Happy Summer Solstice! A Summer Gallery of Six Photos

I decided to post a gallery of six photos to celebrate the longest day of the year — the Summer Solstice — and the coming of Summer. No story is attached, except I like these photos taken yesterday! Click on any one to enlarge it, and then scroll through them. For more photos without stories, visit Urbanwildness.com.

Left Back Leg: New Injury or Old Injury Acting Up?

holding up the back left leg

holding up the back left leg

She’s been limping for several days now. It was barely perceptible at first, and I questioned myself as to if it really was a limp. But now it has gotten worse — a definite limp.

I’ve not yet trained myself to recognize, by the stride, if the injury is in a paw, wrist, knee, hip or shoulder — veterinarians apparently can do this. But even I can tell that it’s the back left leg because she holds it up regularly, not wanting to put her weight on it, and her gait is not smooth.

It doesn’t seem to hamper her ability to move. I still see her climbing steep inclines and rocks — but it might be hampering her speed. And the injury might be the reason she keeps much further away from people and dogs, all the time lately.

I wonder how much it hurts. I know it hurts because she’s holding it up. Pain serves a purpose — it tells her “don’t use this appendage”.

Is this a new injury, or is it an old injury coming back to haunt its victim? Four years ago, this same coyote sustained a severe injury on her hind back left leg after being hit by a car, the same leg she is now holding up. That leg retains large black scars from that incident. Is this that injury acting up, or is it a new injury? No way to know. I’ll keep tabs on it.

Anyway, life is short in the wild. Every injury or disease takes its toll. A coyote can live 14 years in captivity — but what a horrible worthless life that would be. In the wild, the average life expectancy of a coyote is about five years. Do we even know how long coyotes live in the urban wild? Many urban coyotes are killed by cars. In some areas of the country, coyotes are trapped and killed in urban/suburban areas. Most coyotes everywhere endure all sorts of diseases and injuries. Whenever there is an injury, I think about it specifically and globally.

Avoiding Danger: People and Cars

It was dusk when coyotes headed out on their evening trek. They followed the street line at first. Coyotes, like the rest of us, take the path of least resistance. Within minutes, the one in front stopped short, stood very still and listened. Yep, although you could not see them, there were people talking ahead. Better change to a less conspicuous route.

They took a path under a thicket, following the street line, but way in from the street, along the backside of houses and apartments — it was an overgrown green corridor never used by people. Soon they emerged from the overgrowth. The dim dusky light hid them well. Nonetheless, two cars stopped to observe, and commented to me excitedly. Everyone wanted them to be safe.

One of the coyotes headed to the sidewalk and street curb, with the obvious intention of crossing the street. Four years ago, this very coyote was hit by a car and remained lame for over a month: she healed on her own. She learned from her experience and now plans her crossings carefully.

She stood there, hidden on one side by trees and by a parked car. Cars, their headlights on, passed by pretty consistently. When there was no car in view, she used her ears to get a sense of how safe it was, and when a person walked by, she hid behind a tree and was not seen. She kept waiting as cars continued to come by. Obviously, in her experience, this would not be a good time to cross. She turned around and went up the hill and disappeared from my view instead of crossing the street.

The camera has compensated for the dim light in these photos: in fact, the coyotes blended into the background and were difficult to see in the dark.

Breeding Season: “NO”

These photos were taken as these two ended their evening trek together. He tries engaging in his natural breeding season drives. She does not want this — she has a need to discipline his eagerness. What is fascinating is that he is a large male. She is smaller than he is, but incredibly wiser and smarter.

She adroitly whips him around and onto his back and totally dominates him, making him lie there, belly up, under her!  She is skilled and she has an unmatched force of personality. When he attempts struggling she nips him firmly and she doesn’t let go of her position until he shows her he comprehends. She’s always been the alpha, and I guess she still is.

Breeding Season: Smells and Walking on Eggshells

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This is all about powerful enticing odors — exuding and absorbing them. Attendant behaviors include edginess and short tempers. Odors are left anywhere, but especially on existing odors, such as where a dog has urinated. Odors are absorbed by wallowing in them and sniffing them.

Behaviorally, there is a decisive tentativeness during this time of year as a male and female approach each other. When HE comes over to sniff her, his movements are slow and as inoffensive to her as possible. The minute she shows any signs of flinching, he stops dead-still and waits for her to finish her reaction. He reads every detail of her movements. He is totally accommodating and ever so careful not to annoy.

For her part, she likes his presence — after all, she is walking with him. But she has let him know that he better watch himself — she appears ready to react to any misstep on his part. She rolls in his urine and allows his closeness — if he is careful. They read each other well. She’s been testy recently and he is absolutely walking on eggshells because of it.

I’ve numbered and annotated the 32 slides to explain what is going on in each one.

Rufous Runs To Mary, by Charles Wood

For several years I have been visiting a nearby field to watch two coyote parents whom I named Mom and Dad. In November 2012 I found that a new coyote couple had replaced Mom and Dad as the field’s resident coyotes. I named them Rufous and Mary.

Mary being a timid coyote, it has taken me a couple of months to get a close up photograph of her. Rufous isn’t timid and the video begins with him.

After having repeatedly scraped dirt to territorially message my leashed dogs, the video begins with Rufous assessing his effect on us. At this point, Rufous expected us to have either run from him or chased him. Yet we hadn’t moved at all. He wants us to show him we got the message, to show him so by moving. To Rufous we seem really slow in delivering a reply via our feet.

So what’s Rufous to do? Send the message again? Wait? The pause comes from my having constrained my dogs’ ability to communicate, restricted their ability to move. Motion is communication for canines and by now my dogs would have run away except for my influence. I resolved the uncertainty and tension by lobbing a golf ball toward Rufous.

Rufous trots away. Note that a chain link fence separated us and that he was closer to us than a coyote should be allowed to approach, too close for me to just turn and walk away. I needed distance from Rufous in order to leave and he gave it to me when I asked him for it with a softly tossed golf ball.

Mary

Mary

The next two scenes show Rufous approaching his den area. Mary is waiting there in the brush near the center and if you observe carefully you will see her move slightly. The last scene shows Rufous waiting for us to leave. Mary is off camera and Rufous looks back in her direction

The video shows that to my dogs, Rufous ritualistically messaged his claim to both Mary and the den, communicated those claims in a way that any canine would understand. Deviation from canine expected motion, communication, came from my desire to spectate instead of move.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Breeding Season: Different Behaviors and Edginess

Coyotes come into “season” once a year. This, unusually, is true of the males also. Females come into estrus in January. Coyote males produce sperm only at this time of year, and the process takes about two months. As happens with all critters, including humans, the hormones become powerful source of drives and behavior changes. Above are photos of a male showing a strong interest in a new odor. This is the kind of behavior you will see now.

In addition, it appears that the hormones can cause an edginess around dogs — akin to PMS in humans!? If she’s in heat right now does she need to keep dogs away from herself?  Other behaviors I’ve noticed recently include much more wandering and a lot more marking and scratching the ground. Below is a video of a female coyote reacting to an unleashed dog even though the dog is quite a distance away.  The dog is barking threateningly at the coyote and then approaches. The coyote reacts by baring her teeth, raising her hackles, bouncing up and down and scratching the ground. When the owner finally grabs his dog, the coyote runs angrily down the hill to watch them depart.  You can tell she’s very upset at how she was treated by the intrusive dog, even though the dog, in this case, was a substantial distance away.

Breeding Season: Wandering, Sniffing, Marking and Scraping

Not only has wandering increased recently, but so has sniffing, marking and scraping or kicking. The increase is probably due to it’s being the breeding season.

Urinating leaves all sorts of scents and messages which other coyotes, or even other animals, can pick up on. The urine, as we’ve seen from human dope testing, contains traces of all sorts of hormones and pheromones excreted by the individual animal. These hormones and pheromones can indicate  gender, age, stature, and maybe even mating availability. Urine is used by animals for marking their territorial boundaries, but also for leaving these other messages about their status.

Scraping or kicking the same spot they urinated on is a common behavior of dominant individuals. The act of scraping or kicking often signals leading status — it, too, is a messaging behavior. Paws apparently also secrete scents. Scraping, besides leaving traces of scent from the paws, also helps spread the scent of the urine. I’m wondering if this scraping or kicking of the urine actually allows them to carry the urine smell — now on their paws — further with them as they walk?

In the sequence of photos above, an individual male coyote was wandering around on a far hillside. I sat down to observe him. He wandered all over the place, sniffing intently, urinating and then scraping. No one was there to see him. He may have seen me — though I was hundreds of yards away. He urinated in many spots, and he scraped viciously. I’ve never seen other coyotes or dogs on that hillside, so I’m wondering who he was doing this for. Maybe another lone coyote had passed through and did the same thing, and this one was simply responding? Most of the scraping I’ve seen in the past has been in the presence of a disliked domestic dog.

Stratagem

Note how gingerly this coyote initially pursues his prey in this video. He begins by listening for little scurrying sounds of voles in their vast tunnel network underground — he does not want to alert them to his presence. So he tiptoes around the spot, carefully positions himself and waits — all the while listening intently. He’s very smart about what he is doing: clever and shrewd.

The hunt then shifts from a mental strategizing to a more physical one — there is a pounce/punch with nose and forepaws, followed by digging, and then another punch of the forepaws, followed by more digging. Punching serves to force some activity below the surface — if the coyote is able to collapse a tunnel or scare the vole, the vole might move so that the coyote will either see or hear it. His last recourse is to stick his nose in a tunnel entryway. After all that, he came up empty handed!  One can see why coyotes get their reputation for being clever, cunning, crafty, shrewd, tricky, and smart.

Coyotes yipping: Coyote behavior

[For a more in-depth writeup and more examples, see Coyote Voicings]

I have made several recordings of coyotes yipping. These recordings are not the classical howls we all know about, rather they are of a very high pitched barking — it has a violin smoothness or purity of sound. The barking has intent, is very intense. Except when howling at sirens, every episode of barking that I have heard was the result of a coyote having been chased or intruded upon on some level by a dog. Howling and yipping which results from having been chased by a dog is easy to recognize because they are much more distressed sounding. A less obvious cause of the barking may be an antagonistic dog which simply came too close to the coyote, say within about 100 feet, without actually chasing it: it turns out that in most cases, the dog chased or intruded on the coyote in the past.

But also, I’m seeing that a coyote will feel intruded upon if specific dogs “eye” the coyote on its perch — possibly in an antagonistic way — something like giving the coyote “the evil eye”. In addition to the vocalized complaining and standing up for itself which I’ve seen when a dog actually chases it, the coyote’s barking at these intrusive dogs appears to be a statement to them of territoriality.

I used to think that the barking might be a warning to other coyotes in the family group, but I have now seen instances where this was definitely not the case. For example, a dominant coyote — the mother — was relaxing on a hilltop when one of her full-grown pups started a barking session not too far off — it had been disturbed by a dog. I immediately started watching for a change in the mother’s behavior, waiting for some type of reaction. There was none. This mother ignored the barking, even though I had previously seen her run to a pup’s defense when she saw a dog — a particular dog which she deemed dangerous — approach too close to one of the pups. In another case, I was on a hillside photographing one of these full-grown pups when I heard the mother barking in distress in the distance — it is a signature bark which I have come to recognize. The young coyote totally ignored the barking and continued its hunt!  Now, maybe there are barks and then other barks, but in these cases the barking was not an alarm signal to others.

I have heard that coyotes will howl or bark just for the pleasure of doing so, and I’m sure they do, but I have never heard them under these circumstances. Males have a lower tonal range — barely — but you can tell them apart from the females if you hear them within a short space of time. Coyote “songs” can go on for 20 minutes or longer. I call them “arias”. Here are several videos of them:






Several coyotes barking at the same time can often sound like many more than there really are. They “come in” at slightly different pitches creating dissonances that sound like many.

Coyotes have various other vocalizations. There is the classical howl, there is childlike complaining in high pitched tones, greetings can sound like puppy sounds because they are high pitched, there is grunting which sometimes precedes a barking episode — as if the coyote is trying to decide whether or not to go ahead with it. There are anger grunts and growls.

For a more in-depth writeup and more examples, see Coyote Voicings

A Coyote in a Tree: Coyote behavior

I saw a coyote in a tree — in a pine tree. I have photos to prove it. Granted, the very large pine tree had fallen over years ago — but this doesn’t change the fact. The coyote remained in the tree for about 20 minutes, six feet up in the air, mostly engaged in a barking session. It had been chased by a dog.

When I first noticed this coyote, barely discernible in the distance, it was resting peacefully close to a creek where it kept its eye on a man who was far in the distance fixing a trail. The coyote also kept its eyes on dogs which were much closer than the man — they were on a path across a narrow creek. Few if any of the dogs and owners noticed the coyote. The coyote sat up sometimes, curled up sometimes, groomed itself, and seemed to fall off to sleep at times when it put its head down. It kept its ears constantly moving —  they serve as its “antennae” — picking up every clue of activity in the vicinity.

THEN the balance was upset. Up raced a dog which had seen the coyote, and the coyote was off in a flash. The dog was called by its owner and did not pursue the coyote.  But the coyote was upset — coyotes do not like to be chased, and they don’t like to be intruded upon. The coyote began a long, distressed barking session. I followed the sound and found the coyote — in a tree!! Not on the tree, but within the branches. And it was not really “out on a limb” — it had chosen the sturdy trunk to lift itself up high for a better view of any others that also might be pursuing it. It turned out that there were no more pursuers, but it howled away its distress for a full 20 minutes. A fellow and dog came up. We marveled at the show — urban and wild. It was a magical moment to share with someone. After about twenty minutes of barking, the coyote must have felt it was safe after all, and it calmed down: no one else was around. The coyote slowly and easily then walked up to a bluff, in the sun, where it relaxed for about half an hour before getting up.

I then watched it calmly walk about for the next fifteen minutes — until it saw two people — no dog. Obviously the coyote had had enough intrusions for the day, because at this point it hurried around them and down a path where it ducked into the brush and I lost it. I had watched the coyote for about three hours: from resting and watching and grooming, to being chased by a dog and fleeing, to a barking session, to relaxing and watching again, to meandering, and finally to fleeing from people. The coyote in the tree was the best part.

*A Quote Worth Pondering (blog follows)

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other.  If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear.  What one fears one destroys.”      Chief Dan George

Charles Wood, a frequent contributor to Coyote Yipps, adds: “I want to try and express Chief Dan George’s words a little differently, though I believe the meaning is the same: ‘If you talk to the animals they will talk to you and you will come to know them. When you come to know them, you will love them, with respect, without fear. What one fears one destroys. What one loves one defends.'”

For more photos, visit UrbanCoyoteSquared: A Gallery.

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A Burial: coyote behavior

Today I saw something I had never seen before. A coyote captured a gopher by patiently and quietly waiting for it, then dove in after it, head first. The gopher was not immediately killed, which made it very difficult for me to watch. In fact, the little animal always landed on its feet when it was dropped: it looked like it was putting up a fight or was pleading for mercy. Eventually it was still, and the predator carried its dead prey a distance — maybe 200 yards — and dropped it. And this is the part I have never seen before: the coyote then scooped out a hole with its muzzle, moved the gopher into the hole, then used its muzzle to move dirt and leaves over the animal: it was being buried. The process took less than 60 seconds. I’m wondering if coyotes have “caches” of food here and there? I looked at the site when the coyote left — although there was a little mound of leaves, it really was hard telling it apart from the area around it. I went back a day later to find that the leaves and the deceased were still in place. But I looked again on October 30th, three days after the kill, and although the leaves and sticks were carefully piled back where they had been, the gopher was no longer there. So maybe it had been “saved” for later? Coyotes eat not only prey, but also carrion. I have seen a coyote bury an old, dead, dry snake. Also, there has been an observation of a coyote burying a rock!!

I love watching and documenting coyote behavior. I’ve seen a mother coyote dart down a hill to aid her pup who was being chased by a dog: then both coyotes, mother and pup, “worked” the dog, charging it from both sides and nipping the haunches, as a cattle dog would, to get it to move on. The dog obviously was overwhelmed and fled with his tail between his legs. Today I watched a bored coyote, at rest, gnaw on a branch which was within its resting reach — the coyote seemed to be entertaining itself. I’ve seen a sitting coyote grab a gopher out of a hole as effortlessly as we might grab a coke from the refrigerator. And I’ve seen a coyote really work for its meal: standing, head cocked to one side, and waiting patiently at a vole or gopher hole until there was movement, and then dive, muzzle first, with a high leap, into the hole, where, if the coyote wasn’t able to grab the critter, at least he had injured it, because with a little digging, the injured vole/gopher was retrieved. Prey is sometimes killed and consumed right off — with minimal chewing or bone crunching followed by one big gulp, and sometimes it is toyed with. Besides voles and gophers, I’ve seen coyotes eat peanuts and catch a squirrel. And I’ve seen a coyote eat grass, exactly the same as some dogs do, and then heave several times to throw it up. Coyotes have been seen devouring snails.

A couple of times I have seen coyotes catch voles, toy with them and eventually behead them (coyotes’ back teeth are like scissors), before tossing the carcass aside never to be eaten. I wonder why? And in back of a house I once saw a couple of dead voles which I thought might have been poisoned (rat poisoning from the house?), because when, a few days later, a coyote came upon them, she picked one up in her mouth, she spat it out disgustedly, and then squatted over them and urinated on them. Might this be some sort of sign to other coyotes?

I’ve seen coyotes, sometimes alone and sometimes in twos, go up to a known dog with its owner close by, circle around and, ultimately, as if it were a dare, go up and “touch” the tail of the dog before running off. I’ve seen coyotes sit for hours, watching the show of walkers and dogs in a park — calm, collected and relaxed — until a dog gave chase. I’ve noticed that each coyote has a very different “critical distance” that they like to maintain from walker and dog to walker and dog. Coyotes seem to ignore humans and never approach them, but coyotes are keenly interested in all dogs and can “size them up” as to their friendliness, aggressiveness, dominance, energy. And, coyotes seem to know when dogs are leashed.

And human behavior is just as interesting. When a coyote is close to the trail I always let people know that it might be best to leash up  – after all, the parks are “on-leash” parks, even though few people abide by this. Today, a fellow human balked when I suggested that giving the coyote a wide berth might keep things calm. Oh no — for this man, coexistence means the coyote would have to move. So I watched as this fellow and his dog went by, obviously within the coyote’s “critical distance”.  Although the coyote kept its distance, it began baring its teeth and wrinkling its nose, charging back and forth in short spurts, scratching the soil and bucking and rearing — the coyote was obviously upset. So the man pulled his dog along and hurried by.  Is it really so difficult to give in a little to the wildlife in our parks? This female coyote did end up moving off — but I don’t think she would have during pupping season: May to September.

The first four photos above show the capture, fighting back and burial of a gopher. Photo five is of a coyote playing with a stick. The last photo shows how upset a coyote is when the above-mentioned dog walker entered the coyote’s critical space — the walker could easily have given the coyote a wider berth.

A Coyote Blog For Those Who Love Coyotes

Thoughts about not-so-shy little coyotes:                                                       why it is this way and what we can do to coexist peacefully.

Coyotes can be seen occasionally  in various parks in the Bay Area. Most stay fairly hidden, so a glimpse might be all you get. But in several of the parks there are coyotes who are more “out-in-the-open.” Aren’t coyotes supposed to have fears and flee from humans and dogs?  People have been accused of causing some coyotes to lose fear by approaching to watch or photograph them — they advocate that we need to throw stones and scream and shoo them off at all times. I disagree with both of these premises. I want to address why some coyote are not so shy, and that we need to concentrate on preventing dog encounters for the dogs’ and coyotes’ safety. I’ve added a footnote about my own approach to wildlife.

First of all, these coyotes have been acclimated to humans for at least three years now — that is as long as I have seen any in the parks. This is due to their living in an urban environment where they see people daily. Coyotes are fast learners: a coyote would quickly learn that humans do not harm them: there have not been any adverse consequences to coyotes from humans so far. It might also be that some coyotes are individually less fearful than others — animals are individuals and do not all fit a “norm”.

People are fearful that some of the coyotes are being fed: walkers have seen food left out, and residents along the periphery of the park have let me know that they would talk to household members who “might” be leaving food out when I went to each house requesting that they not do so. Those of us who care for the coyotes know that you never feed wildlife, because this could lead to a coyote’s “demanding” food at some point — it could lead to aggressive behavior towards humans. However, these tendencies do not exist in the coyotes I have seen. Although these coyotes can sometimes be spotted blatantly out in the open with no need to run for cover, they cautiously keep their distance from people.

I have seen coyotes going about their business of hunting gophers, observing, walking up a street. I’ve seen one doze off, eyes closed, in full view of a stream of walkers. However, they do move off, keeping their “critical distance” if approached too closely — the distance is a measure of a coyote’s feeling of safety.  Most of us who love coyotes see the parks as their home — respectfully. After all, we have an entire city, they have only a park, where they have asked only, if not blatantly and clearly, that we not let the dogs chase them.

The only problem I have seen is with the dogs. Dogs are seen as a threat to coyotes — a much bigger threat than dog walkers realize, a threat we may not really comprehend until our dog gets hurt. Dogs approaching a coyote have caused every incident of concern in our parks. That coyotes communicate visually is something domestic dogs do not often respond to.  A coyote may need to communicate more forcefully to dogs who chase it: short bursts of charging and retreating, a long and piercing barking session up on its hind legs, or nips at the haunches of the offending dog in a cattle dog’s herding fashion — all of this accomplished with intensity. We need to prevent these incidents. We can prevent them by leashing our dogs in coyote areas.

In response to these dog intrusions, some coyotes have taken the initiative and become somewhat bolder with some of the dogs.  Although I have not seen coyotes follow humans walking alone, coyotes have sometimes followed dogs and their walkers. No one has been particularly bothered by this until very recently, when a couple of walkers said this made them uncomfortable: they felt that they were being “escorted” out of the park more than just curiously observed, and they felt they were being followed a little more closely than before. But most people in the parks are still thrilled to catch a glimpse of this wild creature in an urban park, even if it is following them.

It seems that the best way to make co-existence work peacefully — coyotes, humans, dogs — is to keep our dogs totally away from any coyotes by keeping them right next to us in sections of parks where we see a coyote most often. Even with this precaution, there is the element of a surprise appearance that easily can catch anyone off guard. So, a dog owner needs to look ahead, think ahead, and leash up. Animal Care and Control has told me that a coyote is allowed to protect itself. What dog owners need to know is that to prevent a coyote’s need to protect itself, we need to keep all dogs totally and absolutely away from it and from any possible pups. Coyote activity mostly occurs early in the day, although it is not limited to this time.

The return of coyotes to urban settings is an exciting development which points to an ideal that many of us have hoped for: an environment which is becoming more and more balanced in all of its aspects. It is an example of where, rather than controlling all aspects of our surroundings, we are accepting what is out there and learning to appreciate it and live with it. A coyote is a wild animal. We need to remember this. However, in an urban setting the edge of this wildness is going to be lost — but not all of it will be lost. So, a coyote will stand up for itself when threatened by a dog that chases or startles it.  We can eliminate their need to stand up for themselves by ensuring that our dogs never approach them. It is only through each dog owner’s taking responsibility that this can happen. I’m hoping that everyone will help.

I wanted to add a footnote about wildlife and communicating with it. I know an animal person who truly believes that one should keep a huge distance and never even make eye-contact with a wild animal to keep it wild. I can’t imagine a more soul-less approach to animals. It is only by branching out and truly seeing other people and animals that our world acquires layers of meaning. To absorb as much as there is out there, we have to be open to it. Fortunately, one of my favorite people, Jane Goodall, agrees. In the September 21, 2009 issue of Time Magazine, she says, “I’ve always been very attached to the animals I work with, and although a scientist is supposed to be subjective and lack empathy, I’ve always thought that this is wrong. It’s the empathy you feel with a living, individual being that really helps you understand.”

Any suggestions for keeping our urban coyotes as safe as possible? Back to first page of blog.