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.

Coyotes Dig a Den, by Susan

Hi Janet,

I hope you are well, it has been a long time since we corresponded! I wanted to give you an update on the coyote den i found two years ago in my back yard. First, we took your advice and built a catio for our cats. They still get to go outside occasionally, but now it’s less of a desperation on their part, and they accept my suggestion when i point them to the catio when they are not allowed to go outside. This gives us more choices to keep them indoors when needed.

Such an occasion to keep them indoors has come up: the coyote family appears to be back, and renovating their old den! I got one of those fancy wildlife cams, and have attached a few videos taken last night. Mama spent quite a bit of time enlarging the hole to the point where she could go inside. She had been working on it over the past few weeks, digging a little bit here and there. I had thought she would be giving birth to her pups in here again, but she appears to have already given birth to the pups in these videos, because she looks really skinny and appears to have lactating teats. What do you think?

My hypothesis is that she might be looking for an alternate den to relocate her pups to eventually. We’ll see… Dad is also pretty busy helping her and making sure everything is safe. There appears to be a third coyote, i assume some part of the family, who has a hurt front leg, but accompanies the hole-digging activities nonetheless. As you can see from the time stamps, the digging took all night, and mom looks so proud and pleased with her den at 4am! They did the digging in 3 distinct spurts – some at 11:30, then they left and came back an hour later (maybe left to feed the pups?), then came back again in the late 3am hour to finish the job.

I hope you enjoy these videos.

Cheers!
Susan

Six short night-camera video clips: Looks like a lactating mom – Mom digging – Graceful entry – Success!! – Mom & Dad check on the hole – Coyote with a missing paw

 

Pups

I literally stumbled upon a family greeting/meeting during my evening walk a couple of days ago. I had been photographing a 1 to 2 year old female who was mozeying along a trail, minding her own business, pouncing for gophers of which she caught several which she wolfed down, and then she diverted into a pathless forested area.

I remained on the path but peeked over a hedge in her direction, only to find an adult who apparently is a yearling male babysitter), and a pup — pups here in San Francisco are about 6 weeks old now — who had emerged to greet the approaching yearling female. The female approaching did so in a crouched position, which messaged a non-threatening subordinate status. I took a couple of quick photos (which revealed the pup to be a male), and immediately began retracing my steps out of the area. These coyotes withdrew into the bushes due to my presence in order not to reveal any of their additional *secrets*.

As I was distancing myself, Dad appeared, and he wasn’t too happy about what he knew to be the discovery of his family’s hiding place. Dads spend much of their time protecting their den areas and scaring off trespassers. They hope that their mere presence will serve as a deterrent, and indeed, that should be enough. I continued distancing myself, keeping my eye on Dad. Dad messaged me his concern with a few grunts, in addition to his presence, as he watched me leave.

The gophers caught by the yearling might have been for the pup. Yearlings are older siblings to the new pups — they are from the previous, and even previous to that, year’s litter, so they are either one or two years old. They are the “aunties” and help provide for the new litter. Only one or two yearlings, if any, normally stick around like this, the rest of the youngsters from those previous litters “disperse” out of the area to make their own way in the world. A number of San Francisco’s dispersed youngsters last year were tracked as far south as Los Gatos — that’s 60 miles south — all of these were eventually killed by cars. Cars are the primary killers of dispersing coyotes: these coyotes are young and have had very little experience with the extreme dangers of automobiles.


Now might be a good time to review etiquette for coyote encounters, especially during pupping season:

The Golden Standard, and the safest and most effective option, especially when walking your dog, is simple and complete avoidance. Whether you see a coyote in the distance, at mid-distance, approaching you, or if you are surprised by the sudden appearance of one at close-range, shorten your leash and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement — and continue walking away. IF you make a personal decision to shoo it away, please follow the guidelines in the video, How to Shoo Off A Coyote”, but know that this is engagement. What’s safest is simple and complete avoidance.

Coyotes are territorial. Coyotes are possessive. This is no different from you in your home: you don’t allow outsiders to come wandering through, and if you see someone suspicious in the neighborhood you may follow that someone to make sure he/she leaves. This is what coyotes do in the only effective way they can: they repulse with their scary “Halloween cat like stance”, they may follow an intruder out of their area, or or they may nip the haunches of the dog they want to move on and away. They want you to leave, so why not do it?! For more information, see How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

This is how pint-size coyote pups look right now, mid-May, at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

 

A Shaky Beginning for A Coyote Litter

Chuck Rossi was going to be posting his videos of coyotes growing up and we were all excited about it. However, this, below, was the only video posted on April 30th because then Chuck noticed that the mom hadn’t returned for a few days.

Mom coyotes frequently leave their pups for a full day, or even for several days, leaving them with enough food in the den to keep them going. The rescue group Chuck contacted decided to retrieve the youngsters, and it may have been a good idea since a coyote was found killed on the side of the Alameda Expressway about 1/2 mile away — they are assuming this was the mom.

I see Dads hanging out not far from their dens these days — that’s their job right now: they are on sentry duty to protect the dens and pups. Where was Dad in the case of this den? Dads fully contribute to raising the youngsters, but these youngsters were still lactating — could Dad have filled in here? The question is a moot one since the pups are now under the care of a rehabilitator.

No one can prepare baby wild animals for life as well as their parents can. If you suspect you’ve found *abandoned* coyote pups, stand back and watch for a few days before *saving* them. Maybe they need saving, but maybe they don’t! See: Please Don’t Rescue Abandoned Coyote Pups!

Coyote Den In A Backyard

Den

Hello Janet,

I found your wonderful blog and fabulous photos as i was researching coyotes on the google machine. I really like your respectful approach to wildlife. Thank you for sharing your photos and observations.

I started learning about coyotes this spring, when i found a coyote den on my property. I live in Portland Oregon, on the outskirts of the city. I found a large hole in my yard about a month ago, and as i was sitting near the hole trying to decipher the tracks in the mud around it to figure who might live in there, i heard some high whimpering coming from the hole (pups!). After an entire day of watching the hole from a window i finally saw that a coyote mother crawled in there after cautious observation to make sure nobody was watching.

I have not told anyone about this den for fear that someone in my neighborhood would call animal control and ‘remove’ the animals. People have so much fear and disdain towards coyotes.

I have mixed feelings about this den. On the one hand, i am honored that they would find my yard safe to inhabit. On the other hand, i have cats who go outdoors during the day (but i keep them indoors at night). If it weren’t for the cats, i would have absolutely no problem with this den here.

I am not sure how to proceed. These cats harass me all day long to go outside. I find it unfair to trap cats indoors who are habituated to going outside (what good is prison life?). What is the likelihood of coyotes hunting cats during daytime? There are conflicting opinions on the internet.

I get the sense the coyote mom may have moved her pups this week- I haven’t seen her at all in the yard. She knew i knew where the den was. I spend a lot of time in my garden and that probably made her nervous. Do you know if coyotes return to their dens after a period?

I want to coexist peacefully with this family of coyotes. I found your blog to be a great resource for understanding coyote behavior. I have so much more to learn. I want to understand them so that i can avoid conflicts and allow these beautiful creatures to live peacefully. If you have any advice or resources you could point me to, I would be so grateful.

Thanks again for everything you have shared in your blog.

Susan

Den (with coffee mug for size reference)

Hi Susan —

I’m so glad that you like the blog and that you like my approach to wildlife! Thank you!

Cats could be a problem for coyotes (and vice versa) for a number of reasons. Yes, ultimately, some coyotes do see cats as prey. But also, cats and coyotes are competitors for the same resources (rodents), which, if resources are low, could cause conflict between the cats and the coyotes.

A half-way solution which would allow the den to remain undisturbed and your cats to have *some* freedom would be a catio. Of course, a catio isn’t really the out-of-doors, so it may not be a solution that would work for you.

Coyotes do move their pups between several dens during the pupping season. Creating a slight disturbance everyday — as apparently you have — will cause the coyotes to move to another location. If your coyote mom moved the pups for this reason, she may not return. If she moved them simply because it was time to rotate them to another den site, then she could come back. If you don’t want them back, continue to create a disturbance around the den — or put some soiled human socks close by and walk around the den opening a few times for several days in a row to leave your scent. If you want them back, you might stop the gardening for a while (no guarantee they’ll return).

As you say, people have a lot of fear and disdain towards coyotes, so we need to keep in mind that the coyote could move her pups to a place where they are absolutely not welcome. This is the biggest problem to be aware of.

In addition to my coyoteyipps blog, there is a website I contribute to a website called Coyotecoexistence.com. These two sites will answer a lot of your questions. THEN, if you are lucky enough to have the family return, spend time watching them! This is how you are really going to learn about them.

I would be really happy to post any of your observations and photos. Your story is very interesting! Let me know, and also please let me know if you have further questions! 

Janet

Den secondary hole

Janet,

Thanks so much for your quick reply and helpful suggestions!  The Coyotecoexistence website had some really helpful videos (i had found that before, and didn’t realize it was related).  The ethics of hosting domesticated pets is challenging, and continues to be a source of daily conversation and questioning in our household, with no clear answers on many of the nuances (i.e. pet food, cats hunting critters, prisoners of the house, and on and on…)  An unintended positive effect of the coyote den has been that it put one cat on high alert and very cautious behavior outside, so she did not have a chance to hunt anything.  The yard became the hunting grounds of the coyote mom from the cat’s perspective.  One of the clues that the mom is gone is that the cat acts more brazen now in the ‘enemy territory’ part of the yard.  The other cat is ‘sweet and dumb’, and i doubt she knew anything about the coyote’s threat. I watched her stick her head in the den out of curiosity at a time when i knew there were pups in there.  Not the brightest crayon in the box. I like the catio idea, and will see if it’s feasible in some part of the yard (although it doesn’t solve my prisoner issue).

I attached some photos.  The den is dug under an old abandoned ‘root cellar’ type concrete outbuilding that is built into the hillside.  You’ll see it’s visible from my bedroom window, so it’s really close to the house.  They must have decided we pose no threat to their offspring.  The den has two holes that i know of – a main entrance (which i deemed too small for a coyote before I actually saw one squeeze herself in there) and a smaller hole that is definitely too small for an adult coyote.  I included the mug in the pictures for size reference.

Thanks,

Susan

View of den from bedroom window

Coyote Youngsters In San Francisco in January

Nine month old coyote pup

Nine month old coyote pup

Youngsters are approaching 10 months of age here in San Francisco. Above is a photo of one of them. They are still slightly smaller than adult coyotes, but seen alone, most folks would not be able to tell the difference.

Coyote youngster hides behind bushes

Coyote youngster hides behind bushes

If you are lucky enough to observe them in action, you will find that their behavior gives away their young age: they are more flighty, erratic, awkward, zippy and distrustful than older coyotes. They are curious but most likely will observe folks and dogs from behind a bush and at a substantial distance, as seen in this photo to the right.

Coyotes tend to play with their siblings, unless it is an “only child” — I’ve observed several one-pup families in San Francisco — in which case they play with a parent. Play is their main interest and occupation, and when they are together, they are constantly and joyfully playing roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble wrestle, chase and tug-of-war.

Youngsters are also good at entertaining themselves. I’ve seen individual youngsters play with an abandoned tennis ball for over 20 minutes, bounce themselves down a hill repeatedly, chase their tail — no different from your own pet.  They can also be seen practicing their hunting skills alone, though with substantially less aplomb than an adult.

Even if you don’t see a parent around, a parent is very likely to be close by keeping an eye on things, just in case a dog might try chasing. A parent will run in to its pups’ rescue if it feels the youngsters are being at all threatened. Youngsters normally take cues for their own behavior from the parent who is nearby.

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