Meet “Hunter”: Gold Medalist in High Airborne Pouncing

Coyotes are as individual, unique and different in their competencies as are people: for instance, not every coyote is endowed with the same pouncing ability, or has perfected that skill to the extent this fellow has. He consistently gives stellar leaping performances, day after day after day.

All of the following photos are of that single coyote I have named “Hunter”.  His exceptional skill consists of ease in springing up high, aiming, and then either diving directly down with an added end-bounce, or first sailing through the air for a few feet before his dive. He has eliminated all the extraneous movements which might make another coyote look more clumsy or awkward at times. I’m mesmerized each time I watch him. And usually his only reward is an itsy bitsy little field mouse in the end. I’ve come to believe he’s not in it for the reward, he just seems to love springing up and sailing energetically and efficiently through the air — and that’s probably why he’s so good at it.

Press on each of the photo groups to see them enlarged, and watch the video above which I’ve slowed down so you can appreciate his every move.





Bites Off A Twig That’s In The Way

This branch is definitely in the way so it'll have to go.

This branch is definitely in the way so it’ll have to go.




Let's try from this angle? It didn't help, the coyote ends up leaving empty mouthed. :((

Let’s try from this angle? It didn’t help, the coyote ends up leaving empty mouthed. :((

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)

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.

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

#68 BN6

Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

Night Eyes, by Charles Wood

Here in the LA area yesterday evening I took this video of a coyote. It was too dark for me to actually see the coyote. I used a couple of flashlights to track its movement. All I could see was reflection from the coyote’s eyes. Was it a coyote?

We can tell it was from how it walked around, looked around and then dropped its head in canine fashion to investigate an odor. Also, I had arrived a little earlier when the light was a bit better and could still make it out. It was a coyote. It vanished, as you can see in the video, so I went home.

At home much later, I heard barking from a distance of a few houses away. After several minutes I recognized it as the bark of a coyote. The bark had short and high dog-like bursts, several times repeated and concluding with a song. The song was a quick “yaaw yaaw yaaw yaaw yaaw”. Dogs don’t sing that way so I knew it was a coyote or a very very strange dog. The coyote kept barking and some of its barks did not end with the song. Without the song, its bark sounded like a dog with an insistent and high voice.

I went to investigate. I walked past houses as I looked around for the coyote, heading for the park at the end of my street. Passing by about half a dozen or so houses, from inside the house closest to the park I heard someone yell “OH SHUT UP!” That was how I felt after about ten minutes of that barking.

Arriving at the park, I could hear the coyote but couldn’t see it. I found it by using my flashlight, light reflecting back from the coyote’s eyes. I got a good look at a nondescript coyote. It looked like it was barking at something near or in a tree. I smiled to myself, recognizing typically pointless canine behavior. Upon seeing me and being under my light, the coyote ran off. I yelled at it for good measure. Once I got home the coyote’s barking started up again. By the time I called my neighbor to go back down there with me, the barking had stopped.

Facilitating

I spotted this mom close to where I’ve seen her family several times. Coyotes maintain several safe spaces which they move between if they need to — for example, when they feel endangered, or if the fleas get out of hand. This was one of them.

Here, there is a small worn figure “8” path which is bare of foliage — an area I’ve seen traversed by pups playing. It is also a place where adults lie down to watch. She picked the crossing of the figure “8” for her scheme. She carefully dug a hole and buried the prey she had carried home, using her snout to push the soil over the prey. When she was finished, she trotted off into the distance. Before she was out of sight, small pups appeared. Had she called them? How did they know to come?

She continued on to a hilltop to watch and monitor. The pups alternated their attention between watching her leave and sniffing the burial spot. Then, suddenly, they ran off. Had they been spooked?  Had the prey moved?  They then turned around and kept their eye on that patch of earth, but nothing happened. Soon they became distracted by the need to play, and the buried treasure was forgotten about.

Fast forward 24 hours when I returned to the spot the next day. As I waited, two pups appeared. The two pups again sniffed the area without finding anything. Had the treasure already been found? However, one of them did uncover prey about 3 feet away — looks like it had also been left there by mom since there was no struggle to capture it — it was just “there”, ready to be picked up by a pup.

Looks like Mom is making things easy for the kids — first attempts at hunting are a piece of cake!  I find it amazing that such thought-out schemes are used by coyote parents to facilitate the training process!

Addendum: I wonder if the same thing, facilitating, was occurring in this posting about the papa coyote several weeks ago? Pups were only a little over one month old at the time, so maybe papa coyote was “jumping the gun” so to speak??  Blue Jay “Buries” P-nut in a Four Foot Bush; Coyote Reburies His Find

Coyote Parents Are Working Overtime

At about this time of year, most coyote pups have been, or are being, weaned from their milk diets. But they aren’t yet able to hunt on their own — this will take training. So parents are feeding them with both regurgitated food and with entire small rodents which they bring home in their snouts. Pups are still being kept hidden — it’s too risky to bring them on hunting expeditions.

Today I watched this coyote pair as they went to work. One waited for the other for about 20 minutes as dusk fell. They normally wait for one another before going trekking. But this coyote got impatient and went on — the other would soon follow — they would meet up along the way to a hunting area. They took a route along the edge of bushes, hoping to avoid detection. When they got to a high open area, they scouted to make sure the way was clear and safe. Then they headed into an overgrown field of oat grasses which were about two feet tall. They wouldn’t be hidden there, but they would be well camouflaged.

The rodent population there was good because they each caught rodent after rodent and ate each one. She caught at least four in a row — he caught at least two. This was all within the space of about 20 minutes. As they wound down their hunting session, the male caught one last vole and tossed it up high in the air. He then tossed it in the direction of the female and then took it to her. She grabbed it from him and turned her back on him so that he could not grab it back. This vole — whole — would be good for training purposes for the youngsters at home.

10 heading home with food

heading home with food

So she looked around, saw that the way was clear, and headed over hill and valley with the prey in her mouth. The male followed: he was bringing home his share of the bacon in his stomach! And she had more in her stomach, too, for feeding the hungry brood waiting at home.

Solitary Hunters – Subtle Communication Maintains Harmony

Coyotes are usually solitary hunters. This is due to their main food source being small rodents — mice, voles, gophers — which can’t really be divided up between several coyotes. However, coyotes will engage in teamwork when hunting a larger animal, such as anything bigger than a raccoon.

The above sequence of photos shows two coyotes who are together as they hunt. They both head for the same spot when they hear a rodent underground. The female is the alpha — she digs more energetically than the male. Maybe she was hungrier than he was.  The male must have sensed this because he stopped digging but kept his gaze on the spot where she was digging. So she glared at him: “Hey man, give me space!” He moved off to the side to wait patiently, feigning no interest in the meal she had just claimed as hers. She continued digging ferociously and reaped the reward of her labors: it was a huge gopher.  He watched, seemingly disinterested. When she finished her meal, he got up to walk on with her.

Mary Eats, by Charles Wood

When I first began watching my coyotes in 2009 I thought that I would frequently get to see them hunt and eat. I was wrong, I never witnessed them eating. Finally this week, after almost four years, a coyote caught and ate something while I was watching.

The video begins just after Mary pounced on a rodent burrow. I’m impressed by how quickly she moves. Once Mary has it she looks toward the camera, rodent hanging limply from her mouth. Then she looks back over her left shoulder at my two dogs and me. Mary turns her head back and then looks back again at us over her right shoulder. She takes a good long look. Then Mary puts the dead rodent down in order to peer into the burrow. The second clip shows her eating the rodent while a rabbit moves around in the background.

Mary’s concern, upon catching a meal, was with my dogs. I think she looked back at us to make sure we wouldn’t run to her to take her meal away. She looked at us twice to be sure her catch was safe from theft, in my opinion. Convinced her meal was safe, she put it down on the ground. However Mary didn’t look for Rufous. In my opinion, her failure to look for Rufous was a clue to his whereabouts. Either he isn’t a thief, unlikely, or she knows he wasn’t in the vicinity.

Previous Older Entries