‘Tis The Season Of Sharing – Let’s Share The Earth With Coyotes, by Katherine Howard

This write-up by Kathy Howard — perfectly timed and appropriately named for the season — appears in the December issue of the Castro Courrier. Kathy has taken information about coyote family life from my recent presentation at the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA and filtered it into her own words in a fun and informative way. Enjoy! Happy Holidays to everyone! [Digital version in the CastroCourier. It will appear in the WestSideObserver soon].

Press the above image to continue reading (the linked paper can be enlarged by pressing the “+” button).

Coyote Anger: Cat-like Growls or Screams

When coyotes communicate, there’s little room for misinterpretation. You already saw this in my last posting about “coyote insistence” through body language. If they are insistent towards humans and our dogs, you can be sure they are just as insistent towards each other. This short video clip, above, shows this. It was taken after a family howl session in response to a siren. The howling and yiping in response to the siren were sing-songy and upbeat as you can hear here:

The family howling then segues into the evening rendezvous, where the entire family excitedly meets and greets for the evening trekk and other family activities. But Mom is not so keen on having all that high-energy wiggly and excited youngster activity around her. Her vocalizations at this point, as seen in the above video, are of the “raspy” type I discuss in my posting on Coyote Voicings. These are anger, annoyed, and warning vocalizations directed at family members. She’s telling the rambunctious youngsters that she wants space and calm: “get away from me”. She also displays her frustration by complaining with a wide vocalized gape to Dad who happens to be standing beside her. These are sounds you may not have heard from a coyote: they are very cat-like — the kind of sounds a cat would make before swiping at something with its claws.

Remember that coyotes also “pounce” for prey in a very cat-like manner, they toy with their prey as cats do, they splay their toes as cats do, and they “warn” with that very familiar “Halloween Cat” stance which includes a hairpin arched back and often a gape and hiss. I have been asked if coyotes are cats or dogs: I can see why such a question might be asked. Of course, coyotes are neither: they are simply themselves. However, they can reproduce with dogs and have many dog-like qualities, but they also have several very cat-like behaviors which dogs don’t have.

Insistence in Coyotes

Dear Janet,

My name is Lynn and I live in Berkeley.  About one year ago my friend Billee told me about something that happened to her son Tod, who’s about 20, when he was walking home late one night from a cafe where he played guitar.  He was on a tiny narrow street of houses en route to his house which is near that mountain that has the cross on top of it.  He noticed some– what he thought were dogs– slipping around him and then two coyotes faced him in the road.  He’s an outdoors guy, he’s always been an independent kid, and their family is a very kindly anti-materialist family with ancient pets who live forever and are cherished the whole time– just so you know.  Well to Tod these two scared him so much– he could not pass them, and I believe him.  It went on a long time and he ended up yelling for help and a woman called to her husband to open the door when she looked out from an upstairs window.  He opened the door and Tod ran inside their house.

He could not get used to the feeling that these animals really felt such ill will toward him.  But that was clear to him.

When he got home,  nobody could believe in this experience, especially his brother who picked him up.  But I believe it must have been true because why should he lie?  He just isn’t like that.  I thought maybe someone was feeding them there, and they thought Tod had come to steal their food.

I’m so glad to be able to ask you about this.  I read about coyotes in the book, “The Secret Lives of Dogs”.  I think that’s the title.  It was very poignant, about the coyotes. It said, “they know people hate them.”  If that’s true I hope they don’t know it.

Sincerely, Lynn

Hi Lynn —

Thanks for contacting me about this story! It’s an interesting one, and I’ll give you my thoughts about it.

I think there are various things that might be coming into play here. First, late night and shadows can play tricks on human imaginations — especially if the human is tired or might have had a little bit of alcohol or such? But also, depending on the time of year, a parent coyote could have shown a little more bravado or insistence than normal if a youngster coyote was nearby that the parent wanted to protect. And I’ve seen males become protective of their females in the same manner at certain times of the year. Another possibility is that these coyotes could have been protecting a source of food that they just found — say some garbage.

If a coyote is insistent, which is what Tod was saying, it can be VERY frightening. This actually happened to me once years ago. It was the coyote’s insistence that was so scary because it left me feeling helpless: none of my actions caused the coyote to move, and resorting to screaming for help did not work either (no one heard me), but walking away, with my dog in tow, did help. This is what the coyote wanted.

There is also something known as “demand behavior”: (see “Demand Behavior”). You speculated that Tod might have looked like someone else who had been feeding them. I suppose this also could have been driving those coyotes’ behaviors.

It’s important for everyone to know that anyone can save themselves a lot of anxiety and fear by always backing off and moving away from a coyote the minute you see one, before it ever even comes to what happened to Tod. Tod’s kind of encounter doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s best for us all to remember to take the step that’s easiest, most comfortable, and most effective for us and the coyotes: move away and then keep moving away. That’s really what they want.

I don’t believe the coyotes were after Tod due to ill-will towards him or humans in general. IF coyotes harbor any ill-will towards humans, as far as I know it would be in areas where humans caused that ill-will in the first place. I’m in contact with ranchers who have confirmed my own observations: where coyotes are respected and left alone, coexistence works well. But where coyotes are persecuted/killed, there’s a never ending battle revolving around a coyote’s need for survival. Read some of the postings on my blog by Walkaboutlou. So yes, I’m sure they know and feel the hate and antipathy towards them where people indeed have persecuted and hated them. Interestingly, I myself have felt the continued animosity of several walkers who I’ve had to confront about their unleashed dogs chasing coyotes: it’s palpable.

Hope this helps? Let me know if you want to discuss more!!


The minute you see a coyote, even if it is in the distance, walk away from it rather than getting closer and closer.

The Watering Hole

Well, it’s not exactly a watering hole, but I’ve named it that because a number of animals pass through here, and there are a number of houses up the hill which I know have dripping spigots which may be the attraction. But in addition, there’s an accumulation of bones in the area: beef bones and chicken bones, so there may be more up the hill where these come from.

Noises from screeching hawks and squawking ravens in this spot gave me the idea to set out a field camera. I seldom use these cameras, but I had a couple lying around from last Spring, so I set one up.  Indeed, soon afterwards the camera caught images of these raptors, so I left it out for several weeks, and even caught one coyote passing through! The only other animals I caught were dogs: they sniffed around, urinated, and took bones — and then the camera was stolen.

I was reluctant to try again, but decided to put out the other camera only at night when it was less likely to be taken. I put it out only sometimes, and sometimes I captured critters. I would have liked to have caught some owls, which, by leaving the camera out at night I was hoping for — both Great Horned AND Barn Owls are seen regularly close by. But this did not happen. What I did catch were opossums, skunks, raccoons and more coyotes. The spot where I placed the camera forms a narrow passage, a kind of bottle-neck, which animals appear to traipse through rather quickly and uneventfully, but a number of times they’ve lingered long enough to display some behaviors, which is why I’m posting this. The best is at the end, I think, where a feisty little skunk first gets spooked by a twig it steps on, and then not only fights with another skunk, but also charges at a coyote! 

Both dogs and coyotes have enjoyed “marking” the area repeatedly with their urine: they’re all trumping each other. The coyote chewing on the bone was kind of fun — right there in front of the camera: just like any dog might do. And there’s a short clip of a coyote “burying” something — maybe a bone? — by brushing the ground with its snout.

I’ve put these short clips together and called them “The Watering Hole” euphemistically, because I didn’t want to call it “the bottleneck” or “the bone dump.”  “Watering hole” is usually where the elephants and lions fill up on water in Africa, but it’s also what a bar or pub is called, where individuals might pass through during the wee hours of the night for a nightcap of some sort, like here!

Huffing and Grunting Her Antipathy

You might be surprised to learn that coyotes indeed have very intense personal emotions, and they even hold profound grudges against other coyotes or dogs who have mistreated them or who are seen as a threat.

The coyote in this video displays grudges towards just two individuals who might be considered her arch-enemies: another coyote and a dog. The female coyote rival moved on, so that is no longer an issue.

But the dog is someone who the coyote has not yet come to terms with. In addition to the subtle negative communication between the two most of which is below our human radar, the dog, who walks in her park daily, has slipped her collar several times to chase and even “mark” the coyote’s favorite lookout points in a display of one-upmanship: there’s always a reason for a coyote’s feelings. In the past the coyote would follow and howl at that one female dog, and no other dog, letting the dog know how she felt about the dog’s being there. Sometimes the coyote just followed without howling: this is sort of an “escorting” behavior, insuring herself that the dog is headed out of her area. The dog’s owner is amazingly tolerant and respectful of the coyote and always walks away from her when their paths come within seeing distance.

More recently, the howling and following have calmed down. But that doesn’t mean the anger and antipathy have subsided, as you can see in this video, which shows this same coyote huffing and grunting her discontent for an extended period of time upon seeing the dog. If you listen carefully, you can hear the grunts, and of course you can actually see her huffing. But she did not howl or follow this time, she just watched dog and owner move away and out of sight..

Coyotes, Snakes and “Flying Dragons”

“Flying dragon” is what someone on Instagram called the San Francisco Alligator Lizard captured by this coyote. Dragons were large, mighty and ferocious fire-spitting scaly creatures guarding the entry of caves where a pile of gold was being hoarded just for the dragon himself. Only brave and fearless Medieval knights ever confronted them. I went looking for the fiercest photo of that dragon (lizard) and am posting it here (below right), along with a rendition of that mythical dragon (below left) we all know about from childhood (credit kerembeyit).

In fact, the San Francisco Alligator Lizard is a small lizard you can hold in the palm of your hand and it’s not one bit dangerous. The one captured by the coyote was a bit larger than average, but that’s it.

I have observed that when a coyote finds a lizard or a snake — or even a mole — they dispatch it, even though it is not “prey” for them: I myself have never seen a coyote actually “eat” one of these. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t eat snakes, however, I myself have never seen it. If they do ever eat them, I wonder if it might be when pickings have become scarce? I’ve been told that these particular critters be bitter in taste. The hapless and harmless critter is simply captured, vigorously toyed with, and then wallowed on by the coyote whose intent is to absorb its potent acrid odors. Finally, to add insult to injury, the critter is urinated on before being abandoned in the dry grasses — disabled and left to die if it hasn’t already died from this treatment.

Why would a coyote slay a harmless garter snake if he doesn’t eat it, and then only roll on it to absorb its scent? After thinking about it, it occurred to me that the primary snakes in coyote habitats include some extremely venomous ones: various rattlesnakes, including the diamondback. So there is a strong instinct to get rid of them for survival. The aim would be to get that snake and disable it before it got you with its venomous bite. For coyotes, might all snakes be the same?

I have observed snakes and lizards tossed in the air and caught with supreme dexterity over and over again. Coyotes are extremely coordinated and their skills are finely and precisely tuned when it comes to using the tools they have: their snouts, teeth, paws and claws, in addition to their keen eyes, ears and nose — much more so than we might think. Their extreme skill is probably beyond that of my own cattle dog who once took out her own stitches, one by one, without damaging the skin at all, using ultra-fine control of her teeth. And she did so when she knew it was time to do so — which was one day before the veterinarian was scheduled to do it! I didn’t catch her doing this until she was on the last stitch, so I let her finish her precision work. The nylon suture was ever so carefully sliced through with her teeth, and then the stitch itself gently pulled out. Coyotes appear to have manipulative skills which are as keen as our own ability to thread the tiniest needle.

So snakes are killed right off, and then, in their cat-like fashion, the coyotes toy with them. Other cat-like behaviors of coyotes include their halloween-cat like pose with the hairpin arched back and fur sticking up on end, pouncing on prey, and the ability to extend their claws into a useful defensive tool, or to splay the toes into a larger “holding” tool, as the splayed toes in the photo to the left.

Below are some photos of coyote encounters with harmless snakes in San Francisco — we only have harmless snakes here as far as I have seen. Lizards behave similarly to snakes and even look like them with their long tails, which might be why they are treated the same way by coyotes. As for their aversion to eating moles (not “voles”, which are one of coyotes’ favorite staples here in SF), again it might be the bitter taste of these underground rodents.

Vigorously toying with a snake

Wallowing on a smelly snake before abandoning it there.

Forensic Coyotes, by Walkaboutlou

Good morning Janet,

An interesting event happened on a ranch I patrol.

Coyotes helped us solve a mystery. And crime.

The situation has taken weeks to unfold, but thanks to hard work, intense scouting, and persistence, it’s over thankfully.

This ranch has over 4000 acres. It has allowed Coyotes to coexist for 3 human generations. The patriarch of this ranch knows the coyotes, literally. He knows packs, individuals and territory. He knows his ranges and livestock and dogs. His land abuts BLM lands, and has abundant wildlife, including wolves, cougar, bear. His family follows his traditions. It’s an incredible place.

At issue was his cows started losing calves. An unusual amount lost without a trace.

So we literally started scouting/tracking/patrolling every square foot of 4000 acres for clues. His instructions-specifically look for any scat. Particularly coyote scat. Why? His words- ” A lot of things can be happening. We’ve got bear and cougar. Maybe wolves have discovered Fall calving areas. Maybe dogs are raiding. But 2 things I know-1)the cows are calm. They aren’t acting like a predator is around. And 2) whatever is taking calves, the coyote scat would tell me where. Nobody kills without coyote scavenging. The coyote will tell me where calves are lost/killed by the scat.”

So we spent weeks combing the land. Lost more new calves. We found cougar, bear, and wolf scat. We found coyote scat by the hundreds scattered and honestly presented. Not a single calf hair or part was found. Nothing.

The rancher made this conclusion-“coyote eat and scavenge everything out here. We’re not losing calves to predators. I have another suspicion.”

So trail cams were moved. And old driveways, roads patrolled.

Eventually, the mystery was solved. It was humans. Poachers. Efficient. Quiet. Humans. They would drive in secretly in 4 wheelers or on foot. Shoot new calves with .22 rifle. Hoist calf over fence to waiting vehicle. And leave. No trace of kill. No parts for Coyote to scavenge. Ironically, the poachers where same men who vehemently stated wolves, cougars, bear and coyote were responsible.

Calm Cows, and Coyote scat aroused the Ranchers suspicions. Intense scouting and tracking confirmed animals weren’t cause. Again coyote scat verified.

Trail cams and law enforcement finished the case. And found the calf killers. Poachers. Humans.

The patriarch said this in conclusion “my coyote tell me everything. If you listen and take the time, they’ll tell you everything. They are my 1st watchdogs. They tell me if wolves come through. They haven’t bothered my livestock for decades. They respect my LGD. And their scat literally shows me everything they eat and what’s going on. Not a single calf hair for 2 months. No animal can hide food from coyote. No animal can take calves without a trace. Except a human. The coyote told me it wasn’t wolves bear or cougar. It was men.”

So…Coyote Scat was a factor in catching poachers.
Truly, animals can show us worlds within worlds. If we allow it and take time.

Calm Cows and Coyote scat cleared suspicions, proved who it wasn’t, and led us to a conclusion. A human conclusion proved by trail cams and law enforcement

Maybe coyote should work for forensics.


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