Why Are Coyotes Sighted Regularly in The Neighborhoods?

Summary/Abstract: Coyotes have been seen repeatedly in the parks’ surrounding neighborhoods and beyond ever since they first appeared in San Francisco. Their trekking behavior appears to be a built-in part of their behavior. It occurs mostly during the darker hours. These sightings are not so anomalous as we’ve been told they are.*

Sightings. The following was posted on the Golden Gate Heights *Nextdoor* site here in San Francisco yesterday morning: “I now have seen Coyotes in many unexpected places in SF This time a block from where I live. this one was a pretty small, healthy looking, probably female. I hope she eats the 15th Ave Skunks!” On the same day, in another *Nextdoor* site, Westwood Park, this was posted: “Saw a young coyote walking down Colon Ave about 10am this morning. Please watch your cats to be sure they are safe.”

Many similar postings on social media, and many more by word of mouth, reach me regularly, be these from Filbert Street, Cow Hollow, Park Merced, Diamond Heights, Mission Street, etc.  Sightings of coyotes in neighborhoods have been noted since I started documenting San Francisco coyotes over ten years ago, though more people now know about them due to the social media. Coyotes have been seen trotting down my own street in the late mornings, infrequently but repeatedly for some time — nowhere near a park.

Some of my neighbors are thrilled and accept this in stride; others worry for themselves and their small pets, or they say it’s “wrong”. The sightings are usually in the very early morning or in the evenings, but not always — coyotes are not nocturnal animals, though they do tend mostly to avoid human activity times and areas.

When coyotes are seen in neighborhoods — trotting down a street or standing at an intersection, passing through yards or resting there — it is still reported with a bit of surprise because it’s not where people expect to see coyotes and it’s where, purportedly, “they should not be.”

Backdrop: Coyotes are native only to America where their range has expanded considerably over the last 100 years or so from the southwestern part of North America to all over North America. More recently, over the last 20 years or so, they have been moving into most urban areas. It’s a relatively new development which is being studied all over the US and Canada: Chicago has 2000 of them, Los Angeles reports 5000 of them. They are in Central Park in New York City, in Atlanta, in Westchester, NY. There are multiple dozens here in San Francisco — but not hundreds and hundreds of them — we are a small peninsula, and territoriality limits their numbers in any particular area.

Various reasons and explanations have been given for coyote sightings in neighborhoods or outside the parks. For instance, we have been told that adverse weather conditions — say, our recent 4-year drought — was a factor in neighborhood sightings — that coyotes were expanding their hunting range into neighborhoods and increasing their time there to compensate for the diminished food supply in the parks — therefore, the sightings there.

Weather may be a contributing factor, but it is not the sole nor the primary factor for their being in the neighborhoods, otherwise I simply wouldn’t have been seeing them outside of the parks so regularly, in some cases daily, over the last ten years, well before the recent drought and when their population was sparser, and even now after the heavy rains this winter.

An explanation for increased coyote sightings within the parks at certain times is when pups begin venturing further from their dens, or when parents can be seen patrolling and protecting den areas — a coyote may suddenly appear from nowhere. Throughout the year dispersing individuals (juveniles who leave home) may turn up in unexpected places until they eventually find their own niches, which may lead them miles outside of the city. All of these explanations — all valid — are offered as anomalies to the norm (the norm being that they aren’t in the neighborhoods). They all add a little more to our understanding of coyote movements in an urban area, but they miss the entire picture which I have been seeing.

The bigger picture. Each coyote requires about a square mile to sustain itself, though it has been found that smaller areas sometimes can support them (see Stan Gehrt): need for the resources on the land is what drives their territorial behavior. To this end families claim areas and drive out non-family coyotes in order to preserve the resources there for themselves and their youngsters. This is how territoriality works in the parks and open spaces. It helps keep the population down in those places.

But these same coyotes who often claim some of the largest and lushest parks (with streams or bodies of water, grasslands and plenty of thickets abounding in close proximity to each other: these are coyote’s required resources), have been seen trekking through neighborhoods routinely. Why don’t they stick to the parks and hide out just there? Why are we seeing them in the neighborhoods? It appears to be because of that same territorial imperative — an instinct built into their behavior through years of evolution — causing them to reach out to know the wider area, to confirm or redefine their boundaries, to know what is going on there and check it out, to push the envelope or be pushed back, to move into unclaimed or vacated areas, to search for a mate.

It is because of this behavior that they came to most of our cities, and then city parks, in the first place. And it is because of this behavior that they are seen outside of the parks, not only close to the park peripheries but in the neighborhoods even further out. Truth be told, trekking through the ‘hoods and outside of park boundaries is part-and-parcel of urban coyote behavior: It’s what coyotes do. It’s a function of their daily territorial behavior. If and when they linger in any particular area, it is because of some attractant. These are my observations, supported by the reported observations of others in the city throughout many years.

In addition, coyotes who claim smaller parks as their territories may occupy several natural open spaces — their territories are fragmented and they must move between them, crossing through neighborhood areas to do so. So neighborhoods are not excluded from their ranging areas.

Several years ago I was able to follow along on a number of early evening coyote treks which I wrote up. I went along to find out where they went and what they did — it was a real honor that they allowed this. Here is an example of one of their shorter treks: Mapping Trekking Behavior.  Other posts about coyotes in neighborhoods include Coyotes in Neighborhoods, and In The ‘Hood.

What to do. So, seeing coyotes in neighborhoods is something that does occur regularly, whether or not the weather has impacted their food supply, or whether or not they are dispersing. What can be done? Is there an issue to be resolved? Not really, except to please just be aware of it so that you won’t be startled by one. They usually won’t hang around for long. Also, please don’t allow pets to be out-of-doors without supervision: even though coyotes avoid humans (unless they have been taught to approach by food-conditioning) coyotes don’t have the same aversion towards pets. If you are walking your dog and see a coyote, please tighten your leash and continue walking away from that coyote, dragging your pet if you have to.

If coyotes begin hanging around your home and you don’t want them there, please remove all attractants, including bird-seed and compost which attract small rodents which, in turn, attract the coyotes. You can also scare them off by banging pots and pans as you walk towards them. If you need help with diverting a regular trekking pattern away from your yard, please send me a comment which I will reply to privately: I can put you in touch with the right hands.

For an introductory summary of what to know and what to do about coyotes in the city, please see Coyotes As Neighbors or see the list of resources listed on this website on the first page, at the top.

[*All my postings are based on my own dedicated observations, as stated in the introduction to my blog]

“Seasons”: Our Glorious Forests (i.e. Habitats) Are Waning

This review of “Seasons” was originally published on SFForest.net. The movie encapsulates the history of our gorgeous planet — the history of it all, not just mankind. This is history as we should be looking at it and comprehending it. Habitat destruction is increasing at an alarmingly faster and faster pace. Habitat, habitat, habitat: it is the most important factor impacting wildlife, including urban coyotes. In San Francisco, forests and thickets are being removed in favor of native grasslands which, it turns out aren’t even native!

2015-12-3013-07-59This movie, SEASONS, mesmerizes with the beauty and magic of its photography of the forests, forests which are few and far between these days. The story is told almost entirely visually — few words are needed. The movie begins as the Ice Age wanes and melts, creating lush, gorgeous and almost impenetrable forests — life wants to live — and these forests spread across the continents and so do the species which inhabit them.

To begin with these are secret places which humans inhabited only minimally — after all, there were few people in the world back then and forests were not so hospitable to people. So the forests were left to thrive — for eons. The movie both gives you a feel for the everyday life of the forest and its inhabitants — the many species that live there — at the same time zeroing-in on these species during both some of their more brutal life-changing transitions and during the softest transitions such as birth. In those few moments of change, the animals become “who”s instead of “it”s — individuals on their journeys through their lives in the forests which covered the world.

The movie takes us through a number of seasons. Nothing really changes at first except the seasons themselves. The movie opens onto a white blanket of snow and buffalo coping with incredible cold — each of them in the herd is hunkered down in the snow so as not to expend energy — winter is brutally harsh. We then hear a screech owl as the thaw of winter takes place and hear the dripping of water — the melting snow. And the movie begins.

photo credit: Mathieu Simonet

photo credit: Mathieu Simonet

With springtime come babies, birds, bugs . . . too, like bears — and a shy human observer — that’s all the human activity there is to begin with. And we begin to see animals at telling moments in their fight for survival or for a place in their social hierarchies: horses fight viciously for dominance or mating rights — magpies watch knowingly.

Soon Fall comes with wind, more bugs and birds, geese migrate and then snow again. And again the snows melt into streams where we see beavers and pelicans. We see hogs and wolves. We see baby ducks jump (literally crash land from enormous heights — but they are light and it doesn’t hurt them) — this is the journey they must take. We see bears, one lying lazily in a tree watching a vicious fight between two other bears — they are amazingly ferocious. We see spiders weaving webs and then more wind and rain, drenching rain this time, and a rainbow.

photo credit: Ludovic Sigaud

photo credit: Ludovic Sigaud

Wolves are introduced: they howl and they hunt and they, too, as bears, moose and horses, have ferocious and life-altering dominance clashes: bears use arms to hit each other, horses use teeth to bite or hooves to kick, deer use antlers to whack each other, wolves use teeth. A snake slithers over low-lying branches and we find ourselves rooting for the little mouse to escape. Flying squirrels are gorgeous — all the animals are gorgeous. Then we see baby wolves escape into their den from a bobcat — how brilliant it is that Mama wolf chose such a tiny entrance to keep such predators away. And throughout it all, green, green leaves which always hide the animals somewhat. The leaves soon turn to oranges and browns and fall off as the seasons progress.

A strutting deer is taken by a bobcat behind a snowbank, so we don’t actually see it, but we know what happens. A young wolf is viciously driven out of his pack and has to make it on his own. He accepts his fate — this is HIS journey. And again, we glimpse a single human passing through. Nothing has really changed year after year — only the seasons.

photo credit: Philip Garguil

photo credit: Philip Garguil

But slowly, instead of the wild hogs, we see pigs and goats and castles. There is a hunt and an arrow is used. Humans are taking over with their roads and harnessing animals to make life better for themselves. In the meantime, there are fewer and fewer places for animals to take refuge. Trees are felled — we are told it takes 3,000 trees to build one ship in Her Majesty’s navy. Animals begin taking refuge in the mountains. There are now more open fields, so there are more butterflies. There is another hunt by humans who have “advanced”: they use horses and 20 hounds to pursue one deer. The forests have been cut specifically to allow this kind of hunt: it was a microcosm of what we were doing to the entire world: the world would be for us and us alone.

Then machines and horses and war, factories spewing out filthy smoke and the spraying of poisons such as DDT to control our environment. Cities now pop up where forests used to be. The movie proposes that a new alliance is possible — that now we must work to preserve what is left — that it is possible but we must do so now. There still are some forests full of beauty and magic: the movie depicts them in all their gorgeous glory. It’s time to wake up to what human presence is doing and arrest our taking over it all before it is all gone.

Experience the beauty of the natural world with SEASONS, a documentary from the team behind WINGED MIGRATION: http://bit.ly/SeasonsFilm

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPC2kZQ9kwU

Fire!

2011-10-08

Coyotes are very aware of even small changes in their environment. Here, something big has happened and they are checking it out, looking around, spooking, “tasting” it and marking it. It was not until several days after the fire that they would even approach the area. As time goes on, the change will be accepted as the way things are, but initially this is never the case where coyotes are concerned.

I was not there to see the fire as it occurred, and probably neither were these coyotes, or they might have tried putting it out in its early stages! Hope Ryden in her book, God’s Dog, on page 144 refers to an incident she witnessed whereby a coyote put out a small fire (posted in May of 2011) which I’m reprinting here again, below:

“Did you know that coyotes put out fires?” The man asking the question had been smoking a cigarette, which is what probably prompted the question to Hope as they observed a coyote. The man proceeded to set an envelope on fire with his cigarette and tossed it in the coyote’s direction. The coyote quickly “pounced on it, and began drumming the flames with her forefeet while bouncing on and off the blaze until only the edges still had sparks”. The fire wasn’t out yet, so the coyote, with its shoulder, pushed the scrap of paper with embers against the ground, then stood up to examine it, and repeated this again. The fire was now out. Apparently all coyotes put out fires — small fires. Wow!!

Habitat Issues: Forest Carbon 101

We need to preserve our thickets and forests not only as habitat for our wildlife, but also to offset human carbon production caused by modern urban living, particularly our cars. This video was created by the Nature Conservancy, one of the leading conservation agencies in the US.

In San Francisco, the plan is to cut down 18,500 trees in order to return the landscape to what it was in 1776. We have photos of it back then — the landscape consisted of sand dunes, and sparse dune plants. NAP has created this type of environment on Twin Peaks which, by the way, is sprayed with potent toxic pesticides every four months to keep it this way.

Most of us don’t want our parks turned into another Twin Peaks, nor maintained artificially in this manner. Please visit the San Francisco Forest Alliance which is trying to preserve our San Francisco forests and wildlife habitat: SFForest.Net. Get involved and sign the petition!!