The FIFTH Generation of One Direct Family Line — Documented

Fifth generation: born April, 2020

Life just keeps moving forward, spinning and weaving itself out as part of nature’s inexorable web. I’ve been able to follow a tiny segment of this web with my coyote documentation work. I’ve been able to keep track of a whopping ten new litters this year here in San Francisco, of which there are plenty more.  Of particular interest to me is one family line I’ve managed to follow generation after generation (not to be confused with litter after litter, which for years will be part of the same generation) since 2008. The youngsters depicted above are from the fifth generation (or fourth, depending on which line you follow) of that family, born this year.

Background: Coyotes first re-appeared here in San Francisco in 2002 after many years of absence, having been exterminated as “vermin” in the 20th century. Times changed so that environmentalism (of which coyotes are a part) became the new norm by the end of that century: coyotes made a comeback after a trapper brought several into the city. They now thrive under the new ethos here. According to DNA analysis (from my ongoing scat study begun in 2008), all of our SF coyotes came from just four founding individuals — they can all be traced back to that point. This posting portrays the genealogy — or the underlying “scaffolding” — of one of the many families and individuals within those families whose unique stories I’ve been writing about.  That family’s stories as a whole might now constitute a sort of family “saga”!

1st Generation: I began following the lineage in 2008. Although I don’t know the age of that first coyote I started with, I would say she had to have been three years old or older when I first met her, based on her surpassing wisdom, and that she had a singleton pup at the time: so she would have been born sometime before 2005. Yet she was obviously youthful and could not have been older than 6, so that would place her among the first coyotes to be born here in San Francisco after their return (Nisei?).

An original emigrant coyote

Possibly an original founder: To the left is a photo probably of one of the original four to six brought in. He was an aging old man when I met him in 2007 — born well before 2002. I’m including his photo here even though I don’t know if he is a direct ancestor of the line I’m describing here — though chances are high that he is.

Born before 2005 — I’m guessing she’s from the first generation actually born here in SF

Depicted above is the coyote I’ve named/labeled as Maeve, born before 2005 — making her one of among the first coyote generation actually born here in SF. Her mate, however, may have been one of the original four. He was older than her, and very wary and reclusive which is why I have only a few fuzzy photos of him — my guess is that he was this way because he never recovered from the trauma of having been trapped and removed from his previous situation. Every coyote is different, and some are much more sensitive than others.

2nd generation born in April, 2009

2nd Generation: Maeve’s litters, then, born over the next several years became the 2nd generation to be born in San Francisco. These eventually included a son, Silver (above), born in April, 2009, part of a litter of just two. His father, as I stated above, may have been one of the original four coyotes: I say this based solely on his older appearance and incredible wariness. I called him Toughy. He died of rat poisoning (as did a domestic dog at the time) and it is Silver who then filled in his shoes (paws?).

This posting is simply a pulling together, in skeletal outline form, of a this family’s genealogy, a bare-bones scaffolding exclusive of the stories about them. It is the stories about these individuals that reveal the “WHO” about these individuals and which bring this scaffolding to life. Knowing the genealogical connection just makes their story that more interesting by adding another layer to it.

3rd generation, Chert, above left. Silver, above right, is a 2nd generation coyote.

3rd Generation: At the age of four, in April 2013, Silver produced his first litter, constituting the 3rd generation of this coyote line. This litter included Chert (above left) who was one of four pups born by Maeve and Silver that year, and the one to remain on the land, and therefore the one I would continue to follow in this line.

On the turn of a dime, events can occur and circumstances can change, without our necessarily knowing the ultimate cause. Maeve, who became Silver’s mate (she was also his mother) disappeared suddenly when their youngsters were only 7 months old, never to be seen again. And this is where the story gets twisted a little because within a year, Chert moves into Maeve’s position as the female alpha of the territory: her father Silver  (above right) becomes her mate (yes, there’s lots of inbreeding in this line), so we have now a 2nd generation and a 3rd generation uniting to produce the next generation, which could be called either 3rd or 4th. I’m calling it 4th.

In 2015, I put together a 275 page book with over 700 photos about the family up to that point. It was entitled and focused on “Chert: One Day In The Life Of An Urban Coyote”. I was asked by a would-be publisher to transform what they called a “field guide” into a “story”. I never summoned up the bandwidth to do this, so the manuscript/monograph languishes on a bookshelf in my study. With two more generations to add to it, the story would now become a true “saga”. 

Scout, above left is the 4th generation. I do not know her mate’s lineage (above right).

4th Generation: Chert and Silver’s various litters constitute the 4th direct generation of this line. Scout (above left) was their first, a singleton pup, born in April 2015. Scout dispersed from this territory: she is the first youngster I’ve followed AFTER her dispersal which occurred at an early 9 months of age, whereas the previous generations that I’ve kept track of in this line simply “inherited” the property on which they had been born, and that’s where they reproduced. So her story continues on a new territory not so far away.

Scout’s mate (above right) is a newcomer to me — I don’t know his background. We’ll have to wait for DNA to find out his lineage. Dr. Ben Sacks at UC Davis has, or will be, analyzing all of their scats to “scientifically” confirm the relationships I’ve documented, and to find the connections between the coyotes whose backgrounds I don’t know..

5th Generation: Scout’s is a long and fascinating history, many aspects of which I’ve written about on this blog. It was not for many years, until she was five years old, that she acquired a stable and faithful mate and had her first litter in April of 2020. This litter, then, is the fifth generation of this one family line: the pup photos in this posting are hers.

So the story as a whole continues with new generations continuing as they have from the beginning of time, and with my relaying individual stories that serve to individualize and distinguish each coyote from the next — it’s not unlike what goes on with us humans. :))

Below is a standard genealogical chart — just the chart without any stories — of the family from 2008 (or from before 2005 if you incorporate Toughy and Maeve’s birthdates) to today. The stories about the individuals, including their personalities and interactions, can be found in this blog. However, I never mention locations, and seldom have I used their names in my postings, and this has been done in order to protect them.

©  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: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com

It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.


Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

©  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.

Continued DNA Study

Continued DNA study of coyotes in San Francisco is proceeding forward!

Professor Ben Sacks of UC Davis initiated the DNA study of San Francisco coyotes when he analyzed DNA from the first coyotes that re-appeared in San Francisco in 2002 after decades of absence from the city. It is his study which showed that these early coyote arrivals in San Francisco came from Mendocino County. Ben had previously discovered that markers differentiated various geographical groups of coyotes, and one of those groups he was able to isolate and identify was Mendocino coyotes. San Francisco coyotes matched these.

The study was expanded in 2008 with more samples (which I collected from throughout the city) whereby Ben Sacks’ graduate student, Katherine Marquez, studied the connectivity of our population to surrounding rural populations (2011).

And now we’re into yet another round of tests from scats I collected over the last four years from throughout the city, with many defecations occuring as I watched, so I know “who” they came from as well as their family relationships, among other things. So we already have a lot of information about these coyotes. Ben has generously and graciously taken on the DNA analysis of this project, which he’ll incorporate into his teaching. The earlier scats will be used as benchmarks.

My two main questions include, “To what extent and how are the coyotes in San Francisco related to one another?” This will show movement within the city, and will show to what extent inbreeding has occurred. And, “Are all or most of our present population descended from the original Mendocino group, or have some trickled in from south of the city?” Stay tuned for the results later on this year.

Note that DNA from scat is a totally non-intrusive, non-invasive way of collecting information about coyotes, beyond my dedicated direct-observations which take a lot of time. A lot of what we find out in this DNA study will be confirming what I already know through hours of observation and documentation, but even more of it will be revealing new information and connections.

UC Davis’ DNA Study of Coyotes in San Francisco

click on image to enlarge

Back in 2007, shortly after I began my own dedicated urban coyote investigations and studies, I became interested in the possibility of using DNA from scat to find out more about our urban coyotes. In researching lab possibilities, I came across Ben Sacks at UC Davis and then Erin Boydston who would soon be working for the USGS. Erin confirmed for me that Ben was involved in such a study. It was Erin Boydston, who had been hired by the Presidio to document the wildlife in that park, who delivered the first sample of DNA (this was a blood sample) to Ben’s lab for analysis where it was determined that the coyotes were from Mendocino County. My timing was perfect, as Ben Sacks asked me to collect scat from San Francisco for his DNA study here. I contributed to the study as the *citizen-scientist* and a naturalist with a special interest in coyotes.

This poster above, with a summary of the project, has just finished being assembled by Camilo Sanchez who has been a part of the project at UC Davis. I’ve been given permission by Ben to post it here.

My own study of coyotes here in San Francisco — investigating and documenting urban coyote behavior including their behavior in relation to people and pets and getting this out to the public, documenting different levels of habituation and its effect on their behavior, and documenting different population pockets, densities, and territoriality in the city — something no one else has been doing — has been ongoing since 2007, hey, making it the longest running such study in the city! I’ve asked Ben if he might be able to do more analysis (I’ve already collected and vialed specimens from throughout the city) — specifically to determine what proportion of our coyotes are the progeny of those originally from Mendocino County, and how many might be immigrants from the South. Because of the structure of funding at universities, Ben told me that he can only continue this study if we find funding for a graduate student. Hopefully this will happen — and the study will be an ongoing one, continuing what was begun in 2006.

When I first started, it was Stan Gehrt — from Ohio State, who runs the longest running coyote study in the country — who spurred me on by encouragingly corresponding with me during my initial documentation work, answering my questions about what I had observed, sharing his incredible territorial diagrams (before they were published on his site), giving me citations, and then connecting me with a graduate student, who came all the way to San Francisco to decide upon and carry out a dissertation project. Interests change, and she decided to move on into journalism and videography. As a journalism intern, and with her background knowledge and interest in coyotes, she interviewed me for a Bay Nature Connections profile where she called me “a pioneer in the photo-documentation of the lives of urban coyotes, capturing their intimate lives”, a phrase I like and repeat when describing what I do!