Howls and Listens

First there were sirens. Coyotes often respond to fire-engine or ambulance sirens. This older alpha male responded with howls as you hear here.

Then he stopped and listened. This is the part that’s most interesting to me: the listening. His family was responding to him. Notice him cocking and turning his head as he listens intently, trying to catch every meaningful sound in the reply howls of various family members — they are in the far distance, but you actually can hear them in the video.

His family consists of his mate and two of his mate’s yearling offspring. He himself joined the family only a year ago, shortly after the then-alpha-male died.

He was listening for WHO in his family was responding and where they were — each coyote has his own distinctive signature howl that includes a certain voice and pattern — I myself can distinguish some of these, and of course he would be able to discern their locations. Also, though, he was picking up on everything else being conveyed in their vocal responses conveyed by duration, tone, urgency or lack thereof, etc: there’s a lot of information there that we humans have not learned to decipher. Most of it, I believe, is emotional states. After discerning what he wanted to know, he then belted out his own long reply.

I have a whole page on vocalizations if you want to delve deeper: Coyote Voicings.

When he began kicking the dirt — a usually angry reaction — I turned around to see what had prompted him to do that. A walker and his dog had stopped close to me to listen, and the coyote appeared to be reacting negatively to that presence. Coyote often react to dogs and even intrusive photographers in this manner.

When the vocalizations stopped, the dog and owner walked on, and the coyote went in the direction of the howls he had solicited.

Coyote Denning Communication to Dogs

I’m reposting this from my Instagram account because it’s important for people to know that a coyote protecting a den area, though indeed this might be scary, does not constitute an “aggressive” coyote.

Neither dog nor owner saw the coyote hidden in the tall grasses — they were just walking along a pathway as usual. But in fact, without knowing it, they were encroaching.

This mother coyote walked slowly up to the dog to message that dog to leave. Notice everything about her: tucked-in tail, hackles (fur on her upper back) up, teeth bared with lips pulled back, wrinkled snarly snout, and direct gaze: this is how she firmly messages her need, and the need is for the dog to go away. It’s a clear communication, telling the dog not to enter or come closer to this area, to turn around and go. In addition, she or her mate may follow you as you leave — she’s basically escorting you out of the area. It’s best to keep going away from her — she’ll soon stop following. But always keep your eye on her — if she comes critically close, you’ll need to firmly scare her away: the best way to do this is to have a small stone (2″) in hand and toss it angrily at her feet, without hitting her ever. You are intimidating her to back off as you do the same thing.

Please don’t read her behavior as aggression or as an attack. You and your dog are the ones coming too close — you, in effect, are provoking her, even though you may have done so unknowingly.

It’s her denning area: coyotes may protect up to about 1/4 of a mile around their actual birthing den. All you have to do is turn and go the other way. Also, make a mental note that this is a denning area and that it might be smart to stay away from it for awhile. Denning signs have been put out at many of the sites — but not all — asking you to stay away. There are plenty of other paths you can take for the next little while. After the dog left, mama coyote lay down on the path, in effect closing off that path from further encroachment for the moment! Pretty spunky coyote!

In a non-urban setting, she would have chosen a more remote area to den in, but in the city there are now few places which remain remote from people and their dogs.

Below is a more intense version of the same thing: It is intense, persistent and insistent — this is what makes it scary to us. But this is NOT an “attack”: note that when coyotes hunt or want to attack, they go in directly without this kind of messaging. Instead, here, the coyote is trying to herd you away from the area and herself. Please, especially during denning season, shorten your leash and walk directly away from a coyote whenever you merely see one. You can eliminate stress for both yourself and the coyote by doing so. I’ve had to watermark these photos so they won’t be used out of context.

And below are two videos showing this behavior of coyotes towards dogs:

Please note that coyotes use their teeth, mouths and body language constantly to communicate, even when playing, as here. This is the equipment they have for such communication.

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

Sparks’ Presidio Family: an Update

Sparks, three-year-old, defending the denning area in the Presidio

For those of you who are interested and have followed his story, Sparks, who had recently been living as a loner in and about the Presidio, has succeeded in integrating himself into the established resident family of coyotes there! He is even behaving like the alpha male, so he may have taken Puff’s, the Presidio’s previous alpha male’s, place. I don’t know this for sure yet, but it’s highly likely, judging by his behavior and that I have not seen Puff. If Puff still is around, then Sparks, a three-year-old male outsider, somehow has become accepted as an integral beta family member. I need to see more interactions to know the exact situation — these coyotes have been particularly elusive. I will edit with an update when I find out.

Here is a brief summary of Sparks’ story, with links if you want to dive deeper:

Sparks was one of a litter of five — one female, four males — born in Glen Canyon in 2019. The siblings were particularly tight, and when Sparks had his first arm injury — this was the right arm and probably just a severe sprain — they helped him to safety when dogs appeared closeby. He had a special affectionate bond with his sister, and the two of them together began their first dispersal foray to Golden Gate Heights Park when they were exactly one year old.

Two months later, his sister returned to Glen Canyon where she remained with her birth family, and Sparks appeared in the Presidio which already had an established alpha pair of coyotes. It was not long before I saw him with another leg injury — an actually broken forearm — the left one this time. He left the Presidio on that broken arm and returned to a backyard in Golden Gate Heights, three miles away, where he remained for three weeks until exactly August 14th — that’s when he was last seen there — nursed by a couple of Good Samaritan neighbors. He was now into his seventh month of dispersal.

Left: Wired, the Presidio alpha female for the last 3 years; Right: Puff, the Presidio’s alpha male beginning three years ago who I’m not seeing lately. His absence would mean Sparks is the alpha male.

He reappeared in the Presidio on August 15th, 2020. And then I lost track of him for six months, only to suddenly be surprised by his appearance in North Beach (see above link) a month later in September, when I was updating myself on those resident coyotes. He was now 17 months old and still recovering from the broken left forearm — still limping severely. I’ve always thought that his weakened condition is what helped other coyotes accept him into their fold. For two weeks he stayed with the North Beach family, and I saw a lot of affection and banter between him and Cai2, the (at the time) three-year-old alpha female there, but I never saw him interact with Stumpf, the alpha male. By the way, the Cai2 is the littermate sister of the Presidio’s Puff, born in 2017 in North Beach to the previous North Beach alphas — they are five years old as of this writing.

Sparks’ dispersal in 2020

After this North Beach interlude, Sparks headed back to the Presidio, still with a strong limp, where I have spotted him regularly ever since: this now is his home. At first, I never saw him interact with the resident Presidio family. He seemed to exist around them, and possibly was allowed to stay due to his injured arm — he limped severely for a long time, and even has residues of that limp nowadays — which may have rendered him non-threatening to the resident coyotes. Be that as it may, in January 2021 he was seen being chased out of the Presidio by Puff a number of times — that was the beginning of the breeding season — but Sparks didn’t leave. Wired and Puff, the resident pair, had their second litter that year with Sparks hanging out not far away. That may be when the relationship began changing.

I stopped observing the Presidio coyotes for over a year — there were too many other territories for me to keep up with — but I returned last week, the first week of July, 2022 to update myself on the situation there.

Of highest interest, as stated above, is that Sparks, who is 3.5-years-old now, is acting as though he were the alpha male in the Presidio: defending the den site, babysitting the youngsters of which there are two (apparently there were three but one died, according to the Presidio ecologist), and leading the one family rendezvous that I saw, which included a yearling female and the two pups. Absent from the rendezvous were alpha female/mom Wired, and Puff. There are other yearlings in the Presidio, but they were not involved in this rendezvous. Wired can sometimes be seen sunning herself at the denning site during daylight hours. Is Puff still around? As I said, if he isn’t, Sparks will have taken his place and would be the current alpha male. If he is still around, we’ll know that he was accepted into the family as a beta male to help out by guarding, babysitting, and defending the territory if it ever came to that. But whatever the situation, Sparks is now totally integrated into the situation: this is, somehow, HIS family. Below is a video of the rendezvous of a few days ago:

So the current Presidio family consists of Sparks, Wired, two pups and a yearling daughter. There’s also another male who I call “LowKey” who has come into the denning area, but hangs out more on the periphery: I don’t know his position in the family yet. And there are a number of yearlings who may still be using the Presidio as their base, but don’t hang around the den site.

Two pups born this year (left and middle) and a female yearling (right), all are Wired’s offspring. The yearling would have been fathered by Puff, but what about the two pups?

[press on any of the images to enlarge it and scroll through each row]

Left: Sparks is acting like the alpha male as he guards the area. Center: Wired has been and continues to be mom — she’s on her third litter since moving into the Presidio and becoming the alpha female thre. Right: This fella who I call “LowKey” hangs out on the outskirts of the denning area, he’s at least two years old and is somehow also associated with the denning family. In some ways, he looks like Sparks, and may be genetically related.

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

Territories: Closer Quarters in San Francisco

The territories I’ve mapped here in San Francisco — just under 20 of them — have all encompassed large parks, or fragments of various smaller parks. You can see the map and read about my methods here. These territory sizes and configurations have, with minor exceptions, remained incredibly stable, some for 20 years from the time coyotes first re-appeared here in San Francisco in 2002, and some newer ones I became aware of in 2014, since that time.

Each territory has always harboured one family: mom, dad, possibly one or two yearlings born within the previous two years, and any pups born within the year (always in March/April). All except the alpha parents eventually disperse so that the territory remains in control of just one breeding parent pair, the same pair usually, over many years. Eventually, absolute newcomers or even offspring of these territorial parents, have taken over the territories no longer defendable by the aging alphas, who also may just pick up and leave — in either case, the territory remains in the hands of one mated pair of coyotes and eventually their offspring. There have been minor variations to this prototype, such as a family of three siblings who remained on a territory after their parents disappeared.

This, with just a few deviations, is the standard I’ve been seeing as long as I’ve been documenting them. However, more recently, over the last couple of years, I’ve seen some bigger variations pop up.

For example, in three of the territories during the last two years, not only the alpha female, but also a much younger two-year-old female — a daughter of the alpha female in one case, and likely the same situation in the others — both produced offspring, apparently sired by the same alpha male. I don’t know if this is a trend, an anomaly, or a simple standard variation that only now is occurring.

Another change: an entrenched family spatially expanded their territory up to and onto the border of another, so that actually two standard coyote families are now denning in the same large park, although in separate and exclusive territories — 1/5th of a mile apart — and both families had pups.

Another example occurred three years ago when a yearling male dispersed from Glen Canyon into a border of the Presidio and made this his permanent home. He was recovering from a broken arm when he first moved there, and possibly that’s why the resident coyote pair allowed him to stay there. Now he appears to be an integral, though non-related — member of the family. He has either moved into the alpha male position, or he simply helps guard and babysit the new litter, and is there for them at their evening rendezvous when the parent/s are not.

So these examples point to closer-than-seen-before living quarters for the coyotes. Is this because the territorial market is saturated? Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?? A couple of years ago I saw a temporary reconfiguration of three separate family territories into just one owned by one of the three families for over a year. The other families had members die or simply disappeared from my radar possibly from old age, but now, again, it is divided into three separate territories and owned by three separate families.

And here’s more. Until recently, with the exception of a few dispersing youngsters who’ve never hung around for long, the coyotes I’ve seen in the neighborhoods have been those that owned the adjacent or nearby parks, be they large parks or a series of fragmented parks. But now I’m seeing that this is not always the case, whereby more coyotes over the last few years have been carving out territories in the interstices between the fairly stable park-centered territories. These have sprung up within our residential neighborhoods, especially those with plenty of small garden plots or small plots of denser shrubbery, or with a large lawn nearby such as Dolores Park, or barren hills such as Hawk Hill and Turtle Hill. When you see a coyote — and it’s always the same coyote — trekking regularly on the same peripheral route daily, or twice daily, for more than a couple of months, it’s probably an indication that they are claiming/defining the territory.

An example of a fairly newly carved territory involves the small, young female coyote depicted below. She does not “return” to any of the territorial parks I’ve mapped, and anyway she doesn’t belong to the families in those parks. I don’t know where she came from — I’m not able to keep up with all dispersals and origins. Her main area encompasses a handful of square blocks, some with and some without abundant street plantings to help conceal her. She covers this terrain twice a day — sometimes more often — stopping routinely at her known food sources, marking along the way, and taking in who is around (in terms of people, dogs, wildlife) and what is happening: she’s been doing this for at least three months that I have seen and possibly, from what I’ve hear, for almost a year. I and others have spotted her as far away from this main area as a mile, which would encompass a large enough space to be a territory.

Intermittently a larger male coyote has been seen alone and even apparently with her in the same area. I thought he was a dispersing youngster, but if others have seen him around, then maybe a relationship is brewing?? Be that as it may, she did not produce pups this year. Maybe this male is a suitor who will be moving in?? I’ve added his photos at the bottom.

The two photos below are of her occasional male friend.

Coyote Collie Mix Ups, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet, 

Three years ago a rancher had some issues with a coyote raiding lambs. A few weeks earlier someone had hunted with Staghounds and got 2 male coyote.

Bereft of supporting pack the female had pups. It was a very dry, poor area. Sheep had grazed the land to short grass, so rodents were minimal. Likely she had little choice to supply a litter of pups alone. So took what was available. Lambs.

Unfortunately she was hunted and the rancher was told she was lactating. He felt very upset thinking of pups starving so set out den scouting. After 5 hours..his dogs found 2 pups in a den. 

Lassie and Lobolito were female and male and about 2 weeks. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy them…so he put them in with a week old litter of border collies he had.

They were fully adopted by the mother and 6 other ranch collies. He minimized his contact with them and since he owns 7,000 acres allowed them to start ranging and becoming independent. By 4 months they were living in some woods near ranch. He gave them vaccines and let them become gradually wild.

Lobolito the male by 4 months went independent and scorned anything to do with ranch. Lassie..however…continued visiting the dogs. 

She grew up…wild to all humans except the Rancher and rejects dogs…except his border collies. She “owns” the ranch property but also rejects..other coyote! Now 3, past 2 years she has courted an older collie in January and February. He won’t let them breed because he wisely doesn’t want border collie x coyote crosses all over. Too smart!

Lassie knows his horse and the dogs and will come down to visit when they are out. [One of the dogs actually grooms and tends to her when they visit!]

She chases out ANY coyote very aggressively. She does not bother livestock and there are songbirds now in great number because she clears area of feral cats.

This spring he has border collie pups, and Lassie has several times come in and regurgitated piles of voles and mice to collie litter. Her “sister” is the mother. We suppose Lassie is being a good auntie. 

Just another example that coyote are extremely variable. He competes in sheepdog trials and jokes of bringing Lassie in for competition. 

Lou

Slim Jim Update, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet,

Just a portion of the nursery herd

These are just a portion of the nursery herd cows and calves on a local ranch. They have been moved to summer ranges and the grass is still lush, green and thick from record spring rains. This not only means rich grazing…but thousands upon thousands of mice, voles, moles and grasshoppers are literally everywhere. You feel and see scurrying or hopping with every step.

I can describe all this as I patrol these ranges. But Slim Jim the elderly male coyote..must simply have felt it. And returned.

For the past few weeks…Slim Jim has pup-sat and lived here with daughter and her mate. He then left them as the 2 pups started foraging with parents. Kinky Tail daughter rules this area and Slim obviously doesn’t feel tied here.

Last update [Slim Jim’s Bigger Picture] he had somehow amazingly joined his yearling daughter, her mate and two pups. The bison he walked with had newborns. New Moms perhaps made it risky for old blind Slim. How he joined his daughter 8 miles away we don’t know.

We joke that Slim Jim can read. He went to land off limits to hunting or public access.

We thought this was his last move. He was a very tired pup sitter. The pups have been moved several times by Kinky Tail mom. And are now hunting grasshoppers and mice themselves. This move…seemed to allow Slim to make his own choice. 

Ancient Slim Jim. He’s actually a Big Fella. We thought he was smaller — he was always so tattered and slinky. But..he now seems to have lost the slink, and meanders slowly and stately near or among bison especially at night. He’s safe. And shocking us all with his choices and endurance. 

He left the rocky (but hot) sanctuary to return to bison herds. The calves are bigger and the cows pay Slim no heed as he noses about and munches the rodents and grasshoppers they flush up while grazing. They graze. He feeds. Side by side. You can’t really even see him at times among the bulky bison. 

Mostly blind. Tattered. Very very worn. But quite happy. Slim Jim is very full. Sleeps long among cottonwoods. And slowly walks among bison.

He made the choice and must have known…old haunts and bison and grasslands and feeding, were better for him then rocky hot haunts his family are at for now.

I thought the rocks were his last move. But sweet grass and bison herds..obviously are his preference. He was tossing sticks and mice today. Still playful and enjoying life.

Take care. 

Lou

Observations on Coyote Ecology: impact, use, interactions, & movement in the environment

PREFACE: I’ve been watching and writing about coyote behavior — their individual behaviors, their family life, and their interactions with people and pets — for the last 15 years, here in San Francisco: I’m interested in finding out WHO each one is as an individual — in the process, I’ve seen their relationship to, and interactions with, the environment, i.e., their ecology and the root of their behaviors stemming to a great extent from their diet habits and territorial imperatives within that ecology. What I write here is purely based on my own first-hand visual observations over an extended period of time, without scientific measuring devices. There’s a short summary of key insights at the end if you don’t want to wade through this long writeup!

PEOPLE: Before I begin about the coyotes themselves, I want to state that, as far as I have seen, the biggest impact caused by coyotes’ return to San Francisco has been on the interface with people and their dogs: on people’s perceptions and the social amplifications of fear engendered by coyote presence. Some of it is profoundly and vocally negative, but a lot of it is very positive: we have many people in San Francisco who are thrilled to have wildlife, including coyotes, around. It’s a constant and often heated source of exchanges online in the NextDoor chat-group. The negative impact is heaviest on those who are unwilling to roll with the punches and slightly change their behaviors.

Coyotes are territorial and therefore keep other coyotes out of their claimed areas, and they do the same with dogs. Coyotes will “message” dogs insistently with scary gaping and an arched back, and sometimes charges and a cattle-dog-fashion nip to the hind quarters to get the dog to leave — it can be frightening if you don’t know how to respond. By leashing, keeping away, and walking away, humans can avoid this kind of conflict. Coyotes have been known to grab cats and small dogs which is why these smaller pets need to be more vigilantly supervised and then removed from the area if a coyote is sighted. A dog trainer today was telling me that even large dogs with mild behaviors have grabbed a small dog and begun tossing it up in the air as though it were prey: small dogs must be kept away from larger ones.

In addition to this human/dog-based impact, there have been some natural ecological changes caused by coyotes’ return to San Francisco, although not to the same degree that reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone had — that impact was big because the deer, who had slowly altered and changed the balance of the flora through their overpopulation, suddenly had significant predators. With the deer diminished in numbers by the wolves or moving to new locations to avoid the wolves, plants that hadn’t grown in ages, having been nibbled back by deer, such as aspen, among others, began to bloom again. The beaver population also increased. The wolves were causing a trophic cascade* (“addition or removal of top predators involving reciprocal changes in the relative populations of predator and prey through a food chain, which often results in dramatic changes in ecosystem structure and nutrient cycling.” — Britannica.com) of ecological change. Here in San Francisco, other things are going on which might prevent us from clearly seeing any direct impact caused by a return of a coyote population.


NATIVISM: A dozen years ago, a friend told me that the only reason the coyotes had returned to San Francisco was “because of the re-introduction of nativist plants“. She had a Ph.D. in the sciences, therefore, she said, “she _knew_”, and she used simply that to back herself up. This was back in 2010 when the “nativist” direction in our parks was fairly new: at that time, only a few small garden-size plots had been converted to exclusively native plants. So her statement was interesting to me for its overarching-reach, made by someone with three letters after her name which was all she used to justify the statement. Others in the program, and even those not involved in the program, have noted that the main ecological changes resulting from the reintroduction of native plants was an increase in a variety of native insects dependent on those new plants.

Consider dens as an example of habitat use here in San Francisco: some are dug into the sandy soil, some buried beneath a tangle of cape ivy, some protected by blackberry brambles. Some dens have been established under our porches, or along culverts behind tall cyclone fences in the right-of-way of the city’s Public Utilities Commission — some beneath the roots of fallen pine trees. Some are among rock crevices and formations along the banks of creeks. Coyotes have denned among the non-native exotics of the SF Botanical Garden, where the pups have played on freshly mowed non-native lawns, and they hide in the non-native golden grasses brought in by the Spaniards long ago to feed their cattle. None of these encompass native components.

Coyote diet staples depend heavily on native species: pocket gophers and voles, and to a lesser degree native skunk, raccoon (usually roadkill or easy-to-grab juveniles or compromised adults), mallard ducks, pigeons, and ravens. But their diets also include plenty of Norway rats, opossums, cats, many exotic fruits from the planted trees here, pizzas and hamburgers, which are not on the list of native species. The species that coyotes live off of did not suddenly appear due to the nativist program — they’ve been here far longer than that.

As for water: we have very few natural water sources here in San Francisco. These include seven natural springs and three natural freshwater ponds. That’s it. The local Eucalyptus trees (non-native), and even pine trees, capture a lot of the fog and create wonderful puddles of water throughout the city, and I’ve seen the thick morning dew licked off of guard-rails along roadways by coyotes. One of the requirements of a den area is proximity to reliable water: it happens that non-native, man-made lakes and spigots are available throughout the city. These are coyote water sources.

So, I wouldn’t say that coyotes returned to San Francisco because of the introduction of native pants or the nativist program. Man-made structures and brought-in-plants, along with rodents and mesopredators who thrive in all kinds of environments throughout the US, are used substantially by coyotes. After all, coyotes themselves naturally inhabit a multitude of environments throughout the country: there’s not any one type that attracts them.

However, our nativist program has had some consequences for them, including contributing to their increased visibility.


INCREASED VISIBILITY OVER TIME: A lot of the clearing of non-native understory thickets has been performed by that nativist program, as well as by other entities in the city: this thick, often impenetrable underbrush is where the coyotes could hide, and there was much more of it when the coyotes first arrived than there is now. Even last year, I observed that a coyote family was compelled to move its den when clearing continued into the denning season in one of the parks. Fortunately, coyotes are adaptive — they simply moved.

Coyotes generally are very elusive critters. The continued clearing appears to have increased coyote visibility over the years — be it due to the native plant program or for other reasons, such as for construction, or to discourage the homeless from trying to camp in the parks. But there are other factors contributing to this increased visibility. For example, more humans out than ever means more eyes are there to see them and report them — a phenomenon which became apparent during the early COVID pandemic. During lockdown, early in the pandemic, there were reports in the papers about sightings in “new” places — for example, Greenwich Street — where, in fact, I and others had seen them there, regularly, even nightly, since 2007. The only thing new was new eyes reporting them. Over the last ten years, use of the parks has increased many times over, with many more eyes around to see things, whereas I remember sitting alone in parts of some of the parks and for a full morning only ever seeing a small handful of other people, all without dogs. There has been a big change.

Another possible factor involved in the increased visibility of coyotes is that they have simply become used to us in their environment — and that is, again, because there are more and more of us than ever in “their parks” as compared to ten years ago. So they are taking us much more in-stride these days than they used to, of necessity. Because of this, some people have been calling them bold, even though they are totally minding their own business. It’s more a matter of us humans having changed their circumstances: humans have become ever-present in their environments.

An increase of humans feeding coyotes has also increased coyote visibility over the years. Feeding them causes them to return to, and hang around in, the areas where they are being fed. If you add “hand” feeding to the equation, you are attracting the coyotes closer and closer to humans, including children, who, because of their smaller size, coyotes would feel safer approaching than an adult human, to message them: “get outta here”.

By the way, remove the food source, and the activity in the area, and therefore their visibility, will diminish, as happened in the Bernal Hill area: the “egregious Bernal Hill feeder’s” photograph was splashed all over the news, which put an end to her feeding them. Those coyotes no longer appear at that location daily, though other factors may also be involved in their all-but disappearance from that area. (Which I’ve written about on my blog).


HABITAT CHOICE: It appears that coyotes have always been drawn to the periphery of human environments, from the time of the Ohlone Indians in San Francisco (see “The Ohlone Way” by Malcolm Margolin), and — I’m speculating here — to the Spanish ranches early on in San Francisco history — where they would have been extirpated, no different from wolves — and now to urban centers where many other animals are also drawn or were brought in, including chickens, goats (no longer allowed in the city), cats, raccoons, skunks, rats, ducks, etc, which in turn have been attractants to the coyotes. Coyotes not only benefit collaterally from our presence, but they appear to be safer in cities than in more rural environments where they continue to be shot in large numbers in some areas.

Coyotes inhabit and use the entire city, all except the San Francisco Downtown area, although they have occasionally even crossed into that area briefly. Coyote habitats in San Francisco run from the expansive grassy and shrubbed golf-courses, to the sandy and often wind-blown forsakenly desolate banks of the ocean, to the lush planted Golden Gate Park, to vast barren but golden and long-grassed hills which form part of our open spaces. They inhabit the areas surrounding our lakes as well as our densely overgrown creeks and ravines. Coyotes can be found in our most densely human populated neighborhoods such as North Beach, to less densely populated neighborhoods such as West Portal, to parks without any human dwellings. The elements that all these habitats have in common are: proximity to water, availability of hunting and food sources close by, and cover for protection, including remote areas and fenced-off areas to dogs.

Coyotes travel their whole territories, which include the surrounding neighborhoods, regularly, and in doing so they use and cross streets regularly, often to their detriment: Animal Care and Control picked up 24 dead coyotes last year (2021) from the streets, and I’m sure there were others not found: this is a huge number out of a population of 80-100. I’ve seen coyotes travel nightly at least 2 miles and back, using paths and roads as part of their routes, as they head over to and return from their food bases. Dispersing and moving coyotes — some have picked up and moved wholesale to a new distant territory — can easily travel the length of the city and further, and then back again. A substantial amount of their travel is on the same paved roads and cleared paths that we take — these being the “paths of least resistance” which involve less expenditure of energy: coyotes are very efficient!

POPULATION DENSITY: Here in San Francisco, the coyote population numbers fluctuate from about 80 to 100, and have until now been limited by coyote territorial imperatives: each of about 20 territories has one family, and a family consists of a mated-pair and their new pups and possibly a yearling or two born the previous year. The fluctuation from 80 to 100 is a naturally-occurring, breathing, expansion and contraction which occurs every year, beginning with the pupping season in April and then gradually diminishing as the pups eventually disperse during a two-year period after birth.

Within the last couple of years, I’ve noted just three exceptions to this fairly strict monogamous family structure, whereby a two-year-old daughter who is normally “behaviorally sterile” has had a litter along with her mother on the same territory: this appears to have been caused in two instances by a disruption in the alpha-male’s presence — he either died of old age or was shot. Only in one instance was there not a disruption in the alpha male’s presence, and I’m still trying to figure out what went on there. I have not seen this “double denning” until the last few years — monogamy and mating for life is the norm.

The ultimate cause of this double-denning might be population and territory saturation here in San Francisco: I emailed Professor Sacks about it and he said he had seen the same phenomenon in foxes due to an increase in their population. Recently and unusually, I’ve also seen a couple of coyote “divorces*” Might population saturation be affecting their family structure? (It appears that most of our youngster coyotes have been dispersing south and out of the city, as seen in a Presidio study.)

The map I’ve created of territories here in San Francisco shows that each territorial family claims about 1.5 to as many as 2.4 square miles of space to themselves: they keep other coyotes out, though I’ve seen several instances of outside dispersing youngsters being allowed to stay for a short time — all resources on that territory belong to the family that lives there. As far as I have seen, their hunting seems to support sustainability, not depletion of supply. They leave enough of the supply to renew itself through reproduction: be it gophers, voles, or even ducks. That being said, coyotes do seem to have reduced the feral cat population — but this is a mostly non-reproducing population because of the city’s neutering program. Also feral cats are drawn to feeding stations which in themselves attract coyotes: feeding feral cats lures both feral cats and coyotes to these areas, and therefore to the cats’ eventual death by coyotes caused by well-meaning but short-sighted humans.

When coyotes first returned to San Francisco in 2002, there were only four breeding coyote pairs (as determined by Professor Ben Sacks and Monica Serrano at UC Davis, based on DNA analysis from scat I collected). The limited population led to a lot of inbreeding. To this day, I continue to see inbreeding. Inbreeding turns out not to be rare in coyotes, but apparently is not an issue for their health and well-being, according to Professor Sacks. Over the past 15 years, I’ve noted that coyote territories have been fairly stable in their size and configurations with only minor changes over the years.

However, two substantive territorial changes have occurred recently that I have seen. Four years ago the Lake Merced families — there had actually been three families on two different golf courses and around the lake — had deaths and divorces which led to those territories reconfiguring into one large territory with the same mated pair of coyotes controlling it all. This reconfigured family has allowed some dispersing youngsters into their fold for a little while, but these always moved on. Then last year, I observed the expansion of one territory onto the periphery of another, a full mile away: so, over extended periods of time, these territories can change.

In addition to coyotes on these claimed territories, I have been seeing — more often than in the past — lone coyotes during the daylight hours, usually early morning or late afternoon, hurrying along a street, who appear to be dispersing: most I cannot identify from what family they came from. Some of these dispersing youngsters find temporary niches in nooks such as backyards, where they hide out during the day before taking off to hunt and explore when it gets dark. As far as I have seen, these temporary refuges are normally used anywhere from two weeks to several months, before the coyotes moves on for good. However, some have been staying longer, so it appears that now we have coyotes staying in the interstices BETWEEN the territories I originally mapped. Will these become family-owned reproducing territories? We’ll have to wait and see.


COYOTES’ EFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT. What effects on the environment might coyotes have had over the last 15 years?

I’ve seen that the red fox population — this is a non-native species that was brought to the area in the 1970s, apparently by hunters — appears to have been diminished and pushed to the periphery of the city, very likely because of the coyotes — that timeframe pretty much coincides with the arrival of coyotes here. So foxes — whose population has always been small in the City — have been excluded where the coyotes have dug in. Both coyotes and red foxes are competitors for many of the same resources, so their ecological effect on the environment would be qualitatively fairly similar, though quantitatively more so for coyotes: both are omnivores, opportunistic foragers, predators, and scavengers with varied diets based on what is available, so not a great qualitative change has been caused by the switch.

We have a very small native gray fox population — I don’t know if coyotes have affected their population, though I know a coyote will pursue and attempt to grab one if he/she sees it. One appeared on my trail camera once right where I frequently see coyotes. Once. That’s the only time I’ve seen one.

Coyotes are attracted by all sorts of food sources, but seem to opt for the easier catches when they have a choice.

Coyotes throughout the city, no matter their location, all seem to depend predominantly on gophers and voles, and secondarily on mice and rats as their staples. Our owls and hawks also catch and eat these rodents. They are so plentiful that they are trapped and killed by many people in the city, including on our golf courses and by our city parks personnel, and by private citizens in their gardens. I doubt that coyotes have reduced or affected this population much: coyotes take enough and leave enough so that the rodents can reproduce: the balance really hasn’t changed over the years as far as I can detect visually. Coyotes still hunt to the same degree in the exact same spots as they did in 2007, when I began documenting them. Interestingly, just yesterday I heard folks talking about a new gopher “infestation” in the city!

Rats, raccoons and skunks are hunted and eaten by coyotes, all of which have been considered “pests” by humans. Humans routinely have put out rat-poison and they have hired exterminators to rid their properties of all of these critters. Last year, the City’s Animal Care and Control felt compelled to slaughter over 10 raccoons from one clan which had been fed profusely by humans and began charging towards every human for food as a result. The point is that coyote predation hasn’t had a huge altering effect on these animals which were routinely eliminated by humans before the coyotes even reappeared in the area.

I’ve seen fewer snakes and lizards over the last 15 years here in SF, but I don’t know that anyone knows what the cause is : Might the disturbing omnipresence of people have contributed? Children in the city camps regularly caught little lizards they found sunning themselves on rocks, and slowly these stopped appearing. I know about this trend because my own children attended these camps and told me how each year the lizards were fewer and fewer — that was way before coyotes re-appeared here in 2002.

Now we have one coyote family in that camp park which is in their territory — a mated pair and their 3 yearlings (who will soon disperse) — coyotes didn’t finish off the lizards and snakes because, although rarely, I still do see them. Certainly these lizards are not a preferred food for coyotes: I’ve watched as several lizards and snakes were caught, “toyed with”, and rolled on, but not eaten, by coyotes. That was back a dozen years ago. I haven’t seen any predator with a snake or lizard in years. More hawks in the city may be contributing to their reduction in numbers: I used to see red-tail hawks flying high in the sky with snakes dangling from their beaks, but I haven’t seen this in years.

Kestrels have diminished in the city since 2008 but this has nothing to do with coyotes: my bird specialist thinks it might have to do with a change in the insects they eat and swallowtail butterflies have diminished as more fern plants were removed — but this has nothing to do with coyotes, all in the same timeframe. Hmmm, back again to the native plant program? Native Swallowtails depend on non-native fennel for their survival, which the nativists are intent on removing, leaving nothing for the Swallowtails [corrected].

The quail population went down at about the time the coyotes came, but there has also been an increase in the raccoon population — possibly because of humans feeding them — which eats quail and their eggs, as well as increased hawk and owl populations which do the same. I’ve been told anecdotally that a possible cause for hawk population growth in the city is that we cleaned up the environment substantially over the last score of years — but then again, maybe it’s just the preponderance of gophers and voles that brought more of these raptors into the city. I don’t think we’ll ever know the exact reasons, though we can guess.


COYOTE DIET BREAKDOWN: I wrote a diet summary posting a while back: What Do Coyotes Eat Here in SF? How much food does a coyote eat? I’ve seen a coyote catch five large gophers in a row and wolf all down except the last, which it buried for future use. Having said that, I don’t know what their daily intake is, but I know they can go for weeks without any food at all.

A collaborator in my San Francisco-wide genetics project at UC Davis is studying coyote diet through their DNA. She is creating pie charts and graphs showing the minute breakdown of individual diets within the city. For her minute details, we will have to wait: hers is part of her PhD program. However, without that study, my direct observation can provide a lot of broader information.

To recap, coyote staples here in San Francisco are gophers and voles, with mice and rats coming in after that. Moles (as opposed to voles) are interesting because coyotes always spit these out as though they are too bitter — the same as they do with lizards. They catch and kill them and leave them, or rub on them for their pungent odors. Coyotes love to wallow in smelly items. As stated above, coyotes will head for what is available in their territory, including carrion and roadkill which may include opossums, squirrels, raccoon, skunk, rats, voles and cats. They’ve been seen carrying ducks where there are ponds, red-tail hawks (presumably ones that were injured previously), and owls (many of which we’ve found to have been rat-poisoned, and therefore slowed-down enough for a coyote to catch).

I’ve seen coyotes catch pigeons, bluebirds, ravens, and crows which they expertly and quickly defeather by yanking off large mouthfuls of feathers at a time, and yes, I’ve seen them run off with cats in their mouths: I saw one family bring into their denning area a cat a week for about 4 weeks, and then it stopped. I see them eat fruit such as pears, apples, loquats, by picking these off the ground, or actually picking them off the low branches of the fruit tree, often reaching high by standing on their hind legs. They pick blackberries off the vine one by one: these are seasonal finds but become a major part of their diets during certain times of the year — when they are ripe, which occurs at different times for different fruit — as can be seen in their scat. I’ve seen them eat snails and crickets. Squirrels are caught year-round by coyotes, especially the unwary younger ones, and consumed right down to the last fur at the tip of their tails, as are all the rodents they eat — there’s absolutely no waste.

I have seen scat filled predominantly with loquat seeds and peels for months at a time in one area. In other territories, there might be apples or pears or blackberries in locations that the coyotes will return to regularly until the fruit is gone. Availability is a big factor in their diets. Another example: those with duck ponds in their territories have ducks on their menus: so for example North Beach coyotes’ territory extends to Fort Mason and the Marina where they have been seen carrying away ducks in their mouths as they return to North Beach.

I would estimate, based on my visual observations, that about 3/4ths of a coyote’s diet is animal, whereas the rest is plant-based. However, this appears to fluctuate over the seasons. Seeing long stretches where the scat appears to be predominantly fruit (seeds and peels), usually in early summer for loquats, fall for apples, and then stretches when there appears to be no fruit at all in the scat confirms this. Besides the plant-based fruit I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen coyote eat fresh green grasses, especially when it comes up after the first rains of the season. I’ve seen them nibble on bark and twigs. I’ve seen them nibble on wild radish roots.

Their nutritional requirements skyrocket during pupping season: pregnant and nursing moms need much more nutrition and therefore will be out hunting more, as will dads who often carry prey to their mates. Then, during pup-weaning and afterwards, both parents feed the pups solid food which is initially regurgitated for their pups: this increases nutritional needs many times over for the parents!


HOW DOES DIET IMPACT COYOTE BEHAVIOR? Coyotes have to eat, so a big portion of their behavior centers around hunting and looking for food over long distances. As they trek through their territories, they mark in order to keep other coyotes out, and they scour for food sources as they peruze their territories for any activity or changes that might affect them. Their keen sense of smell takes them straight to any type of food. They have fantastic memories, so they know exactly where to return to after they’ve discovered a new food source, and they will continue returning there until that supply has become diminished.

In urban areas like San Francisco, in order to avoid humans, coyotes have adapted their hours to mostly at night when we aren’t out. Although you’ll see them hunting at dusk and at dawn, and even during daylight hours — after all, they are not nocturnal animals — the majority of their hunting occurs in the darker hours when we are not around. I’ve recorded them trekking distances of 2 miles and even more, as they search for, or return to, food sources. A lot of them follow the same routes day after day, checking out the locations where they’ve found food in the past: where they’ve heard gophers underground, where they find human refuse, where they see the free-roaming cat they plan to nab some day. Please keep your cats indoors.

And, occasionally, they will grab a small dog and run off with it, usually during twilight hours when their hunting instincts are at their highest. Our Animal Care and Control estimates that about 4 to 5 little dogs are grabbed each year — these aren’t a major part of their diet, but rather they are opportunistically grabbed additions to their diets. Still, it is traumatic for any pet owner to lose a pet to a predator. Please keep your small pets leashed and supervised!

When garbage and human food are left outside, coyotes will inevitably find it and check it out. I’ve seen them pick through human refuse predominantly for the protein: I’ve seen the meat of tossed hamburgers eaten, the cheese of pizzas, the meatballs in spaghetti left on the side of the road — the wheat fill is often left behind.

I’ve seen coyotes hang around where they might get free handouts from people in specific locations where they have been given such stuff before: in parking lots, along trails in parks, even by their parked vans. The bad thing here, of course, is that coyotes return to and hang around these spots, increasing the potential for conflict with dogs. Their behavior towards humans is also changed — tolerance for proximity to humans is increased through feeding them. And, our luring them there — because that is what we are doing — pulls them into areas where there is traffic, increasing the potential for their deaths by cars.

There are some customs passed on in coyote families — a culture of sorts — involving their diets. Some coyote families specifically go out looking for, for example, cats, or human handouts, whereas others don’t seek these out. Could it be that where cats are ignored as prey, there is plenty of other food, so “why bother with a cat?” Also, though, I’ve seen cats who through their own feisty fierceness have kept coyotes away: this type of cat is much too much trouble for a coyote and not worth the effort! When they see the odds of potential injury being high, they avoid the situation.

Coyote family hierarchy is strong when it comes to feasting on what’s been caught. Higher ranking individuals always get to eat first, and the others have to wait far enough away, and look disinterested, until top guy is through, and only then may they approach for their share. This happens when larger prey, such as a raccoon has been found. Most eating, though, by a coyote, is on smaller rodents, which are not divvied up but consumed by one coyote.

Also, I’ve seen coyotes find food and attempt to bury and hide it just for themselves, to the exclusion even of their mates! The treasure is often found anyway, and sometimes taken to a new location! More blatant stealing also occurs: say, if a rat is tossed within another coyote’s easy reach during the *toying* with it after capture, the other coyote might grab it: once it it’s in the mouth of the other coyote, it is considered theirs and cannot be grabbed. You’ll often see a coyote hurry away from other family members when he/she has caught something: this is to prevent them from grabbing it!


KEY SUMMARY INSIGHTS: From what I’ve seen, coyotes haven’t caused huge ecological changes in San Francisco since they first arrived — the biggest impact has been on dogs and their humans, and human perceptions of them: leashing and walking away from a coyote seems to be too inconvenient for some people.

Coyote movements within, and interaction with, the environment have their dietary habits and territorial imperatives at their base. They regularly trek more than two miles distance and back, to check out known and new food sources, and to mark their territories and defend it, doing so mostly at night in order to avoid humans as much as possible, though of course you’ll see them out during the day as well.

Coyotes seem to have pushed red foxes to the periphery of the city through exclusion; and they may be reducing the feral cat population, but only because it is a non-reproducing population. These appear to be their most profound impacts. The feral cat population is mostly fed by humans, but these cats also prey on small rodents and birds whose lives might be spared by reducing that cat population, thereby impacting the ecology of the area.

Although coyotes are eating a large number of gophers, they haven’t diminished that population, as seen by their continuing to catch them as often and easily as ever, and by an overabundance of them causing humans to try to get rid of them. Raccoons, rats, gophers, and skunks have all been targeted as pests and removed by people, well before coyotes came to the city — it would be hard to single out coyotes as the ecological changers in those populations, if indeed any change has been noted in them: as far as I can see, these populations are actually increasing.

Coyotes eat what is readily available in their territories which run up to about 2.5 square miles, and they’ll trek nightly over most of this area to the spots where they know food can be found. Seasonal changes in the flora and fauna affect their diets, especially seasonal fruits. They return repeatedly to areas that provide them with food until that food diminishes to the point where it’s easier to find something else somewhere else.

Humans, too are omnivores, and we each eat as individuals, as families, and as cultures according to our customs and personal tastes and habits, and according to what is available — famous cuisine throughout the world was originally based on regional supplies.

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

Finding Scout

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

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

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

Video allowing me to identify her

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s plenty of food in the area

The den is a hollow under a fallen tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dens: Precarious Situations

Forward: Almost ten years ago, in 2012, in Atlanta, several people noticed coyotes in and around Candler Park (450 acres or 2/3rds of a square mile) where they had not been spotted before. City authorities were brought in to assess the population in the park and discovered 6 coyote dens. They concluded that coyotes were multiplying wildly and taking over, and they would have to get rid of them. I was contacted to help fight this proposal and educate the public about the reality of coyotes. Because of our efforts, the neighborhood association in charge decided not to cull/kill the coyotes. Unfortunately, I was told later on, that a couple of homeowners wouldn’t accept this studied decision, so as individuals they hired a trapper who eliminated them. :( Other coyotes soon filled the vacated niches — shooting coyotes doesn’t get rid of them for very long.

By the way, if you are interested, “fear of another species taking over” is a common human fear, and has been written about in this recent article: https://milliontrees.me/2022/06/08/starlings-vagrants-and-dead-birds/. Targets include coyotes, plants, birds, and other people who in various ways can be labeled differently from ourselves.

Coyote facts: On any one territory, with rare exceptions, there is just one coyote family consisting of an alpha male and female, their pups born within the year and in some cases one or two of the pups born the previous year — the older youngsters stick around long enough to help with the new litter before dispersing. All other coyotes are kept out of the family-owned territory, thus limiting the population to that one family. Territories run between 2 and 4 square miles each, so population is not all that dense. All youngsters inevitably and eventually disperse, leaving the two alphas as the static owners of the territory over a longer period of time.

As for the number of dens on each territory, each coyote family always digs multiple sets of dens — over 20 have been found in one of our territories here in San Francisco, all dug by the same coyote parent pair — to have ready to move into if needed, though most are never used. More dens on one territory do not mean multiple families — it’s simply a safety measure.

This video shows two denning areas of the same family. First you see Dad digging and then youngsters exiting and entering where he dug. The video then shifts to a small opening in a tangle of blackberry brambles as coyotes enter and exit. These dens with the same family are 300 feet apart and used synchronously.

Last week I wandered through a small 100 square feet area of another of our coyote territories here in San Francisco and randomly spotted six such dens. The majority of them were not in use, but two that I found — maybe there are more — were being used synchronously, with pups apparently moving between them at their own will, as I was able to detect over the next few days. Five of these dens are dug into sandy soil. The other den being used simultaneously by this particular family is hidden in a tangle of blackberries, about 300 feet away. [Addendum: on June 13th I discovered another such active den, 600 feet away — that’s about a tenth of a mile between active dens belonging to the same family!]

Sand-dune den to the left; the one in the middle appears not to be used; and to the right, a den hidden within a tangle of overgrowth (with a pup snoozing in front of the opening).

Having multiple dens allows families to readily move to escape any dangers if needed. The photos below show a youngster with bug-pocked marks on his side, and a dad scratching himself vigorously to dislodge fleas: flea infestations in the dens is one reason they move to another den. Pups are also moved if parents sense potential dangers near their dens, mostly from dogs and insensitive people.

Pup and an adult showing signs of flea issues.


Examples of other dens throughout the city where I’ve spotted pups can be seen above: to the upper left is a den nestled under a carpet of ivy (yes, that’s a coyote pup visible through the tangle); in the middle is a hollow under a log; to the right behind a cyclone fence is a den in the no-man’s trashed area running along a freeway; and below, yes, they sometimes den right under our back porches!

Coyotes either dig their dens from scratch, as you saw in the sand-dune den, or they take over existing burrows of other animals and expand these. Caverns under rocks or openings under fallen tree trunks, or even non-dugout hidden areas with piles of leaves which are protected with brambles are used as dens. Fenced-in areas such as PUC Water Reservoirs or the fenced-off shoulders of freeways are also used: these areas are free from dogs and therefore very attractive to new coyote parents. And I’ve seen several dens under people’s porches! Unfortunately, there was a case several years ago where humans didn’t want coyotes around, so they boarded up the area under their porch to keep them out — but in this case, the pups already had been born and so the parents were blocked from their infants on the outside and unable to get in and nurse them. When it was all figured out, it was too late, and the pups perished. :(

A youngster has been given a squirrel by a parent.

Most coyote dens I’ve seen are meticulously hidden from access to people and dogs, at least 100 feet away from pedestrian traffic — off the beaten track. Coyote parents want to keep their pups secret in order to protect them. But some are not hidden very well at all and I really can’t imagine what went wrong with such a den placement. These dens might be placed just 15 feet from a walkway in a park with plenty of foot traffic and plenty of dogs. Even in these less-than-hidden dens, interestingly, the pups are left to themselves most of the daylight hours and much of the evening. The parents come to nurse and feed them: the above video shows a little pup running off excitedly with a prey squirrel brought by a parent — youngsters at this time of the year are still too young to hunt for themselves.

The immediate dugout den/crevice/bramble den itself is a temporary structure and used only for birthing, nursing, and as a hideaway for several months. The dugouts have an opening of about 10″ at their entrances and are a little wider within: they are a little like a long tunnel and I’ve measured some abandoned ones to be around 6′ deep. After several months — the same as with birds’ nests or our own bassinets — these are outgrown and abandoned until the next season. An full-size coyote could enter and hide there, but the whole family as it grows would not be able to.

Beyond the den structure itself, the greater denning area is larger than the size of a football-field. Parents defend this football-field size area and more than 1/4 mile beyond it from dogs. Dogs routinely pursue coyotes and threaten them: coyotes have learned that dogs are their chief enemies in the city. The entire area should be referred to as a denning site, and this whole area should be a no-dogs or leashed-dogs-only area.

To the left, a Mom is keeping an eye on active dogs several hundred feet away. In the middle, a Dad in another territory, snoozing and guarding not far from (but neither close to) his densite. To the right: a dad may approach a dog he feels is threatening with a snarly face and arched back: you’ll need to tighten your leash and do as he asks: move away from the area.

A dad will walk around the denning area, and by the den itself on his patrolling rounds several times a day during daylight hours. Sometimes he’ll snooze nearby, within visual range of the den, but seldom (as far as I have seen) immediately beside the den — he doesn’t want to give the location away. I seldom see Moms in the area, though I know she comes by to nurse the pups — she is able to slither in and out, evading detection, and she comes at night when no people are around. I have seen a mom standing or sitting sentry on a lookout, maybe 100 feet away from her den when a groups of dogs was around. If the dogs were to chase her, she would lead them away from this den site. In contrast to this kind of sentry duty, I saw a mother a few days ago, off alone in a distant and totally different hidden part of her park away from people, dogs, and her own pups, relaxing and seemingly enjoying her solitude — this was about 1/4th mile from her densite, in a fenced-in area. I had to wonder why that fenced-off place was not chosen as a denning area. But it wasn’t.

I tried to think of why the parents spend so much time away from their pups. Of course they need to hunt and patrol the area. But also what comes to mind is what I’ve read about baby deer: they apparently have no, or very little, odor, the better not to attract predators. A parent, of course, would have strong odors. So for example, dogs will pick up on the scent of the adult coyotes and pursue them. Might this be one of the reasons the parents don’t spend a great deal of time with their new pups? I’m just trying to think it through. Having said this, I need to point out that parents do spend plenty of time playing with and cuddling their pups — family time is an important part of their lives.

A furious Papa coyote runs after his pups to push them to safety.

Some coyote parents are more laissez-faire than others in their pup guarding. I just wrote about “running away from home” where the parents are seldom around, and some of the youngsters are wandering between dens during daylight hours. At the other extreme, here’s a short video clip showing a much stricter father who obviously is furious that his youngsters wandered out of the safety limits he imposed on them! This family’s den, BTW, is in a super well hidden location, and hidden under a tangled carpet of ivy in a backyard.

Litters may be moved at any time. Over the last two years, in June, I’ve seen two such moves of two-month-old litters. Youngsters are strong walkers by this stage of their development which may be a contributing factor. They may be moved because of bugs, or because their parents have become aware that their den is no longer secret — it’s been discovered by people or dogs who have become more omnipresent, or in one case, within a PUC Water Reservoir where construction was beginning AND many of the under-the-fence escape routes which the coyotes had been using were plugged up. The coyotes must have felt a need to get out before all entry/exits were boarded up.

Gathering her youngsters for a move

The new locations have been between 500 and 1500 feet (1/10th to 1/4th of a mile) from the original den. This video shows a mother gathering her youngsters together for such a move which took place at 9:00 am: You can see that the youngsters are very excited about this event — not so different from our own families before a trip! Their new den must not be far since a pup has been spotted recently back in this area.

What coyote predators might invade a densite here in San Francisco? Of course, the pups as pups have to be differentiated from the adults who have very few predators except cars in urban areas, though larger dogs chasing them cause a lot of leg injuries. Domestic dogs would be the primary threat to coyote pups — this is why dogs are *messaged* by parent coyotes within a fourth of a mile from their dens. The coyote communication of necessity must be intense if the dog is going to get the message: it involves an arched back, snarly face, tongue sticking out and wagging, and may include a number of darts and retreats and even a nip to the haunches or rear end of the dog — cattle-dog fashion — to get the dog to leave the area if the dog didn’t respond to the original message. Small dogs are as much of a threat as larger dogs — any carnivore is a threat that has the potential to grab a small pup.

In addition to dogs, there are raccoons in most denning areas. It seems a coyote pup might be as vulnerable to raccoons as are domestic kittens, which raccoons are known to capture as prey. And then there are the owls which have been hovering right above some of the dens I’m keeping track of. Very young pups the size of kittens are a perfect size for an owl to snatch up, yet pups are allowed by their parents to roam free during the hours when owls are most likely to capture one. I’ve never seen it happen, I’m just listing it as a potential possibility.

Threats to small pups include dogs running loose, raccoons, owls.

The greatest other intruders to denning areas, besides dogs and their walkers, are photographers with absolutely no sensitivity for the animals, including iPhone photographers who feel no compunction about walking right up to a resting coyote, as close as they can to snap a shot — most coyotes will flee, but some have become inured to this human behavior which erodes their innate wariness. It still produces stress. Fortunately, I’m hearing more and more walkers telling these folks to please leave the coyotes alone.

A week ago, my eyes popped wide open when I saw a photographer stationed and hovering right at a densite, waiting for them to appear, and I saw him there again, and again. Several large signs indicated this was a den area, yet the photographer seemed oblivious to the stress he was imposing by statically stationing himself where he was. And then when Dad coyote came around on his regular rounds, I saw him kicking dirt in anger when pursued by this same photographer — the coyote was obviously distressed about the situation in his denning area, and the photographer was totally indifferent to it and denied the coyote was reacting angrily to him.

One’s photos shouldn’t take precedence over the well-being of the coyotes, especially during denning season. Please everyone, give the coyotes space and walk away from them! If you have to be a paparazzi, do so at a distance where they won’t feel a need to react in any way to you — you’ve intruded if you cause them to alter their behavior in any way at all, including fleeing from you!!

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

“Running Away From Home”

I put this collage together to reflect the thought

Well, “running away from home” isn’t exactly what happened (which is why I have the title in quotes), but watching a tiny kitten-size pup the other morning trekking decidedly away from his home inspired the idea. For a fun twist, I put together the above collage, and have written this posting sprinkled with that thought.

The morning began with a coyote dad bringing in a mouthful of animal-prey to his denning area. It was too far off and I wasn’t quick enough to see what they prey was, but it was the size of a large duck. He disappeared into the brush, and I hoped I would see him again. Within a very short time, I heard a coyote calling to another — I wasn’t given enough lead time to record it, it was not a sound I hear often: a short, warbled sound.

a pup follows his parents, but is told *no*

I looked up to where the sound came from and saw him standing and apparently waiting close to where I had seen him disappear earlier. He had been calling to his mate, because within a minute, she joined him. As they headed off, one and then two of their pups attempted tagging along. They either were told *no* or knew they wouldn’t be able to keep up because they immediately turned back. Youngsters desperately want to be with their parents, but no means no, and they were left in the safety of their den area. That was all I saw of the parents that morning.

One pup of this litter is a runt. I’ve observed runts before. They often don’t play with litter mates because their size makes it not fun for them: who likes to be beat up all the time? So they frequently play by themselves. And they go off by themselves. I’ve also seen runts given special attention by their parents: the extra nurturing probably helps their survival. Mom was there today most likely to nurse them, and I saw Dad bring in solid food as I stated above. I wondered if the runt might have been unable to get his share of milk or of what was brought in by Dad? I thought of these things immediately after what I saw next.

Leaving the den took several tries, each ending with his return to the den. On the fourth try, he made it across 100 yards of ‘treacherous terrain’, including flower beds, trees, lawn, and paved paths.

Within the next ten minutes, I saw the runt heading off and away from his denning area. My eyes popped out of my head when I saw him because it was broad daylight and he was so tiny — so much smaller than other pups at this stage of their development — he was alone and completely vulnerable out in the open in a high foot-traffic and dog area, and in the daylight. I seldom see pups, much less traveling alone over vast expanses of open areas where they are totally visible. Of course, I kept my eye on him to see what he was up to. He moved with purpose, the same way you see the adults do: they always seem to know where they are going and what they are doing. Thrice he turned back after about 100 feet, as though he were trying to make up his mind whether to proceed. But the fourth time he reached the point where he had turned around before, and he made a sudden dash forward, across a network of paved paths and a large open lawn. I was able to watch him for about 100 yards before I lost track of him in the ivy. Ivy is a wonderful coverup for them. If a dog had been there, that might have been his end, and I prepared myself to grab any unleashed exploring dogs, but none happened by at the time.

My next post will be about dens, but here I need to state that immediate denning areas are larger than the size of football fields — they don’t simply encompass the temporary dugout birthing den — they are much larger areas than that. Parents will defend this football field size area and more than 1/4 mile beyond it. This youngster was well within his football field area, but because of his direct trajectory, the idea of his running away from home popped into my mind and made me smile. I wondered about the issues faced by a runt: his likely inability to compete for a fair share of the milk or food brought in. I wondered if there might be more going on than simply being a runt: such as illness? He was wobbly in his steps and rickety in his appearance, with bug bites over his back and watery eyes. That’s all I saw of him in the morning and those were my thoughts. No parent was present to lead him back or protect him had he needed it.

Dad waits outside den area for mom to finish nursing and then tires of waiting and leaves.

In the evening his parents returned and everything looked normal. It is customary for parents to leave their pups all day long. They tend to stop by very sporadically, including at dusk for nursing or feeding before heading out again. They are not at the densite often, though Dad in particular, will hang out within several hundred feet, snoozing away the daylight hours and performing his sentry duty. This evening when she came, Mom disappeared into the brush and Dad waited for her on the periphery. He waited and waited, and finally trotted on by himself because Mom was not appearing. I saw her later playing with two of her pups. I could see that Runt was not among them. I despaired for him.

very kitten-looking

The next morning I was there to observe any changes, and to docent, asking folks to please keep their dogs leashed. I saw Dad looking around, but he didn’t seem particularly concerned. Another thought popped into my head: Being the runt, this one looks somewhat like a kitten with its exceptionally short baby snout. What if some human were to *save* him by either adopting him or taking him into the SPCA or ACC. It is illegal to keep wildlife as pets here. In addition, separating a youngster from its family drastically diminishes the youngster’s chances of survival. Few animals taken to wildlife rehab centers survive in the long-run: they simply have not been given the skills to survive: only parents can do this. Please leave all found pups alone — you can only hurt their situation.

Runt is back and safe

I was back in the evening and heaved a sigh of relief when I glimpsed Runt. He’s there! For him, it was just another day, as if nothing special had happened over the last 24 hours — and it hadn’t — but for me, I wrote a whole post about him running away from home and ruminating about a runt’s welfare. But these little guys are hardy and resilient and much smarter than we think. However, it’s important to remember that pup survival rate can be as low as 20 to 30%.

Runt back home

PS: Although I distinguish coyotes by their faces, I have real trouble distinguishing pups. However, Runt stands apart and is very identifiable by his underdeveloped size and ragged/rickety appearance. He’ll probably emerge as King of the Forest some day!! :)

Antidote to my Posting on Discord within Families

My last postings were harsh ones: they were about rupture and fighting between siblings one year apart in age: the younger one was driven away. Dispersal doesn’t always occur this way: Some youngsters just pick up and leave when their time-clocks tell them it’s time to go, making the process an easy and smooth one. And some linger around longer: I’ve seen dispersals take place as early as 9-months of age, and one case as late as 3-years-old who was ultimately driven out by his father. Some are driven out by another sibling, and this is what happened to that family in my last posting.

Here is another family where Older Brother grooms his Younger Brother. Grooming is equivalent to an invitation to stick around. The circumstances are quite different in this second family: here, Older Brother has moved into the vacated alpha male position, so he’s actually more like a surrogate father than a brother, helping to take care of the brood born two years after him whose father abandoned the family.

“Abandoned” is really not the right word because his mate at the time, who is mother to these two in this posting, never really welcomed him. He happened to come by during breeding season shortly after the previous alpha male died of old age. He filled that position for only a few months, but long enough to sire the yearling pups which include the one year old in this posting. That male was disliked and never really welcomed into the family: he was given the cold-shoulder, and never lovingly groomed as I see with other mated pairs. *Mom*, it happens, had her eyes on this three-year-old son of hers as her next mate and companion, and the two, in fact, are a pair now and had a litter this year. I have not seen the pups yet, but I saw Mom only a few days ago who is still lactating.

Younger brother grooms older brother here.

Anyway, the point is that older siblings can drive out younger members of the family rather viciously and harshly, OR they can establish warm bonds with their younger siblings. Here, you have the latter. The bond only works as long as this hierarchy is maintained, and in fact, grooming can also have a hint of domination and hierarchy: “You just sit there until I’m done grooming you.” But here, younger brother also spent time grooming his older brother: there is mutual respect and warmth between the two.

PS: These photos were taken at the cusp of darkness, in the waning light of twilight hours. It’s only with intense editing that I’ve been able to make them usable and come to life. They seem to work!

Family Infighting Leads to Dispersal

Coyotes are fascinating family-minded social critters whose lives seem to parallel ours in many ways. I write about their family life and interactions and I can see a lot of ourselves in them. They (predominantly) mate for life, both parents (normally) raise the young, and they form intra-family relationships which very much parallel what you’d find in our own families. They each have personalities, individualisms and quirks that other family members learn to deal with . . . or not. There’s play, affection, mutual care, and rivalries. There’s teasing, mischief, one-upmanship, and competitiveness. There are alliances. There’s bullying. They communicate between themselves constantly: most communication is silent through body language and facial expressions. They use vocalizations for emphasis sometimes. Fighting is an amplified negative communication.

There comes a time when the youngsters in a family grow up and leave home. Sometimes, *when* they leave home is based on their own internal time-clocks, and they just pick up and go. At other times they are forced to leave due to growing animosity and conflict with another family member, OR another family member may actually drive them away. Coyotes appear to be programmed to live predominantly in sets of two adults, with pups and yearlings as welcome additions. Beyond this combination makes them edgy and reactive. Their leaving home is called *dispersal* and usually happens sometime between one and two years of age, though I’ve seen it as early as 9 months and as late as 3 years. In our human families, it usually happens after high school, though it could happen earlier or later, depending on the circumstances.

I was able to capture this video, above, of a two-year-old male driving out a one-year-old female from the family and territory. In this case, it was intense, brutal and painful to watch: and it was to-the-point: “LEAVE”, no *ifs* or *buts*.

One thing most people don’t realize is how hard life can be for a coyote. Once they disperse, their survival rates plummet: many are killed by cars here in San Francisco (25 last year), and others are forced to keep moving by other coyotes who own territories. Life is always safer for coyotes with territories, which may be why some youngsters desperately hold on and don’t move on, but in order to be able to stay, they must be *allowed* to stay by the others, and must accept a subservient position and never rock the boat.

BTW, most dispersing coyotes move south and out of the City of San Francisco because the limited territories within the city are already taken. The Presidio ecologists have documented this really nicely. I have found that many of the territories within the city have been owned by the same families over an extended number of years, which creates a lot of stability in the city’s population. When a vacancy does occur within the city, it’s because a territory was either abandoned by an older coyote pair whose reproductive years were over, or because a younger coyote or coyote pair were able to challenge and drive out such oldsters. A visibly weak alpha may also be displaced from his/her territory, as was the limping alpha male in West Portal at the beginning of this breeding season: his disability was obvious, and incoming coyotes took advantage of it to displace him. If anyone sees him, please let me know: I have not seen him at all since Spring began. The Presidio territory was taken over by an energetic younger coyote and the remaining older female alpha was forced to move on.

These hardships are part and parcel of coyote life which can appear idyllic at times, and exceedingly brutal at other times. We humans are their stewards: the best way to steward them is to keep away from them, not feed them, and not interact with them. That’s what they want, and that is what’s not only best for them, but best for us in terms of keeping a peaceful coexistence in place.

Feeding Pups

Imagine having to keep up with the nutritional needs not only of yourself — that must be hard enough — but also of FIVE ravenous pups you’ve brought into the world! The nutritional needs of growing pups is tremendous!

This top video shows a mother coyote nursing four of her five 4-week-old pups. She is ever so patient through the frenzy of hungry little stomachs! I timed this feeding: it was done and over in just one minute and forty seconds: that’s how long a nursing session is.

I noted that within just three weeks of their birth, Mom was already bringing in semi-solid food in her stomach which she regurgitated for the pups: her milk just wasn’t enough for them.

In this next video, below, youngsters are poking at Mom’s mouth: that’s where they know solid food comes from. Young pups are ALWAYS hungry and they pester Mom until she delivers! Watching it for any length of time makes you wonder how she copes with it.

In the next few weeks, they will switch entirely to regurgitated food. I’ve seen regurgitated food continued to be brought in — though much less frequently as the pups continue to grow and become capable of hunting for themselves — for up to a year in some families: I wonder if this is a way of just keeping those pups around? Mom and Dad will do this as as they teach their brood how to hunt and where to find food.

Here is a video showing a different mother last year, regurgitating for her four-month-old pups in August. And here is a posting of a dad regurgitating food for his yearlings.

Sibling Rupture

[The smaller photos can be enlarged and scrolled through by clicking on any of them]

Fighting between a two-year old older brother and his one year old sister.

I found the 2 year-old male coyote with his nose to the ground, sniffing the area. I walked away and over to the perimeter, but this fella came towards me in a circuitous way to check me out. He projected to me that he was simply wandering around this area, but he was actually getting closer and closer and had his eyes on me. As he wandered over, he slurped up the morning dew from the grass. Then he picked up a dead gopher and tossed it up and caught it several times and then left it, watching me all the time as if to see if I might come and grab it. He must have wondered why I wasn’t interested in it, so then he began coming straight in my direction with squinting eyes. He might have been attempting to intimidate me, or maybe test me. Although I don’t see this family often, he is well aware that my focus has frequently been on him or the other coyotes. Suspicions run exceptionally high during pupping season, which we are smack dab into right now. I was about 100 feet away and squatting against the wheel of a parked truck. Since I diverted my focus and didn’t react in any way, I guess I passed his test because he soon walked away and began to ignore me. He wanted to make sure I didn’t want anything to do with him. Of course I did — I was going to be observing — but I apparently succeeded in hiding that.

Older Brother patrols the fenceline, eyes me with squinty eye, and then slurps up morning dew.

He then hurried over to the fenceline at the other end of the lawn and sniffed along that. I thought he was assessing which dogs had been there earlier — he seemed unhappy with whomever he was detecting through his nose. There were no dogs there now, but he kept looking around as if looking for one as he walked away. This two-year-old male had remained with his birth family, whereas all his littermates — of which there had been two — had dispersed long ago: the age difference conferred a hierarchical advantage over his one-year-old siblings born last year.

Just then one of the one-year-old brothers appeared at the other end of the lawn. This younger fellow lay down and remained there, keeping his eyes on what Older Brother was up to — he seemed not to want to be involved physically but was very absorbed in watching it.

Younger brother watches intently from the distance. In the middle is Li’l Girl eyeing her tormentor. To the right she has jumped up to perform *zoomies* to help dispel the tension.

This is when I noticed the third coyote approaching the fenceline where Older Brother had been searching earlier. Older Brother probably had been looking for this, his one year old sister. When she spotted him, she sat down close to the fence and watched him. I sensed tension between them: Older Brother was prowling around and sniffing, with occasional glances towards her, and the two younger coyotes remained distant without moving or making signs of wanting to approach or interact. They normally would have run enthusiastically towards each other to play and interact, but they were obviously in some kind of a standoff. So something was going on from the first moment when I spotted them this morning.

Li’l Girl is tiny compared to her brothers — a good 1/3 smaller — and not at all demonstrative or assertive. I think because of these *small and mellow* qualities, she has remained in the park rather than venture out — it was the safest place for her, whereas her more robust — more robust in size and personality — brothers were out exploring beyond this place long ago: coyotes mature at different rates. This is where her parents had brought her and her siblings when they were just two months old and she has never left. In recent months, we have been detecting her alone in the area, long after her brothers were on their forays to discover the world, so the area, in a certain way, had become hers.

Li’l Girl was nervous at times this morning as she sat and then lay at the end of the lawn. Every once in a while she got up and raced wildly around in circles, almost uncontrollably, picking up a frisbie and then dropping it and then returning to her previous sitting or lying down position and watching her brother: she appeared to be releasing tension as she performed what in the dog-world are known as *zoomies*. She did this several times, always returning quickly to her lying down or sitting position, and staring at her brother in the distance. His presence was undeniably causing her distress.

As she sat there, scrub jays harassed her. She could have easily caught one if she had wanted to since they walked on the ground only inches from her, but she had other things on her mind. She continued to watch Older Brother and ignored the birds, foregoing a gleeful pursuit if only for the fun of it.

Older Brother continued sniffing the ground, seemingly nonchalantly, slurping up the morning dew and now moving slowly and zig-zaggedly in his little sister’s direction 200 feet away, the way he had towards me earlier. He did not head straight in her direction, but headed there circuitously.

Not until this observation had I noticed negative interactions between these two. It’s true that all her brothers tended to teasingly pick on her — they pulled and poked at her — and she let them without retaliating, and maybe that’s why they continued to do it. I also think that the interacting allowed her to be part of the group — it was better than being left out. She had been one of six pups in the litter — all the rest were boys — and Older Brother remained from last year’s litter. It has been a big family.

Older Brother approaches Li’l Girl directly when he is within 40 feet of her.

So, Bigger Brother wandered casually in Li’l Girl’s direction. I watched as he got half-way there, and then he was 3/4ths of the way there. Finally he stopped and stared at her and then headed in her direction directly with long strides and hackles up and squinty eyes, wrinkling his nose and raising his lips enough to show his teeth. When he reached her, he sniffed her, and stood over her stiffly and threateningly. He was daring her to submit or react.

When he reached her, he snarled his displeasure at her with bared teeth. She used her arm to keep him away and stayed low and on her back, offering no resistance beyond returning a snarl of displeasure.

SHE responded defensively by curling up tightly and keeping down, but she also gaped and bared her teeth with lips pulled back over a clenched jaw, and she thrust nips at him every so often. At times she extended a paw towards him to keep him an arm’s length away. Older Brother’s attacks came in brief spurts: bursts of actual body slams and nips between longer periods of dominant intimidation and then spells where he would walk off. But the pressure of Older Brother’s presence was palpable continually even as he walked away from her. I sat in the distance taking it all in and mesmerized by it all. Occasionally she would run off with her tail tucked under, her back arched protectively and keeping low to the ground. She never went far before lying down again: she seemed to be holding her ground. Another self-protective stance of hers as she was poked at, was to put her head down under herself with her backside up which often resulted in her toppling over in a sort of somersault — she was protecting her face at the expense of her rear.

Here she resists and defensively bites back after he intensified his attack with body slams and bites.

And this interaction repeated itself aver and over again, with Older Brother walking away some distance after each interaction, and Little Sister also moving off some distance and then lying down again, and then Big Brother approaching again. The activity continued for about an hour. She was taunted and bullied like this repeatedly. But she didn’t run off, she just moved out of his range of contact, so the activity continued.

She slinks away, keeping low, with an arched back and ears back.

After an hour, Younger Brother, who had remained in the distance watching, now came forward and joined the interaction. He approached Li’l Girl several times caringly, as if to offer solace. But he also seemed to be conflicted about where he stood in this situation. One moment he stood by her gently consoling her, yet at the same time, he seemed wary that Older Brother might dish out the same treatment to him, and I could see that he was being pulled into Older Brother’s camp. His hackles also went up and he ended up poking Li’l Girl a couple of times — I would say more playfully, but possibly also showing solidarity with Older Brother — this would be for his own self-protection from Big Brother. I’ve seen this *imitate and join* behavior in other coyotes as they either go after another family member to disperse them, or against a predator when they hunt. She, again, got up and ran off a litte distance and then lay down in her low, curled up position. 

More interaction, with Older Brother dominating her space, jumping on or over her. She does her somersault roll, keeping her face out of his reach.

Shortly thereafter, I suppose she had had enough, because she grabbed her chance when both males were at enough of a distance to give her a lead, and she ran off. Both brothers followed her. I was not able to keep up. However, I was informed by another observer that Li’l Girl was seen running back into the area within only a few minutes, followed by the others. She continued through and out of the area, while the two brothers stopped there and remained there. The next day, the two males were seen there, but not Li’l Girl, and we have not seen her there since.

Above you’ll see Younger Brother’s attempt to console her, and below he might have thought of interference, but he seems to have thought better of it and then moved away.

Li’l Girl has not been a threat to either brother, so why was this happening? Did Older Brother not like her claiming the area as hers — if in fact she was doing so? Had she started exhibiting territorial behavior towards him which might have caused him to react? If she had, I never saw it. Then again, I have found that coyotes tend to pick on the weaker individuals in their families (just like they pick on weaker prey), simply because they can get away with it without reprisals.

On the left she tries calming Older Brother, but he won’t have it; in the middle photo he tries mounting her (a domination behavior); whereupon she bares her teeth and moves away from him (right photo above).

I don’t recall another instance of a little girl coyote picked on like this by a brother. The little girl coyotes that I’ve seen seem to become their littermates’ best friends and protectors, and are usually sought after for easy companionship when other brothers might be roughhousing too intensely. It’s usually same-sex littermates who become rivals as far as I have seen. Then again, I have found exceptions to every generality I’ve made or heard about regarding coyotes. They truly are individuals and march to their own individual tunes.

Note the stare of intimidation in the upper left photo. Upper right she hurries away with lowered head. Lower left he bites her leg and then in the center photo stands over her dominantly. She retaliates in the lower right photo as he body slams her.

Growing animosity between siblings often leads to dispersal. Was Older Brother meanly trying to push her out? Then again, it occurs to me that Big Brother’s bullying her may be exactly what she needs to get her exploring the larger world. The worry is that her slow maturing may mean she’s not ready. Anyway, these are some of the images I captured during that hour.

She sits with clenched jaw, not backing down. But then Older Brother comes at her like a bullet (center photo), and she decides it’s time to split, at which point she runs out of the field with brothers at her heels.

Slide Presentation at the Rotary Club, SF, May 17th

I will be giving a much-shortened 20 minute version of my normally 50 minute talk at the Rotary Club of San Francisco on May 17th at noon. You can attend in person and receive a three course lunch (yes, there’s a fee), or you can sign up virtually. Click the link below for more information.

For more information, click here: https://sfrotary.com/event/rotary-luncheon–citizen-coyotes-of-san-francisco–where-they-are–who-they-are–how-to-get-along/

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