let’s talk about the radio-collar on that intruder. First note that, although there are wounds on our coyote’s legs, face and head, the majority of deep wounds sustained by her are on and around her neck. That’s one of the places where coyotes attack. So you can be sure that’s where our coyote, too, tried attacking her opponent. But the intruder/opponent had been outfitted with armor: the large impenetrable radio-collar which interfered with the bites to those places — bites meant to defend her territory — that our coyote tried to inflict. The intruder was thus protected and came to the fight with a huge advantage. What does this say about radio-collaring? It says that this human-made gadget — and humans are very fond of their “gadgets” — which a human forcibly attaches to animals for our human convenience, is changing the outcome of lives — it’s interfering where we should not be interfering. Is “science” more important than the animals being studied? The scientists using the collars of course aren’t going to say anything negative about them. But other people have been writing about this:

“Being chased [. . . or trapped, then wrestled to the ground], then waking up tagged or collared, is by no means voluntary on the part of wildlife and has not only physical concequences, but traumatic psychological effects on the victim. For instance, a wild wolves often show symptoms of PTSD up to a year after being helicopter darted and collared. Whales become reluctant to approach whale watching boats when “researchers” move in and begin “tagging” them. Etc. http://goodnature.nathab.com/animal-privacy-rights-monitoring-wildlife-out-of-existence/

Ear-tags and radio-collars are used in the Presidio, a federal park in the NW corner of San Francisco. We should be concerned about these gadgets we are attaching to animals for our benefit, because they certainly are not helping the animals. In the first place, capturing the animal for this purpose is a terrifying experience for every animal. Coyotes are wary of humans and won’t let anyone get close to them. For them, capturing them must be a “leading to death” experience.

The ear tags: Two 1″ plastic disks are placed on the fur on the inner and outer side of the ear, so this includes the side where sound waves enter the ear. No one is going to tell me that this doesn’t alter sounds, especially for ears as sensitive as a coyote’s. Sound is normally helped by passing over their natural fur, not a piece of plastic. That’s just the sound-wave angle. More on animal hearing.

The plastic hardware itself can be irritating and can also pick up and harbor bugs, especially ticks — one of the insects that plague coyotes the most as I’ve written about — and neither the coyote, nor her mate who often helps with the grooming, has any way to reach under those tags to get them off. Infections can be caused by the piercing of the ear, just as they do in human piercings, except that coyotes aren’t monitored for this. A friend of mine saw a coyote with an infected ear caused by a tag.

In addition, I’ve been told by several behaviorists that animals may shun/reject other animals who are strangely marked (or deformed). I wonder if ear-tags and collars would have this effect?

The collars. These things are not only heavy, they are bulky and cumbersome. I’ve seen coyotes attempt to shake off a collar, either because of it’s cumbersome size and weight around their necks, or because of the irritations caused by the collar itself: abrasions, grit, bugs. These are not domestic animals, so much more gets lodged behind their collars than what we see on our dogs. Ticks love to hide on dog ears and under dog collars — the same would be true for coyotes.

Attempting to shake off the collar

But, FOREMOST, a collar can actually change the outcome of coyotes’ lives, for instance, the outcome of a territorial dispute, which is what was involved here. I’ve seen plenty of territorial disputes, but inevitably, it’s the territorial owner who is able to drive out the intruder, not the other way around unless the owners have become old and feeble. Our coyote was in the prime of life, four years old. She could/should easily have driven the intruder away. She herself was wounded severely ON THE NECK, where coyotes intentionally inflict damage. If our coyote tried this tactic on the other coyote, which I’m sure she did, she got a mouth full of hard radio and hard collar. The radio-collar provided armor and a huge advantage to the intruder. The intruder was left unscathed by all appearances. When our coyote returned again to wrestle back her turf, she was met with the same disadvantaged circumstances, and more wounds to herself.

Large plastic ear-tags and a bulky radio contraption shackled to her neck

Radio collars might be deemed a necessary evil for particular studies — their use should be extremely limited. But they are not needed for “management”, which is what they are purportedly being used for in the Presidio. “Management” requires one thing alone: educating the public to walk away from coyotes and keep their dogs away from them. Coyotes naturally avoid humans unless they are being fed or befriended. Signs, literature, talks are what is needed. Whether or not coyotes are radio-collared, the public will still need to KNOW what to do if they encounter a coyote: they need to walk away from a coyote. Coyotes can move about quickly, so no map is going to show where coyotes are at any particular time. When dens have been discovered and cordoned off to protect coyotes and dogs from each other, it has more often than not been done after the den was inadvertently discovered by the public. Additional management can be added on a case-to-case basis in the few instances when it is necessary.

By the way, coyotes will not over-populate any given area — this is because they self-regulate their population through their territorial imperatives. So collars are not needed for population management. The collars are used only to track movements. Since we now know coyotes general movements within the Presidio, and even out of the Presidio to Los Gatos, why are we continuing to collar them?

See also: For sage grouse, science can be fatal.


Addendum from a comment I made on FBI concur that most “scientists” are out to help the animals, even though I know multiple instances of where the “information” is considered more important than the animal. As I said above, learning from a minimal amount of collaring could be useful.

But where there are other means, collaring shouldn’t be done because of collateral effects. A researcher’s “good intentions” aren’t enough. Good intentions are often harmful: for instance, feeding wildlife. Collaring is not a benign thing. There are too many things we DON’T know about these animals to be shackling them with our gadgets unless absolutely necessary, and even then it should be minimally. Did you read the article on hearing linked above? There are a lot of things about animals that humans simply don’t have any comprehension about, and that’s because we ourselves are limited by our five senses, and we tend to use ourselves as the gold standard — until we’re surprised, for instance, that elephants can hear clouds. Also, radio telemetry does not reveal their interpersonal behaviors. What I observed in this posting probably goes on a lot — it wasn’t just a one-time fluke that I just happened to see — but few scientists actually spend huge amounts of time watching coyote behavior, which is what it takes: they like their instruments, their data, and crunching numbers.

This article was written to let all those folks with good intentions know that they may be creating more harm than they can imagine, specifically with radio-collars. So please use them sparingly, and only if you really have to.

A Protracted Territorial Feud

Coyote internal affairs are every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Their lives can be melodramatic and riddled with thrills! Here’s an example on par with the Hatflieds vs. the McCoys.

The newly-arrived one: wary and guarded in her new surroundings, especially after the non-welcome she received from our resident coyote.

Few people noticed that a new coyote was around, and no one imagined that this would change the course of the lives of our resident coyotes. What was HER story? Had she left her home of her own volition, or had it been a forced dispersal? Might she have even been driven away from the next place where she tried squatting? How long had her wanderings been? Time-wise at least a couple of months, distance-wise at least over half of the city, according to reports. She was here now, and again according to reports, had been in the area for a good number of weeks before a territorial battle took place. She needed a place to live in order to survive and was probably desperate. I’m trying to keep her point of view in mind here.

She appeared to be unscathed from the encounter, whereas the resident female had sustained wounds:  maybe this is because the newcomer had already been through this kind of thing before and was practiced, whereas we know the territorial defender — the coyote we knew and had come to love so much due to her very upbeat personality — had led an unchallenged and unperturbed life for 3 years as queen of her park. Both newcomer and the displaced residents (there was a male with her) have been lying low since that fight.

For the last couple of weeks, then, mostly out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been glimpsing the newcomer furtively passing through back alleyways, mostly scared and fleetingly. Few other neighbors have actually seen her (or for that matter, even know about her). Several people saw her when I did, but they were unable to recognize her as a different coyote — they simply saw a coyote form: most people cannot identify individual coyotes, even with markers. I’m slowly beginning to see her more and more.

Recovering from her wounds, far enough away. Photo by Adrian Parker.

The wounded coyote — the one who has been displaced — has been hiding out in a distant green space where neighbors spotted her (and also saw the male, once) trotting up the streets, foraging quietly, or even sleeping in their backyards. She was keeping away and healing.

THEN, several days ago, my friend Doug caught a glimpse of the tattered female (see photo below). No one had seen her in the three weeks before this, so we had assumed she had been driven off for good, but we were wrong. What a mess she looked! She was lacerated from head to toe: on her head, neck, and legs. Were these wounds from the fight I documented earlier, or had there been additional confrontations? Her fur might have concealed the extent of her wounds when I first saw them three weeks ago — I don’t remember them looking this bad. Would she now stay? She was seen only for a minute at this sighting, and then disappeared from view.

What a mess she looked! Photo by Doug Dunderdale

For the next two days, the only coyote we ever saw, glancingly, was the cocky newcomer gal who traversed the park looking very much at ease as she sauntered through. Human glances hurried her on her merry way and out of view fairly quickly (below).

New Arrival

Then, surprise, a day later, Miss Tattered and Torn was back, with the lacerations on her face, head, neck, and legs more obvious than ever (below). She was limping and disheartened, but apparently not giving up.

As you can see from this posting, coyote internal affairs can be every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Watching and documenting them is like watching a soap-opera with cliff-hangers!

Hope we’re not in for a long, protracted Hatfield vs. McCoys affair, which, in case you have forgotten or never knew, was a drawn-out human territorial battle way back during Civil War days. It sounds pretty similar to me.

As for the newcomer, if she remains, hopefully people won’t feed her or befriend her as they did the previous resident coyote. That coyote had been put in daily danger as she waited for food on the street, approached some people, and even chased cars from which food was tossed.


Of peripheral interest: I’ve been following these particular coyotes since their births. The displaced female had come to this territory three years ago, arriving at 9 months of age from a park several miles away where I had watched her grow up in a 3rd generation family, each generation of which I had followed — she was the 4th generation. The male who she is attached to, had arrived only several months ago from his birthplace all the way across the city. At a year and a half of age, he was harshly driven out of his home by his siblings, not by his parents. Even after his arrival here, he continued to wander for days at a time, often three-mile distances in the opposite direction from his birthplace, but this wandering had been diminishing. And then, a New Arrival, an Intruder appeared. Things can change in the blink of an eye. Let’s see how the story unfolds.

Celebrating *Long* on the Longest Day

Today, in honor of the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice and the first day of Summer, I wanted to showcase *long*: long ears, long noses/snouts, long legs, long tubular torsos of our Western coyotes. Evolution has served these animals well: their huge long ears allow them to hear the softest sounds underground in order to know where to hunt. Their long thin snouts are exceptional smelling devices which can also reach with ease into difficult accesses such as rodent tunnel openings. Their long thin legs result in lithe, quick and supple movements which help them jump high, pounce onto their prey, and attain speed. And their tubular torsos have no bulk at all to them: Western coyotes weigh an average of about 30 pounds. Right now, in June and July, they are shedding, so it is easier to see what they really look like under all that fluffy 3-inch winter fur which normally conceals these exceptional assets. 

Granted that the individuals in these photos may exceed the norm for *longness* of their various body parts, but in doing so, they highlight the general tendencies in the population.

What long ears you have! The better to hear it all, even when relaxing!

What an incredibly long nose and snout you have! The better to whiff-in the tell-tale nuances of their surroundings, and to reach deeply into tunnels for prey!

Long legs and a bulk-less tubular torso: The better to jump, pounce, and run like the wind!