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What’s Happening with the Coyotes?

October 1, 2015
coyote looking at dog, San Francisco

Coyote looking at dog, San Francisco, Aug 2011

A couple of days ago, neighbor Greg Flowers posted this on our Nextdoor site. (It’s reproduced here with permission.)

COYOTE SCARE

“After my experience last night, I plan to behave much differently when I am met by a coyote (or two) on the Sutro trails or on our neighborhood sidewalks. My usual MO is to respect its space and maybe snap a few photos of it as past encounters have been limited to in the woods of Mt. Sutro, and they usually run away.

“I took my dog out last night for a walk around the neighborhood around 10:45p following Christopher Dr east. As we were passing 15 Christopher, there was a rustle in the bushes and my dog lunged into the darkness. I pulled him back and we continued a few steps and then I saw it was indeed a coyote. It crossed the street into the woods and we made it to Clarendon before I turned and saw there were now two coyotes stalking us.

“Now I’m concerned and my dog is very interested in playing or giving chase. I tried to make myself look big and menacing, yelled a bit and made like I was going to charge them but they continued toward us so I then made the mistake of turning and continuing down Clarendon to get to Oak Park, looking over my shoulder constantly. No cars or people were out at this time and the fog + blood moon combo + coyotes stalking me really affected my nerves. The coyote in front crossed Clarendon as if it was planning to circle around to surround us and so when I got to Oak Park we turned the corner and sprinted all the way back to Christopher and Oak Park til we got home. That wasn’t the smartest choice but they didn’t follow me back into the neighborhood which was a huge relief.

“I’m posting this as a learning experience for myself and hoping it will help raise the awareness about the coyote presence around these parts. The closest I let them get to us was about 20 yards and my dog is 60lbs and these coyotes appeared larger than him. Because they were unaffected by my dog’s size and my scare tactic, I looked online and found this explanation of how to ‘haze’ coyotes so that they will fear humans again: Coyote Hazing: Guidelines for Discouraging Neighborhood Coyotes

“Hopefully we can make a neighborhood effort toward keeping coyotes, all our pets, and ourselves safe and that starts with coyotes maintaining a healthy fear of humans.”

A COYOTE WATCHER’S OBSERVATIONS

As readers of this site know, I’m a believer in coyote coexistence. This report was concerning, especially in the context of recent reports in which coyotes attacked dogs (one fatally) at Pine Lake (behind Stern Grove), a popular dog-play area.  So I reached out to Janet Kessler, the Jane Goodall of San Francisco’s coyotes. She’s been studying our coyotes for years, and maintains a great blog, CoyoteYipps.com where she puts up her observations. Why were we suddenly getting this bold behavior?

“There seems to be a change in their behavior going on, but I’m told that it’s not due to habituation, it’s due to the drought. All urban coyotes are habituated by definition, yet they still keep a healthy distance (can’t use habituated and wary at the same time). For dogs, it’s a different story — and it’s going to be the same story whether a coyote is habituated to humans or not. Habituation to humans has nothing to do with coyotes approaching dogs — especially when they are curious about them.

“[Greg] did the right thing by moving away from the coyote — that’s how you diffuse a situation and maintain control — you are simply not going to engage. If a coyote follows… he’s just checking out your dog, gauging whether it’s a threat to be worried about, and making sure it is a safe distance away.

“We’re seeing more coyotes because of the drought. Because of the drought, there are fewer gophers and voles in the coyotes’ home range, so they are expanding that range as they hunt for their favorite foods. However, as they hunt in new areas, they will opportunistically take free roaming cats.”

This is also a concern; I know some people in Forest Knolls do have outdoor or indoor-outdoor cats. I think it’s also important for people with small dogs to be especially careful. Coyotes may see them as rivals or as prey, and they’re much more vulnerable. Humane Society guidelines recommend keeping cats indoors, and not letting small dogs off-leash in the backyard at night. Here’s their article: Coyotes, Pets and Community Cats.

From Janet Kessler: “And, yes, coyotes have been approaching dogs, much more than we’ve seen before. Walk away always, and keep walking (never run) away from the coyote, even if he follows.

There’s more useful information on the CoyoteYipps website, here: CoyoteYipps.com

It also has some great photographs and observations of coyote behavior.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2015 6:33 am

    We were attacked twice by coyotes when we lived in Contra Costa County, where the coyotes are larger (35 lbs. plus) and more vicious, and I like to share my story with the “coyote coexistence” folks because the SF coyotes seem to be on their way to becoming larger and more aggressive like the CoCo County animals. Both times we were attacked, a few years apart, the coyote had lain in wait beside the trail and ambushed us as we went past. I constantly kept an eagle eye out for coyotes and behaved in all the “right” ways, including not walking at dawn/dusk (both attacks were in the middle of a bright, sunny day). The second time, the coyote hunted us after the attack, following 20 feet or so behind us all the way out of the park. Yelling, throwing rocks, etc. made no difference. My sweet, submissive, old-lady whippet needed 60+ stitches each time, but if she’d been a toddler or smaller dog she probably would have been killed. Coyotes are dangerous wild animals, no matter how much “hazing” we do. I’m a lifelong vegetarian and animal advocate, and I generally think our urban wildlife should be protected, but coyotes are just too dangerous to roam loose in a large city.

    [Webmaster: There have been hardly any attacks on humans by coyotes. But dogs and coyotes, there can be a problem. I’m sorry your dog was hurt, and hope she recovered well.]

  2. October 1, 2015 8:00 am

    People are also hacking away at our wild spaces like never before, especially in Glen Canyon, so that it looks to me that in some of our parks we’re sort of chasing them away from spaces that used to be wild and impenetrable to humans. Just look at that hugely cleared trail that now goes out to Portola. And like someone said about the raccoons attacking a while back, maybe humans have been feeding them and that has also gotten them more used to people. This is an excellent post.

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