Two Youngsters Take A Tentative Step Towards Dispersal

These two siblings — a brother and a sister — left home together in May when they were 13 months old. I assumed they were leaving for good — dispersing. About a month into their absence, I was thrilled to recognize the male when he showed up in another park about two miles away: I’m always exhilarated when I find dispersing youngsters who I’ve watched grow up because most, of course, I never see again after they leave. This male comes from an exceptionally large litter, most of whom had dispersed, so now I had to figure out which one was accompanying him, or was it someone he had met from a different family?

That second one remained too distant and seldom appeared in daylight; it was always at the darker end of twilight when I saw them, and this one always seemed to be moving away from me, so it took me a while longer to figure out which individual it was: I have to see their faces to know who each one is. To help me (though it didn’t help) I put out a trap camera on a narrow path close to one of the entrances to the park where I had seen them, not really expecting anything to show up on it.

Apparently I placed the camera well, because I caught these few seconds which, although they didn’t help me identify the second coyote, they did tell me how much fun these guys were having in their newfound freedom! In the video below you’ll see the two youngster coyotes who have been running along a narrow, sandy path. They’ve just jumped over a bush where the camera is hidden. They stop to communicate their joy through eye contacting, touching and joyful jumping before continuing on. It’s only a few seconds long, but long enough to tell this part of their story.

People noticed them and told me about them: not only were they spotted in the fragmented parks of the area and on the streets in-between, but they were also seen in several backyards, where they were seen successfully hunting with prey — a white cat — in their mouths.  They seem to have learned to navigate this new area well. Finally I was able to see her — the second coyote’s –face: these photos below have been substantially lightened to make the individuals visible —  they were essentially taken in the dark. Even so, the coyotes are very identifiable.

Far and away from home (above)

I pondered if these two would move on or become entrenched in this newfound location. The area has served as a sort of temporary “stopping off place” for several coyotes I’ve kept track of as they traversed the city, so would it be the same for these, or would it become a more permanent home — even though highly fragmented — since available territories within the city have been dwindling. I checked up on them only a few times as I continued to hear reports of them, and then they no longer were being spotted. Where had they gone?

WELL, as of mid-July, both youngsters, at 16-months of age, were back at their birthplace, after more than two months of absence! I guess they weren’t quite ready to disperse lock-stock-and-barrel yet, even though they sure seemed to have a lot of fun and excitement during their AWOL adventure. And certainly they faced less family aggravation during that time “abroad” than they are now facing at home, where coming-of-age relationships are beginning to show strain with another brother.

Rivalry between siblings escalates over time, especially between brothers, and that is now what is going on at home, although the relationship between the two adventurering siblings — this brother and sister — is thriving as evidenced by their continued exuberant play together and apparent preference for each other’s company. The “other” brother is the “outsider”, but he’s the dominant one and he’s displaying a lot of bullying these days. “Favorite” brother kowtows towards him: he has the most to lose if he is kicked out and not allowed to return to his best-friend sister.

Back to family politics: another brother gets between the two who returned.

© 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.

PostSript: The information in this article was gained by simple recognition of individual coyotes and from a vast knowledge about them gained through first-hand direct observation — without the use of radio-collars or identifying tags which are intrusive and harmful. My direct observations engender a much deeper and more expansive knowledge and understanding of coyotes than can be provided by simply mechanically tracking their movements.  “Look, Ma, no hands”. Try it! My “hard” facts include both photos and DNA from scat.

Death — Not By A Car

This posting was prompted by these photos I was sent of a dead coyote along a roadside in the Presidio on July 11. The caption stated that the coyote had not been hit by a car but it was presumed the culprits were the resident alpha coyotes in that territory.

© David Soren Harelson, all rights reserved [a walker added the flowers]

I was surprised, based on what I know, by this Presidio wildlife manager’s assessment. Certainly the resident alpha female has shown herself to be an aggressor, but she has never fought to the death — her targets have always fled rather than fighting it out to the end. I have never seen, or even heard of coyotes actually killing one another. They flee from vicious attacks, as did two other coyotes who were assailed by this aggressive female.

I would think this death should be investigated as a vicious dog attack and not assumed as caused by another coyote. That aggressive dog would still be out there at large and needs to be reined in. Teeth wound marks can be examined by those in the know for what kind of animal was the aggressor. If it indeed was caused by a coyote, then it actually should be stated how unlikely and rare such an occurrence would be.

I sent the photo with my assessment to my most knowledgeable friend/colleague, Walkaboutlou, who has had over 30 years of direct experience with this type of thing. He agreed. I’m including his response for its information and educational value:

“Good morning Janet,

Thank you for sharing this information and pictures with me. Your question is a valid one, especially in view of the pics.”I will say at outset what I say always with coyote: Anything is possible. However, in over 30 years of actively studying, tracking and observing coyote coast to coast, I have never seen coyote kill one another in territorial or inter-pack aggressions. I have seen evidence of some fierce fighting, but all indications were coyote flee, or stop, before death. Then, from what I could see in pics, there are the forensics of the bite. I can almost guarantee the tooth measurements don’t match a coyote tooth spacing/size etc. And the lacerations are very “sloppy”. The extent of damage indicates severe violence and power — more than any coyote gives out in fighting. My dogs have hunted for over 30 years as well. I’ve seen what they can do. I’ve also seen many species give bites/injury to my dogs. Including coyote. They can be graphic, but not in this pattern.

I’ve seen this type of bite/attack in 2 settings.
1) I’ve seen it when LGD [livestock guardian dog] catch a trespassing canine, dog, or coyote. (but even this is rather unusual.)

2) Many years ago, I helped infiltrate and break up a dog fighting ring. It was a very proud moment to have those people arrested and jailed. It also meant I saw some horrible things. Many bully type dogs, when fighting, will create damage like this. It’s rather sloppy, powerful, wide and more of a tearing, thrashing bite. Unlike coyote, but very much like a bully/pit bull type or a large, powerful and ultra aggressive dog. I would say this is the result of a very aggressive, powerfully built dog.

That’s just my assessment. Behaviorally and physically, this appears to be dog on coyote fatality. Not coyote on coyote.

© David Soren Harelson, all rights reserved [examination by a Presidio wildlife specialist]

I believe scientific research and PROOF is invaluable. But other than that, it’s based on feelings, belief and inclination. Really, we have to study any situation as a culmination and truly look at evidence. If they wanted true answers, the bites and trauma would be forensically examined. Bite/tooth marks measured. And the ample previous studies perused. Dogs and wolves routinely kill each other. We have literal evidence of that by the hundreds. It simply doesn’t exist in coyote. They can fight (and do) but they are a coursing predator. They usually avoid serious injury and prolonged fighting. I’ve seen dogs kill other dogs and coyote/foxes/cats etc…this is typical trauma for a very powerful, specific type dog (bully type, LGD (rarely) or staghound hunter) In this environment I would say a very powerful bully type latched on. It might even of been a loose dog. It had a lot of aggression. Might have even been “told” to get coyote. This isn’t a normal outcome. I’ve never seen in life, film or study, coyote on coyote fight to death.”

Keeping Pups Fed Can Be Demanding

Coyote pups were born during the first week of April here throughout San Francisco, and now they are three months old — the pupping season is progressing! As of the latter part of June, pups became completely weaned from their mother’s milk. They continue to be fed pablum which is being supplemented with small prey brought to them by the parents. Parents are working extra hard to keep up with the growing nutritional needs of their broods, sneaking in and out of their mostly hidden denning sites: it takes both parents to keep them nourished. While parents go off to hunt, youngsters are left alone for many hours at a time.

Lactating mom

Moms, of course, right from the start, need extra nourishment to insure the development of their pups before birth, and then for the six weeks afterwards to produce enough milk for them. But this is hardly the end of it.

Even before the youngsters are completely weaned in June, both parents introduce “pablum” to the youngsters’ diets: this consists of prey and other food that they’ve chewed up and ingested — and partly digested. They carry this food home in their bellies and regurgitate it for the youngsters. The following is a time-lapse video giving a glimpse into the time-consuming and often hectic task.

In the video you’ll see Mom hurries into the area — hurries so as not to be seen but also maybe to keep herself from digesting the food she carries in her belly — and quickly summons the youngsters who, of course, hurry after her until she expels the food onto the ground. The youngsters then lap this up voraciously. When she’s satisfied that they’ve cleaned most of it up, she’s off again for more, again hurrying through the gateway between her hidden den and the outer world. This process goes on multiple times a day.

Now, in July, whole foods are being introduced. The ending scene of this clip was captured only a week after the first clip, Mom is bringing in a small whole food — in this case a gopher. Both pablum and small whole food will be brought to coyote pups for the next little while as they learn to hunt for themselves, and as their digestive systems learn to handle the harder-to-digest foods.

It should be noted that every coyote parent is different. What you see here are two dedicated parents whose pups are foremost on their minds. But I have seen some parents who are not quite like this, specifically some mothers who were much more laid back, and whose mates seemed to take on the lion’s share of the feeding after the pups were weaned.

Story of One of My Oldest Coyotes, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Not quite 10 years ago I was living and roaming in eastern Washington state. The area’s ecosystems were called scablands, mainly made up of harsh, semi arid regions with natural pockets of green oasis. In these pockets you could find rare native swan, pelican, and Moose. In one of these pockets I took a rest, and in marsh reeds, found one of the oldest coyote I’ve seen.

He was a male, and newly deceased. I spent hours scouting and reading around him, as well as carefully examining him best I could. His face was literally grey/white. He was well fed but scruffy and looked worn down. To all appearances, he appeared to curl up in a reed bed, and die in his sleep. No grimace of pain, no kicking struggles or spasms. Just curled up in sleep, and in that position, the fire of his life went out. It was the most peaceful setting I’ve ever seen a wild coyote die in.

What shocked me was his teeth. Most were gone. The remaining teeth worn or broken. This guy was an elder.

I left him there. I collected old reeds covered him and hoped nature would keep him there awhile. I went back repeatedly, and nature absorbed him, leaving his bones in the reeds.

I have had some naturalists and a dentist look at his skull for any insights. All remarked he must have been fairly remarkable to survive so long. Estimated age between 9 and 14 years. Tooth loss was extensive but so was healing. The empty sockets were filled with bone regrowth (mostly) and infection was minimal.

Please click on the images to enlarge them so you can actually see the lack of teeth and how many of the tooth holes were filled in by his own body over time.

This old coyote’s teeth tell only part of an incredible story. The region he lived in fostered some of the most virulent coyote hunting I had ever seen. Every method to hunt and exterminate them was applied regionally. I wondered at his life, his eras, his times and stories. How many pups did he raise? Did he have a mate or mates as the years passed? What did he see and feel and know? To live that long in the tough scablands, he had to be strong, beyond smart, and full of strategic living. And to face aging-the inevitable aches of arthritis-who of us could carry on and keep healing as one tooth after another slowly fell out? No help. No dentist. No doctors. But the indomitable spirit of being a wild coyote was his medicine and support.

I feel honored to have seen his gray/white face at peace in his reed bed. He was absorbed into the landscape, instead of hanging from a ranch fence. When the land left only his bones, I kept his skull and often still look at it in wonder. The spirit of all nature is wonderous. But the indomitable spirit of coyote is still can’t adequately explain. We can only wonder, at such a survivor. And be glad there are many more out there…singing every night.

Lou🐾

Wild Plums, Eagles, Runt and Big Sis, by Walkaboutlou

“We are entering wild plum season, with blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fast approaching”

Hi Janet.

I hope you are well as summer flies. We are already entering wild plum season, with blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry also fast approaching.

Of course, this is appreciated by our local coyote. I was talking with one property owner who has been spying on some coyote pups the last 3 weeks. I enjoyed his observations and here are some.

“The pack consists of parents and a female yearling daughter with 5 pups. The pups were moved to a “rendezvous” area at around 6 weeks. Immediately, they changed dramatically. They started foraging for, and catching crickets, grasshoppers and mice/voles. There are also several plum trees in rendezvous area and the pups feast on plums daily. They are so full of fruit, bugs and mice, they sometimes ignore parents returning with food. They were at first scared of deer, but now playfully charge at them.

An incident occurred when it was noticed the “runt” pup had lacerations to his back and it seemed had trouble with back legs. Evidence indicates a golden eagle, as the pups hid for at least 2 days before being moved again. And an eagle kept returning to site and sitting in trees surrounding area. On 3rd day pup seemed listless, and then the older sister carried it a bit then groomed it some time, then slept with it. For several days she stayed with injured pup while parents fed pups AND older daughter while she cared for runt. The pup, though stunted and weak, is rallying again and hunting bugs and eating fruit, as well as being fed by parents.

No doubt it wouldn’t have survived without big sister’s week long special care. When the parents returned with venison (from scavenging road killed deer) the big sister guarded the runt while he ate a slice of meat as big as himself! He might be an undersized underdog, but he is grabbing the chances his big sister gave him. We see a coyote trotting along….but are almost never aware of the family bonds and life saving deeds they often share.”

Lou🐾🌾

“Most people don’t realize golden eagle are more than happy to take a young fox, coyote or wolf. This pup was very fortunate to escape, and have a big sis. ❤🐾

Raven Comeuppance

“If a raven can alert a coyote to potential live prey or carrion, both species benefit.  Common Ravens feeding on other predators’ kills is well documented, but ravens leading predators, such as coyotes, wolves, bears, or cougars, to potential live prey or carrion, by using vocalizations, is not as well documented, but may also exist. See “Communication Between Common Ravens and Eastern Coyotes” by Joan Collins.

However, here in San Francisco, where we have no large prey such as deer, ravens don’t like coyotes: they constantly harass coyotes with their loud cries of alarm and by swooping down or skydiving them. Raven alarm cries consist of incessant, piercing shrieks, which in some ways have the same alarmist intonation that we might use as we warn a fellow human: “Danger! Danger! Danger!” or “Run! Run! Run!” And the cries seem to run in groups of threes.

I happen to love ravens: their supreme intelligence, their long-term family life, and that they also mate for life. A “flock” of ravens, by the way, is known as either a “murder” of ravens, or an “unkindness” of ravens. Flocks of other blackbirds are referred to as “clouds”. When you have twenty to fifty of these birds shrieking all at once, it can be deafening.

This mama coyote, below, put up with 20 minutes of unceasing bullying, cawing, and skydiving by a single raven, the raven pictured above. She remained on edge and alert as she watched it. She reacted, as seen above, when the raven came within reach: “Kiai!”

Coyotes and ravens share many of the same resources, and it’s the competition for those resources that probably is at the root of the animosity. But not entirely!

The day before I took the above photographs, I found myself in a park broadcasting the most horrendously loud commotion of ravens. There must have been 100 of them. It sounded as if a real murder was in progress. And then I glimpsed the fomentor: a coyote hidden in the foliage. The noise was deafening and unceasing. A couple of the ravens skydove her — it happened too quickly to capture on video.  Her uneasiness could be seen through her erratic movements. Besides dealing with the ravens, she also was maneuvering to avoid people or being seen by them, evading a kid and his dad bicycling through the rough terrain who didn’t see her and weren’t even aware of the significance of all the noise.

The coyote moved around nervously. And then she got mad and kicked and scratched the ground angrily before disappearing from my view, but the super-penetrating, shrieking alarm cries continued. I decided to video the tree from where the cries came to record the absolutely amazing intensity of the noise. Two runners stopped to investigate: they saw the coyote and wondered why she didn’t flee. They asked me if the ravens might kill her. I smiled and said she’d be okay.

I then located the coyote with my camera in the distance. I took a few still shots and then switched to video again so that I could continue to capture more of the sounds: the sounds were much more impressive than the images of the coyote.

As I filmed, . . . well, just watch the video. Maybe the ravens should stop harassing coyotes.

Another Youngster I Knew Before Dispersal Seems to have a New Territory!

“Blondie” in early 2020, almost 3 years old, after dispersal.

After watching individual coyotes grow up and leave home, I resign myself to thinking that I will never see them again. So you can imagine my thrill in recognizing them in a new location. It’s like coming across a long-lost family member of my own!  Here you have such an individual — one of a growing handful of coyotes that I’ve re-discovered on territories within the city after they’ve grown up and dispersed. Many of our dispersing youngsters appear to move south and out of the city, and a substantial number are killed by cars. Those I find are survivors who did not disperse far.  [Here is a posting about some of the others].

This male is from a family of four siblings to survive into adulthood, ALL of whom I’ve been able to locate in their new territories. I use no collars or tags, just simple recognition. These are animals I had gotten to know well as youngsters through watching and documenting their family interactions as they grew up, including that of their parents and siblings, and recording their immediate family relationships.

The significance of this — its impact — is that I’ve been able to trace the major movements of a number of coyotes within the city, and I’ve been able to construct a limited genealogy of their relationships. Dr. Ben Sacks has extracted DNA from my scat samples and determined that all of our present coyote population here in San Francisco came from just four original founding coyotes: that means they are all related in some way and those connections which I’m unable to put together from visual recognition, his lab will be able to relate through DNA.

The fellow in this posting I named/labeled “Blondie” due to his appearance as compared to his siblings when he was a youngster. Here is his photo as a yearling youngster in 2018 before he dispersed:

Blondie, almost a year old

These photos are all somewhat blurry because they were all taken under almost no light, right at the break of dawn.

I’ve also followed the mate he hooked up with in late 2019, a female born in the Presidio in 2018. She dispersed permanently from that territory in 2020 when a new coyote alpha pair took over that property. When I first re-discovered Blondie and his new mate, they were regular trekkers to Lafayette Park and Alamo Square, but they abandoned that route early this year and moved on, looking for greener pastures. They’ve ended up at Lands End, close to her birth territory, but across town from his. Since they’ve been here a while and they’ve had a family, it is their claimed territory where they will remain. This is the same female with the infected ear which I wrote about in March earlier this year. The ear remains permanently damaged because the infection was not taken care of, but, hey, she still seems to be going strong!

“At home” in their claimed territory

©  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.

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

Setting Up House in the Presidio

Puff at his birthplace at one year of age, months before dispersal

Here in San Francisco, I’ve been able to follow about a handful of youngsters after watching them grow up in their separate families, after dispersal, after finding mates and territories of their own and then raise their own litters. This is an update and a slight expansion upon what I previously wrote about the fella I call “Puff”.

When coyotes first disperse, I lose track of them — many I don’t ever see again — so you can imagine my thrill whenever I find any of them again as full grown alphas and territorial claimants in their own right.

Puff is one of those: At three years of age, he has become the new alpha male in the Presidio — across town from his birthplace — after dispersing at over a year-and-a-half of age. I don’t normally state locations, but the coyotes there have already been heavily advertised in the Presidio, which is vast in size, so I don’t feel I am compromising their situation. And it is there that Puff has now become a dad, with all the attendant responsibilities of that role, including intense patrolling, keeping outsider coyotes out, guarding against dog intrusions, and bringing in food for the youngsters! In coyote families, dads help raise the young on a par with moms. So Puff has come of age in a new territory!

About the label, “Puff”. All the coyotes I watch I label according to a characteristic which helps me identify them. I rarely share these, but here are a few more as examples: Chert is the color of the chert rock, Silver has a silver patch on his back, Squirrel sat below a tree filled with squirrels. Scout was an explorer. Puff was a puffball. When a new mate joins a coyote I’ve been watching, I pair up the name appropriately: Bonnie’s new mate became Clyde. Scout’s new mate became Scooter.

It’s my first-hand documentation work that led me to the connection between the new Presidio alpha male and the youngster I watched grow up: no one else in San Francisco is or has been doing this kind of family-life documentation work. My DNA study will confirm my observations with harder facts for the hard-core “scientists” out there.

July 12, 2017

As a youngster, Puff was a playful teaser — the prime mover and leader of his large litter of which there were four surviving siblings (several died before the end of their first year — killed by human negligent acts, including a car).  Play fighting was how they passed the time: this activity, as might be expected, segued into true fighting as the males matured, and at 1.5 years of age, Puff and a brother teamed up to aggressively drive out a third brother — I was there to witness and photo-document the event.

However, I did not witness the actual trigger that drove Puff himself to disperse, if indeed there was one. I’ve watched coyotes disperse anywhere from 9 months to 2.5 years of age, where some were forced to leave by other family members (brothers, fathers, mothers) and some moved away without incident on their own timeline. Amazingly, I’ve been able to follow three of the four all four [updated] survivors in Puff’s litter to and at their new locations where they all are now parenting litters of their own which were born in April. I stay well away from den areas because this is what the coyotes would want, so I have not yet actually seen any pups this year, but I see all the moms who are obviously lactating.

Puff’s new mate is a coyote I call “Wired” (so named because of the radio-collar). The two of them took over the Presidio territory by force from the previous long-time territorial coyote residents there (as per a surveillance camera video capture at the Presidio).

Pre-Presidio, Wired had quite a story of her own: I was able to keep track of her as she roamed, looking for a place of her own. She even viciously pursued another coyote throughout the city after taking over and claiming that coyote’s territory: it turned out that this would be only a “temporary” takeover. Coyotes are well known for being opportunists, and she found something better! She ended up with Puff in the Presidio.

Puff’s birth territory has been abandoned by his parents and inherited by a sister who now is the pupping alpha female of that area. His Mom is still around but keeps a low profile. I’ve seen his Dad around, but not as the alpha male he had been. Oldsters get pushed out by younger reproducing pairs either from within or without of the family. And I’ve actually seen an older territorial pair leave a territory voluntarily, thereby ceding it to a daughter! THAT pair was seen several months later about a mile away, looking decrepit, worn-out and old. I have not seen them again and guess that their lives ended. Might they have known this was coming?

Immediately below is a recent photo of Puff and one of his new mate, “Wired”, and below these, several of the many photos I took of Puff and his siblings months before their dispersals.

Puff on the left as a full-grown, three-year old alpha male, and Wired on the right is his mate. 

©  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.

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

More

Coyote Territorial Movements To Four Corners of the City: An Update

For 13 years I’ve been documenting coyotes and their families in the city. Last year, the life of one of those coyotes — a loner female — bounced into one of charmed companionship with the arrival of a friendly young newcomer male, and then, within just a few months of that, it spun downhill into chaos when her territory was invaded and taken over by an older female. This older female happened to be associated with her new male companion, and it’s this association that may have drawn the older female to the area in the first place. After these life-changing incidents, I continued to follow the lives, behaviors, new relationships and movements through the city of these particular coyotes, most of whom I have been following since their births. This current poster is a summary update — the present point in time — of where things stand now with each of those players.

The coyotes involved had come together from distant parts of the city and interacted during just a brief period of time towards the end of 2018 and through the first half of 2019. In the end, after all the intense up-and-down drama (see Coyote Territorial Movements: Scout’s Story), they went their separate ways and to diametrically opposite corners of the city. Each matured in his/her own way, claimed a territory and found a family situation of their own making. An interesting twist to the story is that a brother of the young male companion ended up becoming the mate of the intruding female. OMG! The displaced female — the main character of the story — found her way back to and re-claimed her original territory where she has bonded and formed a family with a completely new male. [More, press HERE].

My observations of these movements, along with all behaviors and relationships, are made without invasive “gadgets” such as radio-collars and identification tags. DNA from scat will confirm what I’ve detected from my own naked-eye observations — this is my concession to the “scientific” method which focuses on stats and hard data. But look at how much scientists are missing beyond the “stats” and number-crunching: a whole world of interactions, activities, relationships, and personalities! Each individual is different and can’t be summarized as a statistic and neither can their individual histories!

“You are doing the work”, one of my sons tells me. It needs to be put out there. No one else is doing what you are doing — this first-hand research. The word “expert”, another son tells me, comes from the word “experience”: i.e., doing the footwork. Spouting a “degree” as a “credential” evades the question of what a person really knows about coyotes or our coyotes here in San Francisco.  I work alone, not as a team, I don’t have an organization or their funds behind me, and this is not a paid job. It might be time to toot my own horn a little!

© 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.

Recess

“Pictures are worth a thousand words.” These photos depict a triad of coyote lads playing. There’s horsing around, cuddling, competition, domination, ownership, and some teeth-baring reactions.

A ball they found is included in the play. You’ll see them run with the ball, chase each other, roll it with their noses, battle for it, entice the others with it, coddle the ball lovingly, play tug-of-war with it.

You’ll also see them play without the ball: teasingly grabbing or nipping another’s leg, provokingly grabbing another’s back, somersaulting over another or tumbling over each other in an affectionate pileup, lying on each other, nibbling on each other.

They played for about 30 minutes with something happening every second of that time. I’ve limited this posting to include about one photo a minute — it was hard culling them down to just 40 photos! Second from the bottom is a slide show you can quickly flip through by pressing the advance arrow, or you can let it play at it’s own speed.

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What I describe above is what meets the uninitiated eye, and it is, in fact, what is going on. But there is more going on. The playing includes subtle hints (subtle to us) of one-upmanship from one of the coyotes towards the other two: this challenging type of play comes only from that one coyote and not the others. The other thing going on is that this trio of coyotes, by their extended presence here, has claimed the area as their own in opposition to the dogs who have been banned from congregating in the area due to the coronavirus. So dogs and owners are actually looking in on this activity and the coyotes are knowingly “performing” for them.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Pensive Dad

This Dad is meticulously assessing and re-evaluating the safety of his denning area’s periphery. It’s something he does on a continuing and regular basis, and now even more so during pupping season. You’ll see him slowly walking and looking around, sniffing for WHO might have been here, and he listens to the voices close by: he can tell he is off people’s radar and so is unconcerned about them.

This hidden tunnelway sees skunks, raccoons, squirrels, red tail hawks, sharp shins, stellar jays, rats and mice . . . and an occasional unleashed dog who’s gotten whiff of a coyote and decided to pursue it. He is able to “see” all of this through his nose.

You might wonder what exactly is going through this father’s mind as he carries out his job: your guess is as good as mine, but you can be sure he, as a father, has the same concerns and worries that a human father might have: I think it’s important to see these commonalities.

Afterwards, he takes a drink of water from a watering hole to the left and then “marks” the area before moving on. He spent seven full minutes reflecting and thinking as he looked around this one spot. This is his seventh year as a dad: he knows the ropes and what he has to do to keep his family safe.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Pupping Season Gets Off To A Tough Start: One Family

The coronavirus may be adding a degree of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and worry to our lives. But what if you were already experiencing worry and anxiety from some big change in your life, say having a baby (or even triplets): imagine the compounding effects of the coronavirus fallout! Well, that’s what’s going on with our coyotes.

Reproduction is not a casual event for them. They go through a lot of planning, pain, and effort to insure the safety of their litters, and suddenly, with the upheaval of the coronavirus, danger intrudes on them, nullifying all their work to guard against it.  Dogs and coyotes are naturally at odds, so they must be kept apart.

Courting behavior here in San Francisco began back in February. This is when the “pupping season” officially began for me. Mama and Papa coyotes were “trysting” on February 11th: he jealously followed her around, shadowing her closely and keeping an eye on her every move.  She, on the other hand, ignored him. She remained aloof and kept her “social distance” from him. When she was ready — and that would not be until several days after the 11th — she would let him know, but until then she would be edgy and greet him with repeated snarls and repulses as he persistently crowded her.

I often see this female sunning herself out in an open field throughout the year. HE, on the other hand, is further along in years: for self-protective reasons, he is out less. I continue to see him at regular intervals, but those intervals have become longer over the last few years, so it’s a real treat when I do see him. I was able to catch this afternoon of courting behavior probably only because he was compelled to follow her out into her open field.

After a 63 day gestation period, I started watching for him on his “birthing rock”: that’s where he has always stood guard during the birth and week or so after the birth of a new litter. Only the rock “announcement” didn’t happen this year: I sensed unease and anxiety in the pairs’ movements instead, especially Dad’s.

Every year the coyotes have been able to keep their “big secret” deep in the woods where the brambles and thick underbrush provided the protection they needed. It’s been an area they could count on year after year after year.

This year the situation turned topsy turvy because of the coronavirus backwash: the parks became one of the few places people could go due to the shelter-in-place orders. The sudden surge in constant visitors and loose dogs has created an upheaval for these coyotes in this park, and for coyotes elsewhere.

I was able to watch dog intrusions at the bramble divide — the one dividing their private wilderness area from public paths and open space — over several days. The dogs’ repeated pushing their way through the protective passageway served to break down more and more of the twigs and dense foliage that formed a barrier into the deeper woods . . . and then even more dogs were attracted to this spot. Most dogs are not leashed here, so they head pell-mell wherever their noses lead them, and coyote smells are one of the attractions.

Signs at all entrances to the park prescribing, “leashed dogs only”, are ignored. I’ve filled-in during past pupping seasons with additional signs, but these are removed by angry dog walkers who feel it is their right to run their dogs unleashed.

The Presidio is a park in the city with the best signage I have yet seen: these are four-foot signs with strong, no-nonsense language highlighted in red, and strategically placed at multiple repeated intervals: their message is very clear and un-ignorable: “dogs PROHIBITED in this area”. So, too, by the way, are their “Stay 6 feet apart” social distancing coronavirus signs. Because of the coronavirus, the golf course at the Presidio is closed to golfers, and people are allowed to spread out and enjoy the out-of-doors there. Most people abide by the rules: 6 feet apart – masks – politeness. And the golf-course is almost  dog-free.

But even there, where the signs are almost in your face, there is a trickle of hikers who walk right down the middle of a path, and when you ask them to please give you six feet, they laugh scornfully, or run past you (at a 2 foot distance) without giving you time to move. They don’t like the rules and feel the rules don’t apply to them. And for them, the dog rules apply even less. Dogs leashed and unleashed are not allowed on the golf-course, but there almost always are some.

So, back to this particular coyote family. For a while I was seeing Dad’s scat along the path surrounding the once-secret passageway — this was his attempt to demarcate and ward off any dog intruders. Of course, few people or domestic dogs know how to read this kind of messaging, and the dogs could care less anyway.

Dad’s scat appeared for a while at regular intervals along a path adjacent to a chosen denning site.

I’m sure it’s because of this coronavirus upheaval that I found this coyote pair, close to their birthing due date, visiting a park almost a mile away. I’m sure they were staking out a safer place for their family. But, as things turned out, that location also had dogs that chased them. It was not chosen as a nesting spot, and neither was the underside of a porch which they checked out intensively. The coyotes are now back at their long-term territory with their new den tucked into the farthest reaches of the park, in the safest place they could find: it is not the place they have used for so many years. And they are avoiding the flood of dogs and people as much as possible by moving around much more exclusively at night than before.

  • Far and away from “home” turned out to be just as dangerous. [above]
  • Maybe under a porch this year? [below]

Below is a video of Dad who came out into the open a couple of days ago as people and dogs passed by and watched him from the surrounding trail: he’s eating grass and regurgitating, a behavior caused by undue stress. During this pupping season, the usual anxiety, worry, strain and unease of the season appear doubly compounded for them by the overwhelming increase of human activity in their parks and loose dogs intruding on them.

So how can you help? Please remember that what’s good and safe for coyotes is good and safe for you and your dog. Coyotes need to protect themselves, their mates, their pups and their denning areas. They’ll stand up to intrusions if necessary, especially during pupping season, which is right now. They’ll even charge at and message dogs nearby who are potential intruders. Pupping season is a stressful and demanding time for them in good times. But when they are overwhelmed, as during this coronavirus time, it becomes more difficult and more stressful for them. We all respond to stress and high-strung situations by snapping at those around us. Hey, let’s relieve the pressure instead of increasing it.

Please keep your dogs close to you on the trails. The minute you see a coyote, especially now during this anxious time for them, leash your dog and walk away from the coyote and keep walking away. You will be showing the coyote that they are not “an object of interest” to you, that you are just minding your own business and not interested in interfering with them. Coyotes need to know this. They just want to be left alone and the dogs to be kept away from them and their den sites. And since you should want this too, walking away solves the problem.

You may be followed by a coyote who is suspicious of your motives. Again, just keep walking away. If a coyote follows too closely, you can turn and stare at him/her as you move away, or toss a small stone at its feet (not AT it so as to injure it), as you walk away. For more on coexisting during pupping season, please see my post from March of 2015: Pupping Season: What Behaviors to Expect If You Have A dog, and What You Can Do.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Abused

What comes to mind when you are told that an animal has been “abused”? “Roughed up” or “deprived” or even “killed” are what most of us might think. But the term also means corrupted and compromised. This might be an extreme way of looking at the situation, but I’m hoping to drive the point home — and to increase awareness. This coyote, pictured above, listlessly wanders around or hangs around on park pathways, waiting for handouts: he’s been dulled by the humans around him who allow or encourage this behavior. He has lost his desire to hunt for himself and he has lost his wariness of humans: You might say these have been stolen from him by misguided feeders, and compounded by everyone who approaches or tries to befriend him — he thinks of all of these people as potential feeders. Folks who treat coyotes familiarly as tame Walt Disney cutouts may not be aware of the harm they are doing.

As he lounges around, his pace is slow, almost lethargic and his look is mournful, his ears are air-planed down and out to the sides. He’s not sick, though he might look so to many of us. My wildlife behaviorist contact suggests that this behavior is a “conditioned response”: he’s learned that it gets him what he wants: food, and maybe sympathy which will lead to food. He’s exceptionally good at his ploy. However, he’s also exceptionally good at hunting for himself — I’ve seen it. But, being the opportunist that coyotes are, he’s taking advantage of a situation and of a gullible and needy public which is falling into line for him. To them, the coyote looks scrawny (all coyotes are scrawny) and needs food. Or they want to “connect” with nature — “that’s my coyote” “that’s my friend“, I’ve heard. 

I understand people feeding and even trying to befriend wild coyotes have good intentions. Good intentions however do not always lead to good practices. Hand feeding and approaching coyotes can lead to negative outcomes for the coyotes, and sometimes humans.

*Coyotes are wild animals with instincts that tell them to stay away from humans and dogs. These instincts, paired with the opportunity to get easy food from humans — a learned behavior — creates a conflict within the animals.

*This conflict may 1) cause animals at times to move quickly and fearfully which can lead to accidental defensive bites. Or, as the animals become desensitized to people and are fed, they 2) may slow down as their fear dissipates. They come to expect food and when it does not come they may become frustrated. The frustration then may lead to aggressive demand behavior.  This is another scenario that can lead to a bite.

These push-pull conflicts are stressful for the animals. Studies show that cortisol, a stress hormone, is high in wild animals taking chances by getting closer to humans. Stress, in turn, may cause an animal to become reactive (bite): we know that most bites to humans are the result of approaching and feeding. A couple of weeks ago a little girl in an East Bay regional park was bitten<https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Coyote-attacks-6-year-old-girl-in-Dublin-park-15173092.php> by a coyote. 

Although I don’t know yet what provoked the attack, I’m sure there was a trigger.  The first possible explanation (not excuse) for the attack is people feeding the coyotes there — this is what’s behind most bites.  Also, pupping season is going on right now, and the sudden surge of people into the parks (due to the coronavirus) along with human encroachment close to a den area may have been involved. It is stress and fear that cause a coyote to become reactive — not aggression or that they’re hunting us — humans aren’t on their menu.

CA Fish & Game has killed one coyote as a solution to prevent further bites. It was the wrong coyote, so they will kill more: coyote’s don’t get their first bite free as dogs do. A ranger from CA Fish & Game told me that the department would be merciless towards any coyotes who bite, or scratch, or . . . brush up against a human. CAF&G could even start going after “potential biters” who are getting too close to people. EDUCATION and changing OUR behaviors is the long-term solution. Coyotes don’t learn a thing by being killed, but they can learn from our behaviors that we aren’t here for their convenience — we just have to learn how to act.

You can help this coyote, or any like him, to be the wary animal he is supposed to be instead of the dulled and enervated, and deceptively “tamed” animal he has now become. Please do not feed. Please do not befriend or act friendly towards him. Please do not approach or let him approach you. These human behaviors are not only compromising his wily wildness, they are setting him up for a possible sorry end. . . and setting up you or another walker for a possible nip. We need to scare him off if he’s sitting right on or close to the path waiting for handouts — he should be keeping at least 50 feet away from anyone. Please do this for the healthy stewardship of our coyotes as well as for your own safety.

The worst part of this story is that now two of his family members are echoing his behavior — coyotes learn by imitating their elders. They, too are now turning into replica deadbeat coyotes [DEADBEAT: one who makes a soft living by sponging it] who hang around lazily and almost languidly hoping for human handouts. We all need to scare them away or walk away from them always. Please let’s reverse his/their developing stray-dog behavior: even stray dogs bite. And please be an ambassador for them by helping others know what needs to be done. By doing so, you could be saving his life.

The two youngsters taking on the fed coyote’s behaviors.

*Including edits from a Wildlife Behaviorist who prefers remaining anonymous.

More: Food: the Behavior Shaper, and  Human Kindness Could Kill Our Coyote — wherein the detriment of feeding from cars is discussed.

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