‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

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Coyote Territorial Movements To Four Corners of the City: An Update

For 13 years I’ve been documenting coyotes and their families in the city. Last year, the life of one of those coyotes — a loner female — bounced into one of charmed companionship with the arrival of a friendly young newcomer male, and then, within just a few months of that, it spun downhill into chaos when her territory was invaded and taken over by an older female. This older female happened to be associated with her new male companion, and it’s this association that may have drawn the older female to the area in the first place. After these life-changing incidents, I continued to follow the lives, behaviors, new relationships and movements through the city of these particular coyotes, most of whom I have been following since their births. This current poster is a summary update — the present point in time — of where things stand now with each of those players.

The coyotes involved had come together from distant parts of the city and interacted during just a brief period of time towards the end of 2018 and through the first half of 2019. In the end, after all the intense up-and-down drama (see Coyote Territorial Movements: Scout’s Story), they went their separate ways and to diametrically opposite corners of the city. Each matured in his/her own way, claimed a territory and found a family situation of their own making. An interesting twist to the story is that a brother of the young male companion ended up becoming the mate of the intruding female. OMG! The displaced female — the main character of the story — found her way back to and re-claimed her original territory where she has bonded and formed a family with a completely new male. [More, press HERE].

My observations of these movements, along with all behaviors and relationships, are made without invasive “gadgets” such as radio-collars and identification tags. DNA from scat will confirm what I’ve detected from my own naked-eye observations — this is my concession to the “scientific” method which focuses on stats and hard data. But look at how much scientists are missing beyond the “stats” and number-crunching: a whole world of interactions, activities, relationships, and personalities! Each individual is different and can’t be summarized as a statistic and neither can their individual histories!

“You are doing the work”, one of my sons tells me. It needs to be put out there. No one else is doing what you are doing — this first-hand research. The word “expert”, another son tells me, comes from the word “experience”: i.e., doing the footwork. Spouting a “degree” as a “credential” evades the question of what a person really knows about coyotes or our coyotes here in San Francisco.  I work alone, not as a team, I don’t have an organization or their funds behind me, and this is not a paid job. It might be time to toot my own horn a little!

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with permission and with properly displayed credit.

Pensive Dad

This Dad is meticulously assessing and re-evaluating the safety of his denning area’s periphery. It’s something he does on a continuing and regular basis, and now even more so during pupping season. You’ll see him slowly walking and looking around, sniffing for WHO might have been here, and he listens to the voices close by: he can tell he is off people’s radar and so is unconcerned about them.

This hidden tunnelway sees skunks, raccoons, squirrels, red tail hawks, sharp shins, stellar jays, rats and mice . . . and an occasional unleashed dog who’s gotten whiff of a coyote and decided to pursue it. He is able to “see” all of this through his nose.

You might wonder what exactly is going through this father’s mind as he carries out his job: your guess is as good as mine, but you can be sure he, as a father, has the same concerns and worries that a human father might have: I think it’s important to see these commonalities.

Afterwards, he takes a drink of water from a watering hole to the left and then “marks” the area before moving on. He spent seven full minutes reflecting and thinking as he looked around this one spot. This is his seventh year as a dad: he knows the ropes and what he has to do to keep his family safe.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Old “Peg Leg”, by Walkaboutlou

We don’t have a photo of Peg Leg, but I imagine he might look something like this. [ConradTan]

Hi Janet,

Hope you are well. I wanted to update you on “Peg Leg”[press to read the previous posting about him]. He was the old coyote who lost a territory some months ago with his mate. Last seen, he seemed nomadic but still thriving.

He’s been discovered with his mate, relocated about 16 miles from his old territory. He is on the furthest isolated area of the bison ranch. Ironically, his voice gave him away. Peg Leg’s voice is hoarse and odd sounding. A bit like a Pekingese Werewolf. His unmistakable vocalizations were part of some jokes and conversation and then we realized who it might be. Brief sightings confirmed.

It’s amazing he found and chose this area. But perhaps in his long life he knew it, and the last few years as it’s shifted to bison it’s really become a great area. It’s away from sheep and cattle and LGD patrols. No hunting is allowed. There are the bison, as well as elk, 3 species of deer, and all sorts of small game. Best of all, it abounds in gopher, voles, mice and Jackrabbits. The river that flows by has runs of salmon and trout and there are huge flocks of wild turkey. In summer wild plums and vast fields of grasshopper round off the menu. Peg Leg has made it here, and I’m glad for him. He got driven out by other coyote, only to find this place. I’m so glad he beat the odds. In every way.

Peg Leg is a survivor. Any coyote living in ranchlands is often a target 24 hours a day…for life. They are hunted with staghounds, decoy dogs, traps, snares, long distance rifles and any other means. Even if they come from a “safe” area, one foray outside of it can mean the end.

Most live very fast paced lives. To find a coyote, white faced and stiff with age, is very rare. The fact that he found sanctuary again at the end of his life among bison makes it more poignant.

Its likely his mate is pregnant. Perhaps he has one last season left in him to raise pups to independence.

Peg Leg has made himself a new home with his mate. Among the umbrella of  bison, all the wildlife relaxes a bit.

🐾🐾
Lou


Hi Lou — This story made me beam from ear to ear, and I’m sure it will make others do the same. There is so much that’s familiar about Peg Leg from two situations I’ve been following, but in different coyotes: one of “my” alpha male coyotes is getting old — not white faced yet, but sometimes stiff in his gait, and I wonder how long he’ll be able to hold on to his territory. And another male is being displaced right now by other coyotes — not so old, but meeker of constitution — he, too, has a “werewolf” low, mournful howl, so I know he still sometimes passes through the area, but I fear it won’t be for long. So, in a certain way, I feel like I know Peg Leg.  :))  Janet

Hi Janet, I thought you likely could relate to Peg Leg with other coyote. Their lives really are full of dynamics. I only saw him briefly, but he seemed very content. His body language wasn’t nomadic mode or unsure. Peg Leg is home. (again)

Enjoy the day.
Lou

Huffing and Grunting Her Antipathy


You might be surprised to learn that coyotes indeed have very intense personal emotions, and they even hold profound grudges against other coyotes or dogs who have mistreated them or who are seen as a threat.

The coyote in this video displays grudges towards just two individuals who might be considered her arch-enemies: another coyote and a dog. The female coyote rival moved on, so that is no longer an issue.

But the dog is someone who the coyote has not yet come to terms with. In addition to the subtle negative communication between the two most of which is below our human radar, the dog, who walks in her park daily, has slipped her collar several times to chase and even “mark” the coyote’s favorite lookout points in a display of one-upmanship: there’s always a reason for a coyote’s feelings. In the past the coyote would follow and howl at that one female dog, and no other dog, letting the dog know how she felt about the dog’s being there. Sometimes the coyote just followed without howling: this is sort of an “escorting” behavior, insuring herself that the dog is headed out of her area. The dog’s owner is amazingly tolerant and respectful of the coyote and always walks away from her when their paths come within seeing distance.

More recently, the howling and following have calmed down. But that doesn’t mean the anger and antipathy have subsided, as you can see in this video, which shows this same coyote huffing and grunting her discontent for an extended period of time upon seeing the dog. If you listen carefully, you can hear the grunts, and of course you can actually see her huffing. But she did not howl or follow this time, she just watched dog and owner move away and out of sight..

Intruder, Without Apparent Incident

In the morning a few days ago I watched an intruder — a 2½ year old male — wander through another coyote family’s long-time established territory without apparent incident. In the past, whenever I’ve seen an intruder in an established territory, the intruder has been confronted and driven out, almost always immediately, but more rarely within two weeks. Coyotes are territorial for a reason: resident coyotes drive outsider coyotes out to protect the limited resources on that territory just for themselves, and to maintain a safe-haven for raising vulnerable pups. This limit of one family per territory also then limits the population in any given area to that one family. And this was the case in the territory where this “visitor” found himself. A mated pair of coyotes has lived there for a dozen years and this year they had a litter of valuable pups.

I was astonished to actually recognize the intruder — he was a fellow I’ve known since birth: Hey, it’s a small world out there! I have been able to keep track of this fellow through several areas within the city, where he has remained 2, 4, and 8 months respectively, after leaving his birthplace at 1½ years of age due to having been driven out by his siblings. He has even had a female companion — not a mate — in a couple of those places. Was he now actually moving again, or was this a short investigative/scouting expedition from which he’d return to his last claimed area?  I don’t yet know the circumstances of his sudden appearance at this new place. In fact, upon seeing him I began harboring the hope that he might be on his way to reconnect with a coyote he befriended 8 months earlier. He was only a year-and-a-half of age at that time and maybe not ready for her yet, and she was going through territorial turmoil of her own. When she left the place where their friendship bloomed, he also left, but in the opposite direction. In San Francisco, the age I’ve seen male coyotes settle down to family life is four years of age — that seems to be when they are ready, though I suppose it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

Anyway, as I entered the park, all I initially saw was a walker carrying her dog and walking away, so I knew one of the coyotes was out prompting this walker’s behavior. Then, when I walked around some bushes, I saw who it was. My eyes popped a little when I saw him, as I thought to myself, “Is that really you?” Yes, it was. “What are you doing here?” I actually said out loud.

The dog walker disappeared down the path, and the coyote went about fixedly sniffing with his nose glued close to the ground as he zigzagged through the area with intent and direction to his movements. He spent time where the resident youngsters liked hanging out. It occurred to me that, with his amazing olfactory ability — coyotes can smell pheromones, which are body chemicals, and more, telling them all sorts of things that we aren’t even aware of — he would be able to tell everything about the health and age and possibly social position of each of the coyotes living there. He was absorbing the entire situation through his nose. None of the resident coyotes was out and about when the intruder was there.

For the previous several days I had noticed much less activity from this family. Whenever coyote behavior or activity changes, you can be sure SOMETHING is going on, even though you might not be able to figure out exactly what that something is. Might this have been the SOMETHING that was going on: the intruder? I don’t really know, it’s only a guess at this point. Intruders can be dangerous for families, so youngsters would have been taken to a more protected/hidden location. A lone interloper coyote could be on the lookout for weakness within the family — that’s how things operate — which might allow him/her to take over a prime territorial situation: one of the “weaknesses” I could think of was that the parents were getting along in years. Then again, his showing up there may just have been a benign and quick passing through, and the lack of family activity there may have been due to something else. I was surprised that not one of the resident coyotes was on his case, but a quick pass-through would have explained this — before the family got whiff of him. They would, of course, eventually find out that he had been there through scent.

After about ½ hour of observing him, I saw him walk across and then out of that park territory, always briskly moving along — and that was the end of that. I haven’t seen him again — just that one time, within that territory claimed by others, far, far away from his own most recent claimed area. Only time will answer my questions, if at all. Why was he there? Why did he leave his previous home — and has he done so permanently? (I’ll be able to check on this). Will he be back, or was this just a stopover on his way elsewhere? Note that if he came back, there could be a territorial battle. The resident Dad has been through several of these over the years, defending his family’s turf,  which have left him limping and torn apart at each incident for weeks at a time. Or maybe, as I am hoping, the intruder is on a mission to find his old girlfriend. If that’s not a romantic fantasy, nothing is! What made me think of this is that from his last home, the park where he showed up is on the way to hers, and not so far away.  So let’s see what happens!

Addendum 11/9: This coyote has not been seen at his last “home” for at least six weeks. And two to three weeks ago a pair of adult coyotes was seen playing nearby that old home: might these two be new claimants of that territory?

Leaving the park

Sirens Lead to Howls and Yips in a United Front


Come to think of it, I don’t hear loner coyotes howl very often, even on their own claimed territories. Is this because they don’t want to “proclaim” to the world their ownership of a territory they might not be able to defend alone? And neither do I hear coyotes howling for any reason when they are passing through territories other than their own.

The female in this video, when she was a loner on her claimed territory, never used to respond to sirens during daylight hours (though she did so sporadically at night), though she would howl in distress after being chased by dogs or in response to seeing one particular dog whom she did not like.

However, in this video, with a new male companion, she obviously felt secure about belting out her response to the sirens for the whole world to hear, and seemed to be super-happy about it! Coyote families respond to sirens all the time, possibly to express their family unity and their territorial separateness from their neighboring coyotes.

That male companion situation, however, was short lived: it lasted only four months. The male/female relationship was disrupted by another female before the bond was solidified (yes, this happens even to coyotes) and the male companion moved on, so the female now again is a loner who again does not respond to sirens as she did when she had her male companion. She does, however, continue to bark in distress when chased by dogs, or when her one dog nemesis appears on the scene.

This video shows clearly how lips are used for modulations by coyotes.

Although I mounted this video on Youtube eight months ago, it’s only now that I’m getting around to posting it on my blog, after it has garnered almost 1M views.

Scout Continues On The Run

Scout disappeared from my radar about six weeks ago, after a short return to her old territory at the end of June from where she left abruptly after seeing that her vanquisher was still there. It appears that this little coyote will never give up hope of returning. . . . some day, some day.

For those who do not know her story, she was viciously driven out of the territory she had owned for three years by another coyote, Wired, in February. Sadly, humans probably had a hand in the outcome of the territorial battle.

July 20th. Photo credit: WMontgrain

A couple of weeks ago she resurfaced in a park across the city. Some of the photos showed her looking well and healthy, but others showed her looking very thin, even factoring in that all coyotes look scrawny at this time of year because it’s the end of their shedding season: there is nothing left of their 3″ thick and fluffy winter coats.

She is an interloper without a territory, and interlopers are not allowed to stay long on claimed territories. The new park has long belonged to another entrenched coyote family. Scout was there for only about ten days, when a neighbor saw the territorial fight on Sunday, July 21st at dusk that seems to have ended her stay there. She has not been seen there since this happened: she is again on the run, leading the life of a fugitive.

So Scout is continuing to experience hard times. I try to console myself be remembering that coyotes are resilient and are made to deal with adversity. We all hope she is okay.

I continue to see Wired very sporadically in the territory she took over from Scout, but few other people have ever seen her there — she is a much more elusive critter. She makes regular long exploratory trips to all corners of the city: her latest excursion took her to 19th Avenue, close to Stern Grove. After these wanderings, Wired always returns to the territory she won from Scout where she continues to be irregularly, but often enough to keep Scout away and homeless. UPDATE 8/8: According to her radio-collar emissions (as per the ecologist at the Presidio) she has spent her recent time at the Presidio and Lands End, and been all the way down to Brisbane.

Scout Update: Heartwarming and Heartbreaking

I’ve been able to keep track of our territorially-displaced coyote, Scout, for the last four months as she kept herself out of the way and inconspicuous for the most part in various neighborhoods throughout the center of the city. And then, during the last several weeks she appeared in none of those places and I lost track of her.

So it was overwhelmingly heartwarming to hear from my friends that she had been spotted in her old territory the morning of June 26th: she’s alive and kicking and has not, apparently, given up hope of returning to her old home: what a trooper!  And a brave one at that since she might have been risking her life!  I was sent images, and indeed it was her: she was there, off-and-on, during a five hour interval that morning where, I’m told, she could be seen repeatedly yawning, I’m sure out of anxiety. I myself was only able to catch trail cam images of her before dawn that day as she headed toward her old hill (see above), and then again as she headed away that evening.

Wired making sure Scout stays away

By that evening, Wired — the radio-collared coyote who won the territory in a battle in February — had picked up her scent and was already on her trail. When Scout sensed her presence she was compelled to leave the area. The next day I caught images of her at one of her nearby hideouts where she hadn’t been in almost a month. Then, Wired, too, was seen checking out that same area (see images directly below): she is still hotly pursuing Scout. And now, again, I have lost track of Scout. Wired is back and remains in charge of what is now HER hill where she can be spotted sporadically.

The infrared photos show that Scout has several new sores on her underside and legs which she did not have before. Are these due to malnutrition, bugs, infections, being repelled by other coyotes, or simply wear and tear from life? Let’s hope this is just part and parcel of normal coyote nomad existence. Coyotes are very resilient, as this coyote has already shown us, so we can hope whatever is going on resolves itself quickly.

So Wired remains the territorial empress of what had belonged to Scout, and Scout remains the territorial-less roving nomad and vagrant, eeking out a living in-between territories claimed by other coyotes who keep her at bay. That is the part that’s heartrending.

Wired: the reigning alpha coyote

Coyote Territorial Movements: Scout’s Story

I’ve been able to keep up with a displaced coyote for the last four months. I decided to summarize what has been going on recently with her, as well as her territorial life previous to the battle which displaced her. I’ve used names here to help you keep the individuals involved sorted out.

The wanderings here were put together based solely on my visual identification of individuals in different families I’ve observed over the years, and with a couple of field cameras. I seldom use field cams because they are intrusive: coyotes know they are there. I define anything as intrusive which changes the behavior of a coyote. Coyotes look right at the cams because of course they can see them and hear them. You’ll notice that many trap-cam photos show the animals looking directly at the camera. Sometimes a coyote can only hear the camera, in which case you will get photos of the coyote (or other animal) looking up and around as he/she tries to figure out exactly what and where the sound is. Some coyotes come over and examine the cameras because they are worried about them. I know one coyote who actually “messages” his dislike to such cameras by defecating in front of them, kicking dirt, or even knocking them down! Yikes! Anyway, since I’m not seeing Scout on her territory, and I wanted to follow through on her story for at least a while, I resorted to using a couple such cameras on routes where coyotes have been seen several times. Friends have allowed me — when these coyotes have been sighted in their areas — to put up a camera very temporarily on or near their properties and I want to thank them for helping out!

These coyotes wander generally and much more than I’ve depicted here. The movements depicted here are simply to show points where they went, and when, which affected Scout’s story.

I did not observe the coyote referred to as “Wired” being captured and radio-collared on January 3rd. My observations of her begin after that. I called up the Presidio to ask about the new radio-collared coyote in Scout’s area. Within San Francisco, no coyotes are radio-collared EXCEPT those within the Presidio, so they would know about her. That’s how I have that date. She was in the general area of Scout’s territory for weeks before the territorial fight. Scout’s sudden change of behavior to constant periphery walks and patrolling hinted at what was to come, but I was unable to identify what was causing this behavior change until after the attack: then it all fell into place.

Coyotes, once you get to know them, can be identified by their faces, their general body shapes/outlines and their movements/behaviors. But in addition, very interestingly, I have found family resemblances within some families — no different from in some human families. Recognizing these family similarities has helped me find where some coyotes had once been after they moved, by going back to my previous photos of that family. Dispersed individuals often, of course, continue to change a little appearance-wise as they fill out to their adult sizes. There is a slight difference between the younger and slightly older coyote which may throw you off when attempting an exact identification — until you compare them to the previous photos you took of them and realize and confirm that indeed, they are one and the same coyote.

Scout was Queen Bee as a loner for two and a half years in her territory. The bliss of friendship and camaraderie followed and lasted five months. She was obviously as thrilled at the new situation as were her long-time observers. But it ended and she fell hard. Defeated in battle by an intruder, she lost everything, and was barely able to hold on to life itself. Even now, to stay alive, she must constantly flee from place to place, continuously looking over her shoulder. Scout’s story emphasizes how strong coyote territoriality is: they fight for and defend their turfs. Her story also speaks strongly for how extremely social coyotes are: they interact all the time — both adversely and harmoniously — and have strong family ties: they sometimes even check on family individuals over distances.

As of this posting, here are my last two sightings of Wired and Scout. Wired is seen on May 24th (three days ago) passing over the path that Scout has been taking for a week: that’s the first part of the video. Then, Scout is seen this morning passing through again: note her continual looking over her shoulder before continuing on the path: she does not want to run into Wired.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Recovery and A Transformed Life

I no longer see our banished coyote in her old territory, but I have been seeing her, if only infrequently, not terribly far away. It’s of course great to see that she’s still alive: she’s a survivor. Her situation a month after receiving her wounds can be seen in the video below: she endured an infection in the torn up part of her neck which then began to drain — the video below depicts this. Today, two months after this video was captured, she is fully recovered from the infection.

Showing the draining infection from a territorial fight as it appeared about a month after the wounds were sustained. She has recovered. (Trap camera in friend’s backyard).

But her life has changed drastically from what it had been before the intruder drove her out from what had been her paradisal three-year home — she has had to change gears. She is now an outsider, a sort of outcast. She has become an interloper without a territory and belongs nowhere, except out of the path of other coyotes. She’s living on the edges and in-between other coyotes’ territories.  This changed situation must be hard enough on her, after having been queen of her very own territory previously. But having no territory is just part of her new hardship.

A field camera has caught the entire situation. I seldom use these cameras because they are intrusive to the animal to the point of changing their behaviors and startling them. More on that in a future posting. It is in the vicinity of a friend’s home that I began regularly spotting the banished and recuperating coyote. Then, the week before last, the radio-collared coyote suddenly appeared on the screen of an automatic camera on my friend’s property. Yikes! That radio-collared coyote appears to be pursuing the banished coyote beyond the territory she fought for and won to drive her even further away. The banished gal has strong ties to her old home, having lived there for so long. She keeps her distance from there, but not a great distance.

As my friend Lou stated in a previous post, canids and canines “can literally be everywhere by scent, sound and sight.” It’s how the radio-collared coyote found the banished coyote’s new retreat, and how the banished coyote became aware of the radio-collared gal’s appearance at that place — though they probably have not actually “seen” each other. This has caused our pursued coyote to pretty much leave that retreat, returning only a couple of times during midday hours over the following two weeks, while the more stealthy radio-collared coyote has been passing through fairly regularly at midnight.

Taken to the streets: I found the banished one trekking across town before dawn this morning, right in the middle of the street. She stood right in front of the car with headlights shining brightly on her. I jumped out of the car and took this photo.

And there’s even another level to the story. The area these two female coyotes have been passing through appears to “belong” to a mated pair of coyotes who I’ve known many years. I didn’t know this until they began appearing sporadically in the trap camera. I apparently have placed the camera in a perfect cross-roads spot — it’s Central Station there! The camera has been catching the pair together, or more recently the male alone, coming by, if infrequently, and sniffing for the last several weeks, as seen in the third section of the video below: I’m sure these territorial owners know exactly what is going on through their noses and what Lou said above: they are very aware of the two coyotes, and may even be aware that one is pursuing the other. . . . in THEIR territory. Hmmm. What’s going to happen? As you can see in the video, the male marks the area as he passes through.

Three different unrelated coyotes at separate times passing through the same location. 

Meanwhile, back at the Okay Corral (disputed homestead), I’ve seen the new radio-collared coyote regularly — her instincts are intact and she tries to keep out of view — in diametrical contrast to the first coyote. And she makes forays into what was our coyote’s new retreat. The displaced coyote is no longer seen in her old territory, and, it appears, she’s being forced away from her new retreat.

The radio-collared coyote keeping a low profile at her won territory.

As I’ve said before, there’s lots going on in the coyote world which is below our radar: this is what coyote lives are like; these are things they have to contend with.

Adversity Continues

Wired coyote has returned

After brutally driving off our 3-year resident coyote and hanging around the area for about two months, the Wired intruder headed off to an area several miles away where I serendipitously encountered her a number of times. She appears to be roaming the entirety of San Francisco, from corner to corner. I wondered if she had permanently moved on. I wondered what her plans were. But she was gone less than a week and is now back patrolling the turf she battled for and won.

Ragged: tattered and torn in body, but not in spirit

During those two months, our previous resident coyote had been staying away and hanging low as she recovered from her severe wounds and infections. Then, during the last week she, of course, became acutely aware of her rival’s absence and was making daily forays to her old turf, bravely sticking her toe in the door — so to speak — moving to reclaim her domain. We of course no longer ever saw her romping joyously at the top of hilltops, Queen of her domain and ever so happy, but rather slithering by quickly and surreptitiously through inconspicuous places. Her tentative forays were not being met with resistance from her arch-rival and things appeared to be going well for her. That was during the week the Wired coyote was away. But now that she’s back, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of a truce, if any, is worked out between them. Let’s hope there’s not another fight.

It’s been an amazing drama, and a scary one, if you care. One has to wonder at the stress and tension being sustained by this brave little creature willing to risk life-threatening injuries to defend her turf. Although coyotes are not [corrected 7/2020] known to kill each other over their territories, the fighting can be ferocious and the injuries from these battles can be severe: it goes to show just how important their exclusive land-claims are for their survival. Again, I want to point out how intense coyote lives are, with ups and downs to match anything going on in the human world.

See: Detrimental Effects of Radio-collars

A Protracted Territorial Feud

Coyote internal affairs are every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Their lives can be melodramatic and riddled with thrills! Here’s an example on par with the Hatflieds vs. the McCoys.

The newly-arrived one: wary and guarded in her new surroundings, especially after the non-welcome she received from our resident coyote.

Few people noticed that a new coyote was around, and no one imagined that this would change the course of the lives of our resident coyotes. What was HER story? Had she left her home of her own volition, or had it been a forced dispersal? Might she have even been driven away from the next place where she tried squatting? How long had her wanderings been? Time-wise at least a couple of months, distance-wise at least over half of the city, according to reports. She was here now, and again according to reports, had been in the area for a good number of weeks before a territorial battle took place. She needed a place to live in order to survive and was probably desperate. I’m trying to keep her point of view in mind here.

She appeared to be unscathed from the encounter, whereas the resident female had sustained wounds:  maybe this is because the newcomer had already been through this kind of thing before and was practiced, whereas we know the territorial defender — the coyote we knew and had come to love so much due to her very upbeat personality — had led an unchallenged and unperturbed life for 3 years as queen of her park. Both newcomer and the displaced residents (there was a male with her) have been lying low since that fight.

For the last couple of weeks, then, mostly out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been glimpsing the newcomer furtively passing through back alleyways, mostly scared and fleetingly. Few other neighbors have actually seen her (or for that matter, even know about her). Several people saw her when I did, but they were unable to recognize her as a different coyote — they simply saw a coyote form: most people cannot identify individual coyotes, even with markers. I’m slowly beginning to see her more and more.

Recovering from her wounds, far enough away. Photo by Adrian Parker.

The wounded coyote — the one who has been displaced — has been hiding out in a distant green space where neighbors spotted her (and also saw the male, once) trotting up the streets, foraging quietly, or even sleeping in their backyards. She was keeping away and healing.

THEN, several days ago, my friend Doug caught a glimpse of the tattered female (see photo below). No one had seen her in the three weeks before this, so we had assumed she had been driven off for good, but we were wrong. What a mess she looked! She was lacerated from head to toe: on her head, neck, and legs. Were these wounds from the fight I documented earlier, or had there been additional confrontations? Her fur might have concealed the extent of her wounds when I first saw them three weeks ago — I don’t remember them looking this bad. Would she now stay? She was seen only for a minute at this sighting, and then disappeared from view.

What a mess she looked! Photo by Doug Dunderdale

For the next two days, the only coyote we ever saw, glancingly, was the cocky newcomer gal who traversed the park looking very much at ease as she sauntered through. Human glances hurried her on her merry way and out of view fairly quickly (below).

New Arrival

Then, surprise, a day later, Miss Tattered and Torn was back, with the lacerations on her face, head, neck, and legs more obvious than ever (below). She was limping and disheartened, but apparently not giving up.

As you can see from this posting, coyote internal affairs can be every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Watching and documenting them is like watching a soap-opera with cliff-hangers!

Hope we’re not in for a long, protracted Hatfield vs. McCoys affair, which, in case you have forgotten or never knew, was a drawn-out human territorial battle way back during Civil War days. It sounds pretty similar to me.

As for the newcomer, if she remains, hopefully people won’t feed her or befriend her as they did the previous resident coyote. That coyote had been put in daily danger as she waited for food on the street, approached some people, and even chased cars from which food was tossed.


Of peripheral interest: I’ve been following these particular coyotes since their births. The displaced female had come to this territory three years ago, arriving at 9 months of age from a park several miles away where I had watched her grow up in a 3rd generation family, each generation of which I had followed — she was the 4th generation. The male who she is attached to, had arrived only several months ago from his birthplace all the way across the city. At a year and a half of age, he was harshly driven out of his home by his siblings, not by his parents. Even after his arrival here, he continued to wander for days at a time, often three-mile distances in the opposite direction from his birthplace, but this wandering had been diminishing. And then, a New Arrival, an Intruder appeared. Things can change in the blink of an eye. Let’s see how the story unfolds.

A Coyote Defends Her Turf

Territoriality is a huge component of coyote behavior: it is a prominent thread that runs through many of my postings, including my last four, and now this one.

Lickety-split down the street

The day’s observations began when I saw this coyote run down the middle of the street, away from an open space. Something important was going on for her to run off at a full speed gallop, lickety-split, like that. Coyotes may run  like this from dogs, but there were no dogs after her, and I sensed she was the one leading this charge, doing the pursuing. She disappeared down a distant street and I didn’t think I would see her again anytime soon. I decided to explore some of the surrounding streets that included little habitat niches as I took a morning walk in the pouring rain.

Soaked through and through

Within half an hour I saw what I thought was a new coyote because it did not look at all familiar — I know all the coyotes well in the various territories where I document, including this one, and this, I thought, was not one of them. As I continued to watch, this coyote’s “behavior” revealed to me that this was none other than the lickety-split runner I had observed earlier. She looked so completely different because she was absolutely water-laden: she was SOPPING like an old rag, including all the fur on her face which lay matted down and made her look different, so she was unrecognizable by her appearance alone. She climbed up a nearby slope slowly and laboriously, which also threw me for a loop at first. As she crossed the street, she attempted shaking out all that water contained in her coat a number of times, but she faltered. She was unable to do so. This is why she was so water-laden. I knew something was amiss. Might she have a neck injury?

Just then a siren sounded in the distance and she began soulful and mournful howling — it wasn’t something I’ve heard from her before. I’ve heard this type of howling before as a very upset warning sound for intruders. After howling only a short time, she again tried shaking out the water from her drenched coat, but she could not accomplish the task, possibly due to pain. Within a minute she crossed the street, and then ran when she felt she was threatened by a dog (the dog was leashed), and disappeared into a thicket. In urban areas, coyotes need thickets to get away from people and dogs.

This type of howling in the video above I’ve heard repeatedly associated with intruders

When I got home, I reviewed the photos in detail. And there it was: there was a bloody gash on the left side of her forehead. As I examined the photos, I also noted bright pink/red skin poking through her fur on the right side of her head, including her ear. I wondered if she might have been hit by a car.

Wounds

Again, thoughts swam through my head about helping this coyote. But as has happened before, my instincts told me that if she could heal, she’d do it on her own. That the worst outcome would be human intervention which would tame her even more than she’s been tamed. And if it’s her time to go, she should be allowed to do so. She was totally mobile which is my benchmark for interfering with nature.

The next day I met someone who was anxious to reveal the very unusual sight THEY had witnessed the previous morning, down the street where I had seen the coyote go: two coyotes had been battling. I was told that one was initially under a parked car (this is used often as a protective hiding place for coyotes from, say, dogs and even people) and there was blood spattered on the sidewalk and side of the car. One coyote had on a radio-collar — we don’t see this too often in the City. Radio collars are not used in San Francisco except within the small national park section of the city known as the Presidio. I know the ecologist there and contacted him to find out if any of his radio-collared coyotes had been in this area — radio telemetry would reveal that. Yes, he said there was a 2+ year old female who was roaming the area. She was not from the Presidio, but had wandered in, and so he collared her on January 3. So that was the explanation: there had been an intruder and a territorial battle.

Swollen eyes, snout, neck

Territorial battles can be brutal and disfiguring. Several days after the incident, this gal’s face looked different to me who knows her well. The skin under her chin had been strangely pulled out, and there was swelling around her eyes and snout. Hopefully that would soon go down. I’ve seen an instance of where an entire chunk of skin was bitten off during such a territorial fight. A territory is a coyote’s livelihood. For them, the outcome of such a fight could mean the difference between life and death.

What was the outcome of this territorial dispute? Who won? There is only one alpha female in any given territory — one Queen Bee — so I’m supposing there had to be a “winner”. I’ve seen both female coyotes since the incident, each on separate days (not together). Both coyotes are at least several years old: both are mature and wizened coyotes.  I wouldn’t think that the resident coyote would give up her Queenship too readily. We’ll have to wait to see how this pans out.

The intruder, too, is looking for a place to live

FULL LIVES: This might be a good place to point out that coyotes have amazingly full and intricate lives: there’s lots of depth and breadth to what is constantly going on with them. They aren’t just hanging around eating and reproducing. Once you get to know them, you learn that there’s always something happening: it’s like watching a soap opera with constant cliffhangers! They are as social as we are and they have many of the same drives that come from being social: they mate for life, both parents raise the young, they play,  there’s kindness, altruism, jealousy, competition, rivalry, fear, etc., and there are the broader concerns, including territoriality and battles with unknown coyotes, dispersal, life-cycles, etc. Getting to know them through their interactions and their individual behaviors has allowed me to piece together who they are on a variety of levels.

MY FOCUS: Most scientists and academics appear to be concerned with data: numbers, measurements, trends, repetitions. So, for instance, Stan Ghert radio-collars coyotes, counts pups, takes blood samples, weighs and measures them, and graphs or maps where the animals go. A lot of this information can be gleaned and compiled mechanically (radio-collars). Or focused slices of their lives might be examined: Chris Nagy, for instance, is an ecologist, so he’s interested in how coyotes fit into the environment; Christian Hunold examines potential political ramifications.

I’m more concerned with everyday individual lives and individual histories: i.e., with what it’s like to be a coyote. I observe with my naked eye and photo-document observable coyote behavior (though I’ve done scat studies).  I’m mostly concerned with their individual interactions, their individuality (WHO they are) and how each coyote fits into its family situation, and also the human interface within the city and how that is evolving over time. These observations are direct and first-hand and take lots of focused time, similar to the way Jane Goodall observed her chimps, only Jane actually interacted with her charges, and I make it point never to do so — I’m always on the outside looking in. My guidelines I’ve refined, based on first-hand observations of what I’ve seen works best in our parks here in San Francisco.

A Chapter Ends

An entire family left their long-time claimed territory, leaving one daughter behind. I thought the vast territory had become hers. For several months, I would find her all alone. And then one day, there were two newcomers with her — both males!

I could tell that she was apprehensive about them for the first little while after they appeared. She kept a squinted, wary eye on them as they loitered around fairly close to each other until dusk darkened the sky and enveloped the landscape. She was assessing them, and they her. Dusk is when she’d usually head off trekking alone, and soon I watched as three of them went off together, not with complete confidence in each other as one would expect in an established family, but they were figuring each other out, and figuring out their relationships, through darting eye-glances: coyotes communicate visually and everything they did sent a message and was interpreted as a message.  I watched these three for the next few weeks as they became more obviously trusting and comfortable with each other. Right from the start, though, she showed a preference for the dark-eyed fella: he was the obvious dominant of the two, and maybe this had everything to do with her choice.

After the first few days during which she showed them “her domain”, they mostly hung-out on their knolls waiting for dusk to come around, and I watched the relationship progress from her being totally “in charge” and leading the howling sessions (in this first video, you can see him ignore the siren until she reacts):

. . . to ‘her chosen fella’ taking charge and leading the chorus when sirens sounded. Note that, although she appeared to have “chosen” her fella early on, the “possessive display” continues, and you’ll see this at the end of these two howling videos.

It wasn’t long before I observed an all-out, no-holds-barred play session: they were in a sand-pit a long distance off and it was dark, but I got this photo above, showing them playing as coyotes do when they like each other: chasing, wrestling, and play-beating up one another in a teasing sort of way. And then, within only a few days of that out-and-out play, the pair was gone. They are now gone and have been for weeks. So, I guess the lady of the house’s new beau came in and swept her off her feet and they loped away into the sunset together to hopefully live happily ever after — isn’t that how these stories are supposed to go? I wonder if I’ll see them again.

Since their departure, I’ve only seen the extra-male a few times: the beautiful pale blue-eyed fellow below. But now he, too is gone. The field has been totally vacant for weeks. The family that left had been there twelve full years I’m told by a fellow observer who knew the Dad from the time he was a mere pup. That fellow observer ceased appearing because the coyotes had. So there’s a big void there right now. I suppose my assumption that the vast territory had become “hers” is incorrect. It’s a coyote no-mans land right now.

Twelve years ago, before this family claimed it as their own, there had been a territorial battle between two families here. I was told that one of the families was so vengeful that it went after and slaughtered the pups of the rival family. Then all families disappeared and only one youngster remained there. He became the owner for the next twelve years until last fall. This story came from my fellow observer who, I can verify, has been an astute and accurate observer and could even identify individual coyotes in the dark (which I still have not mastered). There is no reason not to believe the story. I’m relating it to show just how intense and brutal territorial battles can get: that the battles are fierce shows just how important the land is to coyotes for their survival.

I’m hoping someone comes back soon: it might be the old family, it might be this recently formed pair, it might be the extra-male, or it might be someone never seen before: vacant niches tend to be filled, so let’s see. Of interest to me, as noted in my very last posting, is that observable coyote activity is way down in almost all the territories I study, and may be due to the upcoming pupping season.

 

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