I used to have mixed feelings about coyotes. When I was a child late at night, I loved drifting off to the howls, barks and yips from coyotes—their vocalizations added depth to my sleep. While I felt in awe of coyotes, at the same time I was afraid of them. I grew up hearing stories that painted them as predators who ate pets, livestock and somehow were threats to people. I have since learned that there is much to appreciate about them.
Video courtesy of Felidae Conservation Fund.
There’s an amazing coyote I want you to know about. Meet 09M, a coyote success story. At 2 ½ years old, he’s beaten the odds—he’s survived. 09M is smarter than most coyotes because he’s avoided being killed while crossing dangerous highways and he’s managed to side step injuries and death from predators, diseases and poisons. We know Coyote 09M’s personal story and have followed him because he was collared and tagged with large, red ear tags when he was a pup. His perilous journey has taken him 35 miles from where he was born to my favorite canyon where he’s found a companion.
Coyotes are vilified
Coyote 09M and his relatives are misunderstood. He, along with his coyote kin are the most persecuted predator in the United States. Their bad reputations are due to a few questionable menu choices in their highly, diverse diets. I empathize with pet lovers and ranchers whose household pets and livestock fall prey to coyotes. Despite the bad press, coyotes have many admirable characteristics. They’re smart, extremely adaptable, social and cooperative and they’re excellent parents.
Tagged and Collared
09M traveled a long way before reaching the relative safety of the canyon. He’s a city coyote, born in San Francisco. When he was around six months old, The Presidio Trust tagged and collared him along with three of his siblings and his mum. His dad was cautious and human aware—too smart to be caught. The Presidio Trust tracked the journeys of 09M and his siblings. After one year the tracking collar batteries failed and the collars fell off, leaving only colorful ear tags for identification. The three siblings went on their individual journeys and traveled remarkable distances. Currently, we only know for sure that 09M is alive.
Coyotes have a high mortality rate
50-70% of urban coyote pups don’t make it through their first year—cars, predators and poisons take their toll. After that vulnerable first year, they have a 30-40% chance of dying every year. 1 Unfortunately, 09M’s siblings didn’t disprove the statistics. 08M became a vehicle casualty. His body was found on Highway 101 in January 2019. His sister, 10F, recognizable by her fashionable yellow ear tags, went off radar on the south-east side of the city. Watch for her! Let The Presidio Trust know if you see a coyote with large, circular yellow tags in her ears. We would be overjoyed if, like 09M, she’s found a mate and a place to settle.
Coyotes are survivalists
Despite high mortality rates, coyotes are a successful species, thriving in a variety of environments. The secret to their success lies in their ability to adjust to novel situations, being foodie opportunists and highly intelligent. They live in rural, suburban as well as urban environments and they are flexible eaters, enjoying a wide range of food.
Although they’re predators, coyotes are omnivores. They’re not picky. They relish rodents as well as garbage. Although rats, voles, mice and rabbits are high up on the list of favorite cuisine, coyotes also munch with gusto on veggies and fruit. When available, venison is also on the menu, but since deer are formidable opponents, coyotes hunt them cooperatively with other family members. Unfortunately, coyotes don’t limit their carnivorous tastes to rodents and venison. They’re opportunistic eaters—when presented the chance they will eat household pets and livestock who are relatively easy to catch.
Many coyotes leave their natal families before their first birthday2 . Others stick around awhile longer, helping with their parent’s new litters. 10F, 09M’s sister was frequently filmed at the den site, babysitting the new pups. Since 09M left his family when he was seventeen months old, he might also have had babysitting duties.
09M lived the nomadic life when he dispersed, traveling far from where he was born. According to his GPS tracking collar, he visited my neighborhood late last year—a journey which took him 35 miles south of the city. After my concerned neighbors caught glimpses of him, they flooded in-boxes with e-mails and alerts about him. Hopefully, his brief visit to the hood was accompanied by a sharp decrease in the rat population.
09M traveled alone for months, until he recently settled in my favorite canyon—a relatively safe place with water, cover and diverse food sources. Based on recent footage from the wildlife cameras, he now has a companion.
Family and social life
Coyotes are known to be monogamous, hanging with the same mate for years, often for their whole life. And, they are family-centric. The survival of the young ones depends on both parents caring for them. Mom nurses the pups while dad hunts and brings them food. 09M and his mate may soon be parents.
Coyotes are territorial
He wasn’t the first coyote to settle down in the canyon. There used to be another bonded pair who lived there before 09M claimed it. Our cameras filmed them for a year until they disappeared a couple of weeks before 09M showed up. It’s a mystery we will probably never solve.
His territory, fragmented by roads, highways, buildings and other trappings of civilization is tiny compared to his rural cousins. Because so much food is available, he, like other urban edge coyotes don’t need large territories.
Coyotes are our neighbors
Urban edge coyotes are heavily influenced by the proximity of humans. Schedules, food, and territory sizes and locations revolve around people. Although coyotes live in the urban green zones, they prefer not to encounter people. When human activity slows down or stops, coyotes are out and about. Instead of hunting at dusk like their rural cousins do, city coyotes shift their meal schedules to late nights and early mornings when people sleep. These are also times when there are fewer cars to dodge. 09M is no exception. Although our cameras have filmed him at all hours, he’s wary of humans and vehicles. He’s quick to run at the slightest indication of a person lumbering down the trail and he skirts around busy roads.
09M is smarter than most coyotes. He has street smarts, successfully crossing the road that borders the canyon. He chooses wisely, making the dangerous crossing when there are no cars in sight or within ear shot. Our cameras have caught him hesitating, making false starts and then finally darting across. Coyotes who don’t have street smarts don’t live long.
Keep safe around coyotes
Don’t be surprised if while walking or jogging around the neighborhood you see a coyote. You might even be privileged to catch a glimpse of 09M and his companion as they patrol their territory. Don’t be alarmed, but at the same time be safe. If a coyote approaches, stand tall, yell, scare him/her away—don’t run away. And although pups are adorable and look approachable, don’t! If you see them, keep a healthy distance, the parents are probably close by.
Pet lovers can keep their household animals from becoming part of a coyotes’ diet by keeping pets indoors, walking dogs on leashes, not leaving pet food outside, refraining from night time walks and being alert for coyotes as well as avoiding den sites. Coyote parents are understandably protective of their pups and may aggressively chase dogs away.
Although, they are an important part of the eco-system and are efficient at reducing the rat population coyotes shouldn’t be encouraged to stay around homes. Never leave food out for them or other animals—they will learn to view people as meal tickets. Appreciate 09M and his cousins from afar and keep them wild—it’s for their own safety. Friendly coyotes don’t survive long around people.
1 Cartaino, Carol. Myths & Truths about Coyotes. Pg. 175
2Young. dispersing coyotes are called transients and nomads.
Here are some of my sources:
Long term bonding and monogamy urban coyotes
Environmental factors influencing occurrence of conflicts coyotes in urban areas
For more information:
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Marilyn is a certified cat behavior consultant. Not surprisingly, she’s fascinated by feline behaviors. The fascination started with household cats and then after witnessing a puma being killed a few blocks from her home in the suburbs, expanded to include local mountain lions and bobcats. A few years after the tragedy, she joined the Bay Area Puma Project/Felidae Conservation Fund, maintaining trail cameras, writing and helping wherever she can, while learning how urbanization is affecting the apex predators’ behaviors.
She is also an author and educator. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior issues through clicker training, environmental changes as well as other positive reinforcement techniques. She gives presentations throughout the United States as well as writes columns and articles for a variety of venues. She is also frequently interviewed for print and on line publications. Additionally Marilyn is a frequent guest on television and radio and has appeared, along with her Bengals and Savannah Cat on Animal Planet, CBS, ABC, KGO and others.