Reflecting on an Exile and Return

Coyote families, and even loners, may leave their claimed territories for any number of reasons, or they may stay in that one location for generations. I’ve known both situations. Of those that leave, the primary reasons seem to be inability to defend the territory from another hostile coyote, or dwindling resources. In some cases, but not always, the same coyotes may come back. Here are some of my reflections and a background recap, along with a video of snippets I put together, on one such coyote’s return to her old home.

Exiled: In this case, the coyote — who I will refer to as “our coyote” — was forced to leave her long-term claimed territory by another intruder coyote whose attacks left her no alternative. During her absence, she became a transient, an interloper with no home of her own, existing in-between other territories in a sort of no-man’s land, and moving about constantly while being repulsed by any hostile territorial coyotes whose properties she slithered through. Maybe her odyssey was necessary: six months of wanderings which had the potential for forcing her to revert to some more essential coyote behaviors and away from all of the humanizing influences which she had lived with for so long — equivalent to an Australian Bushman’s “walkabout”.

Where did she go when she was driven away? It was an odyssey for her. I was able to follow most of her trajectory through extensive swaths of the city: to Glen Park, Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, Dolores Heights, Twin Peaks, and McLaren Park, among other places. And wherever she went, soon the strange hostile/exiler coyote appeared. I was able to catch up with her through friends’ photos, several trap cameras I put out, and Nextdoor postings with photos of her: the postings inevitably warned, “Please watch your cats and dogs”. Few people knew this coyote actually fled from cats! So our coyote kept fleeing. She would travel at night, dusk or dawn. Her amazing intuition told her how to distinguish friends from non-friends, and who would tolerate her presence and maybe even protect her when she took refuge in their yards. Some people named her. Some people fed her out of sympathy and concern: few people are aware of how negatively feeding impacts coyotes, as it already had in her “previous” life when she had been the reigning queen of her slope. Intermittently she tried returning “home”, but invariably she was repulsed again by the hostile intruder coyote gal who kept at her heels.

Tentative return: After months of wandering, remaining in places for a couple of weeks at a time before moving on, our coyote finally returned again to her old turf and, voilá, there was no hostile exiler around to drive her away for the first time in six months! At first people didn’t think this was our same coyote because her behaviors were so different from before: mainly she spent huge amounts of her time marking and “kicking dirt”, as though she were saying to the coyote who stole the site from her, “take that!” Even humans, in a language older than words, if they know what is going on, can read this type of animal body language.

So for weeks after her return, she spent her time reclaiming her territory, walking around while making visual and olfactory checks of the area, marking and kicking dirt extensively, self-grooming for long periods of time, absorbing odors and leaving hers, trotting her old routes, hunting, and generally trying to fit in again. This video depicts some of those activities when she first returned.

In some ways, she seemed wiser when she first returned, and on the whole, more elusive than before her odyssey: she spent less time out in the open and even stayed away for days at a time. I was happy to see this. Many people who knew her were hoping that she might have regained some primary coyote wildness while “abroad and dealing at times with an unfamiliar world”: it was a huge test, with the possibility of bringing into play survival skills which she never had used before. BUT, after only a few weeks back, she relapsed into responding to repeated misguided “human kindness”.  Food was again being left by roadways, so she was back in the streets searching for free handouts instead of hunting. She’s relapsed into again chasing cars and biting at their tires as they drive by: two days ago a car slammed on its brakes to avoid a direct hit. And she made several attempts at begging with a straight-in-the-eye look at people who passed by her. All of these behaviors of hers are a direct response to HUMAN behaviors. We need to change OUR behaviors in order to help her: please don’t feed her or leave food out for her. Coyotes are superb hunters: we can help her be that instead of the dependent beggar we are turning her into.



Recap of early life for those who haven’t followed her story: Until the point in her life when she was forced away, her life had been beyond charmed: unfolding as a fairy tale to many who observed her, and maybe even to the coyote herself. But many observers hadn’t taken the time to reflect on the larger picture: she had spent the first four years of her life being indelibly humanized and she needed to get back to normal — to her essential coyote self. This exile forced her to do so, but the results may be short-lived.

Her early-life urban-situation inherently fueled problems. At one point, she was hit by a car, leaving her with a temporary hip injury. Luckily the injury didn’t hamper her for long: she never lost her mobility — though she toppled over time and again as she attempted walking after the incident — and she stopped limping in less than two weeks. She had been prompted to chase cars by misguided people throwing her food from their cars — it took two years of everyday outreach before I could stop that behavior by halting the feeding. She was lucky that a car hadn’t killed her during that time: her predecessor in that location had been killed by a car which is why she was able to move in there — she had filled his vacated niche. Dogs chased her continually during her early years there, often right into street traffic, endangering both them and her. But actually, over time, people had been getting better and better at leashing up when they saw her, so this was happening much less than ever before. There had been other issues all perpetrated by humans, such as repeatedly feeding her, approaching too close, and befriending her, which little by little had eroded away her “coyote essence”, but these were all being corrected by more and more people abiding by, “just walk away from her; leave her alone and give her space”. On the whole life was pretty good to this happy-go-lucky coyote. It appears that the niche she had found and made her own worked for her: finding the right habitat apparently is primary for survival. I’ve heard that evolution is less about the “survival of the fittest” as previously thought, and more about “finding the right habitat”. Our coyote had chosen hers well.

And then things fortuitously got even better. How could things get better than this? But they did: a male companion appeared on the scene and became her best friend. Although he was a wanderer and seemed to have another lady-friend in another location, he always returned after only a few days’ absence during the four months they knew each other, and he and our coyote spent gobs of quality time in each other’s company simply enjoying each other. No one had ever seen our coyote — who had been a loner up to this point — happier. An added perk of this friendship: he was a supreme hunter, and this began rubbing off on her.

However, unbeknownst to our little female coyote, trouble was already brewing. Her best-buddy fella-friend had some family that followed him to her location, and that, ironically is what led to her life unraveling for the next six months. Few people are aware of how intense coyote internal lives, relationships, and their emotions are, or of their individuality and personalities, all of which have nothing to do with humans: not all good and bad which confront a coyote are created by humans, though, of course, a lot is, as this story points out.

So our coyote was driven away from her haven AND even pursued by a relative of the fella who had made her so happy. The relative was another female transient, an interloper, over two years of age who had recently been radio-collared in the Presidio. San Francisco does not radio-collar coyotes, but the Presidio which is federally owned, does. At the time of radio-collaring, it was found that this coyote had larger teeth than normal. Hmmm. . . Why? More interesting was her angry look. Did she harbor anger from being manhandled when she was collared?? Or from having to wear the large contraption around her neck? My friend Lou has noted that first-generation coydogs often have angry looks about them. Might she, then, be a coydog: a half dog?

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.