In The ‘Hood: Confused, Scared and a Little Lost

walking down the middle of the street

walking down the middle of the street in San Francisco

Some of our coyotes are dispersing right now as their parents prepare for the next breeding season. Usually between the ages of 1-3, coyotes disperse: they leave their birth homes to make their own way in the world. A coyote may be forced to leave by a sibling or parents, or it may leave on its own. As they explore new areas where they have not been before, you might see one — hurrying through a neighborhood, either down a street or on the sidewalks. They stick to these passageways because coyotes, just like humans, like taking the *path of least resistance*. When they find a place with adequate natural cover, they might try it out as a place to take refuge for a while.

on the sidewalks

on the sidewalks in the heart of San Francisco

They may live for the time-being without a territory and alone. Recently dispersed coyotes tend to live in smaller open spaces, and in-between and on the edges of other coyotes’ claimed territories, and they are not territorial. These individuals are called transients or interlopers. Transients include not only dispersed youngsters, but others who have been displaced from a family — even oldsters! Being social animals, they may get lonely and may at times seek out the company or achieve a mutual *truce* with amenable dogs although they are usually not quite willing to let down their guard totally to become friends.

traversing the neighborhood

traversing a San Francisco neighborhood

Please do not befriend them, and never feed them. As consummate hunters and opportunistic eaters, they are totally able to provide for themselves. Please let them do this. Instead of being friendly, give them the cold-shoulder. They will be safer and so will your pets if you keep this psychological barrier in-place.

And please remember that, *a fed coyote is a dead coyote* — this has become a saying everyone should know. Food conditioning, which results from feeding them, causes coyotes to hang around humans, and sometimes approach and demand food. Wild animals normally defend themselves from fright, a startle, or anything else by nipping, and they will do so if provoked, even if you don’t think you are provoking them.

In alleyways

In alleyways

They will, of course, continue looking for a territory which has not already been claimed by another coyote family, or one that has been vacated for a number of reasons by another family.

Note that, once the carrying capacity of an area is filled, such as in San Francisco, coyotes move out of the city and south, where they have been found as far away as 60 miles within just a week or so. Dispersion is a high-risk time when more coyotes than usual are killed by cars. Please be careful when you drive.

finally, in a natural open space where there is hard orange for her to hide in

finally, she comes to a natural open space where there is natural coverage for her to hide in. San Francisco has plenty of these small havens.

Fleeing From Father

I’m trying to get a handle on a family where the youngster is never present. The parents’ daytime resting time is almost always in close proximity to each other, either in an open field or under cover of some forest edge habitat. Even when I can’t see them, I can tell they are fairly close together because when a siren whizzes by, they respond by yipping which reveals their proximate locations.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the youngster — and with the parental relationship with him — because I seldom see the youngster. Until today. Today I watched this youngster out in the unhidden open. What a rare treat! He did not immediately flee to the underbrush the minute he saw a person (me), but rather allowed me to spend time observing. He just sat there and looked around from his safe-zone in the far distance where I know he stays, but this time he wasn’t concealed behind bushes and thickets.

Soon he got up to go: he stretched and yawned, and obviously was at ease, even though a person was observing him. He looked at me, but basically went about his business. He casually walked off, and then started descending a hill when suddenly he stopped cold, did a quick about-face, and headed up the hill in a hurry, lickety-split. He stopped to look back once and then disappeared over the crest of the hill. I looked down the hill to find out what he might be running from and was surprised to see his father staring at him. Hmmm. Instead of running towards each other for a happy greeting, the youngster was running away with trepidation!

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Had there been an altercation earlier? Might one of these coyotes have secretly taken and reburied a food cash that belonged to the other? Might there have been an issue with insubordination? Might lessons about territoriality and not crossing boundaries have been involved, or even safety issues about remaining away from dogs? Might the firm establishment of a hierarchical order be involved? Or, highly unlikely, might this have been the beginnings of an early dispersal process? I’ve never seen a coyote dispersed under one year of age here in San Francisco, but I’ve heard it alluded to. The bullying that precedes dispersal may go on for months before the youngster decides to take off for a better life elsewhere. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to see coyote family behaviors from this distant fella. We’ll see what happens.