Expert Huntress

I asked a very good friend if he thought this video might be too long for viewers. This is what he said:

“It is wonderful, & beautiful — particularly the sound, and the length, which both are perfect — nature is slow… those digitalkids & iphonephreaks who believe they live in a soundbyte world, don’t — there are entire worlds out there, surrounding them and containing them and of which they are a tiny miniscule and unimportant part, which move far more slowly — Nature is one of those, Geology moves far more slowly even than that — Astral events, the stars, move both far more slowly and sometimes a whole lot faster, than they do — let the slowness here, decorated so wonderfully by that chirping-birds & airplane soundtrack, remind them of their own relativity in all of that”.

This video is long, at 5:51 minutes. The most interesting parts are the tiptoeing at 1:10, the series of pounces where she caves in the underground tunnels of her prey at 1:44, and then the furious digging and moving of ground cover at 2:17. She exposes her prey by this digging and grabs it at 3:28 and then eats it. A young female shows how adept she is at her hunting routine:

Here is a breakdown of what is occurring:

  • To begin with, patiently, she stands there, super alert, watching and listening, triangulating her ears from side to side, and nodding her head back and forth to exactly and precisely locate her prey by sound.
  • At 1:10 she tiptoes, ever so carefully so that her prey may not hear her — a little bit closer
  • Soon thereafter, at 1:44 she tenses, getting ready to leap, backs up a little bit and then springs up and down into several pounces, landing hard on her forepaws with a series of  “punches” meant to knock in her prey’s intricate tunneling system underground. This prevents the gopher from escaping through that tunnel network. This lasts until 2:05.
  • At 2:17 she begins furiously digging and digging, both deep into the ground to break through into the tunnels, and on the surface to move the ground-cover out of the way, all the while continually keeping a wary eye on her surroundings, including me and folks walking in back of me.
  • At 3:28 she catches her prey, disables it, and tosses it to the ground. Then, by looking around, she assesses how safe it is to eat right it then and there. She decides it’s not so safe, so she runs off with it.
  • At 3:36 until the end of the video, she eats her prey, tearing into several more manageable eating portions and chewing these down to swallowable sizes — it takes a while, and then she calmly walks off. Note that there is no waste — she eats every bit of her prey: entrails, muscles, fur and bones.

 

 

Coyote and Snake

We have large (harmless) gopher snakes in San Francisco, as well as the much smaller garter snakes.  I’ve seen coyotes “toy” with the smaller garter snakes, but never eat one: see my older post about Snakes Are Not For Eating.

Gopher snakes, on the other hand, as depicted here, are larger and more substantive, and therefore, it appears, they are worth eating for a coyote.

 

On May 2, the very day after the above photos were taken, someone took this video of a coyote contending with, and then eating, probably the same snake, since it was in the same location. This life and death in the city is constant and ongoing. We city dwellers tend not to see it and maybe don’t want to hear about it. It might be sad, but that’s how the food chain works: one must give its life so that another may live, and it happens millions of times every day.

 

A Hunting Episode — With A Surprise. . . For Me?

My attention was drawn to the lone coyote hunting in some tall grasses because of a huge unleashed dog which went after it and because of the owner who yelled out for her dog to return. That’s one way to locate a well camouflaged coyote! Surprisingly, the dog returned.  The owner leashed her dog and continued on her run.

I watched as the coyote watched them leave: the coyote was alert and could easily have fled, but he kept cool and walked casually on a few paces. For the next hour I would watch this coyote hunt. . . . and then I was rewarded.

Within the span of that hour the coyote didn’t travel far. He moved slowly. He seemed always to be aware of where the prey might be. For instance, he moved 50 feet off the path to a specific spot — had he heard the prey? He stopped and stared at the ground, and the unfortunate meal was caught without much effort. This continued as the coyote went through a plethora of voles and finally a large gopher.

It’s this last gopher of that hour that received the bulk of the coyote’s attention. This might have been because the coyote already had a full stomach. The coyote seemed to have sensed it from 25 feet off the path. He moved slowly towards it, looking around, climbing over a fallen tree trunk, and finally zeroing in on the exact spot where the gopher was. And then, he exercised extreme patience: he waited and waited, triangulating his head to zero in on the exact location, moving very little. Finally, the pounce happened and the coyote caught his prey.

But this didn’t mean the hunt was over. The unlucky victim managed to escape, to begin with. Coyotes seem to be able to find needles in haystacks, and in that dense and high grass the coyote re-located his prey. But neither was this to be the end of the hunt. Instead of wolfing it down, the coyote watched it, poking it now and then, and sometimes looking at me. I sat back, hoping the ordeal would be over quickly. It wasn’t.

And then, with the prey still wiggling a little, the coyote began walking in my direction with his catch, and then. . . . . he dropped the prey in front of me. Oh, no! Was it an offering of friendship?  This particular coyote has been allowing me to watch him for almost two years. I always keep my distance — I don’t want to be brought into his “circle” of activity or to interact, ever — but maybe he thought differently?  My observations are strictly about being on the outside and watching in. I immediately, but ever so slowly and carefully, distanced myself further from the scene. The coyote peered at me as I moved off. Maybe he thought that I was an idiot for not accepting his generosity — either his friendship or the gopher? Seeing that I was not interested, he picked up the prey and slowly walked off with it.

walking off with prey in mouth

walking off with prey in mouth

I lost him for a short time, and then saw him again, finishing off his meal — not swallowing it whole as it is usually done, but tearing the food apart this time. It really was a large gopher — a prize.

 

original draft: 7-13-11

The Skies Are Finally Dumping Buckets of Water on San Francisco

2015-12-21

We’ve just been through a four-year drought here in San Francisco, so the recent, incessant heavy rains are ever so welcome by everyone, including coyotes who know that gophers and voles are easier caught when they’ve been drowned out of their extensive underground tunnels.

Here’s a photo of a coyote in a field, comfortably sprawled out and waiting for a park straggler and his dog to depart so that he can begin his hunting. The dog was an older black Lab and, although this coyote and the dog have a respectful “stand off” relationship, the dog nevertheless barked his displeasure at seeing the coyote contentedly lying there in the field, and even approached within about 50 feet of the coyote.  But the coyote just remained where he was, in the pouring rain, standing his ground, until the park visitors left. Folks don’t usually hang out in the pouring rain, and the coyote was counting on this.

As these last stragglers left the area, the coyote moved to a higher vantage point, where he remained until no one was in sight. He then got up and combed the field, back and forth, looking for gophers, and marking now and then. I, also, left because of the driving rain, so I was unable to count his hunting successes.

Several weeks later I spotted this same coyote during another downpour. He quickly and without much effort caught himself a full meal and then settled down to eat it — in the pouring rain. Notice the very drenched gopher he caught.

2016-01-05

Coyote And Squirrel

No words are needed. This coyote’s eyes say it all! The coyote plopped down on the ground and for minutes on end kept a hungry eye on the squirrel who chattered and fussed and flailed its tail provokingly at the coyote. The squirrel had actually gotten away by the skin of its teeth when the coyote lunged at him just a moment before scampering up the tree, so the coyote must have been miffed, which explains his expression. In the end, the coyote got up and left, and the squirrel did too, but not until the coyote was way down the path!

2014-08-30 (3)

Seeing Larger Number of Coyotes Traveling Together: Need for Concern? by Mary Paglieri

Photo by ©Andrew S. Kelley, www.andrewkelley.net

Photo printed with permission by ©Andrew S. Kelley, http://www.andrewkelley.net

Eastern Coyotes have been seen traveling in larger groups at this time of year, and this is creating some concern for folks in urban areas. People are asking, because of the snowfall, if the coyotes are desperate for food and will they be hunting in “packs,” and are they more dangerous to pets and small children? The answer is no as explained by Behavioral Ecologist/Animal Behaviorist and Human-Animal Conflict Consultant, Mary Paglieri:
 .
Cooperative hunting in Eastern coyote family units is an evolutionarily stable strategy. It is a strategy that is adopted to bring down a single large prey animal i.e. white tail deer, because failing to do so, would reduce each individual’s ability to survive through the winter when small prey is not readily accessible. White tail deer, their primary source of food in winter, is too large to be taken down by one coyote, and the cost to that coyote’s wellbeing from injuries incurred while doing so can be very high. These costs are lessened when all members of the family work cooperatively. Furthermore, the increased benefit from cooperative hunting must compensate for the division of available meat amongst the cooperators: coyotes don’t share their small prey, but all members share when the prey is large.
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Seeing coyotes move in family units this time of year should not be cause for added alarm. They are doing so to hunt deer, a large prey animal. They do not hunt cooperatively for smaller prey, which is a solitary “competitive” activity when small prey is available. Ordinary caution with pets and children should be exercised. In addition, snow impedes the mobility of deer making them easier for coyotes to subdue and capture in the winter — all animals tend towards the easier source of food, so, given the high deer density in the Eastern States, they should have an ample food supply to carry them through the winter and early spring.

2013-02-01

 

Apples, Blackberries and Pears, Oh My!

This fella found quite a smorgasbord this morning, all within the space of about 4 square feet! He must have been in coyote heaven. Right after he had picked up and eaten some voles without expending much effort, he walked just a couple of feet to a patch of fruit. There were blackberries, apples and pears either on the vines and trees which he could reach, or just lying around on the ground where they had fallen. I watched him eat one and then another and then another and . . .

He ate for a long time. He ate standing most of the time, but for a while he ate lying down in the cool ivy under the fruit trees. He crunched through the apples and pears the way we would, chomping on mouthfuls at a time, and sometimes taking bites that were too big so that part of the fruit fell to the ground. Then he got up and walked away. There was still plenty of fruit left lying on the ground by the time he departed, so I guess he had his fill!

As he ate, he kept his eyes up, high above himself, and on the lookout constantly. I wondered what was going on above him!? I never did figure it out for sure. It crossed my mind that at one time he may have been hit by falling fruit — a la Chicken Little. I have seen gum nuts fall off of Eucalyptus trees which startled coyotes enough to make them run. Or, it could have been a waving tree branch which he was wary of. Coyotes appear not to like things moving over themselves.

 

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