Is Another Coyote Now Visiting Bernal Heights?

The original Bernal Coyote playing on Bernal Hill a few days ago. Photo by Janet Kessler

Yesterday Bernalwood received several reports of a confused-looking coyote spotted in parts of Bernal Heights where coyotes are not usually seen. The reports described a coyote walking on Mission Street near the intersection with Cortland, and on Cortland near Anderson in front of Fit Bernal Fit.

Of course, those are very different locations from the usual stomping grounds of the Bernal Coyote, a female coyote who lives rather stylishly in the wilds around the summit of Bernal Hill.

Did yeterday’s sightings involve the same coyote? Or has another coyote arrived in our Bernal lands? To find out, Bernalwood reached out to Janet Kessler, the San Francisco coyote whisperer who runs the  wonderful Coyote Yipps website, for insight.

Janet tells Bernalwood:

There were sightings of a coyote going down Ellsworth yesterday, and a few minutes later, at 7:30 am, someone drove up to tell me that that they had seen a coyote going down Bocana.  Although I have not seen this new coyote, I can confirm that it is not the *one* on the hill, as I had just seen ours, and there is no way she could have run that far, and back, to be playing ball on the hill about one minute later.

These two coyotes’ paths did not cross this morning. I don’t know if they’ve met. But, I can tell you that over the last three days, *the* Bernal Coyote has been extremely excited and happy, playing unceasingly, and, unfortunately, even chasing cars (though it appears to be for simply the thrill and for fun rather than due to feeding). Her car-chasing had been curtailed almost entirely, I believe as a result of our efforts to clean food off of the street and talking to everyone about the detriments of feeding and being friendly.

The Bernal Hill coyote’s excitement over the last few days could be a result of another coyote’s arrival  — I can’t think of a another reason for the sudden change in her behavior. Or, it could just be a coincidence. Bernal neighbors, please keep us posted if you see another coyote around the hill.

21 thoughts on “Is Another Coyote Now Visiting Bernal Heights?

  1. I love your description.
    I fear for the new coyote as not everyone reads the bernalwood site and I can see how people would worry about their small dogs and cats being attacked . If only she would meet the other coyote and they would hang out in the hills..

  2. I saw 2 coyotes in the street way over near Coit tower last Thursday night On Francisco and Stockton. One had a tracking collar. Who tracks them?

    is that info available

    • Hi Mike —

      The City does not radio-collar or track coyotes, except through sightings. However, the Presidio does, so that fella is from the Presidio. The female does not have a collar.

      • thank you for your response and the info,

        hmmmmm, ranging from the Presidio to Coit tower?

        the both look ed a bit skinny only one of the 2 had a radio collar the were traveling together

        I was too slow to snap a pic

  3. Hi Mike — All coyotes look scrawny at this time of year. The reason for this is that they shed their entire 4″ long, very full and fluffy winter coats at this time. The animal underneath all that concealing fur indeed is a scrawny one, kind of like a whippet — he/she is this way all year-round. Starting in mid-July, the fur will begin growing back. This is a once-a-year occurrence.

  4. Janet, what are your credentials that make you an expert with coyotes? I’ve seen you at the park many times following the coyote around to get pictures of it, but your explanations about this coyote sound more like subjective opinions than anything else. I am worried you are giving people misleading information. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wild animal chase cars just for the “thrill” of it. Look forward to your reply.

  5. Hi Wayne — I’ve written out a rather long response to you which I’ve posted on my blog for you and everyone to see. Other people, besides those that come to Bernalwood might be interested in my answer, which is why I posted it there. It is entitled, Reply to Wayne: I’m thinking of a more suitable title, but for now this will do.

    • Janet, thank you for your reply. Since the reply feature is inactive on your blog post, I will respond to your post, here. I am an engineer, however, I have extensively studied psychology and comparative psychology during my university years. I had the pleasure of meeting Turid Rugaas while living in Germany, when I attended one of her dog-training workshops. She is very knowledgable about dogs. However, she does not have much, or any knowledge, or academic training on the behavior of wild canids, so, I would accept her opinion on coyote behavior as just another opinion, not a fact. In your reply, you also say:

      “Remember that all learning of behavior starts with observation and then seeing the patterns — it is how Jane Goodall changed our views of animal behavior. I can tell you what I’ve seen, and I can offer logical explanations that fit these repeated situations.”

      There are thousands of (scientific) articles that analyze the behaviors you are seeing in this coyote, however, you do not refer to any of these studies to support your so-called “logical explanations.” I took some time to visit your blog and read some of your posts before writing this response, and found most of your evaluations are subjective opinions which are mostly wrong and misleading. “Exuberant, thrilled, happy, sad, jealous…etc.” do not describe behavior. Jane Goodall changed the perception people had of chimps (not animal behavior in general) when through her observations she discovered they made and utilized tools.

      You say you are not an expert, but when you are putting yourself in the public with all the articles you have been in, you should do it responsibly by stating that your behavioral evaluations are your personal opinions, nothing more. The trusting and unsuspecting public will take them for the truth, otherwise.There are enough “alternate facts” out there in cyberspace without adding to them.

      I have seen you at the dog park since around November of last year. What I and many neighbors here find disturbing is that you are constantly in the presence of and following the coyote. This can cause a number of behavioral issues in the coyote that is already under a lot of stress from being in this environment.

      Much of the hyper activity you call “playing” and “having fun” is not play and fun. Although self-play has been observed in coyotes, it can also be a signal for stress especially if these behaviors are expressed out of context, and at this park with dogs, people and traffic, the coyote’s “incessant play” you describe is definitely out of context. In psychology it’s called displacement behavior. Displacement behavior has been observed in all wildlife as well as people in times of stress. It is also used to determine and measure stress in wildlife. By misinforming people that when the coyote is behaving erratically, that it is having “fun” can put the viewer and their dog at risk because they are not reading the coyote’s signal correctly and staying around the area when the correct response would be to leave and give the coyote some space.

      The fact you are consistently observing this hyper activity in the coyote, while I never have, although I see the coyote almost every day, shows that you are the likely trigger and that the coyote is stressed by your constant presence. This brings me to my next point, which is that this stress can be channeled into defensive aggression towards the dogs at the park. So, I am going to ask you for the sake and safety of the park users, their dogs and the coyote to please not come around here anymore. I would also encourage you to rethink the impact of your own behavior at any other dog parks you are “observing” coyotes at.

  6. Wayne — What you are saying is incorrect. I’m not stressing the coyote or scaring her — a scared
    coyote will react by fight or flight, and a coyote is going to avoid any stressful situations.

    When coyotes become habituated to people and dogs, they lose their fear and become more relaxed and at-ease around people and dogs, not more stressed out. This is the definition of habituation. This coyote is habituated to humans and dogs — it means she is more at-ease and relaxed around them. Her habituation early on went hand-in-hand with, and was reinforced by, food and by people/dogs responding to her attempts at interactions. It is because the coyote is at-ease that she plays, and she even tries to interact with dogs. This has been confirmed for me in a phone conversation with a professional wildlife animal behaviorist with 40 years’ experience.

    The behaviorist I spoke with has been watching a coyote play-bow and run with her own dog on
    a regular basis: the coyote avoids the stressful barking of the dogs en route, weaving its way through the area, and comes to rest at the fence where it interacts with this one dog whose company it enjoys. Coyotes are social animals and they play among themselves in this exact same manner. Coyotes play with dogs, and they play on their own with found objects.

    If you stop reinforcing a behavior with food, or by ignoring it, it will eventually extinguish. *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.

    So, everyone, please continue not to feed, keep your distance, and walk away from the
    coyote if she approaches.

    Wayne, please send me citations to any of the “thousands of articles” which you refer to which relate to specifically “urban” coyote fears and stresses. I tend to think the only individual who is getting stressed out is you :)) — I say this good humoredly! It’s a joke. By the way, you have no right to forbid anyone from visiting the public park. I will continue helping out by picking up the food, talking to folks and documenting behavior changes.

    • Ms. Kessler, you admitted you are not a coyote expert and that you do not have a background in behavioral sciences. Your last email reinforces this. Any more discussion on this topic would be a waste of space and time.

  7. Just my experience with the coyote on the Hill.I took my dog and my 9 year old Grand daughter for a walk there over a week ago.She has been wanting to see her since knowing that I have.It was 7 in the evening all quiet on the North side.She looked around and I said yip and see what happens.I figured nothing would.We walked a bit further and there she was leaping on her hind legs in a playful manner.My Grand daughter wanted to get closer and I said no because our dog was not fond of her.I told her she will follow which she did for a while.About 20 behind.Just a relaxed walk .After a while she parted up higher and went to a large bush and tore off a stalk and started to play with it still watching us, and us her.My Grand daughter was so delighted.

  8. Great information Janet. You are doing a great job Educating people and working on behalf of the coyotes. One thing that stood out to me is that people were feeding the coyote from their cars. That means the car chasing was an unintentionally conditioned behavior to acquire food. The coyote was not chasing the cars for the thrill of it.

    I think Janet is giving great advice to help people coexist without making the coyote dependent on people for food or aggressive.

    Jeannie, Im glad you are observing safely especially with your granddaughter and dog. I hope you also carry something to throw or make noise as an added precaution. Enjoy your sightings !

    Thanks for all of the information everyone.

  9. Let us all keep our distance, respect the coyote’s needs, and chill with regard to comments on people’s credentials. The most stressed I have seen the coyote is when a fellow had two unleashed dogs chasing it 3 Fridays ago at nightfall. Please, no trolling comments – let us savor this adventure respectfully.

  10.  Wayne H- 
    Thank you for your thoughtful, articulate comment.  I am a professional dog walker in SF and have studied canine body language & behavior. After viewing one of Janet’s video clips on her blog, it reminded me of my own dog who hates when I try to take photos of her.  I am not a coyote expert but I am familiar with displacement behaviors as well as “calming signals” as they are called by Turid Ruugas. Coyotes and dogs are both canids, and I was told by a respected coyote expert that some behaviors overlap between domestic dogs and their wild cousins, and that displacement behaviors are universal in all species regardless of whether they are domestic or wild. Of course reading and interpreting those signals depends on contextual information as you and other behaviorists have said. What struck me was how the coyote looked directly into the camera a few times, which shows that she was aware someone was standing there watching and filming her. Should we we believe that a coyote or any wild animal is “at ease” or “relaxed” while someone is constantly watching her?  I wouldn’t be, if someone was constantly watching me. I do have concerns that this is going on in an off leash dog park. 
    Somewhere along the way, it seems Janet made the leap from her role as observer & reporter to the role of behaviorist interpreting behaviors. (After her first 5 years of field observations, Jane Goodall, whom Janet compares herself to, earned a PhD in Animal Behavior from Cambridge University). 
    After a stressful session with the camera in her face, my dog will often grab one of her squeaky toys and squeak like there is no tomorrow, then shake it violently until she feels better. While this could be considered play behavior OUT of context, within this context, she was trying to relieve her stress. Janet assured me that what I saw (in her video) was definitely not a response to stress from her presence but stress from fleas, or that the coyote was simply having fun chasing its tail and rolling down the hill, although it was obvious the coyote knew she was there. 
    FULL DISCLOSURE: I met Janet 2 years ago when I reached out to her for help just days before the first dog was attacked at Stern Grove in August 2015. I was not the only dog walker to contact her. A few of us saw it coming.  Janet came to Stern Grove almost immediately for several days each week for a few weeks to alert park users with dogs about the coyotes and answer some of their questions, with the hope of avoiding future attacks. I became a big fan & supporter of Janet’s, worked on a couple of projects, helping her with what I could, and even joined her organization as a volunteer. I recently expressed the very same concerns to Janet that you describe and also asked her to consider the possibility that my concerns were valid. It is worth mentioning that my role in her organization was “Pet Safety Advocate”. She responded condescendingly, removed me,  and never did give me any sort of explanation to help me better understand why she thought dogs use displacement behaviors and coyotes do not. It was not at all the response I was expecting.   
    To her credit, Janet Kessler has done a lot of good to educate the public about not feeding coyotes, picking up litter and keeping dogs on leashes at Bernal Hill. She has put a great deal of her energy & resources into a cause for which she is very passionate. 

  11. Maggie,

    I partially agree with your comment. If someone was out there telling me about coyote behavior, I would want the person to be credentialed so that I know I am not receiving bogus information.

  12. surprised to see no one photographing or observing the coyote this past drizzly Saturday morning.
    i was wondering if she (?) might be expecting a regular “audience” by now and looking forward to making her appearance for us humans.

  13. I agree with Maggie

    I don’t understand why this has turned into an attack on Janet. She does not need to be credentialed to be a caring and compassionate person. She volunteers her time to help educate people about co-existing in a safe manner with the coyotes. She has stated she is not an expert so take the advice or leave it your choice. She did not cause the behavior the coyote is exhibiting. Her advice is similar to that which Fish and Wildlife gives about wild bears.
    I still say nice job Janet and thank you.

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