Finding Scout

Scout is one of the coyotes — a 7-year-old — whose life I’ve been following and whose story I’ve been telling. However, she has pretty much been off of my radar for the last six months: she all but disappeared from her territory during that time-frame. I knew she was not far away because she appeared regularly in her old territory, even if only briefly, in the dead of night, with her mate, Scooter, and sometimes one of her yearlings: I have been able to capture this because of a field camera I put out in her old territory. And, through the field camera, I’ve been able to capture a little about her continued story. Here is an update and summary of her story.

Update: What the field camera showed about Scout was her rounded shape back in March and then in April her losing that roundness and gaining the lactating tits of a nursing mom. Ahh, so Scout had another family — her third litter. But she had them elsewhere, not in her old long-time claimed territory — the territory she had battled for so valiantly when an intruder tried taking it from her in 2019. Few coyotes, once established in a claimed territory, move away, so this is an unusual situation. Of additional interest is that she returns almost nightly to her old territory where several of her yearling pups still remain.

These are field camera photos taken at the old territory, showing Scout fat to the left, Scout svelte again in the middle, and Scout lactating to the right the camera is on a path she habitually frequented and apparently still does.

Video allowing me to identify her

I kept my eyes and ears open for any clues as to her new location. People told me about coyotes they had seen, but either they didn’t have photos, or the photos were not of Scout. One lady I met told me she had taken some videos of a coyote on the street and offered to share them with me. I sent her my email, asking to see the videos, but she forgot to check her messages until just a week ago, six months after our exchange! So a week ago I saw the video to the right where I was able to identify Scout! I then spent several mornings talking to more and more people where the video had been taken, and within a few days who should I come across but Scout herself!

I gasped, and Scout saw me. She of course must know who I am from my documenting her movements and behaviors over the last seven years. She stopped and looked at me, knowing I would not approach, and then she lay down for a few minutes, allowing me time to watch her. After a few minutes, her mate, who is much more flighty and wary, appeared and then fled when he saw a group of people nearby. But he stopped when he saw Scout watching me — her calmness seemed to calm him. After a few minutes, he must have beckoned her because she turned to go with him: he and she are a tight team, and work and communicate seemingly telepathically as a unit. It’s really nice to observe this!

Scout and Scooter at their new location a few days ago. Please remember that I don’t reveal locations for the coyotes’ sake: for their privacy and security, but I wanted to share Scout’s continuing story, which many people have followed on my blog.

Over the next few days I found that they were there with one of their yearling sons born last year, Cyrano. Over those next few days, I observed them patrolling the surrounding area and I observed some of their food sources: pizzas left out for them, I saw them hunt and eat gophers, and a cat (yikes!). There are ducks not far away and squirrels all over the place in the immediate area, and I know they trek over 2 miles each night to mark their territory as they search for and return to food sources they know about: for example, they’ll return to fruit trees, once ripened, until the fruit is gone.

To the left is a one-year-old son who migrated with them to their new location, and to the right is one of their new pups — I’ve counted two (there may be more) in the litter born this last April.

And I even glimpsed two pups hanging around what must be their densite. I make it a practice to stay away from dens, but this year I literally and inadvertently tripped over a handful of them. These particular dens are minimally hidden and placed where anyone would walk. If there had been predators around, these pups would have perished long ago. Then again, maybe the coyotes comprehend that there are no real predators around. Loose dogs could injure them, but most are not actively looking for them as prey to eat.

There’s plenty of food in the area

The den is a hollow under a fallen tree

Parents patrol the streets and fields — they know everything about their territories.

They visit their old territory at night where this, their two-year-old offspring appears to be holding down the fort!

A little background for those who haven’t followed her story here. Scout was the first *litter* if you want to call it that — she was a singleton pup — born in 2015 to a young 2-year-old mom and that 2-year-old’s 6-year-old father. Yes: inbreeding. There was a lot in that family. There are stories about her birth family on my blog.

I watched Scout grow up as a defiant little rascal — her father was constantly chasing her and throwing her on her back because of her defying him. I guess she had had enough of it by 9-months of age, because that’s when she dispersed. It’s one of the earliest dispersals I’ve seen — most take place between 1 and 2 years of age. I last observed her in her birth territory in January of 2016, and two weeks later, in February, she had appeared where she would remain for the next six years. It was a vacant territory 1.6 miles away from her birthplace. There had been territorial coyotes there before, but the last alpha was killed by a car, and not until Scout arrived was that vacancy refilled. Luck was with her, considering that the majority of dispersing youngsters move south and out of the city due to a lack of territorial vacancies within the city, and on top of that, while dispersing, many, many get hit and killed by cars. Cars are their chief killers in cities.

Scout remained a loner for three more years. Remembering that coyotes are highly social, this must have been difficult for her. She filled the void by watching humans and their dogs. Some people fed her. Some people fed her from cars. This caused her to hang around, wait for food, chase cars. If she saw you eyeing her, she would perform — she seemed to like attention, which most coyotes do not: she would start playing with a stick, or a ball, or do zoomies — almost in imitation of all the dogs she had been watching. She seemed to smile more often than other coyotes I see — maybe she was imitating her human and dog neighbors?? There was one dog she hated and would bark at when he came into sight, there were other dogs she ran from, and others she would test: people thought she was playing with their dogs, but I could see it was simply *testing* behavior.

Finally, into her 4th year at this territory, a strapping young fellow appeared and both she and he hit it off. This was a fellow I had watched grow up in North Beach, over four miles away. He was dispersing now, at 1.8 years of age. Their immediate friendship was amazing to watch: this previous loner was now smitten with the company of another coyote. They walked around together gazing in each others eyes (I’m not kidding), they played and cuddled and teased each other. They hunted together and howled together and she looked after him and would get worried when she felt he was endangered. Rightly so: he ended up acquiring a broken ankle (diagnosed by my wildlife vet based on videos I sent her) after being chased by a dog. I had to convince everyone to please leave that coyote alone, that the injury would heal on its own, which it did. Several people went so far as to hire a trapper so they could *fix* the coyote. People simply didn’t realize how powerful nature is as a healer. But also removing a coyote from his social situation would have been absolutely detrimental for both him and Scout, disrupting the relationship and opening the way for another coyote to take his place, which his absence would have done.

For four months, everything went smashingly well, with Scout paying less attention to people, dogs, and cars, and spending more time learning to be the social coyote she was meant to be, and then suddenly everything was turned upside down for her: another powerful little female showed up who decided to fight for Scout’s territory. There was a skirmish under a car and blood spurted out. The intruder had been radio-collared and tagged only a month or so earlier in the Presidio. Unfortunately, the radio-collar gave that intruder, I call her Wired, an advantage: it served as protective armor. I next saw Scout with bloody gashes on her neck and forehead. And then I saw her flee as she was pursued throughout a lot of the city by this single-minded female intruder. I followed their trajectory into Diamond Heights, Dolores Heights, Noe Valley, McLaren. Scout attempted to return to HER territory several times, but each time she was repulsed by Wired. This exile lasted about 6 months, and then suddenly one day, Wired was no longer around. It turned out that Wired had found a better territory in the Presidio, which is where she has been living with her mate born and dispersed from North Beach. They’ve had several litters of pups.

So, I think to her great surprise, Scout found herself returning to her territory without having to face Wired. She carefully allowed herself to become more and more visible and then more and more at ease there. That was in June of 2019. That fall, a new male appeared. Although the relationship was nothing like her first love (!), her bond and devotion to him, and his for her, has grown. In 2020 they had their first litter of four pups, three of whom survived to adulthood. In 2021 they had a second litter of 6 pups, one of whom was killed by rat poison and one by a car. You can read about all this here.

It is during the fall of 2021 that everyone who knew her started seeing less and less of Scout and Scooter. They stopped their sentry duty where they had been seen daily for years. Everyone began to see them more sporadically and for shorter periods of time. And then I noted, they no longer appeared at all, except in the deep of night caught on a trap camera. That was six months ago.

Addendum: I can speculate on what might have contributed to her move based on what I know was going on, but of course we’ll never know for sure if these were contributing factors. *The huge number of dogs in her old territory didn’t seem to be an issue earlier on, but as Scout got older they may have become more of a problem for her — harder for her to deal with. *Last summer one of her pups born last year died of rat poisoning and we noticed that she herself became slow and lethargic at that time — and it’s shortly after this that we stopped seeing her so often: might she have ingested a less-than-lethal dose of the same rat poison that killed one of her sons? It’s something that might have influenced her to move. *Then, a large fenced-in area — and therefore dog-free refuge which she often retreated to — became a construction zone so she no longer had a totally safe place to go, especially if there were to be more pups. *Most of the holes under the fence of that sanctuary were boarded up at the time construction began: she might have feared total blockage and so had to find a new place. *Most importantly, a vacancy would have to have occurred in her new territory, and in fact, a coyote was picked up DOA, hit by a car not long before she moved. *The new territory is much wilder and has water nearby — it’s definitely a *step up* for her, which may also have contributed to her deciding to move. *Might she have wanted to leave her old territory to a youngster? This is actually what has happened, but was this by design? We don’t know. *Lastly, although I won’t know until all the DNA results are in from my population study, I have a feeling that her mate, Scooter, was probably originally from the new park — was born there — and it possibly is because he led her back there that they moved there. All these things were going on and may have contributed to the move, but ultimately, we simply don’t know why she moved, keeping her toe in the old territory, so to speak, by visiting almost every night.

© 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.

Dens: Precarious Situations

Forward: Almost ten years ago, in 2012, in Atlanta, several people noticed coyotes in and around Candler Park (450 acres or 2/3rds of a square mile) where they had not been spotted before. City authorities were brought in to assess the population in the park and discovered 6 coyote dens. They concluded that coyotes were multiplying wildly and taking over, and they would have to get rid of them. I was contacted to help fight this proposal and educate the public about the reality of coyotes. Because of our efforts, the neighborhood association in charge decided not to cull/kill the coyotes. Unfortunately, I was told later on, that a couple of homeowners wouldn’t accept this studied decision, so as individuals they hired a trapper who eliminated them. :( Other coyotes soon filled the vacated niches — shooting coyotes doesn’t get rid of them for very long.

By the way, if you are interested, “fear of another species taking over” is a common human fear, and has been written about in this recent article: https://milliontrees.me/2022/06/08/starlings-vagrants-and-dead-birds/. Targets include coyotes, plants, birds, and other people who in various ways can be labeled differently from ourselves.

Coyote facts: On any one territory, with rare exceptions, there is just one coyote family consisting of an alpha male and female, their pups born within the year and in some cases one or two of the pups born the previous year — the older youngsters stick around long enough to help with the new litter before dispersing. All other coyotes are kept out of the family-owned territory, thus limiting the population to that one family. Territories run between 2 and 4 square miles each, so population is not all that dense. All youngsters inevitably and eventually disperse, leaving the two alphas as the static owners of the territory over a longer period of time.

As for the number of dens on each territory, each coyote family always digs multiple sets of dens — over 20 have been found in one of our territories here in San Francisco, all dug by the same coyote parent pair — to have ready to move into if needed, though most are never used. More dens on one territory do not mean multiple families — it’s simply a safety measure.

This video shows two denning areas of the same family. First you see Dad digging and then youngsters exiting and entering where he dug. The video then shifts to a small opening in a tangle of blackberry brambles as coyotes enter and exit. These dens with the same family are 300 feet apart and used synchronously.

Last week I wandered through a small 100 square feet area of another of our coyote territories here in San Francisco and randomly spotted six such dens. The majority of them were not in use, but two that I found — maybe there are more — were being used synchronously, with pups apparently moving between them at their own will, as I was able to detect over the next few days. Five of these dens are dug into sandy soil. The other den being used simultaneously by this particular family is hidden in a tangle of blackberries, about 300 feet away. [Addendum: on June 13th I discovered another such active den, 600 feet away — that’s about a tenth of a mile between active dens belonging to the same family!]

Sand-dune den to the left; the one in the middle appears not to be used; and to the right, a den hidden within a tangle of overgrowth (with a pup snoozing in front of the opening).

Having multiple dens allows families to readily move to escape any dangers if needed. The photos below show a youngster with bug-pocked marks on his side, and a dad scratching himself vigorously to dislodge fleas: flea infestations in the dens is one reason they move to another den. Pups are also moved if parents sense potential dangers near their dens, mostly from dogs and insensitive people.

Pup and an adult showing signs of flea issues.


Examples of other dens throughout the city where I’ve spotted pups can be seen above: to the upper left is a den nestled under a carpet of ivy (yes, that’s a coyote pup visible through the tangle); in the middle is a hollow under a log; to the right behind a cyclone fence is a den in the no-man’s trashed area running along a freeway; and below, yes, they sometimes den right under our back porches!

Coyotes either dig their dens from scratch, as you saw in the sand-dune den, or they take over existing burrows of other animals and expand these. Caverns under rocks or openings under fallen tree trunks, or even non-dugout hidden areas with piles of leaves which are protected with brambles are used as dens. Fenced-in areas such as PUC Water Reservoirs or the fenced-off shoulders of freeways are also used: these areas are free from dogs and therefore very attractive to new coyote parents. And I’ve seen several dens under people’s porches! Unfortunately, there was a case several years ago where humans didn’t want coyotes around, so they boarded up the area under their porch to keep them out — but in this case, the pups already had been born and so the parents were blocked from their infants on the outside and unable to get in and nurse them. When it was all figured out, it was too late, and the pups perished. :(

A youngster has been given a squirrel by a parent.

Most coyote dens I’ve seen are meticulously hidden from access to people and dogs, at least 100 feet away from pedestrian traffic — off the beaten track. Coyote parents want to keep their pups secret in order to protect them. But some are not hidden very well at all and I really can’t imagine what went wrong with such a den placement. These dens might be placed just 15 feet from a walkway in a park with plenty of foot traffic and plenty of dogs. Even in these less-than-hidden dens, interestingly, the pups are left to themselves most of the daylight hours and much of the evening. The parents come to nurse and feed them: the above video shows a little pup running off excitedly with a prey squirrel brought by a parent — youngsters at this time of the year are still too young to hunt for themselves.

The immediate dugout den/crevice/bramble den itself is a temporary structure and used only for birthing, nursing, and as a hideaway for several months. The dugouts have an opening of about 10″ at their entrances and are a little wider within: they are a little like a long tunnel and I’ve measured some abandoned ones to be around 6′ deep. After several months — the same as with birds’ nests or our own bassinets — these are outgrown and abandoned until the next season. An full-size coyote could enter and hide there, but the whole family as it grows would not be able to.

Beyond the den structure itself, the greater denning area is larger than the size of a football-field. Parents defend this football-field size area and more than 1/4 mile beyond it from dogs. Dogs routinely pursue coyotes and threaten them: coyotes have learned that dogs are their chief enemies in the city. The entire area should be referred to as a denning site, and this whole area should be a no-dogs or leashed-dogs-only area.

To the left, a Mom is keeping an eye on active dogs several hundred feet away. In the middle, a Dad in another territory, snoozing and guarding not far from (but neither close to) his densite. To the right: a dad may approach a dog he feels is threatening with a snarly face and arched back: you’ll need to tighten your leash and do as he asks: move away from the area.

A dad will walk around the denning area, and by the den itself on his patrolling rounds several times a day during daylight hours. Sometimes he’ll snooze nearby, within visual range of the den, but seldom (as far as I have seen) immediately beside the den — he doesn’t want to give the location away. I seldom see Moms in the area, though I know she comes by to nurse the pups — she is able to slither in and out, evading detection, and she comes at night when no people are around. I have seen a mom standing or sitting sentry on a lookout, maybe 100 feet away from her den when a groups of dogs was around. If the dogs were to chase her, she would lead them away from this den site. In contrast to this kind of sentry duty, I saw a mother a few days ago, off alone in a distant and totally different hidden part of her park away from people, dogs, and her own pups, relaxing and seemingly enjoying her solitude — this was about 1/4th mile from her densite, in a fenced-in area. I had to wonder why that fenced-off place was not chosen as a denning area. But it wasn’t.

I tried to think of why the parents spend so much time away from their pups. Of course they need to hunt and patrol the area. But also what comes to mind is what I’ve read about baby deer: they apparently have no, or very little, odor, the better not to attract predators. A parent, of course, would have strong odors. So for example, dogs will pick up on the scent of the adult coyotes and pursue them. Might this be one of the reasons the parents don’t spend a great deal of time with their new pups? I’m just trying to think it through. Having said this, I need to point out that parents do spend plenty of time playing with and cuddling their pups — family time is an important part of their lives.

A furious Papa coyote runs after his pups to push them to safety.

Some coyote parents are more laissez-faire than others in their pup guarding. I just wrote about “running away from home” where the parents are seldom around, and some of the youngsters are wandering between dens during daylight hours. At the other extreme, here’s a short video clip showing a much stricter father who obviously is furious that his youngsters wandered out of the safety limits he imposed on them! This family’s den, BTW, is in a super well hidden location, and hidden under a tangled carpet of ivy in a backyard.

Litters may be moved at any time. Over the last two years, in June, I’ve seen two such moves of two-month-old litters. Youngsters are strong walkers by this stage of their development which may be a contributing factor. They may be moved because of bugs, or because their parents have become aware that their den is no longer secret — it’s been discovered by people or dogs who have become more omnipresent, or in one case, within a PUC Water Reservoir where construction was beginning AND many of the under-the-fence escape routes which the coyotes had been using were plugged up. The coyotes must have felt a need to get out before all entry/exits were boarded up.

Gathering her youngsters for a move

The new locations have been between 500 and 1500 feet (1/10th to 1/4th of a mile) from the original den. This video shows a mother gathering her youngsters together for such a move which took place at 9:00 am: You can see that the youngsters are very excited about this event — not so different from our own families before a trip! Their new den must not be far since a pup has been spotted recently back in this area.

What coyote predators might invade a densite here in San Francisco? Of course, the pups as pups have to be differentiated from the adults who have very few predators except cars in urban areas, though larger dogs chasing them cause a lot of leg injuries. Domestic dogs would be the primary threat to coyote pups — this is why dogs are *messaged* by parent coyotes within a fourth of a mile from their dens. The coyote communication of necessity must be intense if the dog is going to get the message: it involves an arched back, snarly face, tongue sticking out and wagging, and may include a number of darts and retreats and even a nip to the haunches or rear end of the dog — cattle-dog fashion — to get the dog to leave the area if the dog didn’t respond to the original message. Small dogs are as much of a threat as larger dogs — any carnivore is a threat that has the potential to grab a small pup.

In addition to dogs, there are raccoons in most denning areas. It seems a coyote pup might be as vulnerable to raccoons as are domestic kittens, which raccoons are known to capture as prey. And then there are the owls which have been hovering right above some of the dens I’m keeping track of. Very young pups the size of kittens are a perfect size for an owl to snatch up, yet pups are allowed by their parents to roam free during the hours when owls are most likely to capture one. I’ve never seen it happen, I’m just listing it as a potential possibility.

Threats to small pups include dogs running loose, raccoons, owls.

The greatest other intruders to denning areas, besides dogs and their walkers, are photographers with absolutely no sensitivity for the animals, including iPhone photographers who feel no compunction about walking right up to a resting coyote, as close as they can to snap a shot — most coyotes will flee, but some have become inured to this human behavior which erodes their innate wariness. It still produces stress. Fortunately, I’m hearing more and more walkers telling these folks to please leave the coyotes alone.

A week ago, my eyes popped wide open when I saw a photographer stationed and hovering right at a densite, waiting for them to appear, and I saw him there again, and again. Several large signs indicated this was a den area, yet the photographer seemed oblivious to the stress he was imposing by statically stationing himself where he was. And then when Dad coyote came around on his regular rounds, I saw him kicking dirt in anger when pursued by this same photographer — the coyote was obviously distressed about the situation in his denning area, and the photographer was totally indifferent to it and denied the coyote was reacting angrily to him.

One’s photos shouldn’t take precedence over the well-being of the coyotes, especially during denning season. Please everyone, give the coyotes space and walk away from them! If you have to be a paparazzi, do so at a distance where they won’t feel a need to react in any way to you — you’ve intruded if you cause them to alter their behavior in any way at all, including fleeing from you!!

© 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.

“Running Away From Home”

I put this collage together to reflect the thought

Well, “running away from home” isn’t exactly what happened (which is why I have the title in quotes), but watching a tiny kitten-size pup the other morning trekking decidedly away from his home inspired the idea. For a fun twist, I put together the above collage, and have written this posting sprinkled with that thought.

The morning began with a coyote dad bringing in a mouthful of animal-prey to his denning area. It was too far off and I wasn’t quick enough to see what they prey was, but it was the size of a large duck. He disappeared into the brush, and I hoped I would see him again. Within a very short time, I heard a coyote calling to another — I wasn’t given enough lead time to record it, it was not a sound I hear often: a short, warbled sound.

a pup follows his parents, but is told *no*

I looked up to where the sound came from and saw him standing and apparently waiting close to where I had seen him disappear earlier. He had been calling to his mate, because within a minute, she joined him. As they headed off, one and then two of their pups attempted tagging along. They either were told *no* or knew they wouldn’t be able to keep up because they immediately turned back. Youngsters desperately want to be with their parents, but no means no, and they were left in the safety of their den area. That was all I saw of the parents that morning.

One pup of this litter is a runt. I’ve observed runts before. They often don’t play with litter mates because their size makes it not fun for them: who likes to be beat up all the time? So they frequently play by themselves. And they go off by themselves. I’ve also seen runts given special attention by their parents: the extra nurturing probably helps their survival. Mom was there today most likely to nurse them, and I saw Dad bring in solid food as I stated above. I wondered if the runt might have been unable to get his share of milk or of what was brought in by Dad? I thought of these things immediately after what I saw next.

Leaving the den took several tries, each ending with his return to the den. On the fourth try, he made it across 100 yards of ‘treacherous terrain’, including flower beds, trees, lawn, and paved paths.

Within the next ten minutes, I saw the runt heading off and away from his denning area. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw him because it was broad daylight and he was so tiny — so much smaller than other pups at this stage of their development — he was alone and completely vulnerable out in the open in a high foot-traffic and dog area, and in the daylight. I seldom see pups, much less traveling alone over vast expanses of open areas where they are totally visible. Of course, I kept my eye on him to see what he was up to. He moved with purpose, the same way you see the adults do: they always seem to know where they are going and what they are doing. Thrice he turned back after about 100 feet, as though he were trying to make up his mind whether to proceed. But the fourth time he reached the point where he had turned around before, and he made a sudden dash forward, across a network of paved paths and a large open lawn. I was able to watch him for about 100 yards before I lost track of him in the ivy. Ivy is a wonderful coverup for them. If a dog had been there, that might have been his end, and I prepared myself to grab any unleashed exploring dogs, but none happened by at the time.

My next post will be about dens, but here I need to state that immediate denning areas are larger than the size of football fields — they don’t simply encompass the temporary dugout birthing den — they are much larger areas than that. Parents will defend this football field size area and more than 1/4 mile beyond it. This youngster was well within his football field area, but because of his direct trajectory, the idea of his running away from home popped into my mind and made me smile. I wondered about the issues faced by a runt: his likely inability to compete for a fair share of the milk or food brought in. I wondered if there might be more going on than simply being a runt: such as illness? He was wobbly in his steps and rickety in his appearance, with bug bites over his back and watery eyes. That’s all I saw of him in the morning and those were my thoughts. No parent was present to lead him back or protect him had he needed it.

Dad waits outside den area for mom to finish nursing and then tires of waiting and leaves.

In the evening his parents returned and everything looked normal. It is customary for parents to leave their pups all day long. They tend to stop by very sporadically, including at dusk for nursing or feeding before heading out again. They are not at the densite often, though Dad in particular, will hang out within several hundred feet, snoozing away the daylight hours and performing his sentry duty. This evening when she came, Mom disappeared into the brush and Dad waited for her on the periphery. He waited and waited, and finally trotted on by himself because Mom was not appearing. I saw her later playing with two of her pups. I could see that Runt was not among them. I despaired for him.

very kitten-looking

The next morning I was there to observe any changes, and to docent, asking folks to please keep their dogs leashed. I saw Dad looking around, but he didn’t seem particularly concerned. Another thought popped into my head: Being the runt, this one looks somewhat like a kitten with its exceptionally short baby snout. What if some human were to *save* him by either adopting him or taking him into the SPCA or ACC. It is illegal to keep wildlife as pets here. In addition, separating a youngster from its family drastically diminishes the youngster’s chances of survival. Few animals taken to wildlife rehab centers survive in the long-run: they simply have not been given the skills to survive: only parents can do this. Please leave all found pups alone — you can only hurt their situation.

Runt is back and safe

I was back in the evening and heaved a sigh of relief when I glimpsed Runt. He’s there! For him, it was just another day, as if nothing special had happened over the last 24 hours — and it hadn’t — but for me, I wrote a whole post about him running away from home and ruminating about a runt’s welfare. But these little guys are hardy and resilient and much smarter than we think. However, it’s important to remember that pup survival rate can be as low as 20 to 30%.

Runt back home

PS: Although I distinguish coyotes by their faces, I have real trouble distinguishing pups. However, Runt stands apart and is very identifiable by his underdeveloped size and ragged/rickety appearance. He’ll probably emerge as King of the Forest some day!! :)

Antidote to my Posting on Discord within Families

My last postings were harsh ones: they were about rupture and fighting between siblings one year apart in age: the younger one was driven away. Dispersal doesn’t always occur this way: Some youngsters just pick up and leave when their time-clocks tell them it’s time to go, making the process an easy and smooth one. And some linger around longer: I’ve seen dispersals take place as early as 9-months of age, and one case as late as 3-years-old who was ultimately driven out by his father. Some are driven out by another sibling, and this is what happened to that family in my last posting.

Here is another family where Older Brother grooms his Younger Brother. Grooming is equivalent to an invitation to stick around. The circumstances are quite different in this second family: here, Older Brother has moved into the vacated alpha male position, so he’s actually more like a surrogate father than a brother, helping to take care of the brood born two years after him whose father abandoned the family.

“Abandoned” is really not the right word because his mate at the time, who is mother to these two in this posting, never really welcomed him. He happened to come by during breeding season shortly after the previous alpha male died of old age. He filled that position for only a few months, but long enough to sire the yearling pups which include the one year old in this posting. That male was disliked and never really welcomed into the family: he was given the cold-shoulder, and never lovingly groomed as I see with other mated pairs. *Mom*, it happens, had her eyes on this three-year-old son of hers as her next mate and companion, and the two, in fact, are a pair now and had a litter this year. I have not seen the pups yet, but I saw Mom only a few days ago who is still lactating.

Younger brother grooms older brother here.

Anyway, the point is that older siblings can drive out younger members of the family rather viciously and harshly, OR they can establish warm bonds with their younger siblings. Here, you have the latter. The bond only works as long as this hierarchy is maintained, and in fact, grooming can also have a hint of domination and hierarchy: “You just sit there until I’m done grooming you.” But here, younger brother also spent time grooming his older brother: there is mutual respect and warmth between the two.

PS: These photos were taken at the cusp of darkness, in the waning light of twilight hours. It’s only with intense editing that I’ve been able to make them usable and come to life. They seem to work!

Family Infighting Leads to Dispersal

Coyotes are fascinating family-minded social critters whose lives seem to parallel ours in many ways. I write about their family life and interactions and I can see a lot of ourselves in them. They (predominantly) mate for life, both parents (normally) raise the young, and they form intra-family relationships which very much parallel what you’d find in our own families. They each have personalities, individualisms and quirks that other family members learn to deal with . . . or not. There’s play, affection, mutual care, and rivalries. There’s teasing, mischief, one-upmanship, and competitiveness. There are alliances. There’s bullying. They communicate between themselves constantly: most communication is silent through body language and facial expressions. They use vocalizations for emphasis sometimes. Fighting is an amplified negative communication.

There comes a time when the youngsters in a family grow up and leave home. Sometimes, *when* they leave home is based on their own internal time-clocks, and they just pick up and go. At other times they are forced to leave due to growing animosity and conflict with another family member, OR another family member may actually drive them away. Coyotes appear to be programmed to live predominantly in sets of two adults, with pups and yearlings as welcome additions. Beyond this combination makes them edgy and reactive. Their leaving home is called *dispersal* and usually happens sometime between one and two years of age, though I’ve seen it as early as 9 months and as late as 3 years. In our human families, it usually happens after high school, though it could happen earlier or later, depending on the circumstances.

I was able to capture this video, above, of a two-year-old male driving out a one-year-old female from the family and territory. In this case, it was intense, brutal and painful to watch: and it was to-the-point: “LEAVE”, no *ifs* or *buts*.

One thing most people don’t realize is how hard life can be for a coyote. Once they disperse, their survival rates plummet: many are killed by cars here in San Francisco (25 last year), and others are forced to keep moving by other coyotes who own territories. Life is always safer for coyotes with territories, which may be why some youngsters desperately hold on and don’t move on, but in order to be able to stay, they must be *allowed* to stay by the others, and must accept a subservient position and never rock the boat.

BTW, most dispersing coyotes move south and out of the City of San Francisco because the limited territories within the city are already taken. The Presidio ecologists have documented this really nicely. I have found that many of the territories within the city have been owned by the same families over an extended number of years, which creates a lot of stability in the city’s population. When a vacancy does occur within the city, it’s because a territory was either abandoned by an older coyote pair whose reproductive years were over, or because a younger coyote or coyote pair were able to challenge and drive out such oldsters. A visibly weak alpha may also be displaced from his/her territory, as was the limping alpha male in West Portal at the beginning of this breeding season: his disability was obvious, and incoming coyotes took advantage of it to displace him. If anyone sees him, please let me know: I have not seen him at all since Spring began. The Presidio territory was taken over by an energetic younger coyote and the remaining older female alpha was forced to move on.

These hardships are part and parcel of coyote life which can appear idyllic at times, and exceedingly brutal at other times. We humans are their stewards: the best way to steward them is to keep away from them, not feed them, and not interact with them. That’s what they want, and that is what’s not only best for them, but best for us in terms of keeping a peaceful coexistence in place.

Feeding Pups

Imagine having to keep up with the nutritional needs not only of yourself — that must be hard enough — but also of FIVE ravenous pups you’ve brought into the world! The nutritional needs of growing pups is tremendous!

This top video shows a mother coyote nursing four of her five 4-week-old pups. She is ever so patient through the frenzy of hungry little stomachs! I timed this feeding: it was done and over in just one minute and forty seconds: that’s how long a nursing session is.

I noted that within just three weeks of their birth, Mom was already bringing in semi-solid food in her stomach which she regurgitated for the pups: her milk just wasn’t enough for them.

In this next video, below, youngsters are poking at Mom’s mouth: that’s where they know solid food comes from. Young pups are ALWAYS hungry and they pester Mom until she delivers! Watching it for any length of time makes you wonder how she copes with it.

In the next few weeks, they will switch entirely to regurgitated food. I’ve seen regurgitated food continued to be brought in — though much less frequently as the pups continue to grow and become capable of hunting for themselves — for up to a year in some families: I wonder if this is a way of just keeping those pups around? Mom and Dad will do this as as they teach their brood how to hunt and where to find food.

Here is a video showing a different mother last year, regurgitating for her four-month-old pups in August. And here is a posting of a dad regurgitating food for his yearlings.

Sibling Rupture

[The smaller photos can be enlarged and scrolled through by clicking on any of them]

Fighting between a two-year old older brother and his one year old sister.

I found the 2 year-old male coyote with his nose to the ground, sniffing the area. I walked away and over to the perimeter, but this fella came towards me in a circuitous way to check me out. He projected to me that he was simply wandering around this area, but he was actually getting closer and closer and had his eyes on me. As he wandered over, he slurped up the morning dew from the grass. Then he picked up a dead gopher and tossed it up and caught it several times and then left it, watching me all the time as if to see if I might come and grab it. He must have wondered why I wasn’t interested in it, so then he began coming straight in my direction with squinting eyes. He might have been attempting to intimidate me, or maybe test me. Although I don’t see this family often, he is well aware that my focus has frequently been on him or the other coyotes. Suspicions run exceptionally high during pupping season, which we are smack dab into right now. I was about 100 feet away and squatting against the wheel of a parked truck. Since I diverted my focus and didn’t react in any way, I guess I passed his test because he soon walked away and began to ignore me. He wanted to make sure I didn’t want anything to do with him. Of course I did — I was going to be observing — but I apparently succeeded in hiding that.

Older Brother patrols the fenceline, eyes me with squinty eye, and then slurps up morning dew.

He then hurried over to the fenceline at the other end of the lawn and sniffed along that. I thought he was assessing which dogs had been there earlier — he seemed unhappy with whomever he was detecting through his nose. There were no dogs there now, but he kept looking around as if looking for one as he walked away. This two-year-old male had remained with his birth family, whereas all his littermates — of which there had been two — had dispersed long ago: the age difference conferred a hierarchical advantage over his one-year-old siblings born last year.

Just then one of the one-year-old brothers appeared at the other end of the lawn. This younger fellow lay down and remained there, keeping his eyes on what Older Brother was up to — he seemed not to want to be involved physically but was very absorbed in watching it.

Younger brother watches intently from the distance. In the middle is Li’l Girl eyeing her tormentor. To the right she has jumped up to perform *zoomies* to help dispel the tension.

This is when I noticed the third coyote approaching the fenceline where Older Brother had been searching earlier. Older Brother probably had been looking for this, his one year old sister. When she spotted him, she sat down close to the fence and watched him. I sensed tension between them: Older Brother was prowling around and sniffing, with occasional glances towards her, and the two younger coyotes remained distant without moving or making signs of wanting to approach or interact. They normally would have run enthusiastically towards each other to play and interact, but they were obviously in some kind of a standoff. So something was going on from the first moment when I spotted them this morning.

Li’l Girl is tiny compared to her brothers — a good 1/3 smaller — and not at all demonstrative or assertive. I think because of these *small and mellow* qualities, she has remained in the park rather than venture out — it was the safest place for her, whereas her more robust — more robust in size and personality — brothers were out exploring beyond this place long ago: coyotes mature at different rates. This is where her parents had brought her and her siblings when they were just two months old and she has never left. In recent months, we have been detecting her alone in the area, long after her brothers were on their forays to discover the world, so the area, in a certain way, had become hers.

Li’l Girl was nervous at times this morning as she sat and then lay at the end of the lawn. Every once in a while she got up and raced wildly around in circles, almost uncontrollably, picking up a frisbie and then dropping it and then returning to her previous sitting or lying down position and watching her brother: she appeared to be releasing tension as she performed what in the dog-world are known as *zoomies*. She did this several times, always returning quickly to her lying down or sitting position, and staring at her brother in the distance. His presence was undeniably causing her distress.

As she sat there, scrub jays harassed her. She could have easily caught one if she had wanted to since they walked on the ground only inches from her, but she had other things on her mind. She continued to watch Older Brother and ignored the birds, foregoing a gleeful pursuit if only for the fun of it.

Older Brother continued sniffing the ground, seemingly nonchalantly, slurping up the morning dew and now moving slowly and zig-zaggedly in his little sister’s direction 200 feet away, the way he had towards me earlier. He did not head straight in her direction, but headed there circuitously.

Not until this observation had I noticed negative interactions between these two. It’s true that all her brothers tended to teasingly pick on her — they pulled and poked at her — and she let them without retaliating, and maybe that’s why they continued to do it. I also think that the interacting allowed her to be part of the group — it was better than being left out. She had been one of six pups in the litter — all the rest were boys — and Older Brother remained from last year’s litter. It has been a big family.

Older Brother approaches Li’l Girl directly when he is within 40 feet of her.

So, Bigger Brother wandered casually in Li’l Girl’s direction. I watched as he got half-way there, and then he was 3/4ths of the way there. Finally he stopped and stared at her and then headed in her direction directly with long strides and hackles up and squinty eyes, wrinkling his nose and raising his lips enough to show his teeth. When he reached her, he sniffed her, and stood over her stiffly and threateningly. He was daring her to submit or react.

When he reached her, he snarled his displeasure at her with bared teeth. She used her arm to keep him away and stayed low and on her back, offering no resistance beyond returning a snarl of displeasure.

SHE responded defensively by curling up tightly and keeping down, but she also gaped and bared her teeth with lips pulled back over a clenched jaw, and she thrust nips at him every so often. At times she extended a paw towards him to keep him an arm’s length away. Older Brother’s attacks came in brief spurts: bursts of actual body slams and nips between longer periods of dominant intimidation and then spells where he would walk off. But the pressure of Older Brother’s presence was palpable continually even as he walked away from her. I sat in the distance taking it all in and mesmerized by it all. Occasionally she would run off with her tail tucked under, her back arched protectively and keeping low to the ground. She never went far before lying down again: she seemed to be holding her ground. Another self-protective stance of hers as she was poked at, was to put her head down under herself with her backside up which often resulted in her toppling over in a sort of somersault — she was protecting her face at the expense of her rear.

Here she resists and defensively bites back after he intensified his attack with body slams and bites.

And this interaction repeated itself aver and over again, with Older Brother walking away some distance after each interaction, and Little Sister also moving off some distance and then lying down again, and then Big Brother approaching again. The activity continued for about an hour. She was taunted and bullied like this repeatedly. But she didn’t run off, she just moved out of his range of contact, so the activity continued.

She slinks away, keeping low, with an arched back and ears back.

After an hour, Younger Brother, who had remained in the distance watching, now came forward and joined the interaction. He approached Li’l Girl several times caringly, as if to offer solace. But he also seemed to be conflicted about where he stood in this situation. One moment he stood by her gently consoling her, yet at the same time, he seemed wary that Older Brother might dish out the same treatment to him, and I could see that he was being pulled into Older Brother’s camp. His hackles also went up and he ended up poking Li’l Girl a couple of times — I would say more playfully, but possibly also showing solidarity with Older Brother — this would be for his own self-protection from Big Brother. I’ve seen this *imitate and join* behavior in other coyotes as they either go after another family member to disperse them, or against a predator when they hunt. She, again, got up and ran off a litte distance and then lay down in her low, curled up position. 

More interaction, with Older Brother dominating her space, jumping on or over her. She does her somersault roll, keeping her face out of his reach.

Shortly thereafter, I suppose she had had enough, because she grabbed her chance when both males were at enough of a distance to give her a lead, and she ran off. Both brothers followed her. I was not able to keep up. However, I was informed by another observer that Li’l Girl was seen running back into the area within only a few minutes, followed by the others. She continued through and out of the area, while the two brothers stopped there and remained there. The next day, the two males were seen there, but not Li’l Girl, and we have not seen her there since.

Above you’ll see Younger Brother’s attempt to console her, and below he might have thought of interference, but he seems to have thought better of it and then moved away.

Li’l Girl has not been a threat to either brother, so why was this happening? Did Older Brother not like her claiming the area as hers — if in fact she was doing so? Had she started exhibiting territorial behavior towards him which might have caused him to react? If she had, I never saw it. Then again, I have found that coyotes tend to pick on the weaker individuals in their families (just like they pick on weaker prey), simply because they can get away with it without reprisals.

On the left she tries calming Older Brother, but he won’t have it; in the middle photo he tries mounting her (a domination behavior); whereupon she bares her teeth and moves away from him (right photo above).

I don’t recall another instance of a little girl coyote picked on like this by a brother. The little girl coyotes that I’ve seen seem to become their littermates’ best friends and protectors, and are usually sought after for easy companionship when other brothers might be roughhousing too intensely. It’s usually same-sex littermates who become rivals as far as I have seen. Then again, I have found exceptions to every generality I’ve made or heard about regarding coyotes. They truly are individuals and march to their own individual tunes.

Note the stare of intimidation in the upper left photo. Upper right she hurries away with lowered head. Lower left he bites her leg and then in the center photo stands over her dominantly. She retaliates in the lower right photo as he body slams her.

Growing animosity between siblings often leads to dispersal. Was Older Brother meanly trying to push her out? Then again, it occurs to me that Big Brother’s bullying her may be exactly what she needs to get her exploring the larger world. The worry is that her slow maturing may mean she’s not ready. Anyway, these are some of the images I captured during that hour.

She sits with clenched jaw, not backing down. But then Older Brother comes at her like a bullet (center photo), and she decides it’s time to split, at which point she runs out of the field with brothers at her heels.

Slim Jim’s Bigger Picture, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet,

I recently mentioned the old nearly blind former pack leader, Slim Jim, and him joining his daughter over 8 miles away from his core area.

The move mystified me because I felt he had it all. Safety in landscape and Bison herds. 

The bigger picture with wild animals is almost really never known. We cannot know every detail, trajectories or reasons. However..I realize more now about Slim Jim with help from others and some analytical thinking. (And it’s still guesswork)

Slim Jim had a very nice area and kept following bison for some months. However. . .2 things changed the Bison scene:

1) The Bison cows are heavily pregnant or giving birth. Their tolerating ANY canine..including elderly Slim, is over with motherhood. At least when calves are tiny 1st couple weeks.

2)The bison are a captive herd. They may have 7,000 acres to range. But they are moved periodically. Early calving season the bison are moved out of hills to watch until all calves are born and birthing season is over. Slim Jim wasn’t about to follow Bison in hemmed in fences. 

Why he didn’t stay in the area when buffalo left is likely a few wolves passed thru. Rolling in bison patties apparently is a wolf pleasure when herds aren’t about. Trotting wolves even distant would likely unsettle the old guy. 

We will never know how Slim Jim made it to Daughter Kinky and her family. Did she fetch him? Did he somehow know where she went and begged admittance? 8 miles is alot when you are blind and not fast. He made it. 

He is now officially pup sitter of 3 pups.Kinky had a tiny litter. (Her being a yearling might be partial reason) 

He is with pups constantly. He likely sees a little and stays very close to the massive cliffs and crevices that are now home. 

He went from green foothills and range to stony highlands. 

I wish his scruffy little body well.

Regards,

Lou

Pups Emerge from their Den

Less than a week ago, on April 28th, these pups emerged for the first time from their den. The timeline is about the same in all the territories here in San Francisco. I wanted to share what the brand new pups look like, taken with a field camera. These are three weeks old and Mom is already regurgitating solid food for them, though they’ll continue nursing for another month.

Stewardship and guidelines for coexistence are easy, but you have to abide by them to keep coyotes, dogs and people happy and safe. The important thing is to keep away from them and their denning areas. They will be extremely protective especially during pupping season: the only thing they own and care about is their families right now.

Dogs are their biggest problem — dogs go after them constantly. As far away from their dens as 1/4 mile and more, they will approach dogs (as they do non-family coyotes) to message them to keep away. This is why it’s much less important for folks to know exactly where a den is than to know that it’s denning season. If you’ve been seeing coyotes in your area, you can pretty much be sure they are pupping and therefore will exhibit protective behavior which extends far beyond the den itself.

If you stay vigilant and keep your dog leashed, and then walk away from a coyote when you see one, you will be protecting both your dog and the coyote. You will probably not run into a coyote that often, so this isn’t a lot to ask. Any dog that isn’t leashed in a coyote area is actually free to chase coyotes: the owner is allowing it. Every chase (but also barking at and lunging at the coyotes while on a leash) sends the message to the coyote that the dog is an attacker — that’s how they see these things. And every such incident erodes the dog/coyote coexistence interface. If the coyotes are chased, they learn that’s what dogs do and they come to expect it and become more ready for it and willing to put up a defense. Respect is granted when it’s earned.

Small dogs and cats are a totally different issue because they can be seen as prey, no different from a rabbit or skunk. When you walk your small dog, please keep it leashed and close to you — not on a long extended leash. And, again, when you see a coyote, shorten that leash even more and walk away. You might have to pick up the small dog as you go if the coyote comes towards you. So please, be safe, keep your dog safely away — far enough away to keep them from reacting to the coyote by barking and lunging in their direction: this is the best way to respect our wildlife and to build respect from them.

Small children have been in the news recently as the result of coyotes approaching and biting them. This is not only rare, it is extremely rare. Humans feeding coyotes may be behind this, but also just the fact that it’s denning season I’m sure is an influencing factor. Again, please stay vigilant and keep small children close to you at all times.

My Run-In with a Coyote (I had a dog with me)

Yes, this happened to me because I had let down my guard.

The background is that most evenings I set up a couple of field cameras where I know coyotes frequent. I usually go alone, but lately I’ve been dog-sitting my *granddog*: my oldest son drops Zak off at our home on days he will be out for a long period of time.

Zak knows my routine and has the choice of staying home with my husband or coming with me. I was actually hoping he might want to stay home, but as he heard me get ready to leave, there he was at my feet, wagging his tail and looking up inquiringly: “May I come?” I’m always impressed with animal communication and I couldn’t stand to let him down, knowing he wanted to accompany me. So I said, “Okay, you can come!” He excitedly went to get his ball and then waited for me ebulliently. When I tell him, “No, not this time,” with no emphasis on any of the words, just speaking like I would to anyone else, he knows exactly what I mean. He walks slowly over to his bed and curls up, offering me a knowing and forlorn look as I thank him for staying home to guard the house.

Zak is a little mostly-beagle-and-hound of some sort, weighing about 45 pounds. At the Peninsula SPCA, it’s this little dog who chose my son, my grown son, by jumping on him repeatedly and almost beseechingly: “I want YOU to take me; please choose ME; we could be BUDDIES”. He communicated his wishes well and endearingly and my son chose him because the dog had chosen him. That was five years ago. I watch the dog when my son is busy for extended periods of time.

I’m writing about this dog, because it’s actually your dog companion who creates all issues with coyotes — not you.

So, Zak came with me. We got in the car and drove to a park where we walked and greeted other dogs. Zak is always on a leash. Then Zak and I headed to a couple of other parks to set up a couple of field cameras. It was dark by the time we entered the last park: 8:30 at night. My field camera was already set up at this place and all I needed to do was change the media card and check the batteries. I hadn’t seen coyotes for quite some time in this place even though the camera showed they were there regularly towards midnight. So my guard was not up for an encounter — I definitely did not have my eyes open for them.

As we reached the camera I was suddenly startled into alertness with a scream point blank under foot — and I’m not exaggerating: it was right at my feet. The field camera in fact caught the scream, so I’m including it here. I pulled Zak closer to me and shone the flashlight into the darkness. And there she was, the alpha female of the territory who I could see (at that time, a month ago) was very pregnant. The coyote had approached us from behind and emitted that unsettling scream as a warning to get us to leave. It was startling and unnerving more than anything else. If there had been enough daylight to see her, I probably would also have seen her in her scary *halloween cat stance*. This is how coyotes *message* dogs when they feel intruded upon. I’m always at a distance, and I’m always without a dog when I observe coyotes: the dog is what upset her and drew her towards us. With the flashlight aimed at her, she moved about 75 feet away from us and sat under a tree, keeping an eye on us — I was able to capture a flashlight shot of her before Zak and I walked away quickly. I won’t be taking Zak with me anymore to that site.

Here is the short several seconds of video — it’s the sudden and startlingly loud scream I want you to hear — it’s a vocalization I haven’t posted before. It’s freaky and scary, especially because it was so close and so unexpected in the quiet of the night — a very effective message telling us to get out of there.

And here is one of the few non-blurry photos I captured of her with my flashlight.

Please remember that dogs and coyotes do not mix — they don’t like each other. A coyote will warn a dog around denning areas, and this can happen as far away, as far as I have seen, as 1/4 mile from the actual den site. It’s always best to abide by the warning: please walk away from it to keep the peace! And avoid the area with your dog for the next little while. In a known coyote area, an encounter can occur when you least expect it — you need to stay alert and should always be prepared to walk away the instant you see a coyote. Keeping your dog leashed allows you to control the dog: to pull the dog towards you and away from the coyote. The leash does not keep a coyote away, which, weirdly, is what some people think.

The Chess of Pupping Season, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet,

Spring is here with erratic weather and wild swings. And locally we are seeing coyote tactics like never before. And more coyote then ever.

The changes are a culmination of 2 years of massive wildfires changing the land, wolf pressure and prey abundance. We really can’t say what this means long term. But we do see coyote have reacted INSTANLTY to changes.

It’s challenging to describe but I will try. The Cascade mountains east of us had all forests lost, right up to the foothills of ranges and ranches. The land there is barren and burnt and open. It’s actually been reseeded, but the saplings wont be forest for decades. It’s hundreds of miles of scorched trunks. 

For the resident wolves…it meant leaving and finding any forests and woods they could. There are only a few packs regionally…so it was relatively easy to find new territory. However, it does mean wolves claim vast areas for denning, hunting and raising pups. This means 0 tolerance for any coyote found by wolf packs.

The coyote flawlessly responded by converging upon these newly barren vast areas. We couldn’t figure out why so many pairs were clearly staking these devasted areas as home until we realized….voles. There are hundreds of thousands of voles filling up every nook and cranny you can think of. The fires destroyed old growth woods but there is an explosion of grasses and plants and the voles are having generations of buffet living. The coyote literally are feasting on a cyclic vole boom. And they have come for miles. 

Wolves pretty much avoid such exposed open country crisscrossed with logging roads. The coyote literally just disappear in the maze of stumps that go to horizon.

In this scenario…Kinky Tail and her new Mate left the foothill ranch and went to a scorched castle of rock nearly 9 stories high and on private land. She pupped in this labyrinth of Rock towers and she and her Mate can see for miles. They forage for voles and stay at the rocks.

As we patrol…we routinely come across coyote. My pack are trained to stay together and literally push through, creating space. Unlike city areas….we have to engage here. But it’s very natural. The coyote give way to the hills and woods on ranchlands in foothills…and we do our fence patrols.

Final observations made on Kinky’s denning strategy. To our shock…Kinky has been joined by the elderly blind Slim Jim her father. Why he left his bison ranch sanctuary and how he made it to his daughter (over 8 miles away) we can never know. Did young Kinky go fetch her Father? Or did he somehow smell her, and want her company? 

Slim Jim, old and blind…is obviously with the den. Kinky is already leaving him to pup sit while she leaves for voles. Her Mate is standoffish but accepts Slim. Slim has also been seen both hunting voles and begging returning daughter. We suspect she feeds him. 

What a denning season. More coyote seen then ever in the Burns. And Slim Jim…with Daughter Kinky Tail…raising pups in a fortress of rock towers. 

For early season dens…its Coyote adaptations and Puppy Chess. And for an ancient Slim…the joy of pups.

Sincerely, 

Lou

PS-the pic of coyote is Kinkys Mate. He followed and glowered at my pack some miles but we have an understanding. We must make our patrols but….we are leaving and powerful and calm. He reads our messages and escorts us..at a distance. This is how my pack travels the ranges and co exists with coyote in mutual..tentative understanding during pup season. 

Moods: Good Days and Bad Days

I don’t think most of us think about wild animals out in their habitats in nature as having ups and downs, good days and bad days similar to our own. We tend to see an animal and possibly what it is doing and move on, and are thrilled at the sighting.

For us humans, things often go smoothly and well, and we have feelings and reactions to these, and sometimes things go badly and we have other reactions and feelings to these. A particular experience or set of experiences might affect us for much longer than the immediate moment of that experience, and these color our behavior and reactions for a while moving forward. Wildlife, too, has good days and bad days and even mood swings — and that includes coyotes!

I’ve seen coyotes in their element: successfully pouncing for gophers, basking comfortably in the sunshine, enjoying the help of rain causing gophers to emerge from their tunnels, being groomed affectionately by a mate, playing ecstatically with siblings. They are obviously feeling good and having a good day. And I’ve seen them out of their element because of an infestation of fleas, a broken ankle caused by a chasing dog, dealing with a constantly bullying sibling, or evading hostile territorial coyotes during dispersal or even dogs during pupping season. I’ve seen a coyote down in the dumps and anxious after being driven viciously from her own territory by an intruder. Coyotes aren’t reacting to things unfeelingly — their emotional states are intense and very obvious when you are watching them.

Here is a video I captured in a field camera that shows the same pair of coyotes on a bad day and then on a good day. On their bad day — it seems to actually be HER bad day — she lunges at him with teeth bared, letting him know exactly how she feels and letting him know to bug off. Then the video flips and you see this same pair, three weeks later, on a good day: here she is overjoyed and jumping ecstatically all over him and even rubbing affectionately against him, while he smiles (yes, smiles — they smile when they’re having fun playing) and seems to enjoy her behavior towards him. Listen also to the two very different vocalizations with each behavior: one upset and angry, and the other contented purrs.

Pupping Is On!

A seven year old pregnant coyote shortly before giving birth

Out of the 16 territories I’ve mapped here in San Francisco (and I fully assume there are several more that I’ve missed), I’m able to follow six and sometimes seven of the families more closely. The expectant mothers I’m keeping tabs on this year range in age from 5 to 7, 8 and 9. I can only guess the age of two of them, but they appear younger than 4 years old. Of these, four have given birth over the past week, and I haven’t yet been able to confirm the other two, but they are imminent. Pupping season is in full-swing!

An alpha female’s change from pregnant to postpartum last week.

It seems that expectant coyote mothers avoid being out in the open where they can be seen. Since February, my sightings of them have been extremely sparse. I think it’s because they feel more vulnerable — the same as after they’ve sustained an injury, and the same as when they get old, as debilitating deteriorations set in. They keep themselves protected by keeping out of sight. So I have sparse images this year of obviously pregnant coyotes, but my field camera was able to capture the above images of the same alpha female over the last week, showing her change from quite pregnant to postpartum.

Here is a five-year-old nursing mother who recently gave birth. She’s on her 3rd litter this year. She’s still young and takes her mothering duties in stride!
Note the triangle of fur dipping below her abdomen which helps protect and hide the swollen mammary glands of this older mom.

Younger mothers seem able to hide their nursing status much better than older moms, especially as the weeks go by. The abdomens of all nursing moms becomes bald — the better to feed the youngsters — but a triangle of fur sometimes hangs down and conceals what’s going on unless you know what to look for.

. . . like an island in an ocean of grass
Here is an exhausted older mom who I found resting in the sun, far away from any pups.

Nine years old apparently is not too old to have pups as confirmed by one of the mothers I’m keeping my eyes on. However, it appears that giving birth is particularly taxing on older moms, and raising the youngsters I’m sure won’t be as easy as it was when they were younger. The above eight-year-old mother looked absolutely exhausted and even depressed to me following her birthing ordeal when I spotted her in the distance as a bump on the vast golf green: when she finally noticed me, she moved only her eyelids to look at me and then closed them again. She was soaking in the heat of the sun a good 1/4 mile from the general area where I know her den is. I won’t know how many pups were born to any of the families until June at the earliest, if then — most coyote parents are very protective of their pups and often don’t even like them to be seen, and they’ll move them if they think you might be interested in them. I usually get a glimpse of some of them in June as they begin exploring further afield.

Not all coyote territorial mated pairs produce litters, or possibly, they produce them but the pups don’t always survive. Last year, we saw a 4-year-old female who had been bulging at the sides and was initially lactating but no pups were ever seen by anyone, so we assume they all perished. Pup survival rate is notoriously low for coyotes. This would have been that female’s first litter, even though the previous year the conditions were right for her — she had a territory and a mate and she was over two years old — but a litter never materialized. Other territorial mated pairs I observed never showed any signs at all that they were expecting or birthing, and there were no pups ever seen, even though the pairs had been together for over a year at least.

In one family this year — the same as occurred last year to a different family — there is a mother and daughter, BOTH of whom had been very pregnant on one territory. Last year, the daughter and her pups disappeared soon after the birth, and I’m wondering if they even survived. That mother had developed a 12 inch square gaping and angry red wound on her side which may have led to her end. Possibly her surviving pups, if there were any, were adopted and incorporated into the other family — hopefully the DNA we’ve collected will reveal all that. We’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is for the double motherhood on a territory this year: it’s an unusual situation and seems to come from less than stable or solid alpha pair relationships.

Dad guards the birthing area — and waits and waits. Birthing is occurring right now in San Francisco.

Another sign of what’s going on right now is that dads have been hanging out and guarding near their den sites. For years I used to look for the *birthing rock* where one of SF’s father coyotes hung out while Mom gave birth. After I realized why he was hanging out there, I would always look for him at this time of year, and always found him there during this short birthing period, year after year, until last year. That father passed away last year, but other dads have been doing the same thing: finding a lookout post close to their mates’ birthing dens where they stand sentry, guarding the precious new litter while Mom is unable to do so, still recovering from birthing.

Nine

Have you ever wondered how a coyote ages, or even thought about it? It’s similar to us. Most of the changes occur during early-life growth and then during old-age and decline. In-between these more obvious changes, there are slower and more subtle changes as the animal continues to mature and evolve, weathering the elements and bearing the tatters and tears of everyday life. No different from your dog’s. No different from us.

Chert just turned nine years old — Happy Birthday Chert. I’ve known her her entire life and witnessed the changes she’s gone through. She was born into a litter of a three surviving pups. She herself had her first litter — a singleton pup — at the age of two, and she’s not done yet! It appears that she’s having another litter this year! Go Chert! And she still has four just-turned-yearlings at home who have not dispersed out of a litter of five born last year, one of whom has dispersed. I know Chert’s ancestors going back to before 2009 and several two generations of descendants in the city.

In this posting I’m concentrating on ever so subtle changes of facial features through the years. A coyote’s face is covered with fur which hides many things, but you can see some of her *history* in the visible scars on her face. They are pretty minor: Chert has lived a fairly easy life. A big change in her appearance surfaced at about the age of 5. No one recognized her after she had been absent for many weeks, and even I had to see her face-on before I could tell it was her.

Of course, there are huge physical and psychological changes that also occur through a lifetime, beginning with drastic seasonal fur changes. On a longer time scale in the physical realm, old age will bring loss of hearing, difficulty with vision, arthritis, and more. In other words, life will become more difficult if it hasn’t already. I’ve seen a number of coyotes live to be 12 years old here in San Francisco.

Psychological changes also occur as new and different situations are confronted and dealt with throughout a coyote’s life: Coyotes, as we, are constantly learning and becoming wiser as they age.

One thing I’ve notice the most about aging coyotes is that they are less out in the open, less visible, the same as after injuries earlier in life. I imagine it’s because they feel more vulnerable and are less willing to take the risks they took earlier in life. One of the big risks of being visible is dogs chasing them.

9 years old (March, 2022)
7½ years old
almost 6 years old
5 years old
3 years old
Two years
7 months old
2½ months old

The Many Faces of Dispersal

I hope this posting clarifies rather than confuses or convolutes what goes into dispersal. I think I’ve covered enough examples to enlighted, but not too many so as to confuse! I’ve included plenty of links to YouTube videos and previous postings of mine.

Dispersal is not a simple cut-and-dry process that occurs on a set schedule: it occurs at any time of the year and has a variety of causes pushing and pulling it. I’m sure we all can appreciate that it’s always safer to have a territory and remain on one than not: coyotes are familiar with existing dangers and food sources on their own territories whereas they are not outside of that area. From what I’ve seen, the majority of coyote deaths occur during dispersal, away from their territories, most of those in urban areas by cars, though of course younger and inexperienced coyotes aren’t much safer from cars within their own territories. So that’s an important factor involved in dispersal.

Video of youngsters playing

Another factor is the changing quality of play over time. Initially, coyote littermates learn by playing innocently with each other — it’s great to have a bunch of companions! They learn invaluable and nuanced social skills (how to get along and how not to!), communication skills, hierarchy assessment, etc. They learn their limits, and they learn the limits of their siblings: they learn when they’ve gone too far. Most play is on the level of horsing around, teasing, provoking, and competitive. It includes chase-me, keep-away, wrestling, tug-of-war, pouncing, stealing, grabbing, etc. Very little of it is cooperative, except that they are engaging with each other and learning the rules together and through each other, learning to apologize in order to keep a game going, etc. Even so, I’ve seen plenty of cuddling and grooming, and the growth of very special sibling bonds as seen in the two photos below. Above is a video of siblings playing, showing how rough and tumble it is.

opposite-sex youngster siblings grooming each other affectionately
Youngsters love to play, with increasing challenges as time moves along, until one day it becomes cut-throat rivalry
Sweet Face wasn’t interested in rough play

Roughhousing can escalate: if they want to play with a sibling who doesn’t like the roughness, they learn to tone it down. Those individuals who withdraw from rougher play either can’t keep up, don’t like it, or are innately less socially interactive than their siblings: innate personalities which they are born with are always a part of the equation. They may prefer sitting to the side and watching, or going off on their own. This little girl to the right remained aloof of rough play, but the little girl in the video above resigned herself to being batted around rather than be excluded.

These photos above are of brother siblings whose playing has turned more serious: more of, “Take that, and I mean it.” One youngster still wanted to get along, but the other wanted brother gone.

Unwelcome teasing, bullying, one-upmanship, all of which are involved in establishing a hierarchy or challenging it, can segue into visceral dislike and antagonism, and ultimately avoidance of a sibling. OR their internal clock begins telling them to exclude others of the same sex, especially the males. For females, growing antagonism appears to be more often on a mother-daughter level as far as I’ve seen. After all, coyotes live pretty much in long-lasting monogamous pairs, so this is ultimately what they are programmed for: reproductive rivals must be excluded. They are *nuclear family* animals as opposed to *pack* animals.

This video above shows sibling rivalry between an older sister and a younger brother: I haven’t seen as much male/female sibling rivalry, but here are two examples. 1) The young male in the video has taken on their mother’s attitude towards his sister. Mother had been regularly attacking the sister in an attempt to get her to disperse. Sister sulked but didn’t leave. The mother’s repeated negative treatment of Sister seems to have given license to this brother to ceaselessly taunt her and egg her on as in this video. Note the purposeful teasing and body slams for no other reason than to annoy her and cause a reaction. And here is more brother/sister “Friction Between Almost Two-Year-Old Siblings”. Sometimes the differences are worked out, keeping the family intact a little longer, but soon there are departures.

In the photos below, you see on the right, bowing submission to the hackles-up guy who could no longer stand his brother’s presence: the kowtowing brother was soon driven out forcefully at 1.5 years of age. He desperately wanted to stay, hanging on as long as he could — he and his mother shared a lot of affectionate interactions and grooming — but the onslaught of his domineering brother become a daily affair. Biting resulting in visible skin wounds and squeals of pain preceded his departure as seen in the photo to the left.

Most of the time, according to what I’ve seen, parents allow youngsters to work out their own interpersonal differences without interfering. But this has not always been the case as when a parent develops a special attachment to one of the youngsters, in which case the parent may discipline the aggressor or soothe the youngster they want to stick around: the aggressive sibling begins to think twice about bullying if the parent is around.

In one very convoluted and complicated case, Mom, repeatedly groomed her two-year old son, Scowl, obviously inviting him to stay on the territory and be her mate. Her long-term mate (the pair was together 9 years) had died of old age the year before, and a new alpha male intruder had come into the picture and even fathered her last litter. But no one in the family liked him as could be seen by their behavior towards him, and Mom kept paying particular attention to Scowl, to the exclusion of that fellow. Scowl was the apple of her eye, and within the new pups’ 4-month birthday, that outsider male left. Now Scowl, at three years of age, rules the roost with his mom, which is what they all wanted ever since Mom’s previous mate passed away. And they are all now apparently very happy!

Antagonism and negativity aren’t always the instigators of dispersals. At some point, some yearlings just pick up and go — negativity or not. However, others stay on, even with growing negativity and battling because there’s usually something else attracting them to the area. Such was the case with Gumnut several years ago. His dad kept attacking him, but Gumnut always submitted and slunk away, skirting the dispersal issue. He and his sister were inseparable best buddies. Mom had died, so Dad actually had his eye on his daughter as his future mate, and at two years of age, through domination, he indeed took her over. (Yes, there’s lots of inbreeding in coyote families). Gumnut stayed around until the single pup who was born to Dad and Sis turned 7 months old, braving it through repeated attacks from his father, and then, suddenly one day, at 2 1/2 years of age, after hearing a particularly painful long-lasting squeal from him which I gathered indicated he was bitten, we never saw him again. That he put up with the severe put-downs and blows handed out by his Dad for so long was amazing to me. Gumnut had been undeterred because something more important was drawing him in: his best buddy and sister. I’m sure they would have become a mated pair had Dad not intervened.

Mothers may start harsh discipline of daughters early on: I’ve speculated that it’s because of reproductive rivalry. I haven’t seen it often, but I have two video examples of it: 1) Maeve beating up her seven-month old daughter: this dominant and aggressive treatment might also ensure rank is established early on, making dispersal that much easier. Might this daughter have been exhibiting a dominance streak, or even cozying up to her dad?? Again, this is speculation. 2) Here are two brothers vying for sister’s affection: notice the second brother repeatedly inserts himself between his brother and sister. Three is a crowd, so one will eventually leave. Interestingly, in this particular case, the female ditched both related males and paired up with an outsider. 3) And here is another instance of Mom, Maya, attacking her yearling daughter Sissy. On the flip side, I’ve also seen a daughter who stayed and ended up den-sharing with her mother. As I say, there is nothing cut-and-dry about dispersal.

Mom beginning harsh discipline suddenly at 7 months of age — establishing this harsh relationship early on makes dispersal easier. This is the earliest case of this I’ve ever seen of mother/daughter harshness.

Here is more on Beating and rank issues leading to dispersal. And here is a mother roughly disciplining her son as the father watches: rank issues are kept alive right from the start which makes dispersal issues that much easier.

Hawkeye teases and frolics with his dad on this day before his dispersal at 14 months of age. There was no antagonism leading up to the even, except his own towards his sister who avoided him.

Another several examples of dispersal behavior, and behaviors leading up to dispersals can be found in THIS posting. Here, I describe three dispersals from the same family, beginning with a very friendly send-off by a Dad, Ivan, to his son, Hawkeye, who was 14 months old. I got the sad impression that both father and son were very aware of the mites and bugs infesting the son’s coat, meaning his immune system was down. Possibly they both knew son wouldn’t make it even though he would try. Again, this is simply my interpretation. After this sendoff, I never saw Son again. Another son of Ivan’s began distancing himself from the rest of the family by keeping to the fringes of the territory at a great distance from the rest of the family, and then one day he simply left — he was ready to go at 1.5 years of age. The last instance in the above posting is a father’s, Ivan’s, return to check on his daughter, Sissy, on a territory he and his mate had abandoned, possibly due to its being the end of their reproductive years, leaving daughter on that territory. Had they ceded the territory to her? He seems to be checking on her, and even saying goodby. He never came back after this visit. Ivan was the most benevolent of fathers — I never saw him attack or discipline any of his children (though he did so to intruders), rather he always parted on good terms: he was the epitome of a leader, whereas you have seen from some of these videos that that is not always the case.

That’s Sparks to the right, with the sister he originally dispersed with. She returned to her birthplace.

And my final example is of Sparks. He preferred not dealing with a brother who began trying to dominate. He initially left with his sister, the one in the video linked below, but she returned to her birthplace whereas he continued on and found a permanent place to live on the edge of another family’s territory. I have not seen him with another mate, though I’m hoping this situation might come about. His present status, at 3 years of age, is sort of an interloper with a fairly permanent and defined territory (which is a contradiction). Sparks: A Happy Springtime Update. Sparks came from a litter that had formed incredible caring bonds with each other, and here is a video showing his sister’s concern and care for him. In the video, Sparks was the coyote youngster with the injury.

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