Neighbors In The Night, by Vanitha Sankaran at Pacifica Magazine

When asked about the personality of coyotes, Kessler lights up. “Your average coyote is intelligent, curious, playful, protective, adventurous, cunning, independent, self-reliant, has family values and a frontier spirit, and strong individuality. Those are the same rugged frontier characteristics we value in ourselves.”

Writer Vanitha Sankaran from Pacifica Magazine recently contacted me requesting an interview and photos of coyotes for an article she wanted to do. Coyotes were being sighted more frequently in Pacifica, so it was an opportune time to get some information out to the public. I was, of course, happy to do this.

Here is her article, capturing how and why my passion began and grew as I discovered the extent of individual coyote personalities and the profusion of family interactive behaviors, along with the simplest basic guidelines for coexistence. Reproduction of the photos appear a little grainy in these online versions, but that several depict strong social interactions is very clear.

Hopefully the article will help open the door to recognizing that there are commonalities between species vs. “denying these similarities because we’ve been told that animals couldn’t possibly have qualities or social drives that humans have”. Recognizing a kind of parallelism will help you relate to them better, and help you possibly appreciate who they really are.

Feedback I’ve been getting: The writeup is fun and informative! :))  I’ve included the above embedded copy of the article from Pacifica’s website, and a link to a PDF version, below, which might be easier to read.
PDF version: P_NOV2018-web

On Being Alone: My Observations

Summary/Abstract: Coyotes are highly social. They mate for life and have families. Interacting, including playing with each other, is a mainstay of their existence. But when they disperse they may find themselves alone in the world with no one (of their own species) to socialize with. They become bored and lonely. Here one rekindles some fun and interactions for herself.*

Coyotes are very social animals: they have an intense family life and interact constantly with one another within their families. But youngsters grow up and must leave home due to their territorial imperative, so they either *disperse* on their own, or are *dispersed* by the parents. This keeps the population down in any particular area, ensuring that there are enough resources for those who remain — for the mated pair who claim that territory and for their future offspring.

So dispersed individuals head off on their own: they may remain *loners* for a while. Dispersal can be a treacherous time for them. Some have made it all the way to Los Gatos from San Francisco, as discovered by Ecologist Jonathan Young, but many if not most get killed by cars. A few have been able to find vacated territorial niches right here in the city. In my ten years of observations, I’ve only seen two youngsters, whose birth locations I knew, find locations in the city, including this one. Others, of course, must have, but I don’t know which of the parks they dispersed from. The previous coyote who lived where this one now lives, remained a loner for many years until he was killed by a car. It is his vacated territorial niche which this coyote now occupies. Will she ever find a mate, will she ever move on? Each coyote is a unique individual, so we’ll only find out with time.

Being the social animals that they are, but without a social group to interact with, loner coyotes can become excruciatingly bored and lonely. I say this based on my own observations and based on comments from other people who have observed the same coyotes. The time normally directed at family interactions — including playing or hunting together, figuring out and maintaining their relationships and hierarchy in the family, and even the sheer entertainment of living in a family unit — are simply not there for the loner. They must figure out how to fill in with some substitute activities. Each coyote is a unique individual with a unique personality: not all coyotes will follow the patterns of behavior I’m describing here. In fact, I’ll describe quite a contrasting loner coyote in a future posting.

Boredom: To fill her time, this loner coyotes often engages in innovative play using her creative imagination. This is no different from the coyote youngsters I’ve watched who are still connected to their families. I’ve watched this particular little gal play with a ball and with many other objects, including poop-bags, crackling water-bottles or boxes, sticks, torn-up shrubbery, almost anything! I’ve seen her pester bees and then chase them around trying to catch them and interact with them. I’ve seen her run away from a cat she approached in a playful manner — the cat rejected her advances by hissing at her, and the coyote ran off. Her play can be very intense, as though she’s battling some dangerous prey, or very mild, as when she just rolls a ball around and rubs on it caressingly — small prey is often treated this way.

 

Stressed out? Turid Rugaas wrote me about her observations of wildlife when I sent her several videos of this coyote playing exuberantly, which a dog-walker, based on her own knowledge of dogs, claimed showed the coyote displaying “displacement behavior”. Turid disagreed with the dog-walker. She said that in the USA (as opposed to other places where she has taught), there is a high demand from owners for a dog’s obedience and following commands which often creates stress in the dog:

“So among dogs in USA I will agree that doing these things might often be a result of stress and nervousness, simply because they are never allowed to be natural. But start observing wild animals and learn how they behave – and their natural curiosity will, when there is nothing more interesting to do, come out in creative playing and doing other things. And because they develop naturally, they also become very smart and creative. 

Of course the coyotes play ! and wolves – and dogs – and all animals – they will find things to do for fun, and especially if they have no big family they live together with they will activate themselves, – they do not need to be nervous to do that ! They need an outlet for their curiosity and active brain, which is so important . Observing wild animals could teach the trainers something instead of getting hung up in theoretical and scientific blabbering.

Playing means activating the brain, and getting mental stimulation, and that is completely necessary for humans and animals for the development of the brain. It creates curiosity which is necessary, and the mental stimulation makes the growth of new brain cells, which in its turn helps them cope with problems and difficult situations in daily life.”

So, according to Turid, dogs’ nervousness and anxiety (the displacement behavior) is caused by them being forced to do something unnatural — there is no escape from the demands of their owners for them — so they calm themselves with repeat behaviors that don’t fit the situation. Coyotes are not constrained by the same circumstances of needing to please a demanding owner.

Another advisor, a 40-year-veteran wildlife behaviorist from one of the large wildlife organizations here in the city, also confirmed that *fight or flight* still rules supreme, and a little coyote will not put herself into a stressful situation if she can avoid it. Certainly an urban environment will create stresses for a little coyote — it does for all of us. I’m suggesting that this coyote’s playful behavior is driven much more by being lonely and bored than by stresses from the urban environment, based on my observations over many months.

Loneliness: In addition, coyotes often watch the world around them — maybe it’s entertaining: to sit in the distance and just watch. They get used to the goings-on, and to the dogs and people seen daily — habituated to it all — and then, again because loners are social animal, they may seek interactions and even action. They may attempt to actually *participate* on some level, say by approaching a dog simply to get noticed and to get a reaction.  Some people have noted that they seemingly enjoy attention from onlookers — could it be that they actually might be *performing*? It must be very frustrating for them to be alone. These coyotes may feel a push-pull towards, and away from *the madding crowd*.

It is often hard for folks to stand back from such a situation, as has happened to this coyote. For a while, when she first appeared in the neighborhood, some dogs were allowed to interact with her, some people approached closer and closer, and some even fed her — some even throwing food from their car windows so that this coyote grew attracted to cars and to chasing cars in the street in hopes for a handout. By educating everyone about the need to stay aloof and apart — to *love her wildness* at a distance — and by stopping the feeding, I, with the help of most walkers in the area, lessened these interactions immeasurably. But it takes a village, and not everyone is on-board.

A period of increased energy. Last week, this little coyote’s playful activity suddenly picked-up. Her bouts of play with objects increased, she approached more dogs either with her play-bows or by dashing in-and-out around them. Chasing birds became a regular activity. And her chasing cars increased to several times a day (up from *zero to at-most a couple of times a week*).  Her activity often begins with her excited pogo-stick-like leaping and then she sometimes takes off after a car, or towards a dog who has piqued her interest. Dog owners have been advised to simply keep walking on, and, if needed, to toss a small stone angrily towards her (not at her). It should be emphasized that everyone has noted that this coyote is not at all aggressive — she is just plain playful. In the case of the cars, she mostly has been running parallel to the road and not on it, but also she has been in the street, even reaching for the cars’ tires as if to bite them. A couple of onlookers informed me that chasing cars is seen commonly in South America by stray dogs and by dogs on farms, dogs who also are bored and looking for entertainment — they do it for thrills. The onlookers suggested that this might be an explanation for why the coyote was re-engaging with cars suddenly after she had stopped for a while — i.e., for the fun and thrill of it due to boredom! It’s worth considering because it sure looks like this to me, and these observations have been seconded by a veterinary behaviorists who knows canine body-language.

This coyote also has been engaging in more bouts of what we call *the zoomies*. Anyone who has a dog knows this crazy behavior: the dog races around, sometimes jumping on the furniture and sometimes in circles, full of energy, defiantly, daringly, a bit naughtily, as though testing you. Well, coyotes do this, too. I’ve repeatedly observed youngster coyotes do it, especially in the presence of their parents, exactly the way your dog does it! In the case of this lonely coyote, it was happening in-between other energetic activities, be it car chases, attempts to engage dogs, or gleeful play, as with a ball.

Coincidentally, during this sudden phase of increased playful and exuberant activity, a new coyote was sighted in the neighborhood — the first new coyote seen since our loner coyote appeared there over a year-and-a-half ago. Are these two things related? Let’s see! It could just be a coincidence. Another explanation comes from my wildlife behaviorist contact who told me that if you stop reinforcing a behavior with food, or ignore the behavior, the behavior will eventually extinguish, but that *extinction bursts* may occur before behaviors are totally extinguished — this is when the animal will try a little harder to get the reward she’s been given in the past by, say, running more after cars, or play-bowing more intensely to get the attention of dogs. Could this be what is going on?

This increased activity level lasted several days, and then it plummeted during the next three days of almost full-time hunting, which pleased all of us no end. We’ll just have to keep a watch to see how this story develops. It might be of interest to everyone that her scat these days is loaded with fur (indicating she’s hunting) and/or is liquidy-dark (indicating high protein) and/or full of seeds (indicating she’s eating fruit). And I’ve documented her with apples, dead lizards, mice, gophers, a bird (yes, she even caught a bird and ate it) and even an opossum! Yay! Last November, when she spent most of her time panhandling, we almost never saw her hunt, and her scat was grainy and dog-like, instead of being twisted and rope-like and full of fur or seeds as it is these days!

Generally, in all the parks where I observe here in San Francisco, be they loners or family groups, the coyotes are doing well. There was a fearful reaction to a coyote in the Presidio recently that was in the news. Trails were closed around the den where the incident happened to all dogs for the remainder of the pupping season: this protects coyotes, dogs, and people from having to deal with a similar encounter: it’s a perfect solution!

People are, on the whole, slowly learning about our coyotes. They are learning to live with, and to accept, them — and, best of all, to love them. My request to everyone is to love them at a distance — love their *wildness*. Don’t ever feed them, don’t be overtly friendly towards them, don’t approach them, and please keep your dogs away from them. If a coyote approaches you and your dog, simply tighten your leash and keep walking away without running — and keep walking away, dragging your dog if you have to. If needed, you should pick up a small stone and heave it angrily towards (again, not AT) the coyote to dissuade it from continuing to approach. It’s pupping season, and they have a job to do as family protectors. Their method of choice, if you’ve encroached on their space, is through *messaging*.  Their message towards your dog could become very insistent: it could begin with little in-and-out darts towards your dog in an attempt to move the dog away, as cattle-dogs do, or standing their ground and displaying a menacing-looking Halloween-Cat pose — indeed scary looking — or even nipping your dog’s haunches to get it to leave. Please, just heed the message and move away from them quickly without running. As you leave, they may even follow: please just keep walking away.

For additional pertinent information, please see my presentation video, Coyotes As Neighbors:  And visit other postings on this blog — it is full of information about coyote behavior here in San Francisco, which I’m sure is no different from elsewhere.

 [*My postings are based on my own dedicated observations, as stated in the introduction to my blog].

Managing Urban Coyotes: False Advertising about Hazing and Habituation Can Lead To A Coyote’s Death Sentence (Updated and Revised)

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Managing Coyotes:

Most cities seem to leave it to individuals — not even larger neighborhood groups — to trap and kill coyotes as they see fit. Folks have long been taught that killing them is the way to manage them, even though it has been proven that this results in higher and younger populations, and fewer stable families to keep other coyotes away. In some places a permit might be required at certain times of the year, but usually not, and sometimes a reason is required to get the permit — including that the coyote was a “nuisance”. In one community, coyote yipping sounds were deemed a “nuisance”. These protocols seem to be the norm. There is no education behind them.

Few cities have actual written “coyote management plans”, such as the plans in Vancouver and Denver. More cities have informational websites offering the standard guidelines and explaining that killing coyotes doesn’t work — again, folks are free to trap and kill if they want to in these communities.

Here in San Francisco trapping and killing are not permitted, but we do not have a written coyote management plan per se, because it was deemed unnecessary. A coyote organization attempted to push its plan through in San Francisco — a plan that included extensive hazing — which the San Francisco Animal Commission wisely turned down. Coyotes do not need to be “hazed” whenever they’re seen — it can be counterproductive. See below.

What works here in San Francisco is educating the public about coyotes and their behavior and giving folks guidelines which will prevent conflicts and other issues.  I’ve helped convert many folks to a positive mindset just by telling them a little about coyote family life and iterating the guidelines with some one-on-one help on knowing how to shoo one off. Coyotes do not approach people unless taught to do so with food, so feeding of coyotes is forbidden, and folks are taught not to leave food attractants out in their yards.

As everyone should know, pets are the main issue of concern, but this is an issue which can be easily managed by not allowing pets to roam free, and by leashing and walking away from a coyote the minute you see it. Basically, what the authorities have been saying here in San Francisco is, that if a dog is bitten by a coyote because the dog was not leashed, or if a cat is taken because it was allowed to roam free, it’s really the owner’s fault and could have been prevented by following the guidelines — please take better care of your pet. This protocol is the only way to make coexistence work: it’s easy, it’s effective, it’s responsible, and the burden of responsibility is on the pet owner to guard his/her pets.

Habituation and Hazing:

I would like to add something here. . . . In my opinion, some of the “expert” information out there is counterproductive and remiss — it’s actually hurting coyotes and increasing fears in humans. For instance, “hazing” — mostly noise and erratic movement such as arm waving — is promoted as a cure-all which will cause coyotes to flee. But as I’ve seen here in San Francisco, and as we’ve seen in several cities which have now returned to trapping, for example in Seal Beach in Southern California, coyotes can get used to this and begin responding to it more slowly or even ignoring it.

The big problem then is what this does to people’s perceptions about coyotes: folks are under the impression that if a coyote doesn’t flee quickly when hazed, that it is therefore “habituated” and that it now poses a danger to the community. This is not so. Folks have been taught that a “habituated” animal is a dangerous one. This, also, is not true. Because of what has been taught incorrectly about habituation, folks feel that if they simply see a coyote, or if it doesn’t flee quickly upon seeing a person, it must be habituated, or on its way to becoming habituated, and, therefore, to becoming dangerous. Where does this come from? There is no science at all behind it. Telling folks this is increasing their fears. So teaching that “hazing” is a solution has actually backfired.

Coyote Behavior:

We all need to become aware of coyote behaviors so that we can know how to prevent issues. Yes, coyotes don’t like canine intruders in their territories: they even don’t allow non-family coyotes in. All canines, be they wolves, dogs, foxes or coyotes, don’t really like each other and all will exclude the others, as well as members of their same species who are non-family members, from their territories. This is instinctive behavior. We can’t really change their instincts for survival, but we can learn about them and understand them, and modify our own behaviors, so that all of us — human, cat, dog, coyote — can coexist. The guidelines are few and simple.

The other instinct driving coyote behavior is a food drive. We all need to eat. Coyotes normally hunt small rodents, but they will look for free food which they may find on their wanderings, and they may grab a small pet if the opportunity arises — it happens very infrequently, but it has happened. So, hey, let’s not let those opportunities arise! Keeping your cat or dog away from coyotes is easy.

Roaming through their territories as they visit their hunting spaces is another instinctive behavior. Everyone should know that, by doing so, coyotes in fact are preventing other coyotes from moving in. By the same token, you may sight them now and then in your neighborhood.

Most importantly, coyotes avoid humans. In most urban areas they’ve altered their schedules to avoid us: they are active mostly at night when we are not, even though they are not nocturnal animals.

 Simple Guidelines Are What Is Needed:

What actually needs to be taught is that habituation is normal: all animals become habituated to sounds and movements in their environments. It’s okay, and even fun, to see a coyote. This should not cause fear. We should be shaping the overall mindset of folks to think more positively about coyotes. And we need to teach that coyotes are wary — not fearful — of people: they’ll do their best to avoid us, even if they might not flee as quickly as someone might want them to. All habituated coyotes retain their wariness of humans.

It is feeding coyotes which should not be allowed. This attracts coyotes to yards and brings them closer to people — they could become demanding. Attractants of any sort should be eliminated from yards: you don’t want to invite them to visit, and you might even want to discourage them by shooing them off if you happen to be there. Shooing off a coyote should probably be reserved for when one has entered your yard, or if, for example, you need to get to your car and it happens to be standing too close. Avoidance however, is always the safest strategy: this goes for whether you see a coyote in the distance, coming towards you or if it’s already underfoot — leash your dog and go the other way without running.

The elderly, children and those who are afraid should not feel they need to haze or harass a coyote. Walking away accomplishes what is needed: the coyote’s entire intention in approaching is to move your dog and you away. So, do it! Vulnerable smaller dogs which might be viewed as prey should be picked up and walk away. 

Everyone should be taught to respect a coyote’s space and keep away from it. It is normal to see coyotes in parks, but dogs have to be kept far away from them. Please see this flyer for detailed information on how to handle coyote encounters: PRESS HERE.

Because of territoriality and because small pets are often seen as prey, but also because pets may be seen as an annoyance to coyotes — the presence and activity of small pets can be interpreted by coyotes as harassing or challenging them, so it’s not always about predation — it’s really important that folks guard their pets: keep pets from roaming free, leash pets in coyote areas and especially after spotting a coyote, don’t let pets chase coyotes, don’t leave food and other attractants out in your yards, know how to handle encounters. So, guard your pets carefully! Remove food attractants from your yard.  Notwithstanding, on occasion, you may see a coyote pass through the area — but that this should not be cause for alarm.

Examples of Misinformation or Misbehavior by Humans:

One of the problems in some communities is that the only option they are taught to use to deter coyotes is “hazing.” In some instances, when “hazing” may no longer be effective, because coyotes have become “habituated” to people and/or hazing, residents may see coyotes linger longer in their yards. When this happens, the coyotes are sometimes, incorrectly, perceived as “aggressive and dangerous”, as they have been in Seal Beach, California. Of course, those who have an informed understanding of “normal” coyote behavior know that habituation does not mean aggression — it just means that the coyote has become accustomed to seeing humans — and does not in any way indicate that the animal will react “aggressively” or that it is in any way a danger.

Another problem is when people are so fearful of the “mere presence” of coyotes that they overreact to seeing one — sometimes leading to coyotes being killed unnecessarily. For example, a coyote was shot and killed a week ago in Mamaroneck, NY after a resident called the police simply because they saw a coyote in their backyard — one that didn’t run off which is a sign of “habituation” and therefore “danger” some folks think. The responding officers, instead of providing an escape route for the coyote to walk away, surrounded the coyote and it responded defensively, as any animal would when it felt surrounded and trapped — and, therefore, was deemed “aggressive.”

Here is an example of irresponsible and counterproductive behavior by humans. I’ve been keeping track of a particular group of dogs in one of our parks in San Francisco whose owners don’t leash-up and who allow their dogs to chase after coyotes. Fascinatingly, it’s this group of dogs — almost certainly because of their hostile and antagonistic behavior towards coyotes — that the coyotes watch and monitor.  These dog owners feel that coyotes are a nuisance, but it is their non-compliance with leashing guidelines and allowing their dogs to chase coyotes which makes these dogs subjects of interest for the coyotes. The owners have, in effect, been allowing their dogs and the coyotes to engage and interact. It’s our responsibility not to allow any such engagement: the repetitive cycle can be broken by leashing the dogs. Other dogs in this park are leashed-up and walk on, and, not surprisingly, these dogs and coyotes leave each other alone.

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[revised for clarity 12/9/2014]

Coyote Night Vision and What Coyotes Know About Human Vision

coyote eyes

coyote eyes

Coyotes may be seen at any time of the day — they are diurnal animals, however for convenience in urban areas they have arranged their daily schedules to avoid human activity, so in cities they are active mostly at night when we are not. They can do this because their eyes have many more rod receptors than the human eye has, so they can see in the dark: they have night-vision.

Coyotes, like dogs and cats, have retinas that are almost entirely composed of rods. They have a superabundance of rods with only few cones.  Rods require less light to activate than cones, but they only allow you to see black and white; having lots of rods means great night vision. Humans, on the other hand, have predominantly cones and fewer rods. Cones require a lot of light to be fired up, but they allow color vision in bright daylight and they produce a very sharp vision. Cones do not respond to low light: under low light, humans rely on their lower number of rods. Note that for us, at dawn, dusk and nighttime, everything looks black and white, and not very clear or sharp, and we can’t see far.

Rods have a photosensitive pigment called rhodopsin which is particularly sensitive to low light. This pigment actually breaks down in strong light rendering it ineffective during the day, but at night, and when there is a superabundance of the rods as is the case with coyotes, the pigment is created faster than it breaks down. So these animals, out at night, can see pretty well even though you can’t, but they cannot see as sharply as those of us who use cones in daylight.

In addition to more rods, there is another factor which aids coyotes and other critters in their night vision. Have you ever noticed that if you take a photo of animals at night, their eyes shine? This is because they have a sort of “mirror”, called a tapetum lucidum, beneath their retina. This collects and re-emits light back into the retina, giving the rods a second chance to absorb visual information, enhancing their ability to see clearly in low light conditions.

Other  adaptions allow a number of animals to function at night and during the daytime, such as slit-eye pupils which cats and foxes have. Their pupils can open completely during the night, yet the slit protects their eyes from bright daytime light. One of the adaptations of owl eyes — owls only function at night — is the huge size of their eyes: their eyes often take up a full half of the room in their skulls. The increased retinal surface of large eyes permits even more rods which can collect even more ambient light. Since owl eyes are so large and must fit tightly into their sockets, owls cannot swivel their eyes in their sockets like we can. Instead, they rotate their heads at the neck to focus on different things. They can rotate their necks a full 270º!

So, coyotes are diurnal and can see well at any time, whereas humans see best when there is plenty of light.

The interesting thing is that coyotes seem to know where human perception lies, that we can’t see well at night — I saw an example of this just a few days ago. As I watched this older coyote in the photo below, he became aware that I was watching, and he curled up in a ball to watch back. Coyotes do this often — they’ll watch back and be just as entertained as you are! It got darker and darker and pretty soon I could no longer make out any details about this fella lying in the grass — in my eyes, he became a barely perceptible colorless bump in the grass.

As he lay there, a group of five young women began approaching. They were not quiet and sedate, but animated and active. It was a Friday night and they were headed-out excitedly together. You would have thought the coyote would move — he was only 8 or so feet off the path. But as I watched, fascinated, the coyote remained exactly where he was, and the girls walked by without even seeing the coyote right next to them. The coyote didn’t move because he knew from experience that he would not be detected at all. I’m not sure whether the girls thought he was just a pile of dirt or a rock, or if they even noticed that. I approached them afterwards, and asked, and they said they had had no idea.

 

Profile by Joel Engardio for the San Francisco Examiner

2014-01-10 at 16-16-29

get-attachmentA COYOTE WHISPERER FOR URBAN COYOTES: For seven years, 64-year-old Janet Kessler has been voluntarily observing and photographing urban coyote behavior throughout San Francisco’s parks. She regularly logs six hours a day, taking up to 600 pictures. “People think coyotes are vermin, dangerous or the big bad wolf,” Kessler said. “But they’re wonderful animals we can live with if we treat them with respect and take the right precautions.”

Read full essay: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/woman-on-first-name-basis-with-sf-coyotes/Content?oid=2815528

Pups Spied: Dad Minds The Youngsters!

What a fantastic surprise to see this sight a few days ago on one of my extended treks through our various Bay Area parks! It looks like, true to reputation, coyote fathers spend their fair share of time minding the kids. Look hard, and you can see it’s the father. Here you see a papa coyote in charge of four youngsters.

Papa minds the youngsters

Papa minds the youngsters

Youngster sticks snout into Papa's mouth

Youngster sticks snout into Papa’s mouth

But fathers’ jobs include much more than childcare. Fathers keep pups fed by bringing them regurgitated food and small whole prey. And they also will help train them to hunt. Note in this second photo how one of the youngsters is pushing its snout into Papa’s: that is what normally elicits the reflux in the father — but it’s just play here.

The kids here were pretty calm, while Papa sat there, ever so proud of his large brood. He saw me in the distance, and stayed there only long enough for me to get a few nice shots. Then he headed them into hiding and away from view.

Playing and observing

Playing and observing

Coyotes and Dogs, Coyotes and Humans, and How To Shoo Off A Coyote

The updated presentation — updated on June 13th — is at the top of the page in the second posting on this blog: It’s called Coyotes As Neighbors: Focus on Facts.

The version I’m posting today, here, in this posting, is called Coyotes As Neighbors: How To Shoo Off A Coyote. It is a shorter version of that first one: I’ve cut out some of the coyote behavior slides and the section on killing coyotes, and I’m concentrating on human and dog relationships to coyotes, and how to shoo them off in each instance. This version here is 20 minutes long, versus 30 for the one at the top of the Yipps blog. Otherwise, they are exactly the same.

**PLEASE NOTE A PROTOCOL CLARIFICATION FOR WHEN WALKING A DOG (not addressed in the video): Your safest option always is all-out absolute AVOIDANCE: Whether you see a coyote in the distance, approaching you, or at close range, leash your dog and walk away from it, thus minimizing any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement. If you choose to shoo it away, follow the guidelines in the videos, but know that what’s safest is unmitigated avoidance. Shooing off a coyote should really only be used if a coyote is in your yard or if you do not have a pet with you and the coyote has come into your personal space.

I don’t think a lot of the information in these videos can be found anywhere else — I don’t think much of this detailed urban coyote/dog behavior has been observed or documented — at least at the time I made this. Except for some statistics and the section from F. F. Knowlton that killing coyotes increases their populations, most of the coyote information in these videos comes from my own years of first-hand observations. I spend 3-5 hours daily in our parks, engaging in my “pioneering photo documentation” (that’s what one journalist called it!) and research of coyote behavior and their interactions with people and pets. I believe these are the first such presentations which concentrate on the urban coyote himself! I’ve been told by coyote specialist professors that the dog/coyote observations are new.

Anyway, I would like to to get the information out there now because we’re in the middle of pupping season — there might be more coyote encounters coming up.  This information will be useful especially to dog owners. If you have time for the longer version, I recommend that one. If you don’t, try this shorter version. They are both pretty long, but they contain most information that you’ll need, especially if you are a dog walker.

Following Behavior: Territoriality, Curiosity, AND Evading

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A coyote may follow you and your dog — the dog is the issue — out of curiosity or to monitor it, the same way you yourself might follow a “suspect” prowling through your neighborhood, to find out where they were going and what they were doing.

If you find that you are being followed by a coyote, walk away from the coyote — and don’t run, running invites chasing. Keep aware of the coyote and shoo it off effectively if it gets too close, and move on. And keep your dog leashed. Pick up a small dog.

The leashing is to keep your dog from being distracted by the coyote and going after it. You want to avoid engagement between the two.

I’ve seen this same following-behavior used for a purpose totally different from either curiosity or monitoring. It was used effectively by a coyote to avoid detection, as a human and his dog passed by. The dog had a history of chasing the coyote, and the man had a history of pursuing the coyote aggressively with his camera.  So this coyote had a particular interest in avoiding this duo. The dog and person passed while the coyote stood absolutely still and remained hidden and undetected in a dark wooded area. Then, to my great surprise, the coyote came out of hiding and followed them at a close 30 feet. The coyote did so carefully, on high alert and prepared to bolt  if necessary. This went on for about 200 feet before the coyote veered off to where the brush picked up again and it could continue undetected through the bushes. Neither the man nor his dog ever looked back!

In this case, what seems to be going on is that, by following in the duo’s “wake”, the coyote was continuing to avoid detection. Animals and people tend to look around themselves, but much less frequently  directly in back of themselves. We all tend to concentrate on sounds, smells and sights which are in front of us or to the sides. Coyotes know this, and “follow” as a method to avoid being seen.

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.

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