Some Dispersal Routes and Family Situations Over The Last Two Seasons

This dispersal diagram on its own, with the several paragraphs that follow it, will give you a nice visual summary of what happens to our coyotes when they leave home. Individual family situations/histories follow [press MORE to read on]: this section is long because I’ve tried to include all their connections. I know each coyote: their personalities, behaviors, family situations and relationships, but it might be tedious reading for anyone who doesn’t. So know that the dispersal diagram section is enough to get the idea across.

A Dispersal Diagram

Have you ever wondered where our coyotes go once they disperse from their birth territories, and what their situations are?

When individual coyotes disperse — leave their birth territories — or for that matter, in one case here, abandon their long-claimed established territories totally — they disappear into the ether almost always never to be seen again by me. Only by chance had I ever seen a few of the dispersed youngsters again, but I didn’t follow through — I’ve always been more concerned with family life, relationships, and individual interactions. However, very recently I’ve been noticing my dispersed youngsters again somewhere else, or on their way somewhere else, and gone from home, so I’ve made a point of following or following-up on a number of these to what appear to be their final (final for now) territory destinations.

Dispersing coyotes are the ones who wander in order to explore their options, find their own territories, and pair-up long-term with mates: their routes are the thin red lines in the diagram. Once they find a territory — be it a vacant or vacated niche, or one they’ve had to fight for — they pretty much tend to stick to that general area: these are the colored circles on the diagram. Most of the dispersals are youngsters, heading out to make it on their own in the world, but I’ve also seen older mated pairs and even an older individual leave a territory to find another. Sometimes a couple of siblings may leave together, but mostly they leave alone, as far as I have seen. Most of the time the breakaway from home is complete and final, but I’ve also seen several individuals repeatedly return home for a period of time before taking a final leave. I’ve seen youngsters leave home slightly before 9 months of age, and as late as 2.5 years of age — they leave of their own accord, when they are ready and without any prodding from parents or siblings, or they are driven out by either parents or siblings. Please remember that what I say here is based entirely on my own first-hand observations: there are going to be situations that I myself have not seen.

I’ve depicted some of these routes and destinations in the diagram above. The colored circles on this map show some of the territories that I’m most familiar with — these are the territories from where or to where these coyotes travelled. The connected circles are fragmented but constitute one territory centered around a park or around one large open green space or an accumulation of smaller green spaces. Park or open-space boundaries hold no meaning for coyotes, so of course the surrounding neighborhoods are a part of these territories. General routes, from their birth territories to their new permanent territorial homes are shown on the map by thin arrow-headed red lines. Naturally, their movements were not smooth lines at all, but rather jagged, erratic, interrupted, and with diversions along the way. In the case of “Wired”, I left off her full-city-length circuits to avoid cluttering. The arrow-head itself is where individual coyotes ended up at their new “forever” homes where they have remained — or in one case remained for a full year and raising a new litter of pups before picking up and moving on again. I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to follow dispersals in the blue circles, but I’ve included some of these in the diagram simply to show there are more dispersals going on than covered in this posting. Two of the coyotes I talk about I had never seen before — they would have come from one of these blue areas or an area not depicted on the map.

Several years ago, before the time-frame of this posting, I saw dispersing youngsters meanly driven away by territorial owners. The flip side of this is that this year, I’ve seen a couple of youngsters warmly welcomed into territories by the resident coyotes. This goes to show that what you might see as a family with pups isn’t always a genetic family!

Then, below, in the second section, I tell a little bit more about the family or territorial situations of the recent dispersals diagrammed above — just bare-bones “to”-and-“from” situational summaries to help round-out their dispersal stories: there are a lot of coyotes and a lot of stories. The diagram covers dispersals over just the last couple of seasons, and one from several years earlier as a precursor to her last year’s story. A number of the individuals I watched grow up from different territories ended pairing up in new territories with others I had watched grow up elsewhere, so in many cases I’ve been familiar all along with both partners of a new pair. In a few instances I know the origins of only one of the new pair. The weft and warp of intertwining individuals has resulted in a tangle in the telling, as you’ll see below!  Any repetitions are to ensure you catch the connections. I’ve grouped these descriptions by family of origin, and maybe this will make it easier. And remember that all of our San Francisco coyotes came from just four original coyote founders.

Several consistencies pop up in my descriptions below. I mention “long-entrenched families on the same territories for many years”. This, along with coyotes’ propensity to mate for life are elements of permanence and stability which can last many years. A stable family can better defend its land than can a loner coyote: having a mate helps. And an intimate knowledge of that land which goes along with ownership better ensures survival because resource locations are known and there are fewer unknown hazards than in the unfamiliar world beyond. Keeping other coyotes out of this territory eliminates the competition for these resources. I also mention “vacated territories” and “forced ousters”, and the “disappearance” of stable oldsters from their lands, which are elements of impermanence and change. Please note that each coyote is an individual: no two stories or situations are the same. So these are some facets involved in coyote dispersal. I’ve sprinked in photos, even though most people can’t tell one coyote from another, but I can, and part of who I’m writing for is myself!  :)) 

The Dispersed and their Family Situations


Sparks, born last year, dispersed at 11 months of age, wandering around for seven months, and even stopping or resting at several locations for 3 weeks to a month along the way (he had a fractured wrist), before settling 5 miles away from his birthplace where he moved in with a 3-year old, Cai2, a mother with 5-month-old pups. Cai’s previous male companion, Stumpf, had disappeared a month earlier and may have been “the sick” coyote that several people had seen but I had not. Into this situation came Sparks who had come from a long-entrenched family that owned the same territory for continuous generations over the last 13 years. He was one of 6 siblings born in 2019, and it was probably sibling rivalry between brothers that drove him out, judging from what I saw. Whether these two coyotes are forming a pair-bond, or Cai2 is simply taking care of a youngster in need, only time will tell. I don’t normally see males pair up at just 18 months of age, which is what Sparks is.

[press the “more” button below to bring up the rest of the posting if you can’t already see it]


Homage to Bonnie

Bonnie in her prime, as a mother and alpha of her mated pair

I’ve seen plenty of coyotes “disappear” from their territories. Usually it’s youngsters who have dispersed which is an eventuality that anyone would expect — it’s part of the ebb and flow of family life and an occurrence we all know will happen. Mom and Dad are the stable ones who remain as a pair on the same land creating a moored family unit which remains intact through many seasons.

So when a “Mom” or “Dad” of a young family disappears, it is not expected and it leaves a hole in the family. And that is what happened on one of my territories. Bonnie, an alpha mom, disappeared over two weeks ago. I had hoped her absence might be due to a recoverable injury or illness and that she might have been hanging low until she was better, but if that had been the case, she would have returned by now, and she has not. So tragedy struck, and I don’t know how, except she is no longer around.

Bonnie is on the right, her two male siblings are to the left

She had migrated/dispersed along with two brothers to this new territory when it was abandoned by its two aging alphas after 12 years of occupation. A three year old daughter of that pair remained on the land all alone for a while until the newcomers appeared, and then her behavior became irregular and nervous. After about 3 months, it appears she was either forced to leave or decided to leave because she didn’t get along with them, and soon we no longer saw her even though she initially seemed to be pairing up with the Bonnie’s older brother. From then on, for a year, we only ever saw Bonnie and her two brothers on the land.

Then this year, the two brothers dispersed together, and I’ve been able to keep track of them, but that’s another story. This year I found Bonnie alone there. By March it was obvious she was pregnant and sure enough, she became a lactating mom in April. It’s only at that time that I glimpsed her new mate, a very shy and elusive fellow. It was obvious that he didn’t like to be seen, so I did my best to keep away from him.

Bonnie was the alpha of her pair-bond. Interestingly, sometimes it’s the male of the pair, and sometimes it’s the female who is the dominant one. I’ve also seen where both alphas are fairly equal, and I’ve seen the role slowly shift from one to the other.

So now, on the territory I’m seeing Bonnie’s three youngsters alone a lot of the time. One of them particularly looks like Bonnie, and from the distance I even thought it might be her, returned, but I was mistaken. I see Dad very sporadically, usually marking. Recently I put out a trap camera hoping to get more insight into what is going on, and indeed something is going on. Another coyote pair, an outsider male and female, seems to come by once a day at midnight and mark. I wonder what will happen next. I wonder if Dad will, or will even want to, defend his territory from them. We’ll find out.

Here is Bonnie with some of her goofy expressions: I think coyotes are beautifully expressive

Bonnie seemed to attract ravens — she dealt with them on a daily basis.

These are Bonnie’s three 5-month old pups. They are appropriately wary, and I’m hoping they stay that way. I see them playing and chasing each other in the late afternoon — life goes on without mom.  :((

© 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/

Not Seen

For three full hours this coyote was able to avoid being seen by anyone at all except one man who said he thought he might have seen it, but wasn’t sure!  The coyote picked times to move around when there was little activity. When it heard or saw someone, it slipped casually into the bushes — there was no quick movement which might have drawn one’s attention to it, so people simply did not notice. When there were not enough bushes around to “slip into”, ducking casually behind one, so as to be partially hidden, worked. At one point, on parallel paths separated by greenery, the coyote simply stood absolutely still and watched, until the “danger” on the other parallel path had passed, and then continued on its slow trek. When it stopped to relax, it did so in tall grasses or against shrubbery or far enough away from the beaten path so as not to draw attention to itself. Most importantly, it moved slowly or stood absolutely still — walkers and runners would go by without noticing the coyote at all.

Of course, this is not always the case. Sometimes a coyote gets unlucky and is seen — and people like to tell others what they have seen so word spreads.  But also I have seen coyotes who allow themselves to be very conspicuous at times — seemingly on purpose. They do so most often by picking a dog-walking time for an excursion or to check things out. And then there is always the surprise encounter when someone suddenly appears on the path ahead. If there is a dog involved, a coyote will stop its activity and look at the dog until it passes, and then continue with whatever it had been doing and wherever it had been going.

Experts at Eluding Detection: Coyote behavior

I keep my eyes open for wildlife — this is where my focus is, so I have become pretty good at catching what someone else might miss. Today I spotted a coyote on a path — pretty visible right in the open — but it was gone in the blink of an eye. The minute it knew it had been seen, it immediately was absolutely and totally GONE. It had bounced, like a rabbit, into some underbrush, and although I thought I might be able to see it again, I did not. The day before I was able to make out two ears way up ahead on the horizon with the sun coming from that direction — visibility was bad. When I got there, no critter was to be seen anywhere until with much effort I was able to detect a slight movement off to the side. It was the coyote, well camouflaged behind some thorny underbrush. I had only an instant to look, before it was off and gone.

Coyotes are often not seen by walkers: they easily elude detection, even if you are looking for one. I have seen many walkers not see one that crossed very close in front of them! Of course, at other times you might see one wandering boldly on an open path, totally unconcerned, and it might turn around and examine you out of curiosity. Or you might see one surveying the area from a lookout. There are no generalities with coyotes.

Invisibility Cloak: Coyote behavior

Coyotes have a fabulous ability to appear stealthily on the scene, and to stealthily disappear!  In the early morning you might see one, on the horizon suddenly, and barely at first, in the form of a whispering shadow — coming in “on little cat feet” like the fog. Or, you might see one, suddenly, sitting some ways in front of you when you turn your head, where it was not before. I think this feeling of “sudden appearance”  involves a psychological aspect “the not-expected”, along with a coyote’s slow, smooth and even movements, and the coyote’s absolutely wonderfully camouflaged coat. Most of us are not expecting to see a coyote, so it appears, seemingly, out of nowhere, like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. Once it is spotted, it is easy to keep in your vision — until it decides to disappear.

Several times I’ve followed a coyote that was fleeing from something — it was running quickly down a path — only to find it had totally disappeared around a bend. That part is not so unusual, but when I have questioned people who were around, most often none of them ever saw it!

Another time I saw a coyote veer off into a brush area — a small brush area. I could not find it anywhere, even though I’ve gotten pretty good at tracking and trailing wild animals. But later I saw that it had gone nowhere at all — I found it close to where I had last seen it!

I’ve seen coyotes evade, or sometimes even never be seen by, many dogs and many humans. Dogs and humans will walk by on a trail without a clue as to what is watching them — coyotes can be very still and they like to watch. They really don’t care to be seen, for the most part, and they know how to make this work — for the most part.