Canine Chess, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

Fall continues on. And so does the canine chess on local ranches. It’s frustrating yet fascinating at same time. The ranches that don’t allow coyote hunts have some really interesting packs and dynamics. The spring pups are now foraging and moving about independent of parents. Sometimes you see them meeting other youngsters and you can tell by their excitement and inexperienced body moves they are still pups. But learning who is who and where is where. Some are too bold and vocal, in regards ranch dogs. But that will change in time.

On other ranches, the development of a new local hunt is underway. But incredibly, the local coyote are already responding with canine chess moves.

There are dogs of greyhound/staghound/deerhound/ wolfhound crosses who are being developed in packs to run down and dispatch coyote. These packs are young yet, but already proving they are good at this.

However, coyote response has been instant and shown new insights.

Coyote territorial integrity is a fluid thing. Normally highly rigid, territorial rights can vanish with certain situations.

For example, a dead deer, elk or cow will draw in many coyotes, no matter who holds the turf. The resident pair will contest, snarl, and sometimes fight and chase new arrivals. But they cannot hold entire groups off for long. All local coyote hone in on huge carcasses. Then feast over, they retreat to respective territory.

On the ranches where sighthounds are hunting, the coyote are developing strategies. They recognize a sighthound now, and even at a distance, hide. Or, they disperse and literally run for hills and woods. Open pastures and land is forfeited.

And finally, they run for the ranches where LGD live. They actually beeline for the Pyrenees/Anatolian and other livestock guard dogs. They pass the sheep and make for these huge rugged dogs. If the sighthounds cross into these lands in pursuit, the guard dogs engage them. No dog can stand before these guard dogs. And they normally are in groups of 2-5.

They scatter the sighthounds who now have to run for their life. And the coyote quickly disappears.

I don’t necessarily enjoy the dynamics of a pack of huge sighthounds closing in on a single coyote. But I and other locals are astounded by the ever changing ingenuity of these coyote. Ironically, the LGD don’t bother much with coyote. Because the coyote fear them and keep distance. In a sense, they submit to these massive powerful guards.

And apparently, they have no qualms about using LGD to ward off fast footed hunters.
Take care,
Lou🐾

Understanding An Incident of Urban Coyote Predation on Livestock, with Experienced Insights from Walkaboutlou

Goat grazing is used in the city of San Francisco to rid areas of overgrowth which might become fire hazards. A week ago an extremely rare incident occurred: two coyotes appeared to have taken down a goat. But the story is more complicated than it might appear at first glance and very educational. It offers a lesson for us all to know about coyote behavior.

A couple of witnesses said they heard the goat vocalizing at night. They shone a light on the spot where the noise came from and saw two coyotes going at the goat who was down on the ground. Within 20 minutes the witnesses called the goatherds on call to let them know that the goat was dead. The goatherd came out and examined the situation.

On location, the goatherd noticed right off that the coyotes, unusually, were not afraid of them: this is a situation which arises when coyotes are being fed by humans. One of the coyotes looked straight at them with that look of, “Aren’t you going to toss me some food?” What feeders don’t know, or maybe don’t care about, is that not only is coyote behavior altered by this human feeding contact, but when stressed, coyotes can revert to their wild-animal behavior and end up biting the hand that fed them as they demand more food. They also observed that the coyotes ran from a single goat approaching them — something they would not be doing if they had gone into the herd specifically to kill one of them. The coyotes were more afraid of goats than humans, when it should have been the other way around. So why might they have gone after this goat?

I’ve spoken to two goatherds from two different organizations about this. They both have observed the same thing: that coyotes leave healthy goats alone.  So when a coyote has gone after a goat — which is a rare occurrence for these urban goat grazers — it has always been the fragile/weak ones: either newborns or those who are wearing down due to old age. Coyotes are able to both sniff out and visually read very subtle cues about any animal’s condition: they have an amazing ability to smell pheromones and other body chemicals, letting them know many things that we are not even aware of, including if an animal is sick or weak, it’s experience and age.

The goat, Merlin, was beyond old, well beyond the age when most goats would have passed away. These grazing organizations keep most older goats and the very young ones at home rather than allowing them to work as grazers, but this particular goat wanted to be out with her buddies in the herd. Their happiness matters to the people who look after them. The old goat was now living with a benign growth in her udder which may have been weakening her but was apparently not painful given the goat’s usual energy level and posture. The tumor hadn’t stopped any of her normal activity, but it had been growing and was under observation.

Merlin was at the bottom of a hill when she was first discovered with the two coyotes. Was she pursued down there? If the herd had been pursued, they would likely have stampeded, but there was no sign at all from the other goats that there had been chasing gong on. When they have been chased, they pant and breathe hard for a considerable time after the event: but there was no sign of this from the rest of the goats. The carcass showed that the goat had not been grabbed by the esophagus and strangled, which is how most coyotes would have killed her. Had she fallen down that hill and been unable to get up? Had her tumor burst open and bled, which might have attracted the coyotes? Had she gone off from the herd to die? Was she lying down before the coyotes got to her? The herders considered all these questions. Whatever precipitated this encounter, it was the coyotes’ keen perception and intuition about weaker animals which drew them into this situation.

Based on the situation, it seemed most likely that this goat was dying before the coyotes got to her. The coyotes simply finished her off, and in the end, maybe this was the most humane ending for her. The goat was on a short list of goats who were experiencing health problems in their old age.

Note that herds of livestock are uncommon in San Francisco and are only brought in for short periods of grazing in any particular area, so I have had little experience in observing them. To understand coyote predation behavior on livestock better,  I contacted the rural/ranch expert I know and trust. He has been keenly observing coyote behavior on ranches for the last 40 years. I’m sharing his amazing insights below. What he says below is both a confirmation of what the herders discussed with me, and a clear and well put expansion on the subject as it happens on ranches. Thank you, Lou!


Experienced Insights on Ranch Coyote Predation, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,
I’m humbled you would ask me for input. I feel you know as much as anyone about coyote, especially urban coyote. And it sounds like the herd owner is knowledgeable and wise as well. Her observations and conclusions are very likely spot on.

Something to consider in dealing with coyote is they are so variable. Literally every coyote is different. And will behave differently at various stages of life and in changing circumstances. One coyote may discreetly live in the shadow of humans a long time. Then suddenly become bold and change in behavior. But there are always facts and reasons. We must be a sort of Detective to sort out coyote. And even then…sometimes it’s generalities and guesswork.

My experiences with coyote from east to west coast is in general, small livestock and/or pets will ALWAYS be checked out by coyote. It doesn’t mean automatic predation. But as Coyotes move through territory they literally scan every animal they see, sense or smell. They will study especially new situations or neighbors. An old cat who goes in fields. A dog allowed to roam alone. An area burned. Etc…They will hone in on new developments. A herd of sheep or goats is in some ways, a magnet to coyote. Again, it doesn’t mean automatic predation. But they will zero in especially in a new herd. Here is where the variables become complex. What is the fencing like? Are people or LGD present? What kind of coyote hold the territory? Is the herd healthy and calm? Cohesive? Are there young, pregnant, old or ill among them?

These variables and situations are what I call “the conversation”. Some herds and situations tell coyote “Don’t even try it”. And the coyote moves on. Other herds, or situations, are not as clear. The coyote sense hesitation or weakness. Or inexperience. Either way, the “conversation” triggers the Coyotes incredible senses on possibilities. Coyote literally can read and KNOW animals. They can sense an inexperienced doe and run her fawn into a fence. They will smell and detect injury, illness, and age. They smell arthritic bones and bad teeth. And finally, the herd itself can determine outcomes. Flight and panic are disasters for sheep and goats. If a coyote can cause chaos, he will inevitably catch/kill someone. How much space is there for goats? The land itself can aid the herd or help coyote.

Sheep and especially goats can bond with each other. This helps. A bonded herd is calmer. But I have seen many times where a herd very quietly, subtly, “gives up” a member. The coyote or predator arrives, and the herd literally gathers and walks/calmly trots away while the coyote hones in on 1 particular animal. It looks almost like it’s been planned. But the herd doesn’t fight for or stand by the chosen animal. It becomes exposed, alone, and is taken. (I’ve seen sheep in troubled labor picked this way by coyote and eagle).

If coyote kill a herd member, even if it was “natural” (old or sick) beware. Because coyote are predators. They aren’t bad. But they will kill and eat and adapt. So if a herd “fed them” with an old goat, they will return to see if another herd member is weakening or simply makes mistakes. (I’ve seen old doe goats easily run coyote off, but then a young kid copies their elders and immediately got snatched away) Illness, Aged, Youth, Mistakes, are coyote magnets. They may ignore a protected or strong herd for years. But then instantly jump on opportunities. The key is to not give them the opportunity that triggers them.

I would review everything about this situation and try to not repeat my conclusion. Is the land a natural trap? Does it provide goats places to defend themselves? Are these coyote unusual? Will they teach other pack members to hunt goat? How long are goats alone? What are their sizes and ages? Its canine chess dealing with coyote. Urban settings especially are challenging.

But I feel all involved are more then capable of dealing with this predation and moving on. I would inject considering a compatible protector to bond with goats. A LGD is likely not a choice in urban settings. But depending on the land, Llamas/Mini Donkeys etc..have also done well coping with coyote.

It’s just a matter of creating that seed of doubt and lack of opportunities that will cause the coyote to just look and think…”Nope”…. What those are, is up to us.
All the best..
Lou 🐾

End of Summer Ranch Observations, by Walkaboutlou

Here are some amazing end-of-the-summer observations I wanted to share. There’s so much information here, lots of detail, and incredible insight, beautifully woven together into a letter. Enjoy and learn! Janet

Hi Janet,

Lou here. Summer is ending and I’m piecing together local coyote snippets and news and ranch situations. All told, very consistent with local human behaviors.

On the ranches where no coyote are hunted, (and livestock are cattle) everything seems very “stable” to minimal. Small litters of 2-5. Predictable vocalizations. The usual subtle background living Coyotes seem to enjoy. The scat in these areas is full of plum and apricot seeds, deer hair, tons of blackberries, and overwhelmingly rodents.

Overall, of course each coyote is a fluid and distinctive individual, subject to rapid change and stages.

But if my summer scouting had a theme, it would be the contrast of Coyotes behavior even in similar regions.

For example, non hunted coyote in cattle ranches (4000 acres or more) seem to develop small, stable packs and territory. The food and ecosystem are abundant in large ranches. If the cattle can range, grass grows leaving vast regions of insects, and rodents. The pups learn early to forage on grasshoppers, mice. Very predictable quiet patterns. Often seen in distance in diurnal behaviors. By Fall, usually 2-3 pups remain. (accidents and natural predators curb litter survival) Pups seem to want to hang with pack a year or 2. Also, prey is scavenged until gone. A deer dying from being hit by car (running off to die in brush) or fawns harvested are eaten and visited until gone. Nothing is wasted.

The contrast again in ranches that hunt coyote hard is almost shocking. I have determined large, sheep operations are very challenging for Coyotes to coexist peacefully. If it’s large, LGD can only be in so many places. Also, large herds of sheep graze the land intensely. The cropped grass becomes a giant short lawn, unsuitable habitat for rodents, insects etc..if sheep are grazing long, you’ll notice hardly any sounds of crickets etc…and blackberry bushes are cut by ranchers because sheep get entangled. So the lack of forage, food and cover changes the setting. Add to this intense human hunting. Very intense. The coyote often become nocturnal. The closely cropped land and human hunters do not favor open, relaxed foraging. There are minimal rodents. So the coyote tend to hole up all day and hunt far and wide very hard at night with time as a factor. And pressure. Another complication-large herds of sheep especially isolated always have old, sick, hurt or dead. Or a scattering of lambs in all directions. The coyote scavenge dead sheep, or prey on lambs. Their pups are weaned on sheep. The smell becomes embedded as food-and a cycle is created.

Other reactions caused by human pressure-non hunted coyote females pick a mate around 2nd year. Hunted female coyote often pair bond as yearlings. So daughter’s breed earlier and with larger litters in answer to hunting pressure.

The social ramifications are evident. Many ranchers will hunt and leave a coyote as a magnet for surviving pack members to investigate, becoming targets themselves. Only this doesn’t work long. Hunted Coyotes learn to truly leave the dead behind. Some mothers will not check out a deceased pup or mate. This detachment of survival to me is amazing but sad too.

Also, such hard living Coyotes show other behaviors. They quickly, hurriedly hunt. And more readily raid any livestock or pets that opportunities give. They often do not return to a carcass after one feed. They’ve learned hunters, greyhounds or snares are sometimes waiting.

Pups scatter and really practice independence by Fall. The long puppyhood of stable packs is absent in hunted coyote.

All in all, stable coyote packs and hunted coyote are vastly different. And unfortunately, the unpredictability of hunted coyote makes them unwelcome even among stable packs. They really are different. And bring behaviors that can influence others.

I wish I could just make everyone leave coyote alone. They would still be amazing. But we would see and learn so much more without ignorance or outright war. Coyote are definetly mirrors of the local humans. If I want to know about people’s culture/lifestyle/knowledge or lack of, the local dogs and coyote will inform me.

Keep Studying and Coexisting.

Lou🐾


Hi Janet-I did forget to add one element to my summer coyote scouting.

This pic off internet sums it up well.

In areas where packs of coyote live more or less normally, you’ll find more or less the usual range in size and color of coyote. Especially in West. However, where coyote are hard hunted and scattered year round, you will find some that obviously have more then coyote genetics. This goes in hand with younger females (yearlings) breeding and also lower coyote numbers. If they are hit hard locally, surviving coyote have no hesitation breeding with dogs, especially free roaming ranch dogs (often kelpie/cattle dog/collie types).

This, in turn, can create more variety in local subspecies of coyote-and no doubt affects some. Larger size or bolder demeanor are often traits of 1st generation crosses. They tend to be absolved back into wild populations. But are another aspect of hard hunted coyote.
In laymans words-if you take away a coyote’s mate and think she’s beat, she’ll just recruit your dog as her next husband. And the pups won’t be Lassie. Either way, coyote will turn the dice of man’s efforts into a win.

Lou🐾

Observations of Coyote Behavior On Ranches, by “Walkaboutlou”

“Believe it or not, we determine what they will become.” This quote is from ‘Walkaboutlou’ who just wrote me about his observations of coyote behavior on farms and ranches. Whether you live on a farm/ranch or not, I think you’ll find these observations fascinating!

Greetings! I’ve enjoyed following your posts on Instagram.

I’m just an amateur coyote fan, but after studying them coast to coast for the last 30 years, I find them just as fascinating, and mysterious.

I hate when people say “coyotes always or never do this or that”. The reason why is because like many intelligent beings that live in a variety of environments, and with varying genetics, there are going to be differences. Some slight. Some quite marked. The common theme is survival. But a coyote habituated to humans living in a city may well act markedly different, than, lets say, a hard hunted coyote living among ranches. Or a coyote that deals with wolves rather than people. There’s so much variety. Even the ages and social settings. An established bonded pair will act differently than a footloose nomad.

For the past 5 years, I have been walking and traveling among ranches, inspecting fences, and with my dogs, perhaps collecting escaped cattle. I get walking rights in exchange for my services. And am retired, so I have the time.

Most ranchers are enemies of coyotes. It’s almost a cultural, religious feeling. But one rancher in particular I’ve enjoyed being around. He’s very open-minded, and wise. His rule on his vast property is this: “don’t touch the yotes”. His reasons for this are not sentimental, but learned by his father and passed on to him. He literally feels if you leave the coyote alone, they form pairs or small packs. These groups then become very intimate with the land, and with their neighbors. They learn what is safe and dangerous. They learn, for example, the nature of the dogs, llamas, and livestock. They then pass their knowledge down to surviving pups. And he feels, the permanent coyotes are very jealous of their land and will chase off coyotes that don’t know the “rules” of this ranch.

He literally is practicing science-proven tactics. To help him keep his sons on-board, I volunteered and promised to report any signs of livestock predation. 1st of all, coyotes almost never bother cattle unless the cattle are dead, or a very sickly, newborn calf is abandoned by its mother. And in regards to the sheep of this ranch, they are guarded by really efficient, well-trained experienced dogs, or donkeys, or llamas. They aren’t left lying around if they die. It’s a very well run ranch.

Finally, in the 5 years of checking coyote scat (I wear a mask and gloves if I really am going to study them) I’ve never found sheep wool or bones in the local coyotes. I’ve found exclusively rodents of all sorts, berries from July until early October. Deer/elk hair and bone almost directly coinciding with hunting season. Once in a great while the remains of a feral barn cat that wandered a bit too far. But in 5 years, no wool, or feathers or evidence of raids.

On the other ranches, that’s not the picture. Coyotes are shot indiscriminately, so there are almost never long-lasting bonded pairs keeping a territory. In fact, on the other ranches, I see or hear many more coyotes or their tracks. They are often nocturnal. And there is a more helter-skelter, chaotic feel to their movements and calls. I feel these are either nomadic, younger coyotes, or coyotes that have been hard hunted and are survivors of war. And like any survivors of war, they change. I feel the canine guerilla type of skirmishes ranchers have come to associate with coyote are human caused. It’s true, a coyote has the tendency to be smart and have tricks. They were pulling tricks when the mastodons were roaming those ranches. But when hit super hard, the coyotes become super smart. And they have minimal time to hunt relaxed because of human pressures — so they will hunt harder, and faster, and, I feel, take on certain sheep, or are emboldened to raid a chicken coop or garden. All because of human pressure. It’s a behavior boomerang. At any rate, the rancher with the “no yote” rule continues to have 0 losses to coyotes. While the ranches surrounding him keep up their unceasing warfare with coyote, and the coyotes survive to hit back, so to speak with pressure caused behaviors.

If we keep sharing knowledge , maybe one day we’ll understand how to live with them with common sense knowledge.

Keep up your fine work. And pics!

Walkaboutlou


After 5 years of checking coyote scat on a ranch that doesn’t allow them to be hunted, this is the most common find: rodents (though I almost never have found a partial skeleton like this). Rodents, rodents, and more rodents. With some berries in late summer/ early fall. And deer/elk hair and bone that coincides almost exactly with hunting season. On other ranches, I find cattle hair or sheep wool, but almost always can locate a carcass left by ranchers of an animal that died and was left about. At any rate, I will continue to share this knowledge with my ranching colleagues. Keep up your fine work. [Photo and text from Walkaboutlou]


A Solution Offered For Ranchers: I have found cattle killed by cougar, livestock guard-dogs who roam to kill neighbors sheep (rare), and again, discovered areas where indiscriminate hunting leads to livestock predation. For example, where coyotes aren’t hunted, you will often see them during day, hunting rodents. Its natural, but it takes time to hunt this way. And focus. And standing still, sometimes for periods of time. However, a hunted coyote learns this is a death trap. To be out in open is death. To stand in the open focused on something else means you’re not watching your back. To stay still makes you a target.

Hunted coyotes will obviously still hunt rodents. But they face pressures, time pressures (they’ll become nocturnal if they learn) and will find out the best food sources, as quickly as possible. The scattering of packs, and the forced displacement and high numbers of nomads, also has a bearing on hunting, because nomads never hunt in complete ease. They find food quickly, and keep going. Years of living this way creates coyotes that are quick to move in, kill as much as they can, eat as much as they can, and move on. Hence, scat with wool is almost always a sure sign of hard-hunted, stressed, but also thriving coyotes. I just report what I see. But I also make suggestions. Like, for example, if a ranch has 2000 acres. If 5 acres spots can be saved, even just one or 2, and grass be allowed to grow there, the mice, rodents, pack rats will flourish there. If you can hold off hunting for spring and summer, those little “tall grass allotments” will attract, and hold coyotes all summer, and take pressure off sheep. Its my 1st step in getting a rancher to at least recognize coyote solutions naturally. I call it “Rats or Lambs” program. Coyotes prefer rats in a natural setting rather then the stress that comes with livestock predation. It’s just a 1st step, but a step towards solutions. Sorry I meandered with my words. I’m just a volunteer hiker/walker/ fencelines checker!

Basically, I view myself as a covert coyote conservationist. They are by no means endangered. They will likely outlast our times and governments. It’s just that they fascinate me. I love them. Both emotionally and from a ‘scientific view’. As well as I see ways where both humans and animals can share. So for example, I know that a 3-5 acres of tall, natural grasses are paradise to rodents of all kinds of rodents. Which is a magnet for coyotes. If I can get a rancher, or city planner to give it a try, then the Rancher sees less or no predation on his place, the city isn’t overrun with complaints of coyotes “hunting cats, small dogs, or kids” (often complete hoaxes) and some of the coyotes will stay more natural. If this is repeated enough, people will see the less you hunt or otherwise interfere with coyote, the more apt they are to live lives more in tune with natural settings. [This will at least insure the survival of the more discreet coyotes — and the bolder ones could learn from these]. Either way, coyotes will thrive. I’d rather see natural living, bonded, content and territorial coyotes (easier to study and enjoy and live with) than coyotes living endlessly nomadic, being pushed or hunted ceaselessly, which creates a more desperate, braver, less discriminatory hunter that would have no qualms about jumping over a fence on overfed livestock or pets.

What kind of coyotes do we want?

Believe or not, we determine what they will become.

Lou


Addendum from Janet: In the same vein, Timm and Baker long ago wrote about how dangerous habituated coyotes were. In eleven years of many hours of daily observations, I have NEVER seen habituated coyotes become aggressive or dangerous to humans. Could it be that constant or intense hazing (harassing) certain coyotes — which is what Timm and Baker advocate “to keep them wary and fearful of people” — is what might have contributed to any aggressiveness they saw? In other words, again, stressed animals respond in a stressed manner, or, “we determine what they will become”.