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:
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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.

 

It’s The Winter Solstice!

Coyote youngster with thick neck and breast fur for the winter

Coyote youngster with thick fur for the winter

Winter’s darkest day is today — it’s the shortest day of the year and the beginning of Winter!

In case you’ve forgotten, solstice means “stationary sun.”  The sun stands still at 5:11 pm on December 21, which is today. The winter solstice north of the equator always occurs on or around December 21st, give or take 24 hours. The US will get only 9 and 1/2 hours of light this day! Up until the winter solstice, the sun moves southward a little each day, and the days become shorter. As the sun approaches the solstice, this southward march slows down, and at the solstice the sun stops its movement south and pauses, motionless: that will occur at 5:11pm for us! Then after the solstice, it will reverse itself and move a little more northward in the sky each day, and the days will become incrementally longer again.

How does this affect coyotes?

Food chains all begin with plant growth. Plants require plenty of daylight to thrive. Fewer daylight hours mean plants cease or slow down their growth at this time of year. So there are fewer growing plants to feed the voles and gophers, and therefore fewer voles and gophers to feed the coyotes — these are their favorite foods in San Francisco. Animals cope with winter in a number of ways: by migrating, hibernating or adapting. Coyotes adapt.

One of the things they adapt is their diets, by eating other foods which are available at this time of year: foods such as pine seeds, and bark or insects in the bark as shown in the two photos below, which I thought was pretty interesting! They are known as “opportunistic” eaters, which means they can eat just about anything. Coyotes will still eat voles and gophers — but because there are fewer of them, they must supplement their diets at this time of year.

It may be because gophers and voles are not so plentiful in the fields that coyote youngsters are out more alone or in pairs now, rather than foraging all together with the entire family, as they did earlier in the year. Coyote youngsters may also be out alone more because they are feeling much more self-reliant and independent at this time of their lives, after all, the next step in their development will be dispersal.

Note that coyote coats are at their fullest at this time of year. Coyote fur can be over 4 inches in length and can make them look much bigger than they look during the summer when their fur is at its shortest and sparsest.

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