Signs of Scat, An Old Coyote, A Sick Ewe and A Dead Rabbit: More on Ginny’s Coyote Area

Hi Janet,

scat upon scat (now with mold)

Yesterday I walked the other way onto the well-used multi-purpose trail called the Springwater Trail.  The first half mile of the trail heading east has had a lot of scat at times.    This is the area I referred to as being half a mile away and possibly containing a den.  Yesterday there was only one quite recent pile while everything else had been there a week ago.  Today I walked to the pups sighting location.  No new scat anywhere.  I’m wondering if that means the pups have been moved.  I also checked another part of the trail not too far away and found no new scat.  I have seen a lot of it there before also.

We saw the lame coyote once when he trotted in front of our car.  He looked and moved like a very old dog would move and that is why I label him as old.  He is not thin but is very ragged looking.  I have only seen a coyote once on the trail (that is how I found your blog because I wanted to learn all that I could about them) and that was right at the trail entrance near our house.  Hunting for rabbits no doubt!  Bud saw an adult last fall on one of his walks. Both of these had beautiful coats and seemed very healthy.

trail where pups appeared

Last week I met a family with grandparents walking on the trail and mentioned the coyote scat to the children.  The grandparents told me they have sheep and coyotes stand at their fence and sing and whine all the time.  The grandfather told me that recently he had a sick, old ewe and THREE DAYS later when he went to check on her he only found most of her skeleton.  He is sure the coyotes picked her clean – including her gum tissue and ribs.  They said coyotes would infrequently take a newborn lamb after I asked if they thought the coyotes actually killed anything.  Any person who would knowingly leave a sick animal for three days – well I cannot relate to them.  I’m very cautious what I say to people on the trail about the coyotes.   One man we see on the trail is sure someone shot coyotes a few years back.

blackberries through which pups disappeared; there is more scat again now, indicating resumed activity in the immediate area

On Monday I noticed a dead rabbit at the beginning of the trail which is near our house.  It appeared to have died mid-crawl.  I turned it over and did not see any injuries or changes in hair.  About a week earlier Bud said “it smells like something died in the blackberries” as we walked by the same location.  Several neighbors and dog walkers who use the trail came to the same conclusion I did – that a neighbor might be poisoning rabbits.  We are all very concerned.  I really hope this is not the case.  Yes, rabbits do incredible damage to yards and gardens but rabbit fencing keeps them out.  I know, we added it to the existing deer fence around our yard.  Yesterday the rabbit was gone but I suspect a neighbor disposed of it.  I have read that coyotes are very smart about not consuming poisoned food and I hope that is the case here.  We have a family of red-tailed hawks in the greenspace that I am really enjoying and I think they prefer freshly killed prey over carrion.  Poison can travel so fast up and down the food chain.

I’ll let you know if I notice any changes.  I don’t expect to see coyotes because our dog really seems to have a history with coyotes.  He is a Bouvier rescue we have had almost a year.  He spent several years running loose on the NM mesas and he thinks deer, coyotes and rabbits are to be chased.  He also barks like crazy.  I’m sure the local coyotes know him and make sure not to reveal themselves to us!



I don’t think very many of us give thought to wild animals getting ill or feeling ill or aging. I once watched a coyote squint as it looked into the distance. I wondered if the coyote’s vision was getting blurry — like humans when they age. I wondered if their aging vision could benefit from the things we humans have so ingeniously created for ourselves: lasik or glasses?

Anyway, coyotes do get ill and they do feel bad sometimes. Today I watched a case of indigestion exacerbated by basking in an intense hot sun. I can relate to this, because when I have eaten a heavy meal and then stayed out in the direct sun for too long, I have felt that meal become sluggish rather than being digested easily.

So after two hours of basking in the intense sun and obviously having a blast doing so, the coyote moved off to a shady spot where the look in its eyes conveyed that same intestinal discomfort that we all have felt at times.  Of course, I didn’t know what was going on and wouldn’t until this sequence of events was over.

Soon, the coyote got up slowly and sluggishly wandered down a hillside where it began yanking at the tallest strands of grass and ingesting them. After several minutes of eating grasses, the coyote began to heave, billowing its stomach in and out until it’s mouth opened wide and out came an astonishing mass of undigested food. It must have astonished the coyote, too, because it stayed there looking at the pile, and then sniffed it over carefully. Finally, it tried — unsuccessfully — to “bury” the mess by using its nose to push old grasses over the pile. Then it walked slowly away.

I was able to make out that it was an entire gopher, still intact but somewhat decomposed. Gophers in this area can get pretty close to a full pound in weight. Coyotes eat gophers, not by tearing them apart, but by crunching the bones so that the entire animal can fit down it’s throat. My theory is that this huge meal and the heat of the sun made for difficult digestion, which in turn caused a nauseating feeling and then the self-medication. I’ve seen regurgitation before, but not with all the detail I saw this time. The coyote wandered off and out of sight, but not until two more stops were made for more grasses.

“Got Milk? Yes!” by Charles Wood


At twilight Monday I saw both parent coyotes who live with their two one-year old daughters in a small field that borders one of Los Angeles County’s concrete ‘rivers’.  The last time I saw one of the one-year old daughters was April 21 when she was with Dad.  I last saw the other daughter on March 30.  I hadn’t seen Mom since February 22.  It looks like she’s had a litter.  New puppies weren’t with Mom and Dad.  I assume they are still well hidden in their den.  I doubt the puppies were left in their den alone, but I don’t know for a fact that they weren’t.

Would the parents leave new puppies unsupervised and unprotected?  It’s likely the two daughters are still there even though I didn’t see them today.  It is surprising to me that the daughters are apparently able to help with newborns this soon and to this extent.  One of the daughters is bold, serious and fierce; the other:  not so much.  Instead she seems to be a coyote that has an eager, happy-go-lucky temperament and is more prone than the others to run and hide upon seeing me.  Are they both trusted nannies, or if just one, which?  There is a chance that the puppies are safe enough to be entirely unattended for a while.  I’m not able to know any of that for sure.

Last year I didn’t see puppies until the first week of June and it took two more weeks to get


a photograph of them.  From June to well into summer, Dad was the only adult coyote I saw attending to the puppies.

Note that Mom’s left ear is infected or has mites, is a source of discomfort, and may now have developed into cauliflower ear.  She nevertheless is taking care of business.  Dad is looking a bit thin to me.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos:Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Tell-Tale Trail After Rainstorms

Here is a set of nice footprints I came across recently in one of the parks after a hefty rainstorm. The footprints are next to each other, indicating the coyote had stopped to observe something. Did it stop because there was a vole ahead to be caught? Or was there maybe a dog or human ahead to be avoided? Maybe the coyote had been traveling with its mate and stopped to observe what the other was doing. Or maybe it was traveling alone and stopped simply to assess the lay of the land before moving on. These are all common coyote behaviors.

Further on I came across another sign left by a coyote. Dogs for the most part tend to poop off to the side of a path. This makes sense — it is close to where they were walking. However, different from dogs, coyotes often appear to leave theirs as specific traces of their presence for others to see — often right in the middle of a trail or a trail intersection. If it is left as a “message” it is a form of communication.

I’ve actually observed a coyote in the “act” of defecating in the middle of a path, as a message for a person or dog who was following not too far behind. I am sure the message was to convey some kind of delimitation or boundary — either territorial or personal space — but its exact meaning I cannot be sure of.

Marking with urine is a sign that we humans can’t read at all, but we all have observed a dog or coyote go up to a spot where another canine has left its mark, and then mark on top of that — “trumping” it, so to speak. Humans can only be aware of this “sign” if they see a coyote mark, or if they have a dog who “trumps” another dog or a coyote’s marking — and you can’t be sure which.

Finally, on this trail, I came to a spot that suggested a turnoff point for a coyote — which would also be used by other wild animals — a “tunnel” in the underbrush that went deeper into the woods and away from all human and dog activity — an escape to safety.

Further along the trail I saw the imprint of raccoon paws on the path — the “hand” print is pretty clear, but there is also a “foot” print to the immediate right of it.  Our parks have lots of wildlife. There were no signs indicating a scuffle, so this raccoon probably did not meet the coyote whose trail I followed. Although a group of coyotes can overpower a raccoon, one-on-one a raccoon can normally defend itself well — and does so ferociously — against a coyote.

Hiding, Carrion and Barking

All hunting that I have seen, until today, involved coyotes grabbing small voles or gophers, and then swallowing them whole after crunching them. There has been very little tearing apart of the prey. Today I watched a coyote tackle something much larger. It was well hidden in the tall grass, but I watched as the coyote shook its head to pull meat apart. When the coyote left, I went to the spot to find out what this might have been. It was a maggot infested skull: this was true carrion. It obviously had been there some time or it would not have had all the maggots. It was awful. I took photos but am not skilled enough to identify what type of animal it was. From what we have in the area, and from the size of the skull, I would say that it was probably a young raccoon, though it could have been a skunk.

As the coyote feasted, the coyote was well hidden from anyone’s view, tucked off deep in a bushy area — unless you knew it was there. However, it kept an eye on the surrounding area, popping its head down to eat, and up to assess if any danger may have come into play. I was concentrating on trying to figure out what the coyote was eating — hoping the coyote would lift it high enough above the tall grass for me to see — I did not see the prey until I looked for it later. Because of my concentration, I was not aware of the surroundings — I was only aware that the coyote was vigilant. Then, because of the coyote’s intent gaze in one direction, I glanced to the side and saw, just barely out of the corner of my eye, a brown dog’s swishing tail. The dog for sure had not chased the coyote, but it may have given some other indication that it was “onto” the coyote’s location. The coyote quickly descended into the adjacent open area and began an intense barking session.

In the past I have seen coyotes bark like this only when they have been pursued.  In this case, although there was no pursuit that I was able to see, the dog may have been one that had chased the coyote in the past, or the dog may have communicated an active awareness and “eyeing” of the coyote which threatened the coyote. That the coyote had been eating may be a factor that enters into the barking equation. The barking session lasted 3:50 minutes — I’ve mounted the entire session. It is a little tedious, but this is what it is like:  Barking Session.

Another Dead Vole

I found another dead vole today: it was about 4 inches long. It was all wet, as if it had been mouthed — possibly it had been played with. I have now seen a total of four dead voles that had been abandoned by their killers. I wondered why. Could it be that they were just too small? This one was left high on some rocks next to a path. I’m assuming that this was the work of a coyote. However, pet dogs frequently go after small rodents in their burrows: some are eaten, and some are abandoned.

Snips and Snails and Coyote Pup Tails

Lots goes into defining a coyote. Here is some “stuff” relevant to coyotes in our parks — sort of. Well, especially the tail in a field! Of course there are the footprints after a rain storm and there is scat. I like the flowers and moons which thrill me as much as the coyotes do — they are part of the coyote’s environment! I have found a number of dead moles — I’m wondering if these are always discarded by coyotes. I continue to see raccoon prints — always in the same locations, so I think adult raccoons can hold their own against coyotes. And yes, coyotes eat snails!!!

A Scuffle Imprinted on a Path: Coyote behavior

Coyotes have been hard to spot these days: I think it might have to do with the winter weather and short days. Anyway, evidence still can be found of their presence. For instance, today by simply looking at the ground I was able to tell that there had been a scuffle between a coyote and a raccoon. This series of photos was taken along about 25 feet of a path. As I walked, I noticed scratch marks — groups of them. I noticed them casually at first, but they stuck in my mind as being unusual. And then it struck me what they were about, so I went back, and sure enough, found all the pieces of the puzzle.

The first three coyote prints are obvious: the middle two claws on the front paws point inward. The second four photos are obviously raccoon prints: they look somewhat like human hands and feet with lots of padding, but they are much smaller. The rest of the photos include “puncture” holes to the earth, deep claw grooves, and scratch marks at the same location — these tell the tale, they tell me what went on. It had rained the day before, which had prepared the ground for retaining these imprints. You can see parts of human boot imprints.

I did not find a raccoon carcass, nor did I see any blood, so the raccoon probably got away. The raccoon print was a very large one, which means the raccoon was large. This indicates that it was probably an older one with experience. Although the coyote might have been an older one, it is more likely in this area that it was young and inexperienced. At any rate, the coyotes in this area are small. Thus, the raccoon had the advantage. By the way, raccoons can be ferocious and have been known to kill dogs.

Indirect Signs of A Coyote’s Presence: Coyote tracks and scat are indirect visual signs of their presence. In addition, rustling in the bushes is a sign of their presence which can be heard and distinguished if you are in tune with it. And sometimes you might catch a dark darting movement out of the corner of your eye, but when you look again, it is gone. One would never register such a perception without knowing beforehand what it might have been — it was probably not just your imagination playing tricks on you.


Yuck!! Coyote Scat is a sign of their presence

Coyote scat is not beautiful, but it is a tell-tale sign that coyotes are around. I am adding a blurb here, just for the record. Most coyote scat is long with rope-like twists. It usually is about 3/4″ thick, it is usually sectioned for a total of five to eight inches in length and it ends in an elongated point — this is a gross generalization. It has this form because it is loaded with fur. If the scat is broken apart, the fur becomes even more obvious — not like a dog’s feces. Coyotes eat entire animals, so the indigestible fur is expelled. Coyote scat has a variety of looks: one form I don’t have here is a soft globby pile, often with seeds. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they will eat whatever they can; and what goes in must come out. Coyote scat has a very distinct “musty” smell — it does not smell at all like dog poop. It’s color runs from greenish to blackish, but I’ve also seen some brown. Unpleasant though the topic might be, coyotes suffer from bouts of diarrhea now and then. I’ve wondered if this is caused by carrion that has gone bad, or by some human food that they might have found.

Coyote scat has been used by Professor Ben Sacks of UC Davis. He has extracted the DNA from the scat to identify what larger group the coyote belongs to, and therefore from where it originated. So scat has very high profile scientific uses! Owl pellets — the undigested portions of an eaten animal that is coughed up by owls — is also studied in detail to help determine exactly what the owl eats. Coyote scat is studied in this way, too.

Coyote Signs

Statistically, coyotes are not a danger to humans. However, signs have been posted on various trails in and around the San Francisco area to let people know that they are around. In these areas it is best to keep our dogs leashed. Although coyotes tend to ignore humans, they do see dogs as potential threats to their territories. The most important rule we have learned about coyotes is to never, never, ever feed them. Breaking this one rule is what upsets the natural balance and often leads to aggression towards humans.

The signs only seem to appear in areas close to urban settings, where one might not expect these animals to appear. I still run into people who are astonished that a city would have much wildlife at all, much less a coyote. Coyotes have not been associated with urban environments until fairly recently. However, in outlying areas, where coyotes have always been a natural part of the environment, signs of this sort are not posted, as far as I have seen.

%d bloggers like this: