Night Vision Snippets: Peeks at Pup Feedings

Here, I’ve consolidated several very short video clips from over a month ago which I caught on a trail camera: pup feedings. You’ll see a mother coyote regurgitating food for a very hungry and excited pup who can’t wait to eat. Then you’ll see the same youngster happily carrying a small rodent off to a quiet place where she can enjoy it. Thirdly, you’ll see Dad on his way to deliver food to his brood at 3am in the morning: you have to wonder how many trips he must make to feed four young mouths. Next, a youngster runs excitedly after Mom and yanks away the prey which she has brought home for the pup. Finally, a pup, now several weeks older than before, carries something large which I can’t really make out in the infrared light. It’s either prey that has been given to her by a parent, or a toy which she has found and is treating as prey.

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.

Trap Cameras: Dad Patrols / Pup Explores

Today, I’m posting a video sequence of a coyote on his patrolling rounds, and of a youngster investigating the area, captured remotely on a trap camera. Pups are 3 months old now and their curiosity is insatiable, of course! But this posting is more about trap cameras which aren’t as benign as most people think.


Use of trap cams and what I’ve seen. I’ve used them extremely sparingly in the past. Out of respect for what coyotes want and so as to observe natural rather than fearful or protective behavior, I stay away from denning areas: rather, I’ve used field cameras to count pups after they start exploring well away from their dens. And I’ve used them more recently for tracking an interloper coyote who was driven from her territory by another coyote.

There IS a difference between trap-cameras and human hand-held cameras, but not necessarily in the way people imagine: I’m referring to the intrusiveness factor. In some ways they may be less interfering than human presence, but in many ways they are more so.

Some of the reactions of coyotes to my and other trap cameras as seen in images from those cameras led to my doing a mini-study on trap-cameras. The outcome: I found that these devices are surprisingly intrusive from the animals’ point of view as seen by the images of their reactions to them. On the other hand, although my motives have been “tested” a couple of times by coyotes (I’ve always walked away when this happens), this is rare. Although they’ve watched me, they effectively have not reacted to me, a human photographing them: this is why I’m able to document their natural family lives. We have plenty of other humans passing through the parks in San Francisco so I just blend in with the rest of them. If these had been non-urban coyotes not used to having humans around, I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do.

Conversely, coyotes DO routinely react to trap cameras, often adversely, and they are as aware of them as they are of any human in their area.

For the coyote, I think it boils down to an “understandable known” which is a human taking photos (and I’m talking about doing so respectfully and from a respectable distance), versus an “incomprehensible unknown” which are the clicks and whirrs and flashes of a contraption without a human presence yet “triggered” and focused on them when they appear: that’s when the lights and the noises go on. I’ve even seen several coyotes test this: they stand in the distance waiting for the IR lamp to turn off or the noises to begin, and then they make a slight movement that confirms THEY are the triggers.

So how are these field cameras intrusive? Coyotes often become startled by them, stopping dead in their tracks. The cameras elicit stares and investigative or wary reactions, especially as the coyote gets closer to them. The cameras all make sounds, and coyotes can hear even the faintest of noises, even if you can’t. So even if these cameras are missed visually by coyotes, they still know they are there — this must make them even more disturbing. Even the “black glow” cameras, where the IR flash is invisible to humans, are very visible to coyotes. I’ve actually seen coyotes interact with these cameras by angrily defecating in front of them, kicking dirt in anger at them, and even taking them down when they can [see photos and video below]. Wow! 

When the field cameras are up high and unreachable, they appear to be ignored or not to be seen, or so I thought, until I looked closer. When I set them on high ledges where they could be accessed by animals — they were.  So it’s a fallacy that trap cameras are not intrusive: coyotes know these are human instruments and likely malevolent in some way. Coyotes may even know you are spying on them.

“In the name of science” is often accepted as a good excuse for using them. Scientists want their “facts”, but people should know that they do impact the animals on deeper levels than they might be aware of. 

Having said all this, I have used trap cameras, as I stated above. Recently, my cameras were left up overtime when I neglected to pick them up for several days because I was too busy to go get them, and I discovered that the cameras caught some behaviors worth posting, always sprinkled with the reactions I’ve just described.

Some of what the cameras caught include: Dad bringing back prey to his pups, a mom regurgitating her food for her only pup, a youngster waiting around impatiently for his parents to return from hunting, older sibling playing with a younger pup,  a mom playing with her youngsters as though she were one of them, parents trying to shoo their youngster into hiding in the bushes but youngster doesn’t heed them, a dad pacing and standing very still as he listens carefully for a possible intruder he’s heard! I’ll post some of these in the coming weeks. The video today shows a pup exploring with insatiable curiosity, and Dad patrolling before that.

Some images and a video of coyotes encountering trap cameras.  Here are examples of how coyotes reacted with suspicion & investigation, kicking dirt in anger, defecating in anger and as a message, and knocking down the camera [Press one of the images to scroll through the gallery].

Another example: https://www.ktvq.com/entertainment/trending/video-extra-we-said-no-cameras

Please LEASH UP: Coyotes are entitled to defend their den areas here in San Francisco


This video from a field camera covers five hours. It was taken two months ago. I’ve cut out most of the non-action spaces, except those between a dog’s entrance into the area and the coyote’s coming out to “message” that dog to get out of her area. First thing to notice is that the coyote is a mother who is lactating — notice her underside. She needs dogs to stay away. A coyote is entitled to defend herself and her den area — her only tool with which to do so is her teeth. This is “defensive” behavior — it is not “aggressive” — this is not an “aggressive” coyote.

Please listen to the video: You’ll hear one owner brag about her dog always going where she tells it to — hmmm. You’ll hear a short scuffle and then the startled and freaked-out shriek of a dog — most likely the result of seeing the coyote’s snarly face and receiving a messaging leg-pinch, but the coyote may have gone further and actually nipped the dog. You’ll hear a man scornfully yell at the coyote to “get outa here”: this coyote is simply trying to keep dogs away from where her pups are hidden.  Remember, all you need to do when you see a coyote is to walk away from it with your dog leashed — you may have to resort to dragging your dog behind you as you walk away.

Almost all dogs are interested in the smells. This is one of the reasons they need to be kept leashed during pupping season: they should not be investigating den sites or near-den sites: it’s intrusive and stressful for coyote parents and potentially deadly for any pups. It also sets up the dog for a nip.

Please let’s give coyote parents some peace for raising their youngsters at the same time that we keep our dogs safe: all you need to do is leash-up and walk away from them, and keep your dogs from exploring off the beaten paths! The second coyote who came out was a father.

By the way, a couple of parents have allowed their children to crawl into such openings in our more naturally-wild parks. Maybe the openings look like they could become exciting little “forts” in the woods. Indeed that’s what they are — they’re already taken and belong to the wild critters who live there. There are plenty of signs everywhere throughout our parks advising that there are coyotes around. Please understand that coyotes NEED to protect their newborn pups. IF a child is nipped, there will be some tears and possibly a small wound to the child, but also it would be a tragedy because the coyote herself would most likely be euthanized — for simply protecting her pups. In the more overgrown woodsy parts of the parks we also have raccoons, skunks and plenty of rats who you should stay away from.

Keeping Their Secrets As Best They Can


Coyotes’ best kept secret is their pups — or at least they try to keep them a secret. If you happen to see any, it will be because the youngsters ventured beyond where their parents’ were trying so hard to keep them well hidden. The pups I know are all about two months old now here in San Francisco, as seen in the video.

And here is this family’s response to sirens: Mom, Dad, and FOUR youngsters:  Although they might not want to be seen, they don’t seem to mind being heard!!

Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please — specifically — keep your dogs away from those areas. It’s so easy to prevent stress and trauma to coyote families with new pups by leashing your dogs and keeping away. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about the existence of pups should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas with your unleashed dog. Parents will protect and defend their youngsters: why not just avoid the situation to begin with?

If a very young pup notices that s/he is being observed, s/he will run for cover.

The Gypsy Coyotes Continue Their Peregrinations

Some coyote individuals compromise their reclusiveness and wariness when food is around: they are opportunists after all, and what comes easy they’ll latch onto. However, pups are not something they are willing to compromise for: pups are coyotes’ biggest kept secret.

Two years ago, this coyote pair raised pups here in one of SF’s smaller parks. The coyotes had been tamed by feeders who not only fed them, but befriended them to the degree that the coyotes would wait around at the park entrance for handouts, as close as 5 feet or even less from people and their mostly leashed dogs. But unleashed dogs went chasing after the coyotes on a regular basis, making the coyotes very uncomfortable. The pups of course were kept totally secret, but I suppose dogs and people came close enough, often enough, to the secret den so that Mom decided she didn’t want to repeat the stressful experience.

The pair played like youngsters at dusk, while the youngsters remained secretly hidden from dogs and people — this was in 2017, when few folks saw or knew about any pups in the area. Notwithstanding, the adults were pursued by dogs regularly.

So last year these parents left that park for the duration of the pupping season, in spite of the plentiful supply of food there. They ended up raising their family at another, even smaller, but much more secluded location, where there were fewer dogs and fewer intrusive people. The problem with the new location was that it began being hugely developed and cleared for building purposes, and its diminished natural area became too small to accommodate the family.

So at about the age of six months, the youngsters began navigating back and forth, at night, between this smaller location and the “feeding/dog” park, making it obvious that this family claimed both areas — about a mile apart. Theirs was what is known as a “fragmented” territory.

But there at the old park, the number of incidents of unleashed dogs chasing and attacking coyotes grew, to the point of leaving coyote adults and pups with leg injuries. Some people felt entitled to not leash their dogs and went so far as to claim that the coyotes were playing with their dogs — that the coyotes “liked” being chased by dogs. In addition to the menacing dogs, other coyotes began appearing at that park in the middle of the night, so by the end of the year, we suddenly began to hear territorial fights between the resident coyotes and interloper coyotes at night. The territory would obviously not do as a pupping area for next year’s litter.

Last year’s litter were kept secret at first

This was the situation when, again, the coyotes picked up and left in January of this year.

Their exit, as in the previous year, was orchestrated by Mom. For months before their departure, she was the one who went out each evening, traveling far and wide, mostly alone, but sometimes with her mate, surveying for a more suitable location for her next litter. When she found the right spot, she returned to gather her mate, and with one yearling in tow, off the trio went, traveling through some of the same open spaces they had been through the year before — spending about two weeks at several of these — before packing off to the next temporary 2-week place.

The one yearling they brought with them.

Finally, they settled down, a full 5 miles from their previous two pupping haunts, but still within the City of San Francisco. This is where it appears they will stay to have their pups this year, due in only a few weeks. Human fast-food toss-offs can be found even in this new location, but best of all: dogs are not an issue here since there aren’t any, and humans give them the respected space they need to live more natural lives. It’s not as easy as you might have imagined being an urban coyote.

The expectant parents, Dad grooms Mom

The Runt

The runt in a litter, when there is one, is the smallest and sometimes the weakest pup. Their biggest disadvantage is that, because all the other pups are larger than them, they have a harder time competing for Mom’s milk. It turns out that getting one’s fair share of milk during the first 48 hours after birth is very important: only that very initial supply of milk contains colostrum which is loaded with antibodies which primes the pups’ immune systems, without which they could be more vulnerable to illnesses.

Indulged by Dad

In domestic dogs the runt may be ignored by the mother who focuses more on her healthier looking pups — it’s a form of natural selection. There is no reason to believe this is any different for coyotes, whose infant mortality rate is often 70% and more.

Like father, like son! Size and age don’t matter when you itch!

According to Dr. Margaret V. Root Kustritz, a veterinary theriogenologist (specializing in animal reproduction) the smaller size is due to their placement in the uterine horn during gestation — theirs is a poor implantation site. She says that small size is not due to being premature: all pups in a litter are fertilized at the same moment in time.

The littlest guy plays alone here. He’s energetic and very focused

So here is a little coyote runt whose small size compared to the rest of the litter really surprised me at first. It is about 2/3 the size of the others — a litter of all males! Cool! As I watched, this one was the only pup indulged by Dad — and he loved the attention when it came.

He’s the littlest guy in these photos

As it turned out, none of the other pups — size notwithstanding — had anything over this particular runt. Although small, scrawny and with obvious skin issues, this one is the most active, most focused, most inquisitive of the bunch, and the only one, as I watched, who spent a great deal of time alone, honing his hunting skills, possibly imitating what he saw his parents do. It will be interesting to watch his development in relation to his siblings as they grow up.

The littlest is off to the left

The larger siblings

The whole pup clan lined up for me!