Season for Confirming Territorial Claims is Now

This time of year is when single coyotes who have not yet bonded with a mate are exploring beyond their natal territories, seeking out new areas to live either because of internal drives or because they have been kicked out by their birth families. At the same time, intact mated coyote pairs and their remaining offspring with established territorial claims are on the alert to keep these intruders out.

Recently I wrote about an intruder coyote exploring an area already claimed by a coyote family. The resident coyotes’ reaction was to drive the intruder out. They did this by behaving un-welcomingly and antagonistically: chasing and intimidating by their glares, punching with their snouts and even nipping: https://coyoteyipps.com/2014/12/29/new-face-on-the-block/

People with pet dogs need to be aware that this behavior towards other coyotes may also be directed at dogs. Coyotes may be on the lookout, especially during the next few months, for any canine that they think might want to move in and claim the territory: these include highly active dogs whose owners are not close to them. Their job is to dissuade these trespassers from moving in. All incidents can be prevented by keeping dogs leashed and moving on.

Today in one of our parks, two long-time resident coyotes kept their eyes on two sets of dogs who were extremely active, not leashed, and not terribly close to their owners. In one case, a man was running with two smallish dogs which lagged far behind him. The running and generally active behavior of the dogs is what alerted the coyotes that these two dogs might not just be passing through. The coyotes at first just watched them, but soon they became anxious and agitated as revealed by their behavior: getting up, standing erect and pacing back and forth as they watched. As the two dogs and owner ran on, both coyotes bounded up to follow. As soon as the runner and dogs headed out of the coyote area, the coyotes calmed down.

In the second case, there was one unleashed dog and owner who were fairly calm physically, but not necessarily psychologically calm. The coyotes and dog could read each other and, as instinct would have it, did not like each other: all canines seem to have an antipathy for one another: foxes, coyotes, wolves and dogs.  The coyotes approached the dog within about 30 feet and there was minor but perceptible intimidation on the part of both the dog and the coyotes. I told the owner not to let his dog go after the coyotes, at which point he grabbed his dog by the collar and walked on. A human right next to a dog will dissuade coyotes from approaching.

To prevent any antagonistic incidents during this season — rare though they might be — it is very important for dog walkers to be aware of their surroundings and aware of what season it is for coyotes. When they see a coyote, they need to leash up immediately and walk on, away from the coyotes. This serves as a safety measure for both dogs and coyotes, and it is respectful of wildlife which is only following its instinctive behaviors. If a dog and coyote engage at a closer range, it can be pretty scary, because neither coyote nor dog will respond to an owner. The coyote may even message its antagonism with a nip to the dog’s haunches. If there are two coyotes, a dog may become baffled by the situation and not know what to do. The owner needs to move in and grab his dog quickly — but not if the coyote is too close to the dog and the dog is responding with bared teeth. Neither the coyote’s nor the dog’s intention is to bite the owner, but as the coyote attempts to message the dog and vice-versa, the owner could get scratched or bitten by dog or coyote. Please remember that these incidents are rare: the number of bites or scratches from coyotes to a human, usually because of this situation, amounts to about 17 a year for all of North America, whereas bites to humans from dogs sends 1000 humans to emergency rooms every single day. We all can prevent this eventuality by following simple guidelines: keep your dog leashed in a coyote area, if you see a coyote, move on and away from it, know how to shoo off a coyote if it is approaching.

Edited for clarity 1/18/2015

Coyotes Celebrate Coming Out Ahead: Intact and Uninjured, and Still In Charge of Their Territory

Here is a typical morning in an urban park where there are coyotes and where dogs run free. If you have a dog and know coyotes are out, or if you see a coyote, you need to leash up and move on. In this park, there is a particular team of dogs which chases and harasses these coyotes on an almost daily basis.

On this day, coyotes were out finishing their nighttime trekking. They picked one of their favorite knolls to hang out on. They often stay out to watch and keep an eye on the dogs which visit the park daily, but also they are there “to be seen” by these same dogs: they want these dogs to know that the territory is already claimed — their presence sends this message. It is a purposeful activity. They knew the route and the time that most dogs would walk by, and that time was coming up. They plopped themselves down high up on the incline a substantial distance from any trails and began grooming themselves.

Most dogs and their owners passed uneventfully, as usual: most folks in San Francisco are in awe of and love their urban coyotes in the parks: It makes the parks seem a little more “natural”, a little closer to the nature that humankind once knew, a little further removed from the city right next door. Both coyotes and dogs learn something about each other as they watch one another, and peace is maintained by the owners keeping their dogs away from them.

Unfortunately, there are antagonistic dogs who pursue, and owners who allow their dogs to pursue and harass coyotes. It is always the same dogs, and it is always the same owners who allow it, and it happens on a regular basis. It happened again today, as predictably as the dawn itself. Two dogs from the same family — therefore a “pack” working as a team together — came up the trail ahead of their owners and went searching for the coyotes, saw them and chased after them. The coyotes ran further up the steep incline which was difficult for the dogs. The coyotes stayed up high on the hill and watched. At one point, when the second dog appeared they came down a little, still keeping their safe distance away.

One of the dog owners, one who had no intention of ever leashing his dogs to control them, ran up the hill towards the coyotes and starting heaving rocks at them, snarling, “Darn coyotes, stop bothering my dogs!!”  The coyotes backed up a little preparing to flee, but the dog owner backed down the hill. Of course, it was the dogs and owner who were doing the harassing, not the other way around.

Eventually the recalcitrant dogs and disrespectful owners walked on. The coyotes watched them leave and then hung around to watch and just “be” for a short time, grooming themselves and probably communicating in ways we humans cannot understand: their distress, relief, joy, excitement, and fears, among other things, are communicated simply by the way they act — by their body language and facial expressions.

Then it was time to go. The coyotes ran towards each other, tails wagging, bodies bouncing and wiggling, and headed off. They were all intact, there were no injuries, the territory was still theirs. They seemed to celebrate all this as they left the area hugging next to each other as they went.

 

Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

“Thoughts on Dogs and Coyotes” by Charles Wood

Over the last year the encounters between my dog and “my” coyotes have escalated into confrontations.  A year ago I could unleash my sixty pound dog in their field and successfully manage their infrequent interactions.  I’ve come to understand that my past success was influenced by chance and happenstance to a greater degree than I previously thought.  Today I consider my entering their field as potentially unsafe and provocative.  In contrast, other people use that field at times and have told me they have not seen coyotes there.  Young boys use a part of the field for bicycling, having built earthworks for that purpose.  Transients at times sleep there.  Groundskeepers make their appointed rounds.  Teenagers party.  Towards these other field users, the coyotes have remained a “ghost species”, perhaps because they don’t bring dogs with them.  My dog and I have caused the coyotes to single us out for increasingly confrontational treatment.  It took a year for those changes to develop, a testament to the coyotes’ natural tendency to avoid people.

By chance and happenstance I mean factors that influence coyote behavior.  At root their behavior is about food and reproduction.  Coyotes live mostly in family groups.  Consequently, if you see one coyote there is a good chance there is at least one more present nearby.  It doesn’t seem likely that one coyote and an equally or greater sized unleashed dog will seriously injure each other.  My opinion is that mature breeding coyote pairs together are smarter and stronger than one dog of their size or larger and that coyotes don’t play by the rules that a typical pet dog expects.  The encounters between a larger unleashed dog and such pairs seem to me to be advantaged to the coyotes.  The proximity of a human and the degree of human control exercised over the dog become critical to the outcome of such an encounter.

An unleashed larger dog appears to a coyote as an interloper, and intruder.  Coyotes are known to be intolerant of interloper coyotes.  Coyotes will defend their food sources and their young.  Their options in so doing are legion and their choice of tactics is perhaps situational.  My situation is that my dog foraged, he did not simply walk through the area and/or chase my coyotes.  Also, my dog interacted with a mated pair.  My observations of my coyotes and my interloper dog took place over the last year or so.  The contact with the coyotes began with them simply showing themselves.  They seemed to be saying, hey, you’ve smelled me and my markings, why are you still here?  After a time of being in view, they would withdraw into the brush.  At some point later Dad would attempt to sneak up behind my dog, presumably to deliver a nip to his haunches, nips I could prevent by yelling.  As time passed and I ignored these messages, Dad escalated to warning bark sessions after which he would return to the brush.  Barking sessions were later replaced by more aggressive displays of marking, scraping and mock charging followed by partial withdrawals where he remained in full view.  If we didn’t leave, he would begin those aggressive displays again.  Later, to those types of aggressive displays, Dad at times seemed purposed to separate me from my dog where I read his intent as to engage my dog in combat.  Mom recently temporarily separated me from my dog although we were on opposites sides of a chain link fence.

These behaviors developed over about a year, and about a month ago, Mom also began mock charges, marking and scraping without retreating from view.  I should mention that the zone of intolerance increased beyond their field and into other areas where my dog and I had never had problems with them.  My read of my dog is that he would not visit those coyotes of his own accord and that he has felt that way for some time.  Also, much of the time when we walk along the river bank or go to the bridge, we don’t see any coyotes.  When we do, many times my coyotes don’t behave aggressively.  I can’t predict when they will or when they won’t.  When I do see them, it is for an insignificant fraction of their day and I never know what kind of day they had.

Several years ago in a different area, at dusk, two coyotes followed my dog and me as we were leaving.  On the crest of a hill, one of the coyotes ran out in view of my dog while the other remained behind crouching.  My dog stupidly chased the moving coyote down the hill out of my sight.  The crouching coyote did not follow my dog, perhaps because I was present.  Perhaps the coyotes were practicing, but clearly my dog was at risk of being defeated in a frontal and rear attack.  I hadn’t visited that other area very often, yet those other coyotes engaged my dog at a level it has taken a year for my usual coyotes to approach.  Once, in that other area, my dog was off leash and out of my view.  I called him and he didn’t come.  I began to look for him and soon saw him running full speed towards the exit which is located about a mile from where we were.  I called him, he momentarily paused, missed one step in his galloping gate and looked me in the eye.  His look and body language said to me, “Forget it, I’m outta here buddy!”  It took me a while to catch up to him near the exit.  I believe he was responding to some wildness directed towards him by a coyote, again, one of my first visits to that other area.  Here again I am speaking to the unpredictability of coyote behavior, the reason the experts advise us, upon seeing a coyote, to go the other way.  We can choose to do so.  An unleashed dog may decide to chase the coyote and the outcome may or may not be consequential to the chasing dog.

Part of the unpredictability of coyote behavior could be attributable to the fact that the circumstances in which coyotes find themselves change over time.  Food may be plentiful one year and scarce the next.  A female may lack a mate one year and acquire one the next.  One year there may be no puppies and the next there may be several that survive for months or longer.  I have no idea why the coyote I call Mom recently became aggressive when for the longest time she was timid and obsequious.

I want to reiterate that the behaviors of escalating aggression I observed over a year were behaviors that I elicited by ignoring the messages the coyotes were giving me.  My behaviors caused the increasingly aggressive behaviors I observed.  From the point of view of the coyotes, my behavior was that of a perpetual repeat offender.  I continually brought my dog, whom they perceive as an intruding competitor, into their home.  I had decided to give my 60 pound dog a little space with coyotes in order to find out for myself what would happen.  I don’t like what happened.  My behavior was to repeatedly intrude into their home range and seek contact and take pictures.  My unwise dog used the space I gave him to seek food and to disturb the coyote family.  The coyotes’ home range contains their children and their food, the two things coyotes care most about.  They responded accordingly.  After all, coyote behavior is rooted in food and reproduction.

I’ve wondered, considering how little territory my coyotes occupy, how it was that rabbits were always present.  Why weren’t the rabbits depleted and why hadn’t the coyotes moved on?  One reason is rabbits reproduce rapidly.  Another is that other rabbits nearby come in and take over the space formerly occupied by rabbits that the coyotes ate.  The same kind of habitat seeking applies to coyotes.  Removal or extermination creates empty habitat for other coyotes to find and occupy.  The idea that “something must be done” about coyotes is simply an idea that is obsolete.  Coyote survival in urban and suburban areas doesn’t depend at all on how many are removed or killed.  Their ability to find and use habitat in urban and suburban areas depends on how we behave towards and think about coyotes.  Understanding the nature of coyotes helps us to manage our lives in ways that minimize unwanted contacts with them.  Coyote presence requires us to change a little.

Crows and Ravens

Crows and ravens are quite similar and quite different. Both are extremely intelligent birds — they have been known to use tools! Crows tend to like urban settings whereas ravens prefer more natural settings. Ravens weigh about four times more than crows and have a wingspan of almost 4 feet versus 2.5 for the crow. Crows caw whereas ravens tend to croak! Tail feathers in flight are more diamond-shaped for a raven, with a slight point, whereas for a crow the configuration of the tail feathers is more of a fan-shape: more rounded or even flat at the tip of the tail. The beaks of ravens are much more robust than that of crows. And, ravens have more vocal ability: a friend today told me that all was quiet as he was taking photos of ravens, and then the ravens began mimicking the click of his camera!!  Both are raptors, which means they do eat prey among other things. They eat rodents, carrion, berries, refuse. They are scavengers. These birds will sometimes work as a team: two are more effective than one.  So, for instance, I often see crows pursuing and attacking a red-tail hawk. A red-tail hawk is a larger bird, but the crows work in pairs or even more — their advantage in such a situation is that there are more of them. I don’t think a red-tail has ever really been “hurt” by these attacks. Rather, the crows are driving the hawks away from their main haunts — they are protecting their territorial hunting areas from competition. Maybe they are also protecting their young ones and eggs. The birds depicted on this posting are ravens.

This is a common scenario. Ravens and crows treat coyotes in the same manner and for the same reasons. Coyotes (the dominant alpha ones) treat dogs in the same manner and for the same reasons. Humans treat coyotes and other humans (think of the immigration issue) in the same manner — and that is how it goes.

However, I’ve also read about a symbiotic relationship between crows and coyotes. I’ve seen ravens and coyotes together in various of our parks now. Competition between ravens and coyotes can be understood because they eat the same stuff: rodents, carrion, berries, refuse. They are both scavengers. Yet, I’ve read where they can work together, too. Ravens know how and when to take advantage of other animals to help them bum a meal they couldn’t get on their own. They might wait for a coyote to catch a larger rodent, say a skunk, which they will finish off after the coyote has gone. In Yellowstone, bison that have not survived the severe winter attract the coyotes, whose teeth and  jaws can rip open the tough, frozen hides — making the meat accessible to watchful ravens. Ravens also have followed wild wolf packs to a kill; even flying ahead of the wolves to lead them to prey!

Over the past few weeks I’ve become aware of ravens croaking loudly for 20 minutes or so. This has always been from a particular grove of several trees. I wondered what kind of “party” they might be having!! Several times I walked over, but by then the croaking had ceased.

Then today, I finally saw why these ravens were carrying on so. They were attempting to drive out a little coyote who was hunting in their area — the same as I’ve seen them drive out the red-tail hawks. The ravens were following the coyote and croaking loudly. The coyote kept looking up at them and stayed close to low-lying overhead branches for protection. At one point this coyote approached an open area away from the raven area. This area bordered on a path, and when people passed by, the coyote re-entered the bosque again. Coyotes are very edgy around people and dogs and most will avoid them if at all possible. I’ve added photos above of the little coyote hiding behind a tree, hiding behind some brush, running off from various dog and human situations. And there is a photo of a young coyote hunting — this is, of course, why they are out in the first place. This is the first day I have ever seen a coyote actually rip open a garbage bag. The coyote was hungry and that is why it was out.