Playing Coyote, by Audrey Chavez

“My friends and I were delighted to witness a lively urban coyote enjoying a morning romp with a tennis ball.  We felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to observe a wild animal at play.”

Motion Reactivity in Coyotes

2016-10-27

Motion reactivity is a big factor influencing coyote behavior. If you have a dog, you need to know about it.

Motion reactivity is a reaction to excessive or fast motion. Coyotes are programmed to react to this kind of stimulus. It’s because of this that we tell folks not to run from a coyote. When a coyote sees something running, say a running rabbit, it is immediately put on alert and pumped with adrenalin in preparation for pursuit. It is a hunting and a defensive instinct.

If your dog is actively chasing a ball, actively chasing or wrestling with another dog, or fighting with another dog, these involve fast and hyper motions. A coyote’s attention is immediately attracted to the activity. They stop what they are doing and are drawn to it.

Today, we saw a classic example of this motion reactivity. A dog walker, who knew a coyote was nearby, allowed her dog to walk off-leash in the area. The dog’s attention was caught by a juvenile Red-Tail Hawk who had slammed into the grasses to grab a rodent and then hovered close to the ground for a few seconds. None of us noticed how quickly the dog ran off, excited, enthusiastic and full of unleashed energy, after the hawk.

The dog’s excited dash across the field — involving hyperactive movements and speed — immediately caught the coyote’s attention. The coyote had been foraging calmly in the grassy field several hundred yards away — not at all close to where the hawk activity had been. She had been ignoring the continual stream of dogs and walkers passing by for the previous couple of hours, looking up only now and then from her own activity — they all had passed through calmly and uneventfully.

But when the hyperactivity began, and the dog’s quick movements were in her direction and away from the owner, the coyote’s instincts kicked in, and she dashed like a bullet towards the dog. As a number of people yelled at the owner to get her dog, the owner scrambled to do so and was able to leash the dog. The coyote stopped about 75 feet away, deterred by the number of people — five of them — standing by the dog.

Chances are that the coyote and dog might never have made contact. But the coyote is territorial, which means she protects her hunting areas. Coyotes drive outsider, non-family coyotes out of their territories. Territories belong exclusively to the one coyote family which lives there and these territories are not shared with other coyotes. The coyote’s motivation in charging at the dog would have been to drive the dog — an obvious hunting competitor judging by its pursuit of the hawk — out.

The coyote was deterred from advancing further by people. If people hadn’t been there, and if the owner had been alone with her dog, the owner’s option would have been to leash her dog and WALK AWAY immediately, thereby showing the coyote that the coyote nor the territory were “objects of interest”.  This is accomplished by walking away and increasing the distance between dog and coyote. Increased distance is your friend.

The event was very interesting for everyone present, but it could easily have ended with a nip to the dog’s haunches, and been a more frightening experience for the owner. On the other hand, the incident could have been entirely prevented in the first place had the dog been leashed in an area where a coyote was known to be foraging.

2016-10-30-10

Finally, on a leash

One Happy Coyote!

Although I posted this on YouTube two years ago, I neglected to put it on my blog. I just rediscovered it, so here it is now. This is a nine-month old female youngster. She plays with a dead vole: she runs, tosses, scoots, summersaults, rolls, flips and jumps! Enjoy!

Yodeling and Yipping Are Achieved Through Mouth Movements

This video shows one of two coyotes who are yipping back and forth together. You can clearly see how she uses her mouth muscles — pulling them back or pushing them forward — to achieve the yipping or yodeling sounds. Humans do this too, but we have the additional use of our tongues which allows us to produce speech.

Many people mistake these high-pitched coyote yips for pup sounds when they can’t see who is making them, but as you can see here, it is adults who are making the sounds! These two coyotes began this yipping session after ambulance sirens were heard — which is a common response by coyotes.

A Dog Chase Can Prime A Coyote’s Suspicions About Other Dogs

This morning, I observed a coyote’s “protective mode” kick-in and then linger-on for a while. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

A female coyote was out in a park before dawn, sticking to the park’s edges and hedges as she casually hunted. She just wanted to be left alone to hunt her fill of voles and gophers — critters which tunnel underground. A few runners, walkers and dogs passed by — some noticing her and vice-versa, and some not. When notice of each other was taken, it was taken in-stride by all: humans, dogs, and coyote.

2016-10-06-0

Unleashed dog sees coyote and chases after it

Then a runner who in the past has thrown fits of defiance when asked to leash — “her dog wouldn’t chase coyotes,” she said — came running by with her unleashed dog leading the way. The dog saw the coyote and, of course, made a bee-line for it. The coyote dashed to get away but, as the dog continued its pursuit, the coyote turned around to face her pursuer. In the meantime, the coyote’s “other half” — the male of the pair, who had been resting in the bushes — saw the goings-on and came to the female’s defense. This male will protect his female. And the dog, of course, was now outnumbered and overwhelmed. When this happens, some dogs freeze, not knowing what to do, and it was no different this time. At this point, the runner ran in to retrieve her dog, leashed it, and then ran on, miffed.

Okay, you might think that the incident was over, that the woman runner may now reconsider leashing her dog when coyotes are out (which she has for the few days since) and that is a good thing. But the incident was not over. The coyotes now were “primed”: suspicious, and in “defensive-mode”. I’ve seen this behavior a number of times: where once their defensive-mode kicks in, usually due to being chased, their suspicions and readiness for another incident remains heightened for a while.

While “she” lolled over to an edge of the park and continued hunting for gophers, “he” lay down, claiming a little patch of ground, while keeping a protectively watchful eye on her, and at the same time, keeping a lookout for repeat treatment either from another dog, or maybe from the same dog.

No “suspects” presented themselves, so after not too long, he got up and trotted in her direction. High-pitched barking of a dog from behind a solid wooden fence now began — some dogs can sense the presence of coyotes, even without seeing them.  The male coyote, still suspicious and on-alert, checked out the fence separating him from the yappy dog. But all was secure, so the little dog could not be reached — just annoyingly heard. (This is where the male acquired his cobwebs which I wrote about in the last posting).

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Two coyotes who have been “primed” into their protective mode, begin to follow a small dog

There was no threat to the coyotes here, so both coyotes then meandered up a path to leave the area, but a woman with her little Jack Russell now appeared coming towards them. I asked the woman to shorten her leash which she did and she moved off the path, taking a short-cut so as not to get any closer to the coyotes. As she did so, the coyotes themselves trotted away from her and then turned to watch. The coyotes watched her for a moment, and then one of the coyotes, the female this time, began following, and soon the male, too, followed. The woman turned to face the coyotes, which caused the coyotes to freeze and stop advancing. It was the perfect thing to do. But every time the woman then turned to move on, the coyotes continued to follow.

Fleeing from the possibility of a rock missile

Fleeing from the possibility of a rock missile

I suggested she lean down to pick up a rock, which she did — to hold on to “just in case”, she told me — and when she did this, the coyotes hurried off the path and away. They seemed to know this meant business.  Owner and dog then walk on out of the picture. Their moving away from the coyotes showed the coyotes that the owner and dog were not interested in them, which caused the coyotes to lose interest in her and her dog. The coyotes relaxed, spent some time grooming, and then climbed a rock to survey the area from a high vantage point. A runner passed, thrilled that he could see urban coyotes.

A third dog-walker whose dogs growled at the coyote. She walked them on, and away from the coyote.

A third dog-walker whose dogs growled at the coyote. She walked them on, and away from the coyote.

Then one last walker with two large dogs appeared from behind the rocks. One of the dogs saw the male coyote and vice-versa. The dog growled at the coyote who was several hundred feet away. This pricked the coyote’s interest in them — so the coyote headed in the dog’s direction, not getting close, but in clear view. Remember that his suspicion and defensiveness were still running high.  The woman leashed and walked on and away from them — she, too, did the right thing. Walking AWAY from coyotes is the best option always. After watching them walk away — walking away showed him that they were not interested in him — the male coyote turned and went in the opposite direction, until he came to a dense thicket into which he disappeared.

Please Don’t Feed The Coyotes!

2016-10-08

[Situation report and photo by Nathan & Yvonne]

This coyote on Rodeo Beach has been wandering around trying to get food from people. Folks are blaming this behavior on the belief that the coyote has become used to people. But “getting used to people” — known as “habituation” — does not cause coyotes to approach people for food, or to approach people at all.  Coyotes actually are naturally wary of people and, habituated or not, will do their best to avoid us. What causes coyotes to approach people for food is the act of feeding them in the first place. It’s called food-conditioning. Feed them once, and they’ll start coming back for more.

“Habituation” and “food-conditioning” are totally different things. Coyotes in all urban centers get used to people and this is not necessarily a bad thing for people, pets or  coyotes. However, food-conditioning is what makes coyotes approach people and it causes problems. Such coyotes hang around in the wrong places. They could become belligerent in their demands for food. And if hand fed, they could end up biting the hand that feeds them.

Many people think they should “scare” coyotes whenever they see them to keep them fearful of people. This is not so. In fact, coyotes often get used to being scared off by people and learn to ignore the tactic. It’s a technique which should be used sparingly if at all. We counsel everyone, especially dog owners, to leash and walk the other way the minute they see a coyote. Keeping the distance between your dog and the coyote is your best insurance against incidents. Incidents really don’t happen all that often — proximity is what sets them off.

And please don’t feed coyotes. By doing so, you are creating the potential for injury to yourself, and the possibility of death for the coyote: “A fed coyote is a dead coyote”. People often want to “eliminate” coyotes who approach people or appear bold.

A Cobweb Fur Day

2016-10-06-2

Maybe you’ve had a bad hair day? Well, I found a coyote who was having a cobweb fur day! What I first noticed was a black mark on his face, which I thought represented an injury of some sort. I tried to photograph him face-on so that I could zero-in on the exact nature of the marking. Before I could figure it out, I detected an odd anomaly in what I thought was the background as I snapped my photos.

2016-10-06-1

I wondered to myself what that background messiness was. Then, I noticed that this background anomaly actually ALWAYS appeared between the coyote’s ears. Ahhh, it wasn’t the background, it was something ON the coyote! I soon figured out that it was cobwebs that had become stuck on and between his ears, as though he was wearing them! How funny!

2016-10-06-3

The black mark soon disappeared, and the sticky cobwebs soon, apparently, slipped off of his ears and down to one of his eyes — my next photos wouldn’t produce a clear eye, but kept showing a blurred or messy eye. Again, I had to zero-in to figure it out. I wonder how much it was hampering him, if at all — possibly giving him a bad hair day? It was a rather intense day, which I’ll post about next time.

2016-10-06

Going back over my photos, I was able to locate exactly where he had picked these up. It was among brambles outside someone’s fence where he had gone to investigate the barking on the other side of the fence. By the way, it’s a great fence: “good fences make good neighbors”, and this one keeps dog and coyote neighbors “good”.

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