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 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 original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with proper 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.

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 original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper 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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