Pupping Season Gets Off To A Tough Start: One Family

The coronavirus may be adding a degree of uncertainty, stress, anxiety, and worry to our lives. But what if you were already experiencing worry and anxiety from some big change in your life, say having a baby (or even triplets): imagine the compounding effects of the coronavirus fallout! Well, that’s what’s going on with our coyotes.

Reproduction is not a casual event for them. They go through a lot of planning, pain, and effort to insure the safety of their litters, and suddenly, with the upheaval of the coronavirus, danger intrudes on them, nullifying all their work to guard against it.  Dogs and coyotes are naturally at odds, so they must be kept apart.

Courting behavior here in San Francisco began back in February. This is when the “pupping season” officially began for me. Mama and Papa coyotes were “trysting” on February 11th: he jealously followed her around, shadowing her closely and keeping an eye on her every move.  She, on the other hand, ignored him. She remained aloof and kept her “social distance” from him. When she was ready — and that would not be until several days after the 11th — she would let him know, but until then she would be edgy and greet him with repeated snarls and repulses as he persistently crowded her.

I often see this female sunning herself out in an open field throughout the year. HE, on the other hand, is further along in years: for self-protective reasons, he is out less. I continue to see him at regular intervals, but those intervals have become longer over the last few years, so it’s a real treat when I do see him. I was able to catch this afternoon of courting behavior probably only because he was compelled to follow her out into her open field.

After a 63 day gestation period, I started watching for him on his “birthing rock”: that’s where he has always stood guard during the birth and week or so after the birth of a new litter. Only the rock “announcement” didn’t happen this year: I sensed unease and anxiety in the pairs’ movements instead, especially Dad’s.

Every year the coyotes have been able to keep their “big secret” deep in the woods where the brambles and thick underbrush provided the protection they needed. It’s been an area they could count on year after year after year.

This year the situation turned topsy turvy because of the coronavirus backwash: the parks became one of the few places people could go due to the shelter-in-place orders. The sudden surge in constant visitors and loose dogs has created an upheaval for these coyotes in this park, and for coyotes elsewhere.

I was able to watch dog intrusions at the bramble divide — the one dividing their private wilderness area from public paths and open space — over several days. The dogs’ repeated pushing their way through the protective passageway served to break down more and more of the twigs and dense foliage that formed a barrier into the deeper woods . . . and then even more dogs were attracted to this spot. Most dogs are not leashed here, so they head pell-mell wherever their noses lead them, and coyote smells are one of the attractions.

Signs at all entrances to the park prescribing, “leashed dogs only”, are ignored. I’ve filled-in during past pupping seasons with additional signs, but these are removed by angry dog walkers who feel it is their right to run their dogs unleashed.

The Presidio is a park in the city with the best signage I have yet seen: these are four-foot signs with strong, no-nonsense language highlighted in red, and strategically placed at multiple repeated intervals: their message is very clear and un-ignorable: “dogs PROHIBITED in this area”. So, too, by the way, are their “Stay 6 feet apart” social distancing coronavirus signs. Because of the coronavirus, the golf course at the Presidio is closed to golfers, and people are allowed to spread out and enjoy the out-of-doors there. Most people abide by the rules: 6 feet apart – masks – politeness. And the golf-course is almost  dog-free.

But even there, where the signs are almost in your face, there is a trickle of hikers who walk right down the middle of a path, and when you ask them to please give you six feet, they laugh scornfully, or run past you (at a 2 foot distance) without giving you time to move. They don’t like the rules and feel the rules don’t apply to them. And for them, the dog rules apply even less. Dogs leashed and unleashed are not allowed on the golf-course, but there almost always are some.

So, back to this particular coyote family. For a while I was seeing Dad’s scat along the path surrounding the once-secret passageway — this was his attempt to demarcate and ward off any dog intruders. Of course, few people or domestic dogs know how to read this kind of messaging, and the dogs could care less anyway.

Dad’s scat appeared for a while at regular intervals along a path adjacent to a chosen denning site.

I’m sure it’s because of this coronavirus upheaval that I found this coyote pair, close to their birthing due date, visiting a park almost a mile away. I’m sure they were staking out a safer place for their family. But, as things turned out, that location also had dogs that chased them. It was not chosen as a nesting spot, and neither was the underside of a porch which they checked out intensively. The coyotes are now back at their long-term territory with their new den tucked into the farthest reaches of the park, in the safest place they could find: it is not the place they have used for so many years. And they are avoiding the flood of dogs and people as much as possible by moving around much more exclusively at night than before.

  • Far and away from “home” turned out to be just as dangerous. [above]
  • Maybe under a porch this year? [below]

Below is a video of Dad who came out into the open a couple of days ago as people and dogs passed by and watched him from the surrounding trail: he’s eating grass and regurgitating, a behavior caused by undue stress. During this pupping season, the usual anxiety, worry, strain and unease of the season appear doubly compounded for them by the overwhelming increase of human activity in their parks and loose dogs intruding on them.

So how can you help? Please remember that what’s good and safe for coyotes is good and safe for you and your dog. Coyotes need to protect themselves, their mates, their pups and their denning areas. They’ll stand up to intrusions if necessary, especially during pupping season, which is right now. They’ll even charge at and message dogs nearby who are potential intruders. Pupping season is a stressful and demanding time for them in good times. But when they are overwhelmed, as during this coronavirus time, it becomes more difficult and more stressful for them. We all respond to stress and high-strung situations by snapping at those around us. Hey, let’s relieve the pressure instead of increasing it.

Please keep your dogs close to you on the trails. The minute you see a coyote, especially now during this anxious time for them, leash your dog and walk away from the coyote and keep walking away. You will be showing the coyote that they are not “an object of interest” to you, that you are just minding your own business and not interested in interfering with them. Coyotes need to know this. They just want to be left alone and the dogs to be kept away from them and their den sites. And since you should want this too, walking away solves the problem.

You may be followed by a coyote who is suspicious of your motives. Again, just keep walking away. If a coyote follows too closely, you can turn and stare at him/her as you move away, or toss a small stone at its feet (not AT it so as to injure it), as you walk away. For more on coexisting during pupping season, please see my post from March of 2015: Pupping Season: What Behaviors to Expect If You Have A dog, and What You Can Do.

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

It’s Earthday 2020: How do we coexist with wildlife? by Kathy Howard

What is Earth Day and why do we celebrate it?

  • Earth Day is a yearly celebration which takes place on April 22. More than 193 nations organize Earth Day events, and they are coordinated by the Earth Day Network. The objectives for the events include sensitizing the global population on environmental concerns and demonstrating support for environmental protection.


To read more, click on the image, or click here.

Abused

What comes to mind when you are told that an animal has been “abused”? “Roughed up” or “deprived” or even “killed” are what most of us might think. But the term also means corrupted and compromised. This might be an extreme way of looking at the situation, but I’m hoping to drive the point home — and to increase awareness. This coyote, pictured above, listlessly wanders around or hangs around on park pathways, waiting for handouts: he’s been dulled by the humans around him who allow or encourage this behavior. He has lost his desire to hunt for himself and he has lost his wariness of humans: You might say these have been stolen from him by misguided feeders, and compounded by everyone who approaches or tries to befriend him — he thinks of all of these people as potential feeders. Folks who treat coyotes familiarly as tame Walt Disney cutouts may not be aware of the harm they are doing.

As he lounges around, his pace is slow, almost lethargic and his look is mournful, his ears are air-planed down and out to the sides. He’s not sick, though he might look so to many of us. My wildlife behaviorist contact suggests that this behavior is a “conditioned response”: he’s learned that it gets him what he wants: food, and maybe sympathy which will lead to food. He’s exceptionally good at his ploy. However, he’s also exceptionally good at hunting for himself — I’ve seen it. But, being the opportunist that coyotes are, he’s taking advantage of a situation and of a gullible and needy public which is falling into line for him. To them, the coyote looks scrawny (all coyotes are scrawny) and needs food. Or they want to “connect” with nature — “that’s my coyote” “that’s my friend“, I’ve heard. 

I understand people feeding and even trying to befriend wild coyotes have good intentions. Good intentions however do not always lead to good practices. Hand feeding and approaching coyotes can lead to negative outcomes for the coyotes, and sometimes humans.

*Coyotes are wild animals with instincts that tell them to stay away from humans and dogs. These instincts, paired with the opportunity to get easy food from humans — a learned behavior — creates a conflict within the animals.

*This conflict may 1) cause animals at times to move quickly and fearfully which can lead to accidental defensive bites. Or, as the animals become desensitized to people and are fed, they 2) may slow down as their fear dissipates. They come to expect food and when it does not come they may become frustrated. The frustration then may lead to aggressive demand behavior.  This is another scenario that can lead to a bite.

These push-pull conflicts are stressful for the animals. Studies show that cortisol, a stress hormone, is high in wild animals taking chances by getting closer to humans. Stress, in turn, may cause an animal to become reactive (bite): we know that most bites to humans are the result of approaching and feeding. A couple of weeks ago a little girl in an East Bay regional park was bitten<https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Coyote-attacks-6-year-old-girl-in-Dublin-park-15173092.php> by a coyote. 

Although I don’t know yet what provoked the attack, I’m sure there was a trigger.  The first possible explanation (not excuse) for the attack is people feeding the coyotes there — this is what’s behind most bites.  Also, pupping season is going on right now, and the sudden surge of people into the parks (due to the coronavirus) along with human encroachment close to a den area may have been involved. It is stress and fear that cause a coyote to become reactive — not aggression or that they’re hunting us — humans aren’t on their menu.

CA Fish & Game has killed one coyote as a solution to prevent further bites. It was the wrong coyote, so they will kill more: coyote’s don’t get their first bite free as dogs do. A ranger from CA Fish & Game told me that the department would be merciless towards any coyotes who bite, or scratch, or . . . brush up against a human. CAF&G could even start going after “potential biters” who are getting too close to people. EDUCATION and changing OUR behaviors is the long-term solution. Coyotes don’t learn a thing by being killed, but they can learn from our behaviors that we aren’t here for their convenience — we just have to learn how to act.

You can help this coyote, or any like him, to be the wary animal he is supposed to be instead of the dulled and enervated, and deceptively “tamed” animal he has now become. Please do not feed. Please do not befriend or act friendly towards him. Please do not approach or let him approach you. These human behaviors are not only compromising his wily wildness, they are setting him up for a possible sorry end. . . and setting up you or another walker for a possible nip. We need to scare him off if he’s sitting right on or close to the path waiting for handouts — he should be keeping at least 50 feet away from anyone. Please do this for the healthy stewardship of our coyotes as well as for your own safety.

The worst part of this story is that now two of his family members are echoing his behavior — coyotes learn by imitating their elders. They, too are now turning into replica deadbeat coyotes [DEADBEAT: one who makes a soft living by sponging it] who hang around lazily and almost languidly hoping for human handouts. We all need to scare them away or walk away from them always. Please let’s reverse his/their developing stray-dog behavior: even stray dogs bite. And please be an ambassador for them by helping others know what needs to be done. By doing so, you could be saving his life.

The two youngsters taking on the fed coyote’s behaviors.

*Including edits from a Wildlife Behaviorist who prefers remaining anonymous.

More: Food: the Behavior Shaper, and  Human Kindness Could Kill Our Coyote — wherein the detriment of feeding from cars is discussed.

How Coyotes Conquered American Cities, by William Poor

This short video clip is well done. That I appear in it makes it extra special, though my contribution is limited to just my advocacy work and includes none of my fieldwork or behavioral studies, nor the DNA project I’m working on.

Adoption? [updated]

I’ve had to revise this posting a little because one of the coyotes I talk about, who I was told and accepted as “the female” of a pair, turns out not to be a female at all, but a solid male, and the younger one turns out to be a female!

After a year of absence, this Dad (above right) returned to his former territory which was being kept by two coyotes who I believed to be his two-year-old offspring — youngsters born the year before last. The Dad’s family situation is a very interesting one, and I’ll be writing about it soon, but here I want to concentrate on what Dad came back to: he returned to this, his previous territory, and to the two younger coyotes. I had only been seeing one of these youngsters sporadically fleetingly until very recently, but two were there now. The youngsters welcomed Dad back, and now the three began hanging out together.

But the situation isn’t what I thought it was. I’ve slowly come to realize that one of the youngsters, although he looked familiar somehow, was not one of Dad’s surviving four youngsters born in 2018. Initially, I thought time might have caused some appearance changes which were preventing me from seeing “who” this was of the four, but I wasn’t making any headway in trying to identify him (I identify by their facial features), and he really didn’t have the signature family look of the others in the litter: I have noted that there are striking family resemblances within some coyote families, and this had been one such family. Then, over the last week it became obvious that this coyote was actually a year younger than the two-year old. There’s a difference in general demeanor and behavior that become obvious when you contrast and compare the different ages.

Suddenly familiarity rang a bell. I went back into my earlier photos of another family in a far off territory — this is where the coyote came from. This youngster is from an entirely different birth family, and born last year.* She had distanced herself from the rougher tumble of her brothers (dispersed) of which there were three. For a while she lived alone in an isolated open space which is where I photographed her most recently, but I hadn’t checked on her since then. She’s only a year old. She’s too young to be forming a family of her own (I haven’t seen females form families of their own until they are at least two years of age). Instead, I found she had joined another young male (two-year-old) on that male’s birth territory — maybe they would become mates when the time was right

I’ve seen this kind of arrangement several times now: a dispersing youngster seems to take cover under the wing of an older coyote (even though not much older) with a territory: the territory owning coyote lets the other in. In one instance in the past, a youngster male moved on after five months. His mentor female a year later appeared to be harboring yet another young male — that fellow has now become her mate — and maybe that was their plan all along.

So, these two have been companions for each other, which makes sense in such a social species: one apparently a mentor and caregiver and the other a youngster who needed a little more time to mature: it’s kind of an “adoption” or “halfway station situation”. This is the situation — two immature youngsters — to which “Dad” returned.

I wonder how prevalent this kind of arrangement is between ‘stabler coyotes with territories’ and ‘dispersing ones’. The older territorial-owning coyotes seem to become very protective of their younger proteges, a behavior you might expect from a parent. The important thing to note is that this little group of three coyotes in this park is a “family”, all of whom are not related individuals, whereas most families consist of a mated pair and their own offspring.

See these related postings on two other youngsters, males in this situation: Happiness is Having Someone to Watch Out For, and Camaraderie and “Checking In”,  and Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

*[Professor Ben Sacks at UCDavis will confirm this with DNA from scat which will reveal our coyotes’ relationships. In fact, he’s working on a “pedigree” of all of our San Francisco coyotes, who, it turns out, all descended from just FOUR original founding members]

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

Shelter-in-Place: More Coyotes Taking To The Streets?

I see this coyote regularly walking the streets between his two parks when few people are out to see him. But with “shelter-in-place” more people were out in their neighborhoods where they could see him. He reacted, as can be seen in photo below.

People have been asking me if I’ve been seeing more coyotes on the streets during this shelter-in-place time — there was a write-up about it in our local rag. The answer is no, I have not. The coyotes that I myself routinely observe are NOT out more in the streets than usual. In fact, with pupping season approaching within weeks, most of my regular coyotes are hunkered down very close to home and waiting for the big event. Pregnant females generally tend to be much more careful and elusive during this vulnerable time in their lives — I’m seeing them less frequently than normally, and certainly not in the streets.

It could be that some of the remaining youngsters who have not yet dispersed have been wandering a little further afield, including in the streets, a few even dispersing, but the numbers would not be significantly different from any other year.

When pups are born in a few weeks, if resources are scarce in the family’s immediate and usual hunting areas, they’ll travel out further, including through the streets and neighborhoods where you might see them, but this is part and parcel of their yearly cycle — it is not caused by humans vacating the streets while sheltering-in-place.

If a few humans feel they are seeing more coyotes on the streets during this shelter-in-place — and by the way, some of the photos in the article were taken in parks where we see coyotes regularly and not the streets — it’s probably because these humans themselves are more out around in their neighborhoods and therefore are there to see them. I’ve seen many more people out in their communities than usual these last few days.

And yes, some coyotes on their normal routes which do include streets, will experiment with ‘shortcuts’ and new routes, where some people would then be seeing them where they normally don’t. I’ve actually seen the opposite effect in a couple of parks and neighborhoods in San Francisco where human outdoor activity has suddenly picked up because people need their exercise: here, I and some other observers have been seeing coyotes on the streets much less than previously. This, again, is probably more properly due to the upcoming pupping season.

Anxiety because of being watched caused this coyote to dump right then and there — so even more people saw him

Frantic Concern for an Injured Sibling

I hadn’t seen one of the youngster I’ve been documenting for a couple of days and when I did, on February 12th, he held up a dangling front leg. That explained his absence. Leg injuries are the most common I see in coyotes, many of them are caused by dogs chasing them. As here, injury often causes coyotes to become more cautious and self-protective by withdrawing from where they might be seen. With dogs wanting to chase them, it was best to remain hidden most of the time.

A couple of days later, the injured male youngster returned to one of his hangout spots, but he kept close to bushes where he could seek refuge if needed. A day later I decided to get a video of the injury to send it to my wildlife veterinarian friend. While getting that video, I also documented the frantic anxiety of a sibling female who was worried about her injured brother. The above graphic video, which I’ve captioned with explanatory text, is what I observed.

Few people realize how intensely sentient and feeling these animals are. That they are family minded animals who have caring individual relationships. They have direction and purpose in their lives. They experience joy, sorrow, and most other feelings that you and I feel, including frantic anxiety and concern for a valued sibling. These are things I’ve seen repeatedly through hours of observing them. I don’t expect most people will have the time or opportunity to see directly what I see, but that’s why I’m posting about it: for everyone to become aware of. On this subject, here is a two-minute message from Jane Goodall which, although inspired by the coronavirus, contains words of wisdom that we all need to listen to.

By February 20th, which was ten days after the injury occurred, I was still seeing no improvement in the limp. The veterinarian gave me a general assessment from the video I took. She said, “It looks like he could have a radial nerve injury from the way he is dragging the leg but flexing his elbow. It could also be a fracture in the carpus or paw, but if so, I would expect it to look more painful and for him to be holding it off the ground rather than dragging it on the ground.”

The vet and I agreed that whatever course the injury was to take, it was best to leave the coyote alone and let nature run its course. Many people feel they need to “help” an injured animal. This is rarely so unless the animal is actually immobile or incapacitated. Nature is always the best healer for wildlife, even if the animal could end up as tri-pawed: coyotes are amazingly adaptable [see story of Peg Leg]. Trapping and confining are terrorizing for the animal, even if we humans might want to believe “it is for the animal’s own good”. In addition, removing an animal from its territory and social situation can inexorably alter their lives — they can’t simply be “put back” and be expected to carry on as before. We don’t really have a handle on all the infinite facets that are involved in interfering, even if our intentions are good ones. So if nature can heal, which it can in most cases, it should be left to do so. Mange is a different story, but there’s now a way of treating this in the field with no more interference than simply medication administered in some left-out food! — I’ll be writing about this soon.

This same type of frantic anxious concern displayed by this female sibling for her brother can be seen in another example, displayed by an older female for her younger male companion: Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

I kept monitoring and assessing the youngster’s leg situation. Almost a month after that injury, on March 8, I finally saw that some mending had taken place: nature had been working its magic! The coyote was finally putting weight on that leg. He did so ever so carefully and gingerly, but he was doing it.


And by March 15th, the leg looked recuperated and the fellow is walking normally, as videoed by my friend Eric Weaver!

I hope this posting serves as an example of how great a healer nature is [see another example here]. But also it should serve to show how incredibly feeling these animals are. By the way, sister is still keeping an eye on brother over her shoulder, and he’s also watching out for her, but there’s no more urgency or anxiety involved!

keeping an eye on him over her shoulder

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