Urban Denning Areas Within The City

Plenty of water found in streams, lakes and spigots, along with great hiding places can be found in large city parks, but so can dogs which are the main issue and problem for coyotes. Intrusive people come second.


More than enough water, vast grasslands and thickets can be found on golf-courses where it’s safer from dogs, but not totally free of them. In some golf-courses, as in the parks, the thickets which afford hiding places are being removed.

Habitat removal occurs in all these areas, either through felling of trees and clearing brush, to clearing for construction.


Backyards in the more spacious green residential neighborhoods and fragmented smaller parks also provide enough water and cover, but these offer more of a challenge for coyotes from surrounding traffic, people and dogs, yet that hasn’t stopped coyotes from moving in there. Water, as elsewhere is found in fountains, spigots and puddles caused by watering and fog.


Urban dens run the gamut from those nestled inconspicuously into remote lush natural areas with streams or ponds of water nearby, thickets, trees and grasslands — these include most the larger parks and golf-courses — albeit some more accessible to dogs and people than others — to the scruffy no-man-land dumps off the shoulders of freeways with their incessant and penetrating loud whirring traffic noise, pervasive gas smells, and human refuse which includes sharp metal edges, splintered wood pieces, nails, rust, plastic bags and bottles, broken glass, needles, etc. Most urban denning areas include some aspects of both extremes. Den areas are the cradles coyote youngsters are born into, and none is without hazards and dangers of some sort.

“Away from dogs and people” — i.e., “away from danger” — is the main criteria for coyotes’ choice of den site: this is what makes one den site “better” than another. In fact, the “dump” dens are often less accessible to intruders. Also, such dens seem to have more challenges so that pups born there begin learning about life — urban life — much sooner than pups raised in grassy green or woodsy settings. These neglected empty spaces, or junkyards, have more obstacles and stimulation of all sorts which might spur more and sooner learning and even opportunistic innovation for negotiating dangers — that is, for the 30% who survive to adulthood. So it’s not for us to say, of these two extremes, that one site is “better” than the other based on what we might like. Coyotes have different standards and criteria than we do for our homes.

Please note that coyotes usually also “own” the land in the neighborhoods surrounding their homes in parks or open spaces, even if they live in larger parks, so being sighted in the neighborhoods as they make their rounds, either “marking” (to keep other coyotes out) or even hunting,  is not uncommon.

Coyotes were deposited by a trapper in the Presidio in 2002, so that vast park is where they made their first home and where the first sightings occurred in 2003. By 2004 to 2007 they were already living in the variety of locations throughout the city where they live today, including other larger parks such as Golden Gate Park, McLaren and Glen Canyon, on our many golf-courses, and in smaller and fragmented spaces surrounded by a sea of traffic and people such as Bernal Hill, Coit Tower and even some backyards. Many of the areas claimed long ago are still occupied by descendants of the coyotes who first moved there, but some have more recent immigrants, including in the Presidio where a new family moved in after kicking out the aging coyotes who had claimed the area for so long, or Lands End as well as some of the golf courses where the newcomers moved into previously owned but now vacated spaces without incident.

Professor Ben Sacks of UC Davis found that dispersing coyotes tend to seek out environments similar to what they had been raised in: those raised in the mountains seek out mountains, those from the desert or from riparian areas tend to seek out those areas to claim as their own territories. When coyotes first re-arrived here in San Francisco, the larger parks would have been environmentally closest to the rural areas they were used to in Mendocino County. But even in these parks, people and dog visitors have increased substantially over time, so any coyote raised in those areas would eventually have grown accustomed to more and more traffic, people, dogs and have been more and more comfortable dispersing to areas that included these and even sparser cover.

Anyway here are some photos of denning areas, from large public parks and golf courses, to fragmented smaller parks and neighborhoods, to no-man’s-lands off a busy highway. Each and every den itself, within a denning area, is totally different from the next. I’ve included only one actual “den”. Not only have the dens themselves been abandoned by now — pups are 3 months of age — but in some cases, the entire denning area has been left behind.

By the way, dangers to urban coyotes begin at the den site and continue through life. Coyotes, especially youngsters, get killed by cars — it’s their biggest killer in urban areas. They break wrists and ankles or pull tendons after being chased by dogs, they die of ingesting poisons such as car coolant left out by humans or rat poison, they get cut and stabbed by our debris. Those are some of the human/dog impacts. One of the biggest human impacts is humans attempting to interact with them (feeding and befriending) which impacts their behavior and compromises their wildness. Beyond those impacts caused directly by humans or our dogs, are more “natural” impacts many of which, however, may at their roots be caused indirectly by humans: for instance a coyote/coyote territorial fight might be the result of habitat destruction by humans — not always, but I’ve seen it. Mange often takes hold due to weakened immune systems which in turn are caused by rat poison ingestion. The one big danger they avoid in cities, at least here in San Francisco, is they don’t get indiscriminately shot on sight: they are much safer than their rural counterparts.


Vacant out-of-the-way lots or junkyards overlooking freeways in many ways may be the “better” denning areas for urban coyotes.

A vacant right-of-way is ideal as a denning area, in spite of 2-inch rusty nails sticking up out of the boards the youngster is standing on.

Debris is not an eyesore for coyotes, though it includes many dangers unknown to them: poisons, rusty metals, sharp edges.

Constant whirr of loud traffic noise and gassy smells are less of a problem for coyotes than human and dog intrusions.

Coyote Family Playtime for a 3-Month Old Singleton Pup


This tiny family responds to sirens!

She’s an “only pup” — she has no litter mates. An “only pup” is known as a “singleton” pup. But she is not an “only child” because she has an older brother: a yearling born the year before. He was part of a litter of five, and is the only youngster from that litter to remain part of the family. That yearling plays with the pup, as do Mom and Dad, as you’ll see in the video.

Nighttime is when coyote families engage in most of their family activities: the whole family plays together on and off — when adults aren’t off hunting — during the length of the evening. And then they rest or sleep in different locations during the daytime.

The video above is a composite from one of my rarer daylight captures of family play. Note that, after the intense and fun play session above, the “adults”, trickle off, one at a time, in the end leaving the pup alone for the rest of the day. At night, too, they leave her for long extended periods of time when they go off hunting. She knows she must stay home and keep hidden.

After watching them leave, the pup wanders sadly, slowly, and unenthusiastically back — you can tell this by the lack of energy in her pace — to her hiding place. And that’s how the days go by as she is growing up.

Habitat Destruction

Eating Himalayan Blackberries in San Francisco

Notice how gingerly the coyotes move around. That’s because thorns hurt them as much as they hurt us humans. Both coyotes carefully rummage through the patch of berries, picking just those that are perfectly ripe and delicious. They spent over half an hour doing so.

I’ve been noticing a lot of fruit seeds in coyote droppings everywhere lately, so coyotes all over are enjoying summer fruit. What I don’t know is if they are being drawn to the fruit simply because it is delicious and they like it, or if it is because their usual rodent pickings are scarcer at this time.

Please note that Himalayan Blackberries are an important food source, not just for coyotes, but for all sorts of wildlife, including birds, AND even we humans love to pick and eat them. They are a Horn-of-Plenty for so many species, not only as a food source, but also as an impenetrable, thorny thicket, which serves as a protective habitat barrier for wildlife from dogs and humans. It tends to be invasive, so it may need to be controlled in places, but let’s think twice about altogether exterminating such a useful plant.

Battling Balloons: Compelled to Find Out About A Novel Object

Coyote Contends with Curiosity and Fear: Curiosity Wins

At first glance, you might think the little coyote in this video has flipped out, but keep watching: she’s found a bouquet of balloons that were left overnight and is having a ball testing them and making them bounce around. She zooms past them quickly because she’s not quite sure what they are capable of. As she does so, she prods, taps and tests to find out. Contrary to what some folks think, coyotes are drawn to novel objects, not driven away by them!

Coyotes are innately curious, inquisitive and nosy: they have a need to know. So they are compelled to investigate, to test new objects: it’s a survival skill. Place any novel object, including unpredictably bouncing balloons in a field, and although their initial reaction to most new things might be to stand back and watch, soon, sometimes over the period of several days, but sometimes right off, they begin to investigate, gingerly moving in closer and closer until they can touch it ever so quickly and then jump back or withdraw their paw — just in case it bites — little by little examining and testing its reactions/responses.

Coyotes test an object’s danger and limitations in order to allay their fears. This may be one of several reasons they approach some dogs: they are investigating what a particular dog’s reactions might be to them and if the dog’s intentions might be harmful. How to handle this? Keep your distance always. The minute you see a coyote, especially if you have a dog with you, shorten your leash and walk away.

 

Thrilled To Be Observing My Urban Wild Neighbors, by Ella Dine

I live in Portland, Oregon, and I have observed a coyote family in the same location dozens of times in a green space/natural park surrounding a local college, most notably in the evenings, and especially during pupping months.  The area provides not only diverse coverage but also supreme visibility, with rock and mulch piles of varying heights.  It also boasts plenty of shade and a water source (either a stagnant puddle or two, as you can see in the second picture, or a tiny creek/run-off not too far away).  Best of all, this little area is set back just far enough from all major walking paths so that the coyotes can go about their business while dogs and their people pass by at a safe distance.  Most people seem to pass without noticing the coyotes at all.  Today, I observed mom and dad, and got a brief glimpse of one pup, though I believe there are more in the family.

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Just seconds before this, mom was lounging.  I will call her “mom” because I think she is the female, but I may not be correct.

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Here she has opted to step up on a rock for a better view.  She remained this way for a long while after hearing some kids yell in the distance.  Until, her thirst got the best of her…

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It’s going to be 100 degrees in Portland for the 2nd day in a row, which I imagine is tough on the coyotes.  After disappearing to where I think the pups were, mom reappeared and drank some of this muddy water.  I couldn’t help but wonder if coyotes are prone to the same illnesses as their canine counterparts, like giardia?  

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All was quiet for a long time, with little movement in the area until mom ran out of sight.  I looked around to see what mom had run from, and I spotted someone on his way back from wherever he had been (I think this is the male—he appears darker in color and slightly larger).  

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At this point, I decided to move on as I felt that dad had certainly noticed me, but I didn’t leave without noting that the coyote I call “dad” took his position where the other coyote had been, seemingly on watch.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the routine would be repeated throughout the day?  One on watch while the other checks the perimeter then they switch places?  It’s hard to guess, but I am lucky enough to retreat to my air-conditioned house, thinking all the while that no matter what transpires for this coyote family on this brutally hot day, it’s such a thrill and honor to observe these resilient neighbors whose very survival depends upon their constantly observing us.