Responding to Recent Postings on Social Media: A Recap of Some Urban Coyote Behaviors and Some Explanations

This posting is a slightly revised and expanded version, with photos, of what was originally written for, and posted on, Bernalwood.com on May 27th.

our Bernal coyote at dawn

coyote at dawn

We have coyotes in most of our parks here in San Francisco, and most folks I’ve spoken with are thrilled about it!  Enjoy it and respect its wildness! At the same time, there are some people, especially pet owners, who are not so thrilled. Here is some information I’ve put together about coyotes, much of it based on my own observations, as a response to concerns and comments which have appeared in some of the social media recently. This is information that applies to urban coyotes everywhere, not just here in SF.

COYOTES ARE TERRITORIAL AND LIVE IN FAMILIES

coyotes in our parks

coyotes in our parks

Most parks in San Francisco have one stable resident family, or a loner. Coyotes are not “pack” animals of unrelated individuals. Families “claim” territories which they “own” from which they exclude other coyotes — this is what keeps the population density down. They trek through the neighborhoods every night, during the early morning or early evening hours — and, more rarely, during the brightest hours of the day — marking their territories to keep other coyotes out and looking for hunting opportunities. Studies show that in urban areas, there is generally about one coyote per square mile — a family of 4 would require about 4 square miles. You will always be seeing the same individual coyotes in any particular area.

Although we have parks with loner coyotes, most parks have mated pairs with families. Coyotes mate for life, and both parents raise the young. Coyotes mate in January or February and produce young in April — births occur only once a year. 

The number of family members fluctuates up and down continually over time. In one park, it went something like this: 2-5-3-4-2. The fluctuation is due to new pups, and then to their dispersal or deaths. There is only about a 30% survival rate of pups during their first year — disease and nutritional issues take their toll.

When it’s time for youngsters to “disperse”, the parents will drive them out, or they may just pick-up-and-go. This usually occurs between one and two, and sometimes three years of age, and it occurs throughout the year — there is no “dispersal season”. However, the breeding adult pair will remain in the same territory over many years. Interestingly, wolves will actually kill their own kin in order to preserve their own statuses and territorial rights. I’ve not seen this in coyotes, but I have seen the altercations that drive coyotes out of their birth territories.

Cars are urban coyotes’ chief cause of death — please drive carefully! They often trek on our traffic grid — it’s often the “path of least resistance”.  A few days ago, in our Diamond Heights neighborhood, a car swerved right into someone’s house to avoid hitting a coyote during the early morning hours.

MORE ASSERTIVE OR INSISTENT BEHAVIOR

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

coyote shows her anxiety and displeasure with a dog by jumping up and down

As the individuals in a family mature, some of them may go through phases of what might be called more “assertive”  or “insistent” behavior, such as: following or running in the direction of a dog. During pupping season, the assertiveness is strongest, with coyotes even approaching and possibly even nipping at a dog’s haunches. These are coyote “messaging” behaviors: coyotes want dogs to move on and to know the territory is taken. These behaviors don’t “define” a coyote, and they don’t last. Think of these as phases in a teenager’s life, or in a parent’s life — there’s an ebb and flow to behaviors for each coyote, often based on what is going on within the coyote’s individual family: Are there new pups? Is there increased sibling rivalry? Are parents having issues with the offspring, or trying to get one to disperse? I’ve seen no evidence to indicate that such behaviors build up towards more aggressiveness. Many of the more apparently “assertive” behaviors, both in juveniles and adults, are based solely on circumstances and happenstance encounters, so keep your distance.

SIGHTINGS

trekking through the neighborhood

trekking through the neighborhood

A substantial increase in “sightings” doesn’t necessarily translate into a spike in the coyote population, though this is what many people assume. Again, increased sightings could be due to their current family dynamics which may cause individuals to wander farther afield.

Unusual weather conditions can have an effect on sightings. San Francisco has just been through a four-year drought. Drought conditions cause coyotes to hunt further afield and for longer hours. They become more visible to humans and more prone to incidents during these times when their activity overlaps with ours. It takes 8 full months for an ecosystem to recover from a drought.

Human changes to the environment, including new construction, will affect coyotes in an area. In San Francisco, coyotes may be lingering longer in neighborhoods recently, and therefore be seen more, because of the current program of thinning and eliminating dense and protective thickets in the parks, reducing coyotes’ normal secure habitat.  Stopping the destruction of the habitat, and compensating for the exceptional weather or drought in various ways until the ecosystem has recovered, both are steps that could be taken to reduce sightings, and possible dog/coyote encounters, and coyotes’ spending the past-twilight hours in neighborhoods.

FEEDING

feeding coyotes is not good

feeding coyotes is not good

Please don’t feed the coyotes. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food conditioned  — which is different from “habituation” (see below) — problems could develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for a negative incident to occur. Feeding them also encourages them to hang around yards where people don’t want them.

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they can eat almost anything, but their preference in San Francisco is for gophers, squirrels and voles, which they eat whole: they need the meat, muscle, bones, fur — all of it — to nourish themselves properly. They also eat fruit, nuts, bugs, weak or juvenile raccoons, skunks, opossums, and possibly snakes. They prefer their whole foods over human-made foods, but if that human food is available, they’ll try it. And they will eat the occasional cat or small dog if circumstances are right — they don’t know who is a pet and who isn’t. Don’t create the right circumstances that could add your pet to the food chain. Please protect your pets by not allowing them to roam free and by supervising them closely when out-of-doors.

As top predators to an area, coyotes have helped rebalance the environment: they control rodents and some mesopredators, such as opossums, skunks and raccoons.

HABITUATION

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

a habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote

Urban coyotes do not “fear” humans — that is an incorrect term. Rather they are “wary” of humans. This means that, although a coyote won’t flee lickety-split in fear when they see a human, they nonetheless will maintain distance and not approach us. And we, in turn, need to respect them and their wildness by keeping as far away from them as we can. “Habituation” is a normal progression in urban areas — you cannot prevent it because you cannot stop coyotes from seeing humans on a daily basis — they get used to seeing us. A habituated coyote is not a dangerous animal. In fact, the term “habituation” was first used to describe bears as being more dangerous if they got used to people and lost fear of us. This assumption has been turned on its head: scientists now know that bears who are habituated tend to ignore humans, whereas bears who have never seen humans become reactive. In Africa, to make gorillas less reactive to humans, for the tourist trade, people purposefully habituate them — they become less dangerous.

Coyotes also habituate to “hazing” tactics, which is why such tactics should not be used if a coyote is way out in left field. Scaring off a coyote should be used sparingly. It should be reserved for when a coyote has come too close to you. It is a useless tactic unless the coyote is closer than 50 or so feet to you, which generally delineates its critical distance for discomfort.

Note that “habituation” is different from “food conditioning”. When visibly feeding or hand-feeding a coyote, you are conditioning it to approach humans. Don’t feed coyotes.

THE ISSUE IS WITH PETS

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

suspicious coyote mother and a dog owner not being vigilant

Whereas coyotes don’t approach humans, dogs are a different story because of territorial issues and because of prey issues. In many ways, coyotes and dogs look alike, but coyotes and dogs are naturally antagonistic towards each other. Remember that coyotes keep other coyotes out of their territories. Coyotes are also both curious and suspicious of dogs: they may feel compelled to come in closer to investigate. Always supervise your pets to prevent incidents: the minute you see a coyote, leash and go in the other direction. Most dogs have a tendency to go chasing after coyotes. Please don’t allow your dog to do this.

coyote messaging a dog -- the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

coyote messaging a dog — the dog should have been kept away from the coyote

Coyotes have approached dogs. If they get too close, they could either grab a small dog or “message” a larger dog who the coyote considers a threat to its territory or its personal space. They can only do this when they get close enough. Don’t let them. You can prevent an incident by keeping your dog away from coyotes in the first place, by leashing when you see one, and by walking away from it. It’s no different than when you encounter a skunk with its tail up: keep your dog off of it, and move away from it. 

coyote following

coyote following

 IF, inadvertently or by surprise, a coyote gets too close, that is when to scare it off, otherwise just walk away without running: see http://baynature.org/article/how-to-get-along-with-coyotes-as-pups-venture-out/

Coyotes may follow dogs to find out what the dog is doing and where it is going (they do the same to non-family coyotes). If you and your dog are moving away from the coyote, and away from any denning site, the coyote soon will no longer follow. If you don’t want the coyote to follow at all, toss a small stone in its direction (not at it), and/or approach it (but don’t get too close) using your own blatantly angry body language and angry yelling. Noise alone, or waving flailing arms, is not always effective in making a coyote move — something has to move  towards the coyote. And it isn’t going to help if you are too far away. You’ve got to get within the coyote’s critical distance — at most 50 feet — and you have to be assertive about it. Walking towards the coyote while slapping a newspaper viciously on your thigh works, but tossing stones towards it is probably more effective. However — and this is a very important “however” — if the coyote doesn’t budge, it is probably protecting a nearby den site. In this case, turn around and leave. Do not provoke an incident. See the above link in Bay Nature.

It’s always best to be proactive in keeping a coyote away. The minute you see a coyote, leash up and move away from it, and know how to shoo it off effectively if it comes closer to you than 50 feet.

Note that practically all scratches or bites by coyotes to humans are due to feeding the coyote, or to an owner getting him/herself between a coyote and a pet, so don’t do these things. And, never run from a coyote: this activity actually initiates the chase response in a coyote who may also nip at your heels. They also sometimes nip at car tires when the car is in motion. The phenomena is called “motion reactivity”.

ENCOUNTERS CAN BE SCARY

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounter: the dog chased the coyote and the coyote stood up for itself

Encounters CAN be scary if you are unprepared and don’t know what to expect or what to do. Please learn what coyotes are like, not what you think they “should” be like — for instance, that they don’t “fear” humans but are “wary” of them, and not that “coyotes should be heard and not seen”. By knowing their true normal behaviors, and by knowing what to do *IF* they approach your dog, you will be informed and you will not be so fearful. For starters, watch the video, Coyotes As Neighbors:  https://youtu.be/euG7R11aXq0, which will spell out normal coyote behavior and what you can do to keep coyotes away from a pet.

MANAGING COYOTES

The number one method of managing coyotes for coexistence is through human education and human behavior modification: that is what this posting is trying to help with. These have been shown to be extremely effective. The City of San Francisco has been lax in putting out signs or getting educational material to folks. Some of us have been filling the void, getting material, information and guidelines out to people, but as individuals or as small organizations, we have not been able to reach everyone. Please visit coyotecoexistence.com for specific information, and  coyoteyipps.com.

Many cities have coexistence policies — they all work when folks abide by the guidelines. BUT, as with car driving laws, even if you know them and follow them, there will be some fender-benders that might be frightening. We have fewer than 100 coyotes in the City; the number of dogs is in the 250,000s. There is bound to be an incident now and then.

The number of real coyote incidents in the City is not many. There have been less than a handful of dog fatalities by coyotes — all were unleashed small dogs in known coyote areas — all were preventable. There have been many incidents of people being frightened and reporting “attacks” on their dogs. Few if any of these attacks were reported on a questionnaire which would tease out what actually occurred. Instead, these incidents have been spelled out on the social media with warnings of doom that is awaiting us all.

Most of the sightings of coyotes have been reported as charming. But there have been some fearful encounters, and recently groups of dog owners in some of the parks have turned decidedly against them. Social media tends to perpetuate, spread and amplify the fears, and encounters are inevitably worded as deliberate “aggressive attacks”. For instance, recently, there was a report of an attempted “attack” on a dog at 5:30 in the morning. However, a lone coyote, who weighs 35 pounds, is not going to “attack” a 130 pound Mastiff… Coyotes may watch dogs, follow, or hurry in your direction for many reasons, including curiosity, or investigation. They may jump up and down because of anxiety. These are not “attacks”, nor are they “attempted attacks”. Hopefully, by learning about coyotes, we can diminish the very real feeling of fear which comes from not knowing what is going on.

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

a coyote standing on a pathway, watching

Our Animal Care and Control Department has had many people report “aggressive” coyotes: but when questioned further, the majority of these reports were of a coyote just standing, or doing nothing but looking at the purported victim.

Two years ago I watched a man, straight faced, tell me that he had been frightened “out-of-his-wits” by a monster 100-pound coyote just a few moments before seeing me. He was visibly shaken. He hadn’t seen me watching the whole incident a little way down the path. The incident involved his dog chasing a coyote. The coyote turned around to face the dog. When the dog ran back to its owner, the coyote proceeded on to where it had been going. But the owner was left frightened, and justified his fright by saying it was a “monster 100-pound coyote”. If the dog had been leashed, the incident would not have happened. It happened in a park where everyone knows there are coyotes.

If you have questions, or if you want help with specific issues, please contact me or anyone at coyotecoexistence@gmail.com

Playfulness of Coyotes


Being the social and family oriented animals that they are, coyotes who are “loners” — without families — often get . . . lonely!

Most coyotes eventually find a mate and live in families, but there is a time after dispersal– when they leave “home” — when they may be on their own, alone, and when they may miss the companionship they had growing up with their parents and siblings. Coyotes are often forced out of their birth families and territories by other family members. This usually happens between one and three years of age for various reasons, for example, when the smooth-running of the family is interfered with, because of growing competitiveness due to a domineering parent or sibling, because of new pups, or because of limited resources in an area. So the coyote moves out and on. Each coyote needs about a square mile of territory to provide for itself. When they find a vacant niche, they’ll fill it.

As seen in the video, this little coyote very definitely wants to engage with other canids — he’s running back and forth in an engaging sort of way, with his head bobbing up and down like an excited pony, and he even poses with his rump up and paws out front in the classical “lets play” stance which dogs use. But he’s also testing and assessing — notice that he does not fully approach the dogs who are facing him and close to their owners. He appears both excited and a bit anxious about initiating the interaction — there’s a push-pull of desire and fear.  I have seen short romps shared by dogs and coyotes, and then, the coyote is off — but the coyote may return day after day for this same type of  contact. Please beware that even a playful coyote such as this one in the video may suddenly nip at a dog which has been allowed to play with it: this just happened in one of the other parks where the coyote began to feel threatened or harassed and ended up biting the dog’s leg. We need to remember that wildness will always be part of who the coyotes are. At the same time, the coyote’s good will and good intentions can be clearly recognized.

The first coyote which appeared in the City outside of the Presidio (where they first re-appeared in the City in 2002) actually appeared on Bernal Hill in about 2003.http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Coyotes-usually-seen-in-West-spotted-in-2633779.php, and this coyote, too, was reported to have romped with one of the dogs.

Respecting the coyote’s wildness means keeping our distance and not allowing our dogs to engage with them. When a coyote eventually does find a mate, he may feel very protective of his chosen mate, of himself, and of his territorial claim from all potential threats, be they real or perceived. He’ll do so with “warning messages” in the form of body language. Sometimes this “messaging” is conveyed assertively, as with a nip. Think about it: how else might coyotes clearly get their message across? Know what is going on, and please respect him by keeping your distance. And know how to shoo the coyote away if he comes too close to your dog.

At the same time, be thrilled and filled with awe and wonder at this wildlife returned to the City! Coyotes are fascinatingly social and interact with each other in the gamut of ways we humans interact with each other, including through playing, through a full array of family interactions which show that they share many of our emotions, and through protecting personal and home spaces from dogs who  they consider potential threats.

Coyotes have been moving into all urban areas — into what we consider “human areas”. It’s interesting because we humans have excluded, persecuted and wantonly killed this species for so long. Our presence helps keep away other top predators which is why they may feel safer living among us.

Thank you everyone for trying to understand coyote behavior and for accepting them as a neighbors! To become more aware of coyote behaviors, watch the video presentation,  “Coyotes As Neighbors”. And, stay tuned! In a new posting which will be appearing here and on Bernalwoods.com within the next few days, I’ve addressed some of the issues and hype that have been appearing on some recent social media sites.

Pupping Season: “Scary” Does Not Translate Into “Dangerous”, but Heed The Message!

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Hi Janet —

I had a very scary interaction with two coyotes in the heart of a park where the trail runs parallel to a dense brushy area. My dog Ginger and I were by ourselves, surrounded by two coyotes that would not go away. I jumped up and down, waving my arms allover the place and yelling and they didn’t budge. Finally one went into the bush but just stayed there and then the other on the trail started towards us.

I did the jumping yelling thing and the one backed away but turned around, started walking towards us again. Like 15 feet away.  Finally I just pulled Ginger’s leash tight to me and ran. I know you’re not supposed to  do that, but nothing else was working. We ran up to a knoll and were not followed there. It was getting dark, past 8pm, a bit scary indeed!

I wish that man was not doing that thing with his dog, challenging the coyote, corralling his dog to go after the coyotes. I have a feeling that sort of human behavior is a bad influence and perhaps contributed to this situation I had.

Scott


Hi Scott —

I’m sorry about your negative experience with the coyotes — and especially that it happened to you, a coyote sympathizer, even though it is best that it happened to you and not someone else with no feeling for the coyotes. In fact, you were being messaged to keep away from a den area.

Coyote messaging can be very, very scary — it’s got to be to be effective, otherwise dogs and people would just ignore the message. The coyotes  you encountered were not pursuing you and they were not out to hurt you or Ginger — they were keeping you from getting closer to something important. You were simply being told not to get any closer — to move away: “Go Away!”  But next time don’t run! Sometimes running will incite them to chase after you!

If and when a coyote doesn’t back up, it’s almost always because of a den, and it’s always best to shorten your leash and leave right away. If coyotes don’t move after one or two attempts to get them to move, this should be the protocol: leave the area. You don’t want to engage with a den-defending coyote because they will nip at a dog who cannot read their “standing guard” message — we already know that this is what they do, and by not listening to their simple message, you would actually be provoking an incident.

It’s an instinct, and really has nothing to do with the idiot who was attempting to force his dog on the coyotes. That is a totally unrelated issue which needs to be addressed.

Encountering a den-defending coyote always creates a lot of fear in people, and I understand why — it’s meant to.  People need to know about it, why it happens, and how to deal with it. It’s a situation which should always be walked away from, no different from what you would do if you saw a skunk with its tail raised, a dog warning you off, or a swarm of bees. We know how to read the messages from these animals, and we usually abide by the messages to keep the peace and not get stung or sprayed or bitten. We can do the same with coyotes. A defensive or protective coyote is only doing his job — such an encounter in no way means the animal is aggressive.

Janet

What Is Going On With A Coyote Which Appears “Bolder” Than Normal?

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Seeing coyotes more often. Some folks believe, incorrectly, that coyotes become dangerous to humans and pets if they get used to seeing us: getting used to seeing us is called “habituation.”  I’ve observed, first-hand, over the last eight years, the behavior of several generations of urban coyotes and their pups and never have seen habituation cause aggressive or dangerous behavior. A habituated coyote, per se, is not dangerous or aggressive; habituation is not the same as food-conditioning. All that may result from habituation is that they may allow themselves to be seen a little more, so you might see them more. Coyotes are instinctively programmed to become used to and therefore ignore — habituated to — the same constant elements in their environment, and this includes a constant stream of humans. Not running quickly from people who have never bothered them is a coyote’s way of avoiding wasting unnecessary energy in human dominated areas. However, they retain their wariness of humans and will keep a safe distance and not approach us, and their other behaviors continue as before.

A habituated coyote is not a dangerous or aggressive coyote. One of the cure-alls which is being offered by some organizations to keep coyotes out of sight is “hazing”. Indeed, scaring a coyote from your and your dog’s immediate personal space is necessary and effective if you do it correctly. However, you cannot just generally “haze” a coyote and expect it to disappear from view forever because, over time, coyotes become used to the “hazing” — habituated to it — as they do other things in their environment. Rather than fleeing, the coyote may just stop and curiously look at the hazer, or take longer to flee. And this is when folks begin to interpret that failure to flee as “habituated and therefore bold and dangerous”: again, this is an incorrect assumption. The hazers have simply taught the coyote, over time, that hazing is something else in their environment which they must get used to. Again, these coyotes retain their wariness of humans and will not approach us.

Seeing an incident of “communication” for what it is. What I have seen is coyotes attempting  to “communicate” or “message” their needs for space, personal safety, and territory to dogs. Please remember that coyotes keep other coyotes out of their territories by messaging them in the same way they message dogs. Only one coyote family occupies any particular territory. Dogs, especially very active ones, are seen no different than any other interloper coyote. Coyotes communicate with dogs and interloper coyotes in the only way they can: by “showing” their needs, often via an antagonistic display, a series of charges and retreats, or, sometimes, a nip to the haunches. Coyotes are superb communicators — many of us who have been walking our dogs and seen this behavior “get it” — we see it for what it is. When we respect their needs, their need to communicate in this manner stops. But some communities are taking this to the next level by saying these animals must be proactively eliminated, “because they are a danger to the community”. In fact, simple precautions of leashing and knowing how to shoo off a coyote from your personal space will solve the issue without resorting to the draconian kill solution, an approach which will simply disrupt a stable resident family of coyotes and create bigger issues for their human neighbors. And, coyotes actually keep additional coyotes from entering their territories by using this communication behavior.

So-called “Bold” behavior explained: “messaging”. What I have seen is that someone in every coyote family has a stronger “position” or “duty” to keep things safe. And this is not necessarily the alpha — it could be a beta. A coyote with this behavior is the one which some communities are targeting and calling “bold” and therefore “dangerous to humans”. Many folks now know that this coyote, if killed, will soon be replaced by another — the vacated position will soon be refilled — so killing the coyote serves no real purpose in reducing the population of an area. Those in favor of lethal removal now say that what they are really trying to eliminate is the “bold” coyote. But, it is also erroneous to suppose that in killing a coyote, the “bold” behavior is what will be removed, and that a milder coyote will replace the killed one. There is no evidence or justification for this thinking. The “position” and “duty” involving taking on protective behaviors to benefit the family and its territory, will also be taken over by another coyote. That position will always be there. This is why you don’t kill what you may perceive as a “bold” coyote. So, killing neither changes the number of coyotes in a territory, nor does it eliminate the existence of a more “bold” coyote. And an additional problem with eliminating resident coyotes is that a newcomer “replacement” will have to learn, over time, what the original coyote already knew about urban living and coexistence, and the way he may learn this is through trial and error involving more encounters with people and pets, and by visiting more yards.

The only effective approach for dealing with this situation is to thoroughly educate the public about coyote behavior, and to set appropriate guidelines — including a warning always to walk away from a coyote if you have a dog — this will discourage an interaction; be prepared to effectively shoo the coyote away if it approaches into your and your dog’s personal space; and put up signs advising folks that this isn’t the best place to walk dogs at the moment. This is enough to prevent further incidents. This is what we do in San Francisco. IF this is not enough, a behavior modification program such as VEXING would be the next step.

Small pets may be seen as prey. Regarding pets as prey, again, coyotes can’t distinguish between who is your pet and who isn’t — small animals look like prey. Coyotes are not targeting your pets to take them from you in order to be aggressive, they are simply fulfilling their need to survive. Therefore, small pets need to always be kept under supervision where there is wildlife. And a tit-for-tat retribution isn’t going to solve anything. Removing a coyote, even if you get the right one, which is extremely unlikely, will not bring back your pet, nor will it prevent future unguarded pets from being taken. What will solve the issue is guarding pets and keeping them out of harm’s way, the same as you do, hopefully, as you cross the street.

Coyotes may visit yards and even come up on your porch. They are exploring, curious and looking for food, often enticed by strange and strong smells. Get rid of all food attractants and scare them off to teach them that you don’t want them there. You may have to do this a couple of times, but they will learn.

No Need To Kill Coyotes. You don’t need to kill coyotes, ever, unless they have rabies — the possibility of which is exceedingly small — or unless there is something going on beyond what I’ve described above. The rare incident between a dog and a coyote, as described above, is bound to occur on occasion, but keep in mind that, in the scheme of things, the number of these incidents is minor.

Ecology, Environmentalism, Sustainability. Again, I want to repeat what I’ve said before: The driving ethos these days is “environmentally friendly” and sustainability”. Environmentally friendly means not destroying what nature has given us — it means developing guidelines which inflict minimal or no harm on the environment: coyotes are part of our natural environment. The idea of sustainability resulted from concerns about how humans and our “needs” were altering healthy and balanced ecosystems, which was coming back to haunt all of us. It turns out that we don’t need to destroy so much — we don’t need to kill these animals, and we actually should not do so. They are part of the system and they help keep it balanced.


 Here is a clarification of the three terms, defined by me as I use them in this posting:

Shooing off/scaring a coyote. This is a method to scare a coyote away who is in your personal space or approaching your personal space or in your yard. It always involves stepping in the direction of the coyote, sometimes aggressively, to make it move. It is very straight forward: nothing more is accomplished than simply making the coyote move away. You may have to repeat this at some future point, but the coyote will soon learn that he should not approach you. A pamphlet which describes this can be found here: https://coyoteyipps.com/#jp-carousel-31191. And, IF the coyote doesn’t move, it is suggested you call it a day and leave the coyote alone — there are reasons for a coyote’s behavior that have nothing to do with the concept of “habituation”, such as pup protection.

Hazing. This also is a method of scaring coyotes away, not dissimilar from shooing a coyote away. But this is a term, as I see it, with added concomitant meanings. The premise behind this term is that “habituated” coyotes are a danger, so the goal is to re-instill fear of humans into the coyote. The expectation is that the coyote will then stay out of view. When coyotes don’t respond to this treatment as expected because they’ve become “habituated” to the scare tactic itself, this coyote now is considered, incorrectly, even more of a danger and becomes the target for lethal removal — it results in increased human fears of coyotes. Please note that coyotes do not lose their innate wariness of humans due to habituation, no matter how often they see us.

Behavior Modification, or conditioning is a method of learning which depends on rewards and punishments. It is used to modify very specific behaviors, not just that a coyote has been seen in a field. Food conditioning falls into this realm. Coyotes are rewarded for coming into your property when there is food there. If food continues to be there, they will continue to come. To break this conditioned response, first, remove all coyote attractants. If this is not enough to deter a coyote, the opposite of a reward is instituted: a punishment is offered which will deter the animal. What you specifically offer as punishment will depend on exactly what is going on. A trained animal behaviorist should be called in when this is needed. Vexing is one behaviorist’s specific methods: Vexing Explained.

Season for Confirming Territorial Claims is Now

This time of year is when single coyotes who have not yet bonded with a mate are exploring beyond their natal territories, seeking out new areas to live either because of internal drives or because they have been kicked out by their birth families. At the same time, intact mated coyote pairs and their remaining offspring with established territorial claims are on the alert to keep these intruders out.

Recently I wrote about an intruder coyote exploring an area already claimed by a coyote family. The resident coyotes’ reaction was to drive the intruder out. They did this by behaving un-welcomingly and antagonistically: chasing and intimidating by their glares, punching with their snouts and even nipping: https://coyoteyipps.com/2014/12/29/new-face-on-the-block/

People with pet dogs need to be aware that this behavior towards other coyotes may also be directed at dogs. Coyotes may be on the lookout, especially during the next few months, for any canine that they think might want to move in and claim the territory: these include highly active dogs whose owners are not close to them. Their job is to dissuade these trespassers from moving in. All incidents can be prevented by keeping dogs leashed and moving on.

Today in one of our parks, two long-time resident coyotes kept their eyes on two sets of dogs who were extremely active, not leashed, and not terribly close to their owners. In one case, a man was running with two smallish dogs which lagged far behind him. The running and generally active behavior of the dogs is what alerted the coyotes that these two dogs might not just be passing through. The coyotes at first just watched them, but soon they became anxious and agitated as revealed by their behavior: getting up, standing erect and pacing back and forth as they watched. As the two dogs and owner ran on, both coyotes bounded up to follow. As soon as the runner and dogs headed out of the coyote area, the coyotes calmed down.

In the second case, there was one unleashed dog and owner who were fairly calm physically, but not necessarily psychologically calm. The coyotes and dog could read each other and, as instinct would have it, did not like each other: all canines seem to have an antipathy for one another: foxes, coyotes, wolves and dogs.  The coyotes approached the dog within about 30 feet and there was minor but perceptible intimidation on the part of both the dog and the coyotes. I told the owner not to let his dog go after the coyotes, at which point he grabbed his dog by the collar and walked on. A human right next to a dog will dissuade coyotes from approaching.

To prevent any antagonistic incidents during this season — rare though they might be — it is very important for dog walkers to be aware of their surroundings and aware of what season it is for coyotes. When they see a coyote, they need to leash up immediately and walk on, away from the coyotes. This serves as a safety measure for both dogs and coyotes, and it is respectful of wildlife which is only following its instinctive behaviors. If a dog and coyote engage at a closer range, it can be pretty scary, because neither coyote nor dog will respond to an owner. The coyote may even message its antagonism with a nip to the dog’s haunches. If there are two coyotes, a dog may become baffled by the situation and not know what to do. The owner needs to move in and grab his dog quickly — but not if the coyote is too close to the dog and the dog is responding with bared teeth. Neither the coyote’s nor the dog’s intention is to bite the owner, but as the coyote attempts to message the dog and vice-versa, the owner could get scratched or bitten by dog or coyote. Please remember that these incidents are rare: the number of bites or scratches from coyotes to a human, usually because of this situation, amounts to about 17 a year for all of North America, whereas bites to humans from dogs sends 1000 humans to emergency rooms every single day. We all can prevent this eventuality by following simple guidelines: keep your dog leashed in a coyote area, if you see a coyote, move on and away from it, know how to shoo off a coyote if it is approaching.

Edited for clarity 1/18/2015

Dispersion in Progress — with complications

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

Imagine yourself as a young coyote in a perfect world. You live in an urban park which is ideal as a habitat — ideal beyond imagination: there are forests of trees with thick undergrowth for protection, a lake and streams with fresh water, open fields for hunting the overabundance of gophers and voles, there are snails and fruit to eat, there are dogs passing through which provide you with visual entertainment — even if some of them go after you, and you are protected by a city which encourages coexistence and does not allow trapping and killing of its urban wildlife. Pretty fantastic!

It’s true that nasty rumors and myths about coyotes spring up now and then which could result in harm to you, but most are short-lived and, more and more these days, the misinformation is brushed aside by a majority of park goers who have learned about coyote behavior and know that the sensationalist stories are all hype.

Family life, too, is ideal. You live with a father who has raised you and cared for you, and you have a sister who absolutely adores you as much as you adore her. You spend hours together, grooming each other or exuberantly playing all sorts of games you’ve invented for yourselves, such as chase and catch, tug of war, wrestling, steal the meal, jump over one another, hide and seek. Life is really a blast, and it’s been this way for the entire 16 months you’ve been alive to enjoy it, except the brief interlude immediately after Mom went missing — but you were young and  that was soon forgotten because Dad was there to carry on for you. Things would have to be really, really bad for you even to consider such a thing as leaving.

in happier times: joyfully playing with sibling, and a family outing

But life is not static: we all graduate to new levels and must go on at some point.  Life is ever-changing and change is occurring now, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of who you are. You are a young male, and any territory only has room for one adult coyote male. Dad is feeling your coming-of-age and his instincts are becoming stronger, day by day, to push you out and away from his turf.

Recently, Dad has been charging at you, coming at you like a bullet to kick or nip you. You submit always and quickly, but that isn’t enough sometimes.  More and more, you’ve been staying out of his way. You don’t join him and your sister so often, and you spend your time more and more alone. However, you have strong yearnings to be with your sister, to play with her, to exchange mutual grooming and care, after all, you are a very social creature, and family life has been an integral part of your life since birth. Recently, greetings with her have changed to include sniffing and having one’s underside sniffed — something new is going on.

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

Sister has found herself in the middle. By loving and playing with you, her brother, she’s inadvertently hindering her father, it seems. When she sees the antagonistic behavior of her father, she does her best to keep the peace, running interference, by interjecting herself between the two males to divert Dad’s attention by grooming him (Dad) or sticking her muzzle in his — and it works.  After, or even before, taking care of Dad, she approaches you with her warm and affectionate greetings, and then she plays with you wholeheartedly, and Dad seems to accept that he must let her be this way, so you still hang in there, at least for now..

even now: sister adores brother and lets him know it

sister continues to adore brother and lets him know it

We all know how this is going to end, and it is definitely heartbreaking to watch the process. The Dad’s dispersing ritual is happening more and more frequently.

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Yesterday I saw the process again — it’s in full swing.

Dad and Sis had been out foraging, and began heading off on a trek when the yearling male — her brother and his son — appeared out of the bushes. He had kept apart and away, but was very aware of them as revealed when he tried joining them on the trek, albeit tailing them at a considerable distance, possibly so as to avoid detection by Dad. There was such a pull to be with them. But the minute Dad saw him, he, Dad, launched himself in the male youngster’s direction, charging at him, punching with his snout, nipping, kicking and turning him over on his back.  

This intense attack happened in tall grasses, which prevented me from taking clear photos. At the beginning of the encounter I heard an unusual, never heard before, short throaty snarl or gnarl. It was a warning of some sort. And I don’t know if the attacker or the defender made the noise because they were partially hidden from view. Besides the gnarly snarl,  there was flailing in the grass, running off a little and more flailing in the grass. When they emerged enough for me to see them fully, Dad was walking away from male youngster, and youngster was keeping his distance from Dad but following, not fleeing. Young male desperately wanted to join sister and dad for the family trek.

Sis, who had been standing far beyond Dad, looked back to see her brother sitting beyond Dad, and came running over to him joyfully to greet him. She brushed right past Dad, straight toward her brother and these siblings engaged in a long greeting, body contact, nose and paw touches and finally grooming. Dad looked on and did nothing. Sis wasn’t taking sides, she was just being “Sis in the middle.”

When the warm sibling greetings were over, Sis ran to catch up with Dad, looking back invitingly for her brother to come along. She loves her father as she does her brother. She approached Dad and engaged in grooming him while he looked back over his shoulder, glaringly at the younger male, his son: “do not come”. But the male youngster did come, with Sis encouraging him. Sis no doubt sensed the tremendous tension between the males in her family probably without comprehending any of it, and so, possibly in an attempt to dissipate it, she dashed off as if in hot pursuit of prey, enticing the others to join her and in the process to forget their strife. It kind of worked because they now were concentrating on other things, on hunting in the forest.

Then, sirens sounded and they all howled together — was the spat over? I don’t think so. Dad then walked on, all alone, without being joined by either of the two youngsters.  That is the last I saw of him that evening. Had he lost the skirmish? Even if he had, he won’t loose the battle — he’s a five year old mature male, and his son is just a 16 month old ingenue.

Sis went off hunting, and young male was left standing on a path looking for her. Not being able to locate her, he headed off in a direction opposite from the one his father took, looking dejected as revealed by his slow pace and lowered head. But Sis must have had her brother in mind. She picked up his scent and caught up with him. There was warm body contact, nose touches and wiggles, and Sis put her paws on his back again — was she showing who was boss? Or was this just her way of showing affection — this last is what appears to be the case. It now was dark so I had to leave. I had witnessed an episode of a dispersion process, where a parent forces out a youngster from his territory.

Young Male will eventually have to leave. But I wondered if Sis would stay on the territory with Dad, or if she would go with her brother? I wondered if Dad’s attacking the male youngster would in fact have repercussions of driving out Sis as well. I’ve already seen where both youngsters now flinch in anticipation of Dad’s antagonism: the young male from being on the receiving end and Sis from simply observing it.

This dispersion process has been going on for some time — it’s recently reached a crescendo. I’ll post if things change.

Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

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