Season for Confirming Territorial Claims is Now

This time of year is when single coyotes who have not yet bonded with a mate are exploring beyond their natal territories, seeking out new areas to live either because of internal drives or because they have been kicked out by their birth families. At the same time, intact mated coyote pairs and their remaining offspring with established territorial claims are on the alert to keep these intruders out.

Recently I wrote about an intruder coyote exploring an area already claimed by a coyote family. The resident coyotes’ reaction was to drive the intruder out. They did this by behaving un-welcomingly and antagonistically: chasing and intimidating by their glares, punching with their snouts and even nipping: https://coyoteyipps.com/2014/12/29/new-face-on-the-block/

People with pet dogs need to be aware that this behavior towards other coyotes may also be directed at dogs. Coyotes may be on the lookout, especially during the next few months, for any canine that they think might want to move in and claim the territory: these include highly active dogs whose owners are not close to them. Their job is to dissuade these trespassers from moving in. All incidents can be prevented by keeping dogs leashed and moving on.

Today in one of our parks, two long-time resident coyotes kept their eyes on two sets of dogs who were extremely active, not leashed, and not terribly close to their owners. In one case, a man was running with two smallish dogs which lagged far behind him. The running and generally active behavior of the dogs is what alerted the coyotes that these two dogs might not just be passing through. The coyotes at first just watched them, but soon they became anxious and agitated as revealed by their behavior: getting up, standing erect and pacing back and forth as they watched. As the two dogs and owner ran on, both coyotes bounded up to follow. As soon as the runner and dogs headed out of the coyote area, the coyotes calmed down.

In the second case, there was one unleashed dog and owner who were fairly calm physically, but not necessarily psychologically calm. The coyotes and dog could read each other and, as instinct would have it, did not like each other: all canines seem to have an antipathy for one another: foxes, coyotes, wolves and dogs.  The coyotes approached the dog within about 30 feet and there was minor but perceptible intimidation on the part of both the dog and the coyotes. I told the owner not to let his dog go after the coyotes, at which point he grabbed his dog by the collar and walked on. A human right next to a dog will dissuade coyotes from approaching.

To prevent any antagonistic incidents during this season — rare though they might be — it is very important for dog walkers to be aware of their surroundings and aware of what season it is for coyotes. When they see a coyote, they need to leash up immediately and walk on, away from the coyotes. This serves as a safety measure for both dogs and coyotes, and it is respectful of wildlife which is only following its instinctive behaviors. If a dog and coyote engage at a closer range, it can be pretty scary, because neither coyote nor dog will respond to an owner. The coyote may even message its antagonism with a nip to the dog’s haunches. If there are two coyotes, a dog may become baffled by the situation and not know what to do. The owner needs to move in and grab his dog quickly — but not if the coyote is too close to the dog and the dog is responding with bared teeth. Neither the coyote’s nor the dog’s intention is to bite the owner, but as the coyote attempts to message the dog and vice-versa, the owner could get scratched or bitten by dog or coyote. Please remember that these incidents are rare: the number of bites or scratches from coyotes to a human, usually because of this situation, amounts to about 17 a year for all of North America, whereas bites to humans from dogs sends 1000 humans to emergency rooms every single day. We all can prevent this eventuality by following simple guidelines: keep your dog leashed in a coyote area, if you see a coyote, move on and away from it, know how to shoo off a coyote if it is approaching.

Edited for clarity 1/18/2015

Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

Breeding Season: Different Behaviors and Edginess

Coyotes come into “season” once a year. This, unusually, is true of the males also. Females come into estrus in January. Coyote males produce sperm only at this time of year, and the process takes about two months. As happens with all critters, including humans, the hormones become powerful source of drives and behavior changes. Above are photos of a male showing a strong interest in a new odor. This is the kind of behavior you will see now.

In addition, it appears that the hormones can cause an edginess around dogs — akin to PMS in humans!? If she’s in heat right now does she need to keep dogs away from herself?  Other behaviors I’ve noticed recently include much more wandering and a lot more marking and scratching the ground. Below is a video of a female coyote reacting to an unleashed dog even though the dog is quite a distance away.  The dog is barking threateningly at the coyote and then approaches. The coyote reacts by baring her teeth, raising her hackles, bouncing up and down and scratching the ground. When the owner finally grabs his dog, the coyote runs angrily down the hill to watch them depart.  You can tell she’s very upset at how she was treated by the intrusive dog, even though the dog, in this case, was a substantial distance away.

We’re Seeing Coyotes Where We Didn’t Before — Seasonal Behavior

coyote walks during daylight on sidewalk close to a neighborhood

coyote walks during daylight on sidewalk close to a neighborhood

People have been seeing coyotes a little more than usual these days. There is no need for freaking out or hysteria: 1) the city is not being taken over by coyotes, and 2) coyotes are not a danger to humans! The only potential issues have to do with dogs and small pets. Dogs and coyotes don’t like each other: Dogs chase coyotes and coyotes see dogs as competitors for the resources in their territories. Smaller dogs or pets look like any other raccoon or opossum to a coyotes. Please keep your pets leashed or indoors.

This is coyote mating season — that is why they are wandering more. In the San Francisco area we have 15 to 20 coyotes. Please compare to Chicago which has 2000 (yes, two thousand). If you see one, it will be very briefly. If you happen to see more, it is a family unit — a pack — a pack is a family unit. Although there have been a number of sightings, it is always of the same coyotes — the same coyote repeatedly visits various areas. You cannot prevent them from their wanderings. Please be assured that coyotes are not dangerous to humans — they are not out to get you.  However, please do not feed them. Feeding them increases the possibility that they will eventually DEMAND food from you. And please protect your pets.

Although you will probably never need to shoo one off, it is good to know how to do so. Please read the previous posting on: Shooing Off a Coyote: A Primer