“Fee fi fo fum . . . I smell the blood of an Englishman”. I remember thinking that if the Giant could actually SMELL Jack, then how could Jack hide from him?

This thought came to me as I watched a coyote at dawn hurry purposefully to a spot where she immediately put her nose to the ground and sniffed intently. She immediately kicked dirt: she was decidedly miffed and upset. She continued following that scent with her nose to the ground for the next hour, stopping repeatedly to kick dirt angrily, to mark by urinating, defecating or rubbing, to throw her nose up into the air and whiff the surrounding atmosphere, and to gape.

Someone — either known or unknown to her — had passed through her plot of land — her territory — who was not welcome there. Because of her superb olfactory senses, she not only could tell that someone had been there, and even if not exactly WHO it was, she could read lingering pheromone and other body chemical markers telling her all sorts of things, such as the age, sex, maybe even the social status of the individual involved, and a whole lot more.

Continued gaping

What was new for me was the gaping as she went about sniffing out whoever had been there. I have seen gaping in coyotes who were fiercely warning off and warding off a dog. But here there was no dog or other coyote present, yet that gaping was occurring repeatedly. This was not “yawning” which is more drawn out and accompanied by other behavioral markers. A friend told me that cats gape when they are sniffing/whiffing the scent of other cats. I went online and indeed found something called the Flehmen Response which involves something called Jacobson’s organ or the vomeronasal organ. But the visible behavior of the Flehmen Response was described as more of a grimace or a sneer than simply a wide-mouthed “gape”.  What this does is allows odors in through the mouth instead of the nose causing the odor to be registered as even more palpable than it would be through the nose. The vomeronasal organ consists of two sacs in the roof of the mouth which function more like a “tongue” for scent. This is where the odor is analyzed.

Is this what was going on with this coyote: an intensified “smelling”, or was she just gaping in anger, as though the animal were virtually present? This coyote has never pursued dog scents in this way that I have ever seen, but she has — minus the gaping (or maybe I didn’t notice the gaping before) — towards an enemy coyote.

Whether the gaping was a smelling activity or a show of anger, the coyote’s sniffing, following the scent, repeated kicking dirt angrily, and repeatedly marking in various ways indicate that probably an interloper coyote had been there, and our coyote did not like it. We’ll have to wait for more clues to find out!

Continued gaping

Presentation in El Cerrito

For those who had wanted to attend my PHS/SPCA talk and couldn’t make it, I’ve been invited to give that same talk again in El Cerrito on Tuesday, January 14th. Although it has a different title, it will be the same talk. Again, if you can’t make it, I’ve recorded the talk and made it available here.

The talk is on January 14th at 7pm at El Cerrito City Hall in the city council chamber room, 10890 San Pablo Ave.,  El Cerrito 94530.

A Story of Positivity For the New Year, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

I enjoy watching a variety of animals. And could spend lifetimes studying. Learning an ecosystem, an area, and patterns takes ages…literally. I can only be content with connections now. But even those inspire. My frustration with modern man systematically hurting life is only balanced by the knowledge that nature will reassert itself in time. Inexorably the universe and cycles will outlast our ways. I don’t claim to know how exactly — but nature always “cleans house” and reasserts its cycles. I suspect mankind will tamper with weather or virus or cycles that will bring about disaster for man. But another era for animals.

I was given some comfort by a local coyote that strengthened me much.

Peg Leg is an “old” coyote who was allowed to hold territorial reign on a remote area of ranchlands some years. He had 2 mates over the years, and successfully reared at least 7 litters. Many pups stayed and eventually took adjoining areas. Peg Leg limped his way through hunts and patrols with true strength. He scavenged deer and bulked up impressively. He was big, bold, and calm. His front left leg, healed but fused straight, lacked mobility. But Peg Leg lacked nothing.

I heard last summer he lost his territory. Several coyotes, possibly fleeing wolf expansion, had displaced Peg Leg and his mate and pack.

I hadn’t seen him for months. Of course felt saddened at the end of the era. But when I spotted him on a distant hill a few days ago, there he was, fit, full, and at ease. He watched us a short time, I believe he recognized us, ……and started tossing a stick.

In my human mind, loss of territory, pack, and control are devastating. I cannot know what Peg Leg thought or felt. But I do know, alone in that hill, he seemed fine. Even playful. His tail was high. His gray face enjoyed the sun. And before he stiffly trotted off, he marked and scratched boldly.

It was just what I needed to see. There are no guarantees in life. Very few happily ever after. And certainly no retirement benefits for aged coyote. It matters little. Peg Leg was still alive. Still indomitable. And still happy enough to toss sticks.

We all have to roll the dice and face life. And the roll often doesn’t go our way. When life is hard, I will forever remember stick tossing Peg Leg. Undaunted, he trots forward as only a coyote can.

Trot long Janet,

“Studying and learning from nature is something I do every day. I have NEVER seen a coyote, raven, crow, etc..feel sorry for itself. And I have met several badgers and one brief moment of a wolverine. There is an indomitable, unbeaten indescribable aura that fills many wild animals. I choose that aura every day. And will keep doing so in all things. So times are tough. But it’s up to us to be tougher. We can make that choice that is reality in nature.

Not long ago I watched some ranch bison grazing in terrible weather (from a distance) The freezing rain meant nothing to them. They grazed half frozen grass in the most content way. And in pure strength and peace. All animals emanate good things we can discern and receive in ourselves. I may look like a tired guy at times. But in my heart the imagery and lessons of coyote, bison, wolverine, bear, wolves etc…never stop.”


Hi Janet,

Another update on “Peg Leg” an older male coyote who seemed to have lost his territory/pack/mate…

He was seen this evening “stuffed” from feeding on mice among cattle. When the cattle settled, so did he. He also was seen….with his old mate!

So he’s not alone. He may have lost old territory, but not his mate. Or his appetite.

Peg Leg continues to thrive and adapt. And be his jaunty self.


‘Tis The Season Of Sharing – Let’s Share The Earth With Coyotes, by Katherine Howard

This write-up by Kathy Howard — perfectly timed and appropriately named for the season — appears in the December issue of the Castro Courrier. Kathy has taken information about coyote family life from my recent presentation at the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA and filtered it into her own words in a fun and informative way. Enjoy! Happy Holidays to everyone! [Digital version in the CastroCourier. It will appear in the WestSideObserver soon].

Press the above image to continue reading (the linked paper can be enlarged by pressing the “+” button).

Coyote Anger: Cat-like Growls or Screams

When coyotes communicate, there’s little room for misinterpretation. You already saw this in my last posting about “coyote insistence” through body language. If they are insistent towards humans and our dogs, you can be sure they are just as insistent towards each other. This short video clip, above, shows this. It was taken after a family howl session in response to a siren. The howling and yiping in response to the siren were sing-songy and upbeat as you can hear here:

The family howling then segues into the evening rendezvous, where the entire family excitedly meets and greets for the evening trekk and other family activities. But Mom is not so keen on having all that high-energy wiggly and excited youngster activity around her. Her vocalizations at this point, as seen in the above video, are of the “raspy” type I discuss in my posting on Coyote Voicings. These are anger, annoyed, and warning vocalizations directed at family members. She’s telling the rambunctious youngsters that she wants space and calm: “get away from me”. She also displays her frustration by complaining with a wide vocalized gape to Dad who happens to be standing beside her. These are sounds you may not have heard from a coyote: they are very cat-like — the kind of sounds a cat would make before swiping at something with its claws.

Remember that coyotes also “pounce” for prey in a very cat-like manner, they toy with their prey as cats do, they splay their toes as cats do, and they “warn” with that very familiar “Halloween Cat” stance which includes a hairpin arched back and often a gape and hiss. I have been asked if coyotes are cats or dogs: I can see why such a question might be asked. Of course, coyotes are neither: they are simply themselves. However, they can reproduce with dogs and have many dog-like qualities, but they also have several very cat-like behaviors which dogs don’t have.

Insistence in Coyotes

Dear Janet,

My name is Lynn and I live in Berkeley.  About one year ago my friend Billee told me about something that happened to her son Tod, who’s about 20, when he was walking home late one night from a cafe where he played guitar.  He was on a tiny narrow street of houses en route to his house which is near that mountain that has the cross on top of it.  He noticed some– what he thought were dogs– slipping around him and then two coyotes faced him in the road.  He’s an outdoors guy, he’s always been an independent kid, and their family is a very kindly anti-materialist family with ancient pets who live forever and are cherished the whole time– just so you know.  Well to Tod these two scared him so much– he could not pass them, and I believe him.  It went on a long time and he ended up yelling for help and a woman called to her husband to open the door when she looked out from an upstairs window.  He opened the door and Tod ran inside their house.

He could not get used to the feeling that these animals really felt such ill will toward him.  But that was clear to him.

When he got home,  nobody could believe in this experience, especially his brother who picked him up.  But I believe it must have been true because why should he lie?  He just isn’t like that.  I thought maybe someone was feeding them there, and they thought Tod had come to steal their food.

I’m so glad to be able to ask you about this.  I read about coyotes in the book, “The Secret Lives of Dogs”.  I think that’s the title.  It was very poignant, about the coyotes. It said, “they know people hate them.”  If that’s true I hope they don’t know it.

Sincerely, Lynn

Hi Lynn —

Thanks for contacting me about this story! It’s an interesting one, and I’ll give you my thoughts about it.

I think there are various things that might be coming into play here. First, late night and shadows can play tricks on human imaginations — especially if the human is tired or might have had a little bit of alcohol or such? But also, depending on the time of year, a parent coyote could have shown a little more bravado or insistence than normal if a youngster coyote was nearby that the parent wanted to protect. And I’ve seen males become protective of their females in the same manner at certain times of the year. Another possibility is that these coyotes could have been protecting a source of food that they just found — say some garbage.

If a coyote is insistent, which is what Tod was saying, it can be VERY frightening. This actually happened to me once years ago. It was the coyote’s insistence that was so scary because it left me feeling helpless: none of my actions caused the coyote to move, and resorting to screaming for help did not work either (no one heard me), but walking away, with my dog in tow, did help. This is what the coyote wanted.

There is also something known as “demand behavior”: (see “Demand Behavior”). You speculated that Tod might have looked like someone else who had been feeding them. I suppose this also could have been driving those coyotes’ behaviors.

It’s important for everyone to know that anyone can save themselves a lot of anxiety and fear by always backing off and moving away from a coyote the minute you see one, before it ever even comes to what happened to Tod. Tod’s kind of encounter doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s best for us all to remember to take the step that’s easiest, most comfortable, and most effective for us and the coyotes: move away and then keep moving away. That’s really what they want.

I don’t believe the coyotes were after Tod due to ill-will towards him or humans in general. IF coyotes harbor any ill-will towards humans, as far as I know it would be in areas where humans caused that ill-will in the first place. I’m in contact with ranchers who have confirmed my own observations: where coyotes are respected and left alone, coexistence works well. But where coyotes are persecuted/killed, there’s a never ending battle revolving around a coyote’s need for survival. Read some of the postings on my blog by Walkaboutlou. So yes, I’m sure they know and feel the hate and antipathy towards them where people indeed have persecuted and hated them. Interestingly, I myself have felt the continued animosity of several walkers who I’ve had to confront about their unleashed dogs chasing coyotes: it’s palpable.

Hope this helps? Let me know if you want to discuss more!!


The minute you see a coyote, even if it is in the distance, walk away from it rather than getting closer and closer.

The Watering Hole

Well, it’s not exactly a watering hole, but I’ve named it that because a number of animals pass through here, and there are a number of houses up the hill which I know have dripping spigots which may be the attraction. But in addition, there’s an accumulation of bones in the area: beef bones and chicken bones, so there may be more up the hill where these come from.

Noises from screeching hawks and squawking ravens in this spot gave me the idea to set out a field camera. I seldom use these cameras, but I had a couple lying around from last Spring, so I set one up.  Indeed, soon afterwards the camera caught images of these raptors, so I left it out for several weeks, and even caught one coyote passing through! The only other animals I caught were dogs: they sniffed around, urinated, and took bones — and then the camera was stolen.

I was reluctant to try again, but decided to put out the other camera only at night when it was less likely to be taken. I put it out only sometimes, and sometimes I captured critters. I would have liked to have caught some owls, which, by leaving the camera out at night I was hoping for — both Great Horned AND Barn Owls are seen regularly close by. But this did not happen. What I did catch were opossums, skunks, raccoons and more coyotes. The spot where I placed the camera forms a narrow passage, a kind of bottle-neck, which animals appear to traipse through rather quickly and uneventfully, but a number of times they’ve lingered long enough to display some behaviors, which is why I’m posting this. The best is at the end, I think, where a feisty little skunk first gets spooked by a twig it steps on, and then not only fights with another skunk, but also charges at a coyote! 

Both dogs and coyotes have enjoyed “marking” the area repeatedly with their urine: they’re all trumping each other. The coyote chewing on the bone was kind of fun — right there in front of the camera: just like any dog might do. And there’s a short clip of a coyote “burying” something — maybe a bone? — by brushing the ground with its snout.

I’ve put these short clips together and called them “The Watering Hole” euphemistically, because I didn’t want to call it “the bottleneck” or “the bone dump.”  “Watering hole” is usually where the elephants and lions fill up on water in Africa, but it’s also what a bar or pub is called, where individuals might pass through during the wee hours of the night for a nightcap of some sort, like here!

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