It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.


Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

Coyote Partner, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet. Wanted to send you a pic of Hank. He’s a semi retired LGD who now spends time with dwarf goats and truck rides into town. He’s a PYR/Maremma cross of 9 years.

In his youth, he ranged huge distances with his 3 brothers, keeping coyote respectful. He fought cougar and bear in protecting the sheep herds.

As his brothers passed, and he no longer could keep up in the land, he was placed in a easier setting. And enjoys himself immensely.

Also, Hank is a partner to a territorial pair of coyote. They don’t bother his goats. And respect his area. He tolerates them as they pass and range around him.

The partnership has developed in that these coyote through the years, have had to contend and see off competing nomads. Territorial integrity is of huge importance to a pair of coyote. It literally can mean life and they take it seriously. So when a serious contender comes in, it can mean intense vicious battles, or weeks of cat and mouse tactics. Its exhausting and many coyote just can’t face the challenge of keeping territory.

This pair can. They have combined teamwork, the land, and utilized Hank, to do so.

When serious challengers arise, this pair of coyote drive the intruder into a draw/dip in the hills. There is a ledge above this, and they harass the intruder into hunkering down into the dip. Pinning down the trespasser they are extremely vocal.

This is when Hank joins in. He will lumber up the hills, then swiftly stalk in. Literally, the coyote hold their foe in place while allowing Hank to rush in unseen by the stranger. At last moment and in cue, the pair step aside and Hank completes his ambush.

I’ve watched the videos of this unravel, and 4 of the 5 intruders didn’t escape. It’s very fast. And the pair of territorial coyote watch the whole thing while marking and calling.

It’s clear there are worlds within worlds in the lives of animals. And the LGD/coyote interactions are not always the same. Dynamics and Knowledge and Familiarity can write whole new chapters.

It’s not common or easy to see coyote demise by LGD. But at the same time, it’s obvious some coyote thrive alongside them.

And some pairs, obviously can utilize the LGD.

Hank has become a partner, or tool, of this pair of coyote.

Some coyote are VERY serious about territory.

In all their shades, I watch.

Lou

PS: Hi Janet, I have found that most ranch dogs and coyotes develop at the very least, respectful relationships. Hunting dogs usually don’t abide by the same rules or instincts. And sometimes coyote become aggressive (usually after continued harassment) But most ranch dogs are very pragmatic and most coyote are survival minded.

LGD develop into impressive guards, patrollers and territory holders. But ironically, they can be laid back and rather slow. The bottom dollar is don’t harass my herd or violate my territory or space blatantly. Territorial coyote pairs or packs usually know local LGD very well and vice versa. Especially a pack of 3 or more LGD. They respect them and fear them. This pair which utilize Hanks territoriality seems unique, but nothing surprises me with coyote. Locally they adapt to conditions. And create solutions.

Canine Chess, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Gypsy Coyotes Continue Their Peregrinations

Some coyote individuals compromise their reclusiveness and wariness when food is around: they are opportunists after all, and what comes easy they’ll latch onto. However, pups are not something they are willing to compromise for: pups are coyotes’ biggest kept secret.

Two years ago, this coyote pair raised pups here in one of SF’s smaller parks. The coyotes had been tamed by feeders who not only fed them, but befriended them to the degree that the coyotes would wait around at the park entrance for handouts, as close as 5 feet or even less from people and their mostly leashed dogs. But unleashed dogs went chasing after the coyotes on a regular basis, making the coyotes very uncomfortable. The pups of course were kept totally secret, but I suppose dogs and people came close enough, often enough, to the secret den so that Mom decided she didn’t want to repeat the stressful experience.

The pair played like youngsters at dusk, while the youngsters remained secretly hidden from dogs and people — this was in 2017, when few folks saw or knew about any pups in the area. Notwithstanding, the adults were pursued by dogs regularly.

So last year these parents left that park for the duration of the pupping season, in spite of the plentiful supply of food there. They ended up raising their family at another, even smaller, but much more secluded location, where there were fewer dogs and fewer intrusive people. The problem with the new location was that it began being hugely developed and cleared for building purposes, and its diminished natural area became too small to accommodate the family.

So at about the age of six months, the youngsters began navigating back and forth, at night, between this smaller location and the “feeding/dog” park, making it obvious that this family claimed both areas — about a mile apart. Theirs was what is known as a “fragmented” territory.

But there at the old park, the number of incidents of unleashed dogs chasing and attacking coyotes grew, to the point of leaving coyote adults and pups with leg injuries. Some people felt entitled to not leash their dogs and went so far as to claim that the coyotes were playing with their dogs — that the coyotes “liked” being chased by dogs. In addition to the menacing dogs, other coyotes began appearing at that park in the middle of the night, so by the end of the year, we suddenly began to hear territorial fights between the resident coyotes and interloper coyotes at night. The territory would obviously not do as a pupping area for next year’s litter.

Last year’s litter were kept secret at first

This was the situation when, again, the coyotes picked up and left in January of this year.

Their exit, as in the previous year, was orchestrated by Mom. For months before their departure, she was the one who went out each evening, traveling far and wide, mostly alone, but sometimes with her mate, surveying for a more suitable location for her next litter. When she found the right spot, she returned to gather her mate, and with one yearling in tow, off the trio went, traveling through some of the same open spaces they had been through the year before — spending about two weeks at several of these — before packing off to the next temporary 2-week place.

The one yearling they brought with them.

Finally, they settled down, a full 5 miles from their previous two pupping haunts, but still within the City of San Francisco. This is where it appears they will stay to have their pups this year, due in only a few weeks. Human fast-food toss-offs can be found even in this new location, but best of all: dogs are not an issue here since there aren’t any, and humans give them the respected space they need to live more natural lives. It’s not as easy as you might have imagined being an urban coyote.

The expectant parents, Dad grooms Mom

Moving Around

Maybe you’ve been noticing coyotes where you haven’t seen them before? Or maybe you haven’t been seeing them where sometimes you did? These are the same coyotes. There aren’t suddenly more of them right now, even though it might APPEAR so when they appear in never-before-seen areas. Those I observe have recently been spending less time where they were, and more time roving. They aren’t just wandering aimlessly about: they have purpose to their gait, and intent to their direction. Here is a gallery of travels as I’ve recorded some of them. In this casual gallery, I’ve included photos of a red dawn, a red dusk, and a rainbow which I captured during my recent outings. [The rainbow photo has been enhanced with the “saturation” button — a rainbow is never as brilliant as this, but the dawn and dusk photos have not — the sky really looked like this!]

What are the coyotes actually doing? Those who have left home are searching for new areas for themselves at the same time that they are being driven away by established resident coyotes with territories: they are having a hard time. The resident coyotes, on the other hand, are getting things in order for the next big event of the year: pupping season is just down the road. They are surveying every nook and cranny of their vast homesteads for safety from other coyotes and from dogs and people, they are checking out the food supply, and they are scouting-out the safest den sites in out-of-the-way places where they can hide their precious new arrivals for many months. Pups are one of their best-kept secrets. I make it a point to stay far away from any area where I know there might be a den — this is what coyotes want or they wouldn’t take pains to hide their youngsters so well.

So lately I have been seeing them fleetingly and on the move in a variety of novel places. Folks have recently reported that they’ve spotted coyotes in their yards or even on their porches, or down the street where they hadn’t seen them before.

If you see coyotes where you haven’t before, know that this is normal behavior. Coyotes are regularly in the surrounding neighborhoods of our various city parks, and sometimes, as now, there appears to be somewhat of a spate of such activity. They are not coming after you. It’s not an invasion. They are simply minding their own agendas which have nothing to do with us. Please make sure to continue keeping your distance from them, and always walk away from them, especially if you are walking your dog [see “How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer” for more on this]. It’s best not to let pets wander freely or unsupervised, and if you don’t want coyotes repeatedly visiting your yard, please remove all food sources!

Sibling Best Friends Become Arch Enemies

I missed capturing the first skirmish in this battle, and when I finally turned on the video camera, the three coyotes were in a standoff — standing absolutely still, facing each other, tense, waiting, daring an interaction, prepared for the other’s next move. There was no physical activity during this time; the activity was all psychological and internal. They held this stance for many minutes. I cut out that long section from the video, but know that for several minutes before this video begins, that was going on. The video actually begins right before a snarl that leads to more fighting.

On reflection and with hindsight, all the activity of that early morning was headed in the direction of this showdown. Instead of their normally exuberant playing, exploring and hunting, the two coyotes I was observing in the video remained fairly immobile, with their eyes fixated on a far-off object which I could not see. That they remained this way for more than 15 minutes, with just slight movements, should have been a dead giveaway as to what was going on. These two were waiting for any false move or “moving in” from the coyote they were watching. And that coyote, no doubt, was watching them just as intently, assessing what his own next moves would be, and what theirs would be, possibly daring the situation into a showdown.

Finally the two rushed up apparently to head off the third coyote who decided to enter this area, and that’s when the first skirmish occurred.

The fighting here includes snarling, teeth displays, raised hackles, intense biting and punching, jumping on, charging and slamming against, and brutal tail-pulling by two siblings, a brother and a sister who joins him, against a third brother who cries out in pain (about :44) and fights back, but who ends up running off after the showdown. The sister’s behavior is interesting and I’ve seen this before: a subordinate coyote joins in the fray led by an aggressor in ferociously attacking a third. In a couple of cases it made sense because there had been a bit of antagonism between the two subordinates, but I’m not sure this is always the case. Maybe the sister was primed instinctually to team up with the would-be-winner as a population control mechanism? I’m speculating because I don’t totally understand this why a third would join in.

This fighting is not a simple family spat to resolve who gets what or who sits where: those issues are worked out by hierarchical behavior which is less intense. This fighting here, in its consequences, will decide fates and destinies that will be monumental for the lives involved. It will decide who gets to live a privileged continuance of patterns and routines he has known all his life and within a territory which he knows every inch of, and who will be put at risk for hardship, survival and even death by traveling away from the familiar and into the unknown through hostile territory (with unfamiliar routes, cars, other territorial coyotes, people), where food and water also will be scarce and hard to find.

That’s the physical side of what’s going on, but there’s also an emotional side: that of finding oneself all alone and self-dependent after a life of intense family interactions, companionship, and mutual care. Dispersal can be a trying time, and it is often initiated like in this video. This rivalry here hasn’t been going on for too long — these fellas were still buddies less than a month ago. The rivalry has reached a crescendo now. Hopefully the underdog is resilient and lucky and will survive and become a stronger individual through his uncharted trials.

Already the siblings in this family are down to three from seven. One was killed by a car when under a year old. Two were found dehydrated and beyond help (I’m told by ACC), probably poisoned by some human element — possibly car coolant left out in the open. A fourth female recently picked up and left amicably of her own accord. She was the one who had always held back and was not totally a part of the fun of the others.

And now it appears that this brother has to go: there’s no room in one territory for the two males, and the remaining sister has taken sides. Eventually these last two siblings will also leave, and I wonder if they will go off as a pair: I’ve seen that inbreeding is not so uncommon in coyotes. Because of dispersion, we are not overpopulated with coyotes. At this point, these particular yearlings are 16 months old.

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]

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