End of Summer Ranch Observations, by Walkaboutlou

Here are some amazing end-of-the-summer observations I wanted to share. There’s so much information here, lots of detail, and incredible insight, beautifully woven together into a letter. Enjoy and learn! Janet

Hi Janet,

Lou here. Summer is ending and I’m piecing together local coyote snippets and news and ranch situations. All told, very consistent with local human behaviors.

On the ranches where no coyote are hunted, (and livestock are cattle) everything seems very “stable” to minimal. Small litters of 2-5. Predictable vocalizations. The usual subtle background living Coyotes seem to enjoy. The scat in these areas is full of plum and apricot seeds, deer hair, tons of blackberries, and overwhelmingly rodents.

Overall, of course each coyote is a fluid and distinctive individual, subject to rapid change and stages.

But if my summer scouting had a theme, it would be the contrast of Coyotes behavior even in similar regions.

For example, non hunted coyote in cattle ranches (4000 acres or more) seem to develop small, stable packs and territory. The food and ecosystem are abundant in large ranches. If the cattle can range, grass grows leaving vast regions of insects, and rodents. The pups learn early to forage on grasshoppers, mice. Very predictable quiet patterns. Often seen in distance in diurnal behaviors. By Fall, usually 2-3 pups remain. (accidents and natural predators curb litter survival) Pups seem to want to hang with pack a year or 2. Also, prey is scavenged until gone. A deer dying from being hit by car (running off to die in brush) or fawns harvested are eaten and visited until gone. Nothing is wasted.

The contrast again in ranches that hunt coyote hard is almost shocking. I have determined large, sheep operations are very challenging for Coyotes to coexist peacefully. If it’s large, LGD can only be in so many places. Also, large herds of sheep graze the land intensely. The cropped grass becomes a giant short lawn, unsuitable habitat for rodents, insects etc..if sheep are grazing long, you’ll notice hardly any sounds of crickets etc…and blackberry bushes are cut by ranchers because sheep get entangled. So the lack of forage, food and cover changes the setting. Add to this intense human hunting. Very intense. The coyote often become nocturnal. The closely cropped land and human hunters do not favor open, relaxed foraging. There are minimal rodents. So the coyote tend to hole up all day and hunt far and wide very hard at night with time as a factor. And pressure. Another complication-large herds of sheep especially isolated always have old, sick, hurt or dead. Or a scattering of lambs in all directions. The coyote scavenge dead sheep, or prey on lambs. Their pups are weaned on sheep. The smell becomes embedded as food-and a cycle is created.

Other reactions caused by human pressure-non hunted coyote females pick a mate around 2nd year. Hunted female coyote often pair bond as yearlings. So daughter’s breed earlier and with larger litters in answer to hunting pressure.

The social ramifications are evident. Many ranchers will hunt and leave a coyote as a magnet for surviving pack members to investigate, becoming targets themselves. Only this doesn’t work long. Hunted Coyotes learn to truly leave the dead behind. Some mothers will not check out a deceased pup or mate. This detachment of survival to me is amazing but sad too.

Also, such hard living Coyotes show other behaviors. They quickly, hurriedly hunt. And more readily raid any livestock or pets that opportunities give. They often do not return to a carcass after one feed. They’ve learned hunters, greyhounds or snares are sometimes waiting.

Pups scatter and really practice independence by Fall. The long puppyhood of stable packs is absent in hunted coyote.

All in all, stable coyote packs and hunted coyote are vastly different. And unfortunately, the unpredictability of hunted coyote makes them unwelcome even among stable packs. They really are different. And bring behaviors that can influence others.

I wish I could just make everyone leave coyote alone. They would still be amazing. But we would see and learn so much more without ignorance or outright war. Coyote are definetly mirrors of the local humans. If I want to know about people’s culture/lifestyle/knowledge or lack of, the local dogs and coyote will inform me.

Keep Studying and Coexisting.

Lou🐾


Hi Janet-I did forget to add one element to my summer coyote scouting.

This pic off internet sums it up well.

In areas where packs of coyote live more or less normally, you’ll find more or less the usual range in size and color of coyote. Especially in West. However, where coyote are hard hunted and scattered year round, you will find some that obviously have more then coyote genetics. This goes in hand with younger females (yearlings) breeding and also lower coyote numbers. If they are hit hard locally, surviving coyote have no hesitation breeding with dogs, especially free roaming ranch dogs (often kelpie/cattle dog/collie types).

This, in turn, can create more variety in local subspecies of coyote-and no doubt affects some. Larger size or bolder demeanor are often traits of 1st generation crosses. They tend to be absolved back into wild populations. But are another aspect of hard hunted coyote.
In laymans words-if you take away a coyote’s mate and think she’s beat, she’ll just recruit your dog as her next husband. And the pups won’t be Lassie. Either way, coyote will turn the dice of man’s efforts into a win.

Lou🐾

Night Vision Snippets: Peeks at Pup Feedings

Here, I’ve consolidated several very short video clips from over a month ago which I caught on a trail camera: pup feedings. You’ll see a mother coyote regurgitating food for a very hungry and excited pup who can’t wait to eat. Then you’ll see the same youngster happily carrying a small rodent off to a quiet place where she can enjoy it. Thirdly, you’ll see Dad on his way to deliver food to his brood at 3am in the morning: you have to wonder how many trips he must make to feed four young mouths. Next, a youngster runs excitedly after Mom and yanks away the prey which she has brought home for the pup. Finally, a pup, now several weeks older than before, carries something large which I can’t really make out in the infrared light. It’s either prey that has been given to her by a parent, or a toy which she has found and is treating as prey.

Coyote Family Playtime for a 3-Month Old Singleton Pup


This tiny family responds to sirens!

She’s an “only pup” — she has no litter mates. An “only pup” is known as a “singleton” pup. But she is not an “only child” because she has an older brother: a yearling born the year before. He was part of a litter of five, and is the only youngster from that litter to remain part of the family. That yearling plays with the pup, as do Mom and Dad, as you’ll see in the video.

Nighttime is when coyote families engage in most of their family activities: the whole family plays together on and off — when adults aren’t off hunting — during the length of the evening. And then they rest or sleep in different locations during the daytime.

The video above is a composite from one of my rarer daylight captures of family play. Note that, after the intense and fun play session above, the “adults”, trickle off, one at a time, in the end leaving the pup alone for the rest of the day. At night, too, they leave her for long extended periods of time when they go off hunting. She knows she must stay home and keep hidden.

After watching them leave, the pup wanders sadly, slowly, and unenthusiastically back — you can tell this by the lack of energy in her pace — to her hiding place. And that’s how the days go by as she is growing up.

Scout Continues On The Run

Scout disappeared from my radar about six weeks ago, after a short return to her old territory at the end of June from where she left abruptly after seeing that her vanquisher was still there. It appears that this little coyote will never give up hope of returning. . . . some day, some day.

For those who do not know her story, she was viciously driven out of the territory she had owned for three years by another coyote, Wired, in February. Sadly, humans probably had a hand in the outcome of the territorial battle.

July 20th. Photo credit: WMontgrain

A couple of weeks ago she resurfaced in a park across the city. Some of the photos showed her looking well and healthy, but others showed her looking very thin, even factoring in that all coyotes look scrawny at this time of year because it’s the end of their shedding season: there is nothing left of their 3″ thick and fluffy winter coats.

She is an interloper without a territory, and interlopers are not allowed to stay long on claimed territories. The new park has long belonged to another entrenched coyote family. Scout was there for only about ten days, when a neighbor saw the territorial fight on Sunday, July 21st at dusk that seems to have ended her stay there. She has not been seen there since this happened: she is again on the run, leading the life of a fugitive.

So Scout is continuing to experience hard times. I try to console myself be remembering that coyotes are resilient and are made to deal with adversity. We all hope she is okay.

I continue to see Wired very sporadically in the territory she took over from Scout, but few other people have ever seen her there — she is a much more elusive critter. She makes regular long exploratory trips to all corners of the city: her latest excursion took her to 19th Avenue, close to Stern Grove. After these wanderings, Wired always returns to the territory she won from Scout where she continues to be irregularly, but often enough to keep Scout away and homeless. UPDATE 8/8: According to her radio-collar emissions (as per the ecologist at the Presidio) she has spent her recent time at the Presidio and Lands End, and been all the way down to Brisbane.

Trap Cameras: Dad Patrols / Pup Explores

Today, I’m posting a video sequence of a coyote on his patrolling rounds, and of a youngster investigating the area, captured remotely on a trap camera. Pups are 3 months old now and their curiosity is insatiable, of course! But this posting is more about trap cameras which aren’t as benign as most people think.


Use of trap cams and what I’ve seen. I’ve used them extremely sparingly in the past. Out of respect for what coyotes want and so as to observe natural rather than fearful or protective behavior, I stay away from denning areas: rather, I’ve used field cameras to count pups after they start exploring well away from their dens. And I’ve used them more recently for tracking an interloper coyote who was driven from her territory by another coyote.

There IS a difference between trap-cameras and human hand-held cameras, but not necessarily in the way people imagine: I’m referring to the intrusiveness factor. In some ways they may be less interfering than human presence, but in many ways they are more so.

Some of the reactions of coyotes to my and other trap cameras as seen in images from those cameras led to my doing a mini-study on trap-cameras. The outcome: I found that these devices are surprisingly intrusive from the animals’ point of view as seen by the images of their reactions to them. On the other hand, although my motives have been “tested” a couple of times by coyotes (I’ve always walked away when this happens), this is rare. Although they’ve watched me, they effectively have not reacted to me, a human photographing them: this is why I’m able to document their natural family lives. We have plenty of other humans passing through the parks in San Francisco so I just blend in with the rest of them. If these had been non-urban coyotes not used to having humans around, I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do.

Conversely, coyotes DO routinely react to trap cameras, often adversely, and they are as aware of them as they are of any human in their area.

For the coyote, I think it boils down to an “understandable known” which is a human taking photos (and I’m talking about doing so respectfully and from a respectable distance), versus an “incomprehensible unknown” which are the clicks and whirrs and flashes of a contraption without a human presence yet “triggered” and focused on them when they appear: that’s when the lights and the noises go on. I’ve even seen several coyotes test this: they stand in the distance waiting for the IR lamp to turn off or the noises to begin, and then they make a slight movement that confirms THEY are the triggers.

So how are these field cameras intrusive? Coyotes often become startled by them, stopping dead in their tracks. The cameras elicit stares and investigative or wary reactions, especially as the coyote gets closer to them. The cameras all make sounds, and coyotes can hear even the faintest of noises, even if you can’t. So even if these cameras are missed visually by coyotes, they still know they are there — this must make them even more disturbing. Even the “black glow” cameras, where the IR flash is invisible to humans, are very visible to coyotes. I’ve actually seen coyotes interact with these cameras by angrily defecating in front of them, kicking dirt in anger at them, and even taking them down when they can [see photos and video below]. Wow! 

When the field cameras are up high and unreachable, they appear to be ignored or not to be seen, or so I thought, until I looked closer. When I set them on high ledges where they could be accessed by animals — they were.  So it’s a fallacy that trap cameras are not intrusive: coyotes know these are human instruments and likely malevolent in some way. Coyotes may even know you are spying on them.

“In the name of science” is often accepted as a good excuse for using them. Scientists want their “facts”, but people should know that they do impact the animals on deeper levels than they might be aware of. 

Having said all this, I have used trap cameras, as I stated above. Recently, my cameras were left up overtime when I neglected to pick them up for several days because I was too busy to go get them, and I discovered that the cameras caught some behaviors worth posting, always sprinkled with the reactions I’ve just described.

Some of what the cameras caught include: Dad bringing back prey to his pups, a mom regurgitating her food for her only pup, a youngster waiting around impatiently for his parents to return from hunting, older sibling playing with a younger pup,  a mom playing with her youngsters as though she were one of them, parents trying to shoo their youngster into hiding in the bushes but youngster doesn’t heed them, a dad pacing and standing very still as he listens carefully for a possible intruder he’s heard! I’ll post some of these in the coming weeks. The video today shows a pup exploring with insatiable curiosity, and Dad patrolling before that.

Some images and a video of coyotes encountering trap cameras.  Here are examples of how coyotes reacted with suspicion & investigation, kicking dirt in anger, defecating in anger and as a message, and knocking down the camera [Press one of the images to scroll through the gallery].

Another example: https://www.ktvq.com/entertainment/trending/video-extra-we-said-no-cameras

Habitat Destruction

Two Coyotes, A Deceased Owl, and A Pussy Cat

Coyote stories usually involve more than just what meets the eye: background details and previous situations can contribute to filling out an understanding of the story. Then again, all stories are simply slices of time — partial stories. We tell them with a satisfying or instructive outcome or conclusion, but the story, in some form, of course, goes on. This entire observation lasted only a few minutes, but it was interesting, especially when expanded upon with a few things I know about these particular coyotes. But you’ll have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps: it’s still only a partial story.

Two coyotes were out foraging for mice in their field, when one of them came upon a find-of-the-week treasure: a dead barn owl. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, and here, an opportunity presented itself and was acted upon.

An important word, again, about RAT POISON because that’s probably what killed the owl. Rat poison, or rodenticide, has been found in every owl we’ve taken up to WildCare for a necropsy. The owl would have eaten poisoned rats and mice which killed him/her. In the necropsies we’ve had done, the rodenticide was repeatedly found laced throughout the entire critter’s body. So this is probably the condition of this found dead owl. And now, coyotes have it. The poison in one owl probably isn’t enough to kill a coyote, but it can affect them, slowing down their reaction times and dulling their nerves: this is what rodenticide does. For instance, their chances of being hit by a car become greater. Cars are primary coyote killers in urban areas. And another tidbit about scavenging coyotes: they clean up carrion (dead animals) which keeps diseases from spreading — the dead owl at this point was carrion.

To continue. The female coyote grabbed the owl and ran with it to keep it away from the 2nd coyote, with the 2nd coyote at her heels. These two coyotes tease each other with mice which they grab from each other when the other coyote is unaware, but also I’ve seen that when the female finds prey on her own, she’ll keep and bury it just for herself so the other coyote won’t be able to find it. In these ways, coyotes interact with each other and food: teasing, sharing, not sharing.

internet photo

I ran to catch up with the coyotes but missed any more shots for this story. What I saw was the coyote with the owl clenched in her mouth running away from the second coyote as they zig-zagged their way around a community garden, and then, interestingly, a large orange tabby cat, right at their tails, zig-zagging along after them. Hmmm. Another tidbit of information about these two coyotes: they are scared of cats and run from them.

I lost track of them all until the two coyotes emerged with kind-of victory grins, but no owl. Had they buried it, or had the cat claimed it by scaring the coyotes away? I tend to think the lead coyote buried the owl to hide it as I saw her do a couple of days earlier with a road-killed raccoon she had found. But who would she be hiding it from? You can be sure that the interested animals following her know exactly where she cached it.

Both coyotes then climbed the hill above where they had been zig-zagging along. The cat was gone. The second coyote, the one who had followed the one with the owl, went off to hunt a little. But the first coyote plopped herself down within view of where the owl would have been buried and kept her eye on that area — until two dogs appeared and chased her away from her lookout post. But the dogs had no idea what she had been guarding, or even that she had been guarding anything at all. Dogs simply like to pursue coyotes.

My story was going to end there, leaving readers to guess who ultimately got the prized owl, but two days later I found the smelly old owl carcass pretty much still intact, but far from where the two coyotes and cat were seen with it. The coyotes may have simply been using the carcass as a toy, teasing and playing “keep-away” from each other. I wondered why it hadn’t been eaten, and I wondered if coyotes can sense rat poison and that the bird had been ill. I don’t know the answer, but since no coyotes were around, I took the opportunity to bag the carcass and dispose of it into a trash bin, to keep our coyotes safe from the high possibility of rat poison. The time had passed when a necropsy could have been accurately performed.

Previous Older Entries