Keeping Their Secrets As Best They Can


Coyotes’ best kept secret is their pups — or at least they try to keep them a secret. If you happen to see any, it will be because the youngsters ventured beyond where their parents’ were trying so hard to keep them well hidden. The pups I know are all about two months old now here in San Francisco, as seen in the video.

And here is this family’s response to sirens: Mom, Dad, and FOUR youngsters:  Although they might not want to be seen, they don’t seem to mind being heard!!

Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please — specifically — keep your dogs away from those areas. It’s so easy to prevent stress and trauma to coyote families with new pups by leashing your dogs and keeping away. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about the existence of pups should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas with your unleashed dog. Parents will protect and defend their youngsters: why not just avoid the situation to begin with?

If a very young pup notices that s/he is being observed, s/he will run for cover.

A Little Fun With Some Alarmist Ravens

Sauntering down a street, minding his own business, until the ravens focused on him

Ravens serve as general sentinels not only for their own conspiracies, but their cries of alarm are listened to by all wild critters within hearing distance. That sentence might not make sense to a lot of people until they learn that a group of ravens can be referred to as a “conspiracy”, “an unkindness”, “a congress”, or “a constable”. A group of crows, by the way, is often referred to as a “murder” of crows. Ravens croak-up a storm when they see coyotes and often dive-bomb them to harass them out of the area. It’s a territorial thing: both of these creatures scavenge for the same type of foods, so they are competitive in this respect, but also, coyotes have the potential to grab one of the corvids itself and eat it.

So today the ravens were directing a tempest of alarmist croaks at this fella coyote as he sauntered along the sidewalk minding his own business. Most of the time coyotes flee from ravens’ harassment while dodging their sky-diving onslaughts. In this instance, this two-year old coyote decided to play along with them. The two — raven conspiracy and coyote — know each other well from many such previous engagements at this same location: you might call the two “frenemies”.  The ravens had given up their skydiving of this particular coyote long ago, they just emitted loud vocalizations and threatening territorial displays without leaving the comfort of their perches — it was a sort of pro-forma performance. And the coyote’s engagement was simply a diversion: a one-upmanship game: he engaged visually with the ravens, jumping up on his hind legs without any expectation of reaching them — they were way above a six-foot hedge.  Notice the coyote smiling and having a bit of fun. After a full six minutes, coyote walked on and ravens became quiet.

After about six minutes of diversion, he continued on his way.

You can be sure that if the ravens had kept quiet and not focused all that noise and animosity (even if it was faux animosity) on the coyote, the coyote would have walked on and hardly noticed them, but coyotes are keenly aware when they’ve become an “an object of interest” to some other creature. And, by the way, I have seen the same thing happen with some dogs. Dogs that bark at, lunge at, or even blink an evil-eye at a coyote, leashed or not, have communicated their interest — their negative interest — to the coyote. Some coyotes — each coyote behaves differently — might react to this, if not immediately, perhaps on another day, even when the dog is behaving a little more congenially. Coyotes appear to remember previous antagonisms, and one day down the line, the coyote could sneak up from behind to attempt a little retaliatory nip to the haunches of the dog. The nip is a “message”: the coyote isn’t out to “maul” the dog. He/she is simply out to “message” the dog to not mess with him/her, to move on and away. It’s another instance of oneupmanship. The humans around will read this as purely aggressive behavior, but in fact it’s more complicated and is based on previous behaviors.

It’s best to keep the peace by always keeping your distance and by preventing your dog’s barking at a coyote right from the word go: tighten your leash and drag your dog away, making it difficult for him/her to continue barking or looking at the coyote. Walking away sends a clear message to the coyote that you don’t want to engage — that the coyote is not an object of interest to you or your dog. Small dogs should be picked up as you move away from a coyote. Once a coyote gets to within just a few feet of you, you’ll have to add screams and belligerence as you move away: it’s best to move away WAY BEFORE you have to do this.

Coyote Pups: A Tragedy

Nextdoor photo sent to me by a friend. I’ll give credit to the photographer when I find out who that is.

Many “abandoned” coyote pups are “kidnapped” by caring humans who want to “save” them. Of course, coyote parents often leave their pups for a full day or two as they go off hunting, so no pups should ever be removed without monitoring for several days. But situations can be more complicated than this, and this is one of those.

The den was in a residential neighborhood, under someone’s porch. The owner sealed off the area under his porch (hopefully this was done inadvertently). When this was discovered, not for over a week, the area was unsealed and the emaciated and ill-looking, starving pups were removed for treatment, including hydration. They were then put back with warming pads under them. It is after their removal-and-return that monitoring of these pups took place, to see if the parents would return. The parents of course knew they had been taken so they had no reason to return, after all, they hadn’t been able to even get to them for a week. This information comes from our ACC and WildCare who tried to save the pups.

Since the parents did not return, the pups were then transported by an ACC volunteer to a rehabilitation facility where they both soon died. This is a tragedy because a number of people suspected there might be pups. I myself knew there were pups because Mom was lactating, but I had no way of knowing exactly where the den was, or that the porch had been sealed up. No one knowing there were pups would have gone anywhere close to the area: coyotes want their dens kept secret, and I help them keep it that way by staying away and by asking others to do the same.

Were there any signs at all about what was going on? For a month, the male had been acting like a protective father. Then, during the last week, neighbors had been complaining of the male coyote’s following them and gaping threateningly: they said he was acting intensely strange — that maybe he was sick. But he wasn’t. Coyotes are smart. This coyote knew it was humans who had sealed off the pups. He was desperate, and simply “messaging” folks with dogs to stay away so they wouldn’t cause any further damage. Animals sometimes “ask” for help: I don’t know if this happened, but I do know that few people would be able to read such a request.

It’s really important to note that when a coyote’s behavior changes, SOMETHING is going on to cause it. Unfortunately, I did not see the male during that week — only reports by others made me aware of it. This male and female have been in the area a long time, and as far as I know, they’ve always acted appropriately.

PS: I met the German Shepherd which had been followed for four blocks by the coyote: that dog barked at me threateningly. The owners made her sit to keep her from lunging at me.  I was told by her owners that she was a “guard dog”. This is precisely the type of dog, a dog protective of its owners — whether leashed or not — which is most threatening to a coyote. The coyote had a need to let this particular dog know to stay away from him and his den area. I don’t know if there had been a previous incident between the dog and the coyote, but even if there hadn’t, visual communication is acute with coyotes and the coyote could read that dog as a dangerous threat to his family. Know that it’s not the dog’s or the owners’ “fault”. These just happen to be the circumstances which clashed. If you have such a dog, you can help the situation by altering your walking route for several months, or even by altering the time you walk towards the middle of the day. There is always something humans can do to help a situation, if you care enough to help. By the same token, neither is this situation the coyote’s “fault”: he’s doing his job as all coyote fathers do — and as they have to do.

Coyote Territorial Movements: Scout’s Story

I’ve been able to keep up with a displaced coyote for the last four months. I decided to summarize what has been going on recently with her, as well as her territorial life previous to the battle which displaced her. I’ve used names here to help you keep the individuals involved sorted out.

The wanderings here were put together based solely on my visual identification of individuals in different families I’ve observed over the years, and with a couple of field cameras. I seldom use field cams because they are intrusive: coyotes know they are there. I define anything as intrusive which changes the behavior of a coyote. Coyotes look right at the cams because of course they can see them and hear them. You’ll notice that many trap-cam photos show the animals looking directly at the camera. Sometimes a coyote can only hear the camera, in which case you will get photos of the coyote (or other animal) looking up and around as he/she tries to figure out exactly what and where the sound is. Some coyotes come over and examine the cameras because they are worried about them. I know one coyote who actually “messages” his dislike to such cameras by defecating in front of them, kicking dirt, or even knocking them down! Yikes! Anyway, since I’m not seeing Scout on her territory, and I wanted to follow through on her story for at least a while, I resorted to using a couple such cameras on routes where coyotes have been seen several times. Friends have allowed me — when these coyotes have been sighted in their areas — to put up a camera very temporarily on or near their properties and I want to thank them for helping out!

These coyotes wander generally and much more than I’ve depicted here. The movements depicted here are simply to show points where they went, and when, which affected Scout’s story.

I did not observe the coyote referred to as “Wired” being captured and radio-collared on January 3rd. My observations of her begin after that. I called up the Presidio to ask about the new radio-collared coyote in Scout’s area. Within San Francisco, no coyotes are radio-collared EXCEPT those within the Presidio, so they would know about her. That’s how I have that date. She was in the general area of Scout’s territory for weeks before the territorial fight. Scout’s sudden change of behavior to constant periphery walks and patrolling hinted at what was to come, but I was unable to identify what was causing this behavior change until after the attack: then it all fell into place.

Coyotes, once you get to know them, can be identified by their faces, their general body shapes/outlines and their movements/behaviors. But in addition, very interestingly, I have found family resemblances within some families — no different from in some human families. Recognizing these family similarities has helped me find where some coyotes had once been after they moved, by going back to my previous photos of that family. Dispersed individuals often, of course, continue to change a little appearance-wise as they fill out to their adult sizes. There is a slight difference between the younger and slightly older coyote which may throw you off when attempting an exact identification — until you compare them to the previous photos you took of them and realize and confirm that indeed, they are one and the same coyote.

Scout was Queen Bee as a loner for two and a half years in her territory. The bliss of friendship and camaraderie followed and lasted five months. She was obviously as thrilled at the new situation as were her long-time observers. But it ended and she fell hard. Defeated in battle by an intruder, she lost everything, and was barely able to hold on to life itself. Even now, to stay alive, she must constantly flee from place to place, continuously looking over her shoulder. Scout’s story emphasizes how strong coyote territoriality is: they fight for and defend their turfs. Her story also speaks strongly for how extremely social coyotes are: they interact all the time — both adversely and harmoniously — and have strong family ties: they sometimes even check on family individuals over distances.

As of this posting, here are my last two sightings of Wired and Scout. Wired is seen on May 24th (three days ago) passing over the path that Scout has been taking for a week: that’s the first part of the video. Then, Scout is seen this morning passing through again: note her continual looking over her shoulder before continuing on the path: she does not want to run into Wired.

I Saw Me A Coyote This Morning, by Charles Wood

Charles was a frequent contributor to this blog until his coyote family fell apart, his dogs passed away, and he moved to New Mexico. Use the search box to find postings of his observations along with supporting photos.

I live now in Grant County New Mexico and have lived here about two years. Coyotes adapted to the Southwest long before humans existed even as a gleam in some future primate’s eye. Coyotes lived here for an incomprehensible duration of time. Human occupation of the Southwest is insignificant by comparison. To coyotes, we are the newcomers, are an upstart oddity good for nothing important. We are a nuisance neighbor at best, that even though, as a coyote may see it, we humans are possessed of a mind.

I live on the edge of Silver City proper, known for the Empire Zinc strike documented in the film Salt of the Earth. Goyahkla (Geronimo) was born not far from here, a medicine man turned warrior who was not permitted to die near the Gila. If one is inclined toward flights of imagination, then that he is still here in spirit would seem just a fact. By imagination somehow I try to get a reading upon why things here are different. At times we see a pronghorn or two grazing among the cattle on ranch land that just seems to go on for hours when we drive to El Paso. Mannie, the man who built my residence’s fence, said last week that he modified a fence for a neighbor a bit down the road. The javelina somehow regularly penetrated that neighbor’s fencing, that fencing not able to protect an inner sanctum of fruit trees from their plunder. Mannie field-engineered a solution and was pretty satisfied when telling of it. I wouldn’t have thought there were black bears here. But there are as this story shows. http://www.scdailypress.com/site/2018/11/30/bear-spotted-in-downtown/ A year or so ago it didn’t surprise me to hear that a mountain lion was shot when it came too close to a local elementary school. It did surprise me to learn that said school was not at all far from my new house. On the day I first drove up from Lordsburg off the I-10, coming upon Silver City I saw an elk munching off to the side of the road. It’s common to see mule deer, but you can live here a long time before happening upon an elk.

But coyotes? They are here and they have gobs of undeveloped land. When I first arrived, I may have seen one near my home while taking a walk. But it was gone so fast I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a local dog. My neighbor a few doors down has two lab mixes. As I walk by them with my dog they fight over who gets to rail at us from behind their four-foot chain link fence. A couple times, coming back from a walk, I saw them coming off the hills and heading for their yard. They get out. It isn’t hard. That neighbor said that once they retrieved them from the pound after being out all night. Mostly they guard their yard with its toddler, not a stretch for wolfish traditions. Those dogs can leave their yard anytime they want, but usually they don’t. Sure there are roads and traffic, but there are deer. People drive according to the posted limits and watch for dogs and deer.

But coyotes? Not much of interest for them in a human settlement, they having plenty of range to themselves. Still, I assume they are out there. When I walk in the hills near my home, I keep my dog leashed, a two-ish red heeler, an Australian cattle dog mix. That breed has some dingo in it, and to me, it shows. Skittish, food is his mantra, but he doesn’t recognize food on the hoof. A rabbit is a curiosity and it doesn’t occur to Hunter to chase it. He’s on his leash any-hoo. He isn’t going to get to chase anything. But scent? Lord. Anything who brushed a particular branch of a shrub, Hunter sniffs it with focused precision. A deer who scratched herself on a sapling, that he studies. Last night, we went out front to the abutting hillside so that he could do his duty. His nose wouldn’t let him bother with such, he was alert and ready to chase down the hill into the darkness. I wouldn’t go. We turned and went to the civilized side of my street, and went inside. I’ve learned to notice things. I try to pay attention.

For instance. One midnight I took him out front and, as I approached my front yard gate, a ferret type creature went from shrub to tree in an instant. Then I heard some awful hollering as two excited raccoons quickly came across the street from the hill. They continued down the dirt street which separates my house from my neighbor’s. I was still inside my front yard’s fence. Then a crow flew over low and slow and let out a low throaty burst. I thought “Something isn’t right here” as I impatiently opened my front gate. A cat then ran from under my car parked beside my fence. Then a lone deer fled from its station down the dirt street a little. I turned around, shut the gate behind me and went back inside. Nobody out there was settled and I took the hint. I didn’t need to know what was out there, none of my business.

So last night when Hunter wanted to rock and roll down that uncivilized incline, I turned around and went back inside. If I don’t see why he alerts, he doesn’t get to go and depending, I go somewhere else. We’re learning caution. I don’t know if a coyote recently rubbed against one of Hunter’s shrubs or not. None of my business and none of his business and that’s that.

But this morning. Down the incline and onto our dirt path, I saw the coyote on a path perpendicular to our line of travel. It was holding still, had seen us first from perhaps 70 yards away. The morning sun blazed it’s straw-brown colors in brilliance. It was a healthy coyote in the prime of life. I stopped immediately and bent toward it with my head protruding out. It saw that and in reply trotted forward about three or four steps. It stopped and watched, waiting for our next move. I looked again and we made eye contact. I turned around. I straightened up. Hunter didn’t see it at all. There are several paths through the low grass, shrubs, juniper saplings, and weeds. I certainly wasn’t going to walk parallel with the coyote, such a move would be aggressive. I turned around and went in the direction from which I came. The coyote knew l was giving it room enough to go anywhere except to follow. It didn’t. I checked. Why would it follow a nuisance newcomer species with a four-legged runner companion trampling around in the weeds? Such a sight is discordant. It was a coyote in its prime and therefore wasn’t about wasting its own time. Hold still, trot thrice when spotted, and look for the nuisance’s next move. It’s a dance well-choreographed by time immemorial. Only the young don’t know the steps.

I could let my dog off leash here. There’s plenty of spaces without people and dogs. A few years ago, living in Long Beach, where with Janet’s help I learned to better understand coyotes, I learned that having a dog off-leash feeds a fantasy of a kind of freedom that doesn’t exist in nature. We are the species that seems not to obey time honored rules. By their minded motions, those other creatures seem to have a good understanding of all that much our modern mind has lost. We can re-learn, we can be rehabilitated.

We must learn. There’s a long-passed medicine man out there in the hills, and there within all life, life-the-minded-ones, her spirit is on the wind, and right beside us too. Nature is a hard comfort made possible only by a love that despite everything binds all ones to another. We collectively need now more than ever to listen and follow such examples. For where there is love, there can exist no anger. Somewhere of Arizona I heard it said that wild donkeys at dawn file into a small town. Each wild donkey takes a corner as its own. Each gets petted and fed carrots and apples during the day, ever happy to greet a stranger and receive a blessing for giving one. And as dusk comes, they all leave their corners to file out of town and traipse back into their hills. Those hills are inside us and speak to us in the dreams we have at night, and speak to us in the silence we often fill with all our parroted and ineffectual chatter. I may make it to that town, and if I do, I hope I remember to not speak one word, to instead let it build inside me until that spirit is palpable, for in that substantiality of spirit, healing is found, a memory of what I was before time began, and what I shall be in eternity.

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!

 

Inbreeding: An Example in San Francisco

I’ve been documenting this family, on the same territory, for over eleven years now.

When this fella turned four, he and his mother (her first mate having been killed by rat poison several years before) produced four pups, three of whom survived to adulthood. By fall of that year, his mother-turned-mate disappeared, possibly killed by a car. So their one daughter then became the fella’s mate the following year: i.e., this mated pair are 1/2 siblings sharing the same mother, and he is her father. Yikes! Of the four litters they have produced over the last four years, only one female has survived to full adulthood. You might want to read about inbreeding depression. The consequences of inbreeding include lower fertility, higher infant mortality, higher susceptibility to diseases and parasites, and generally weakened systems.

Coyotes returned to San Francisco in 2002. There were only a handful of coyotes early on. It is very likely there may have been inbreeding in the population here prior to the time I began documenting this family.


Photos of the evolving inbred family

In 2008 the territorial family consisted of Mom, Dad, and one pup who I simply called “Yearling”. This was the first family unit I ever documented. A year later, this same mated pair had a second litter.


Mom and Dad’s second litter consisted of two males. Within weeks of their birth, Dad was killed by rat poison, leaving Mom single. She and her two male pups, Bruno and Silver, formed a tight-knit family which always did things together, but the male siblings who began as best friends eventually turned into arch-enemies, with the stronger-willed Silver driving his brother out: it appeared they were rivals and jealous for their mother’s attention and affection. If their father had been around, both males would have been driven out, preventing what then happened.

Mom


When Silver turned four years of age in 2013, he and Mom produced four offspring: mother and son had become a mated pair. This was the first inbred litter I documented.

One of their pups died as an infant leaving three. Then one male, Acorn was harshly dispersed at 9 months of age. That left two offspring, Chert [female] and Gumnut [male] who remained with their parents until one day in early November in the year of their birth, Mom suddenly vanished, possibly hit by a car. So now these two youngsters, Chert and Gumnut, began living with only their father Silver, (who was also their 1/2 brother), on the territory.

Siblings Chert and Gumnut became BFF — extreme buddies who played together and groomed each other constantly — from all appearances, they were destined to become a pair.

But Chert was the only female around and her father decided she would be his next mate. For months he tried driving off Gumnut who wouldn’t leave. And Chert was definitely bonded to Gumnut, making Silver’s task extremely difficult.


Silver (right) is Chert’s 1/2 brother and her father. Their reproductive success has been very low.

Silver and Chert (who is Silver’s daughter and 1/2 sister) become a pair. When Chert is two years old, she produces a litter: now the close inbreeding has been doubled. There is only one pup, Scout.

In the summer after Scout was born, Silver finally forces Gumnut (his son and 1/2 brother) to leave. [There actually is a chance that Gumnut could have fathered Scout. Scout adored Gumnut and vice-versa, but Silver’s domination and put downs would have been hard to get around — Silver perpetually physically placed himself between Scout and Gumnut to keep them apart. Scat DNA, which is all we have, is only able to identify the maternal lines.]

Litters have been born every year for four years to Silver and Chert, but no pups ever survived except Scout from their first litter. Scout is the only one.


I hope the genealogy is clear here. If you have questions, please send them in a comment (can be kept private). For a couple of short easy-to-read articles about inbreeding see these two articles: https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/101201_panthers and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4231599/

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