Finding Scout

Scout is one of the coyotes — a 7-year-old — whose life I’ve been following and whose story I’ve been telling. However, she has pretty much been off of my radar for the last six months: she all but disappeared from her territory during that time-frame. I knew she was not far away because she appeared regularly in her old territory, even if only briefly, in the dead of night, with her mate, Scooter, and sometimes one of her yearlings: I have been able to capture this because of a field camera I put out in her old territory. And, through the field camera, I’ve been able to capture a little about her continued story. Here is an update and summary of her story.

Update: What the field camera showed about Scout was her rounded shape back in March and then in April her losing that roundness and gaining the lactating tits of a nursing mom. Ahh, so Scout had another family — her third litter. But she had them elsewhere, not in her old long-time claimed territory — the territory she had battled for so valiantly when an intruder tried taking it from her in 2019. Few coyotes, once established in a claimed territory, move away, so this is an unusual situation. Of additional interest is that she returns almost nightly to her old territory where several of her yearling pups still remain.

These are field camera photos taken at the old territory, showing Scout fat to the left, Scout svelte again in the middle, and Scout lactating to the right the camera is on a path she habitually frequented and apparently still does.

Video allowing me to identify her

I kept my eyes and ears open for any clues as to her new location. People told me about coyotes they had seen, but either they didn’t have photos, or the photos were not of Scout. One lady I met told me she had taken some videos of a coyote on the street and offered to share them with me. I sent her my email, asking to see the videos, but she forgot to check her messages until just a week ago, six months after our exchange! So a week ago I saw the video to the right where I was able to identify Scout! I then spent several mornings talking to more and more people where the video had been taken, and within a few days who should I come across but Scout herself!

I gasped, and Scout saw me. She of course must know who I am from my documenting her movements and behaviors over the last seven years. She stopped and looked at me, knowing I would not approach, and then she lay down for a few minutes, allowing me time to watch her. After a few minutes, her mate, who is much more flighty and wary, appeared and then fled when he saw a group of people nearby. But he stopped when he saw Scout watching me — her calmness seemed to calm him. After a few minutes, he must have beckoned her because she turned to go with him: he and she are a tight team, and work and communicate seemingly telepathically as a unit. It’s really nice to observe this!

Scout and Scooter at their new location a few days ago. Please remember that I don’t reveal locations for the coyotes’ sake: for their privacy and security, but I wanted to share Scout’s continuing story, which many people have followed on my blog.

Over the next few days I found that they were there with one of their yearling sons born last year, Cyrano. Over those next few days, I observed them patrolling the surrounding area and I observed some of their food sources: pizzas left out for them, I saw them hunt and eat gophers, and a cat (yikes!). There are ducks not far away and squirrels all over the place in the immediate area, and I know they trek over 2 miles each night to mark their territory as they search for and return to food sources they know about: for example, they’ll return to fruit trees, once ripened, until the fruit is gone.

To the left is a one-year-old son who migrated with them to their new location, and to the right is one of their new pups — I’ve counted two (there may be more) in the litter born this last April.

And I even glimpsed two pups hanging around what must be their densite. I make it a practice to stay away from dens, but this year I literally and inadvertently tripped over a handful of them. These particular dens are minimally hidden and placed where anyone would walk. If there had been predators around, these pups would have perished long ago. Then again, maybe the coyotes comprehend that there are no real predators around. Loose dogs could injure them, but most are not actively looking for them as prey to eat.

There’s plenty of food in the area

The den is a hollow under a fallen tree

Parents patrol the streets and fields — they know everything about their territories.

They visit their old territory at night where this, their two-year-old offspring appears to be holding down the fort!

A little background for those who haven’t followed her story here. Scout was the first *litter* if you want to call it that — she was a singleton pup — born in 2015 to a young 2-year-old mom and that 2-year-old’s 6-year-old father. Yes: inbreeding. There was a lot in that family. There are stories about her birth family on my blog.

I watched Scout grow up as a defiant little rascal — her father was constantly chasing her and throwing her on her back because of her defying him. I guess she had had enough of it by 9-months of age, because that’s when she dispersed. It’s one of the earliest dispersals I’ve seen — most take place between 1 and 2 years of age. I last observed her in her birth territory in January of 2016, and two weeks later, in February, she had appeared where she would remain for the next six years. It was a vacant territory 1.6 miles away from her birthplace. There had been territorial coyotes there before, but the last alpha was killed by a car, and not until Scout arrived was that vacancy refilled. Luck was with her, considering that the majority of dispersing youngsters move south and out of the city due to a lack of territorial vacancies within the city, and on top of that, while dispersing, many, many get hit and killed by cars. Cars are their chief killers in cities.

Scout remained a loner for three more years. Remembering that coyotes are highly social, this must have been difficult for her. She filled the void by watching humans and their dogs. Some people fed her. Some people fed her from cars. This caused her to hang around, wait for food, chase cars. If she saw you eyeing her, she would perform — she seemed to like attention, which most coyotes do not: she would start playing with a stick, or a ball, or do zoomies — almost in imitation of all the dogs she had been watching. She seemed to smile more often than other coyotes I see — maybe she was imitating her human and dog neighbors?? There was one dog she hated and would bark at when he came into sight, there were other dogs she ran from, and others she would test: people thought she was playing with their dogs, but I could see it was simply *testing* behavior.

Finally, into her 4th year at this territory, a strapping young fellow appeared and both she and he hit it off. This was a fellow I had watched grow up in North Beach, over four miles away. He was dispersing now, at 1.8 years of age. Their immediate friendship was amazing to watch: this previous loner was now smitten with the company of another coyote. They walked around together gazing in each others eyes (I’m not kidding), they played and cuddled and teased each other. They hunted together and howled together and she looked after him and would get worried when she felt he was endangered. Rightly so: he ended up acquiring a broken ankle (diagnosed by my wildlife vet based on videos I sent her) after being chased by a dog. I had to convince everyone to please leave that coyote alone, that the injury would heal on its own, which it did. Several people went so far as to hire a trapper so they could *fix* the coyote. People simply didn’t realize how powerful nature is as a healer. But also removing a coyote from his social situation would have been absolutely detrimental for both him and Scout, disrupting the relationship and opening the way for another coyote to take his place, which his absence would have done.

For four months, everything went smashingly well, with Scout paying less attention to people, dogs, and cars, and spending more time learning to be the social coyote she was meant to be, and then suddenly everything was turned upside down for her: another powerful little female showed up who decided to fight for Scout’s territory. There was a skirmish under a car and blood spurted out. The intruder had been radio-collared and tagged only a month or so earlier in the Presidio. Unfortunately, the radio-collar gave that intruder, I call her Wired, an advantage: it served as protective armor. I next saw Scout with bloody gashes on her neck and forehead. And then I saw her flee as she was pursued throughout a lot of the city by this single-minded female intruder. I followed their trajectory into Diamond Heights, Dolores Heights, Noe Valley, McLaren. Scout attempted to return to HER territory several times, but each time she was repulsed by Wired. This exile lasted about 6 months, and then suddenly one day, Wired was no longer around. It turned out that Wired had found a better territory in the Presidio, which is where she has been living with her mate born and dispersed from North Beach. They’ve had several litters of pups.

So, I think to her great surprise, Scout found herself returning to her territory without having to face Wired. She carefully allowed herself to become more and more visible and then more and more at ease there. That was in June of 2019. That fall, a new male appeared. Although the relationship was nothing like her first love (!), her bond and devotion to him, and his for her, has grown. In 2020 they had their first litter of four pups, three of whom survived to adulthood. In 2021 they had a second litter of 6 pups, one of whom was killed by rat poison and one by a car. You can read about all this here.

It is during the fall of 2021 that everyone who knew her started seeing less and less of Scout and Scooter. They stopped their sentry duty where they had been seen daily for years. Everyone began to see them more sporadically and for shorter periods of time. And then I noted, they no longer appeared at all, except in the deep of night caught on a trap camera. That was six months ago.

Addendum: I can speculate on what might have contributed to her move based on what I know was going on, but of course we’ll never know for sure if these were contributing factors. *The huge number of dogs in her old territory didn’t seem to be an issue earlier on, but as Scout got older they may have become more of a problem for her — harder for her to deal with. *Last summer one of her pups born last year died of rat poisoning and we noticed that she herself became slow and lethargic at that time — and it’s shortly after this that we stopped seeing her so often: might she have ingested a less-than-lethal dose of the same rat poison that killed one of her sons? It’s something that might have influenced her to move. *Then, a large fenced-in area — and therefore dog-free refuge which she often retreated to — became a construction zone so she no longer had a totally safe place to go, especially if there were to be more pups. *Most of the holes under the fence of that sanctuary were boarded up at the time construction began: she might have feared total blockage and so had to find a new place. *Most importantly, a vacancy would have to have occurred in her new territory, and in fact, a coyote was picked up DOA, hit by a car not long before she moved. *The new territory is much wilder and has water nearby — it’s definitely a *step up* for her, which may also have contributed to her deciding to move. *Might she have wanted to leave her old territory to a youngster? This is actually what has happened, but was this by design? We don’t know. *Lastly, although I won’t know until all the DNA results are in from my population study, I have a feeling that her mate, Scooter, was probably originally from the new park — was born there — and it possibly is because he led her back there that they moved there. All these things were going on and may have contributed to the move, but ultimately, we simply don’t know why she moved, keeping her toe in the old territory, so to speak, by visiting almost every night.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

A Territorial Issue

Most of the coyote territories I know have been pretty stable over long stretches of time — years and years: the same owners have occupied the same areas for a while and there have been no indications of change. I’ve seen some territories occupied over a span of 13 years by successive generations of the same family: when an older mate passed away, the remaining mate paired with a new mate — sometimes their own offspring — and continued on the land.

I’ve also seen sequential families, one after another on various territories: either the previous owners left of their own accord — I get the impression this happens when their reproductive years are over — or the weaker older pair (and sometimes only one is left) is driven off by a younger, stronger pair. Still, what remains on any one territory has always been one alpha pair with youngsters who are born there and eventually leave. Intruders don’t remain, and interlopers have been few — I counted only one last year.

The long-time resident pair who are not happy with the situation on THEIR territory.

However, I’ve been watching an exception this season. Interestingly, it seems that every generality about coyotes has exceptions. I’ve been seeing recent newcomers in one of the territories who now have passed through repeatedly and regularly. One is an older, scraggly fellow. Will he be allowed to stay as an interloper because he is old and unattached and therefore not a reproductive threat to the residents? I have seen very few interlopers to date here in San Francisco. We’ll have to wait to see.

In addition, there has been a new pair of coyotes that has been passing through that same territory regularly over the last month. The resident pair appears not too happy about this, marking and kicking up the ground angrily when they detect the odors of these intruders.

The long-time resident pair on this territory has two yearlings, and a number of 9-month-old pups born this year remain who all occupy that space. I’ve never seen coyote pairs share their territories — it’s unlikely to continue for long. In the end, only one pair will claim and remain in the area to raise their pups, and I would assume it will be the long-time resident pair, but of course I don’t know this — they’ll be living out their own stories and I hope to witness them to tell the tales.

These recent observations have been made entirely through field cameras which I put out only at night. I have not recorded what has gone on in this area during daylight hours, but I’m pretty sure the same thing, even if less frequently, as at night. Identifying individuals with infrared light, which is what the field cameras use, is very different from identifying them under natural light, but I’ve learned how to do so, and I can definitely identify all of these coyotes in this video. I put the field cameras out because in-person sightings have become more and more rare for me. I was hoping the cameras would at least let me know who was around, and they’ve done a little bit more than that!

The video consists of a number of the very short field-camera captures. You’ll see the older scraggly fella who is always alone, the intruder pair who look perfectly benign to me, but hey, they ARE intruding, and the angry resident pair revealing their wrath/disgust at the situation by sniffing, marking and kicking up the ground angrily — “How dare they come into our home!” Note that the resident coyotes have had these reactions in the past, but very irregularly, which I’ve attributed to the dogs who come through regularly during daylight hours. In other field cameras that I leave out all day, I’ve seen this reaction always to dogs who are also considered intruders by the coyotes. In this case, the reactions always occurred shortly after the newcomers had passed through.

A Territorial Changeover

Although I know territories which have been in the same coyote families for over 12 years, I also know territories with coyote ownership turnover. One dynasty ends, usually because the tenants can no longer defend their turf in the face of aggressive or continued intruders, be it due to old age, death of a mate, or even dispersal of youngsters who might have helped defend the area: youngsters can be forced out by parents who want room for their next litters, or they move on due to their own inner drives. Or maybe the territory just no longer has the resources necessary to support a coyote family.

Although I’ve seen coyotes move on to greener pastures and thrive after leaving a long-term territorial occupation, here is a case where the move did not bode well for the coyotes who left: within two months, we saw the departed pair wandering around the fringes of a shopping center, looking ragged, thin, angry and snarly. Their health had plummeted and and we feared their lives were coming to an abrupt end. We haven’t seen them again.

What happened to the territory of this departed pair? In this case, a female daughter and her younger brother were left behind — I’ve written about them before. After several months of seeing no one else there, two new males arrived and befriended the almost-3 year old female. It appeared that the female and stronger male might be bonding: both went off together for several months and we thought their life-long partnership was sealed. We saw younger brother a few times while she was gone but then he, too, left.

Female daughter before heading off with her beau

But then the female daughter returned, looking anxious and desperate, with constant darting glances of fear — her behavior was very different from what it had been previously. The two new male coyotes were with her, but it certainly didn’t look anymore like she was part of a “pair”. And then one day after a number of weeks, this female appeared no more.

The two males remain here and so, now, does their shy sister. These three are related — either two younger and one older sibling, or even a father and his two offspring: the two younger ones always move out of the way for the older one who seems to be a bit of a tyrant — from a territory only about half a mile away. I had been struck by the strong family resemblance between them and coyotes I had seen on the next territory over. Yes, family resemblances are amazing in some coyote families and have been the first “link” in leading me to further identify where certain coyotes came from and family connections! Reviewing my photos from that territory, I found these coyotes to be one and the same as those. I haven’t been back to their old territory to find out what’s going on there. These three would have abandoned their territory for the same reasons I listed above.

That they all came over together from one place is interesting. So they are still all “family” members, it’s just that there is no mated pair among them. Let’s see how their story develops over time!

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

 

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