The Bernal Hill Coyote Is a Female and Human “Kindness” Could Kill Her

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Janet Kessler, the San Francisco coyote whisperer who runs the  wonderful Coyote Yipps website, has been keeping an eye on the coyote that lives on Bernal Hill.

After some observation, Janet has noticed some disturbing signs that the coyote is in danger — and the problems stem from people who are putting her at risk with misguided “kindness.” Janet explains what this means in this special contribution to Bernalwood:

AN UPDATE ON THE BERNAL COYOTE

In case you haven’t heard, the Bernal Hill coyote is most definitely a “she!”

Almost all Bernal Hill visitors love her. How could anyone ask for a more congenial neighbor! She’s good natured, photogenic, good-willed and fun-loving. She knows how to entertain herself. I watched her play exuberantly with a stick several times within the span of an hour.

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Some people love the Bernal Coyote so much that they are literally throwing “kindness” at her. However, the “kindness” she’s being showered with is actually cruel. Unintentionally so, but nonetheless cruel: it’s hurting her tremendously.

Feedingthe Bernal Coyote is bad enough, but feeding her from cars is detrimental. As a result, she’s now out in the streets, approaching cars, stopping traffic, and even just hanging out there. Please remember: the last Bernal Hill coyote was killed by a car.

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A few days ago I witnessed her run repeatedly to a bluff overlooking the road whenever she heard a certain type of truck go by. A couple of people said that two months ago they witnessed someone in a white truck deposit food for her. I saw her run towards a coffee cup as it was tossed from a car window — she was expecting food.

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When cars stop on the road to observe her, she often hurries down the hill to the car. And I witnessed her chasing four separate cars, one after the other. Her motive would be the expectation of food. She would only expect food if she has been given it in the past. Witnesses have seen her being fed from car windows. By feeding her, people have “trained” or “food conditioned” her (rewarded her behavior with food) to come down into the streets. It will be much harder to break this behavior than it was to start it.

She has also been coming in towards walkers, again in the hopes for food. This scares some people. If she’s expecting food, she could start closing the gap and nudging people for what she wants. A spooked human may startle her and she may react with a self-protective nip. Although dogs are allowed their first bite free, this is not true of coyotes. If she bites a human, she’s dead. This is why, “a fed coyote is a dead coyote.”

Some folks are being overly “friendly” towards the coyote. Dogs with their owners sit and commune with her only 15 feet apart. This, also, is an unkind thing to do. It’s important not to be so friendly, not to engage physically or psychologically with her. Rather, be neutral if you can and always walk away from her. You are not respecting her wildness by engaging with her or by allowing your dog to interact/engage with her in any way.

On the bright side, this little female does not seem territorial: she does not defend her space against intruder dogs. The reason for this is that she’s a loner who does not claim a territory, she’s not a member of a family. Nonetheless, if and when she hooks up with a mate — coyotes mate for life — her mate will be territorial. Male coyotes can be very protective and jealous of dogs getting too close to their mates or pups. By respecting her wildness and giving her plenty of space, we can maintain a balance for coexistence which will work.

What to do now? First, DO NOT FEED THE COYOTE — EVER! Second, become an ambassador for the Bernal Coyote: If you see anyone giving her food, speak to them about what is needed for the well-being of the coyote. If the person resists, report them to the police; It’s actually against the law to feed wildlife.

The Bernal Coyote will the one who pays the price for humans’ misguided “deeds of kindness.” Please — please! — never feed her, be as neutral and uninterested towards her as possible, and always walk away from her, don’t engage her with your dog or talk to her. If she persists in coming closer to you, spook her away by picking up a small stone and heaving it towards her (not at her so as to actually hurt her, just towards her), and keep walking away. The Bernal Coyote’s behavior is not her fault; it’s our fault.

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PHOTOS: All photos by Janet Kessler of Coyote Yipps

Goats Gone Wild in Bernal Heights

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Neighbor Teal shared this story about a group of rebellious goats that walked off the job in northeast Bernal Heights last week:

Ten goats escaped from their keeper and wandered around on Bernal Hill, munching on the trees and potted plants along Brewster until a resident herded them up around the side of her house. Presumably City Grazing picked them up from there.

I was driving my car full of dogs from my last pickup on Holladay to my dog daycare business on Peralta, when I came upon the goats walking around in the street. I pulled over and tried to prevent them from being hit by cars for about an hour before that resident took charge of them!

I called 311 and they connected me to ACC, who called City Grazing. Meanwhile, the goats went about their goat business, munching on anything remotely edible, and relieving themselves copiously in the street.

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PHOTOS: Neighbor Teal via @gooddogplaycare

Reminder: Please Do NOT Feed the Bernal Hill Coyote

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This week Neighbor Rachel noticed that someone has been leaving dog food out for our coyote neighbor who lives around Bernal Hill.

We saw the coyote eating the dog food. It was on the southern side of the hill. I was in my car watching, and a runner came by and we both watched him eat. Argh!

Photo evidence:

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Argh, indeed. That’s not good.

Please take a moment to re-read the comprehensive Guide to Sharing Bernal Hill With Our Coyote, where you find this admonition:

Please don’t feed the Bernal coyote. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food-conditioned — which is different from “habituation” — big problems can develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for negative incidents to occur. Feeding coyotes also encourages them to hang around yards, where people don’t want them.

To feed the coyote is to create additional risk for the coyote and increase the chances that our co-habitation of shared urban spaces will end badly. Please, please, do not feed the Bernal coyote.

PHOTOS: Photos, and photo annotations, courtesy of Neighbor Rachel

Raccoon Family Conducts Home Invasion Training Exercise at Bernal Home

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The noise outside the open window sounded like a strange communication of peeps and growls, as if a small group of feral R2-D2s were huddling to plot their next move. And indeed, they were.

When your Bernalwood editor turned on the back yard floodlights to look outside a few days ago, we interrupted a mama raccoon just as she was instructing her four cubs on the proper technique used to invade my home and plunder our pantry.

Although our stylish coyote gets all the headlines, Bernal Heights is also a thriving habitat for raccoons, and raccoons are shitty neighbors. They’re smart, they’re fearless, they work in teams, and they have digits that approximate opposable thumbs. They’re also rather cute, which is why some wags prefer to call them “trash pandas.”

Anyway, when Bernalwood turned the lights on, Mama Raccoon gave a pissed-off look that said “Ugh. Can’t you see we we’re working here???”

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Lost Parakeet Alert!!

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Neighbor Paige is asking her North Bernal neighbors to be on the lookout for her lost parakeet:

Hi Bernalwood.  I’m your neighbor on  Precita, and my parakeet, Gertie, escaped. I’d appreciate it if you could post my lost bird flier.

Awww. If you see Gertie, please call Neighbor Paige at the number shown on your screen:

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Sharing Bernal Hill With Our Coyote: A User’s Guide

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Now that a coyote has settled in to life in Bernal Heights, there have been a lot of questions asked about how to co-exist with our new neighbor. Luckily for us, Janet Kessler, the urban coyote whisperer from the Coyote Yipps website, has been monitoring the coyote situation on Bernal Hill, and she graciously shared this helpful guide on how to understand, interpret, and manage the behavior of Bernal’s own Neighbor Coyote.

Over to you, Janet:

Understanding and Respecting the Bernal Hill Coyote
by Janet Kessler

We have our very own coyote again on Bernal Hill and most folks are thrilled about it. Here’s some basic information I’ve put together about coyotes, based primarily on concern and comments which have appeared on Bernalwood recently.

COYOTES ARE TERRITORIAL AND LIVE IN FAMILIES
Most parks in San Francisco have one stable family of coyotes, or a loner. Coyotes are not “pack” animals of unrelated individuals. Families “claim” territories which they “own,” and from which they exclude other coyotes. They trek through neighborhoods every night — and sometimes during the early morning or early evening hours — marking their territories to keep other coyotes out and looking for hunting opportunities. Studies show that in urban areas, there is generally about one coyote per square mile — a family of 4 would require about 4 square miles. If you keep seeing coyotes in one particular area, its very likely the same individual coyotes.

Although we have only one coyote on Bernal Hill right now, other parks have mated pairs with families. Coyotes mate for life, and both parents raise the young. Coyotes mate in January or February and produce young in April. Births occur only once a year.

When it’s time for youngsters to “disperse”, the parents will drive them out, or they may just pick-up-and-go. This usually occurs between one and two years of age, and it occurs throughout the year — there is no “dispersal season.”

Cars are urban coyotes’ chief cause of death! A previous Bernal Hill coyote was killed by a car a number of years ago. A few weeks ago in Diamond Heights, a car swerved into someone’s house to avoid hitting a coyote.

ASSERTIVE OR INSISTENT BEHAVIOR
As individual coyotes in a family mature, some may go through phases of what might be called more “assertive” or “insistent” behavior, such as: following or running in the direction of a dog. During pupping season, assertiveness is strongest, with coyotes even approaching and nipping at dogs’ haunches.

These are coyote “messaging” behaviors; coyotes want the dogs to move on and to know the territory is taken. These behaviors don’t “define” a coyote, and they don’t last. I’ve seen no evidence to indicate that such behaviors build towards greater overall aggressiveness. Many of the more apparently “assertive” behaviors, both in juveniles and adults, are based solely on circumstances and happenstance encounters. The best strategy is to keep your distance.

FEEDING
Please don’t feed the Bernal coyote. Feeding breaks down the barrier that keeps coyotes wild. If they become food-conditioned — which is different from “habituation” (which we’ll talk about later) — big problems can develop, including approaching people, which increases the chances for negative incidents to occur. Feeding coyotes also encourages them to hang around yards, where people don’t want them.

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, which means they can eat almost anything. Their preference is gophers, squirrels and voles, which they eat whole: they need the meat, muscle, bones, fur — all of it — to nourish themselves properly. They also eat fruit, nuts, bugs, weak or juvenile raccoons, skunks, opossums, and sometimes snakes. And yes, they will eat the occasional cat or small dog if circumstances are right — coyotes don’t know what’s a pet and what isn’t. Protect your pets by not allowing them to roam free and by supervising them closely when out of doors.

HABITUATION
Coyotes don’t “fear” humans — that is an incorrect term. Rather, they are “wary” of humans. This means although a coyote won’t flee lickety-split in fear when they see a human, they nonetheless prefer to keep their distance and not approach us. Humans, in turn, need to respect them and their wildness by keeping as far away from them as possible.

“Habituation” is a normal progression in urban areas. We can’t prevent it, because we can’t stop coyotes from seeing humans on a daily basis, so they get used to seeing us. A habituated coyote is not a dangerous coyote. That said, coyotes also habituate to “scare” tactics, which is why trying to shoo off a coyote should be used sparingly, and only when a coyote has come too close.

COYOTES AND PETS
Coyotes don’t approach humans, but dogs are a different story. Coyotes and dogs are naturally antagonistic towards each other. Coyotes are both curious and suspicious of dogs because of territorial issues. (Remember that coyotes even keep other coyotes out of their territories.) Always supervise your pets to prevent incidents: Many dogs have a tendency to chase after coyotes. Please don’t allow your dog to do this.

Coyotes may approach dogs. If they get too close, they could either grab a small dog or “message” a larger dog if the coyote considers it a threat to its territory or personal space. They can only do this when they get close enough. Don’t let them. You can prevent an incident by keeping your dog away from coyotes in the first place, by leashing when you see one, and by walking away from it. It’s no different than when you encounter a skunk with its tail up: Keep your dog off of it, and move away.

Coyotes may follow dogs to find out what the dog is doing and where it is going (they do the same to non-family coyotes). If you keep moving away from the coyote, it soon will no longer follow.

If you don’t want the coyote to follow at all, toss a small stone in its direction (not at it), and/or approach it using angry body language and angry yelling. Noise alone, or waving flailing arms, is not always effective — something has to move towards the coyote. Walking towards the coyote while slapping a newspaper viciously on your thigh works, but tossing stones toward it is probably more effective.

MANAGING COYOTES
The number one method of managing coyotes for coexistence is through human education and human behavior modification. These have been shown to be extremely effective. The City of San Francisco has been lax in putting out signs or getting educational material to folks. Some of us have been filling the void, getting material, information and guidelines out to people, but as individuals or as small organizations, we have not been able to reach everyone. Please visit coyotecoexistence.com for specific information, and coyoteyipps.com.

The number of real coyote incidents in the City is limited. There have been less than a handful of dog fatalities by coyotes — all were unleashed small dogs in known coyote areas — all were preventable. There have been many incidents of people being frightened and reporting “attacks” on their dogs. Few if any of these attacks were reported on a questionnaire which would tease out what actually occurred. Instead, these incidents have been spelled out on the social media with warnings of doom that is awaiting us all.

Most of the sightings of our coyote on Bernal Hill have been reported as charming. But there was a report of an attempted “attack” on a dog at 5:30 in the morning. The incident was written up here on Bernalwood. However, a lone coyote, who weighs 35 pounds, is not going to “attack” a 130 pound Mastif. Coyotes may watch dogs, follow, or hurry in your direction for many reasons, including curiosity, or investigation. They may jump up and down because of anxiety. These are not “attacks”, nor are they “attempted attacks”.

Hopefully, by learning more about coyotes, we can diminish the very real feeling of fear which comes from not knowing what is going on. If you want help with specific issues, please contact me or anyone at coyotecoexistence@gmail.com

Thank you Janet!

PHOTO: Coyote on Bernal Hill, courtesy of Cristiano Valli on Instagram