By ,
Wildlife Linkages Program Manager

I have always been fascinated by coyotes — their adaptability, their persistence in the face of abject oppression, their captivating songs!

This sequence of videos gave us the gift of a much-needed smile. We’ve seen thousands of images and videos of wildlife (like our video of a coyote and badger that went viral) captured by the remote cameras that we frequently employ in order to study wildlife. I love the personalities and energy in the pack. Turn up your volume, have a look and consider the behaviors we see, as well as the broader story that begins to reveal itself.

 

Why are the coyote pups crowding their parent?

With the volume on, you can hear toward the beginning of the video how vocal the pack becomes when the pups begin crowding their parent. Based on those vocalizations, a lot of lip licking and general excitement in the pack, we can guess that the parent has eaten something and the pups are hungry! By licking their parent’s lips, they can induce regurgitation, which is how pups this age get fed.

Is regurgitating food for a coyote pup normal behavior?

Regurgitated food is what coyote pups are fed as they are weaned off of their early milk diet, which usually takes place at about four weeks of age. Based on the size of the pups in this video, they appear to be at the age where regurgitated food is their main diet. Soon they will begin to hunt and feed on their own. Some will leave the pack after four to ten months, depending on the structure of their community.

How was the video captured?

This video was recorded as part of a study we’re conducting with our partners at Pathways for Wildlife to better understand how wildlife interact with the major roadways that traverse the landscapes between the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains and neighboring Diablo and Gabilan Ranges.

Our research team has deployed more than 50 remote-sensor cameras at existing bridges and culverts (tunnels under roads like the one in the video) and are conducting systematic roadkill surveys throughout the study area. The findings will help us save and enhance wildlife habitats and connectivity in these landscapes that are essential to the long-term health of our ecosystems.

Coyote howling in the grass at Cloverdale Coastal Ranches - POST
How’s this for a “classic song?” Coyotes evolved from their ancestors the Miacis and have been around for about 5.3 million years. As a point of comparison, Homo sapiens (humans) have been on the scene for approximately 200,000 years. Photo: Teddy Miller

Is that a tunnel they’re coming out of?

The tunnel this pack is emerging from is technically called a “culvert,” and it crosses under a roadway. Culverts are common elements of engineered roads; they facilitate the flow of water across the landscape and keep the road from washing out. We’ve found that wildlife will use them to safely cross our roads, a phenomenon that has been documented widely across the world. We also know that these de facto wildlife crossings are not enough to support all wildlife and maintain the intricate balance of natural communities, which is why we invest in studies to inform our conservation work.

Why are the pups so close to the camera?

Coyotes have strong senses of sight, smell and hearing. The camera is a novel element in the landscape, so it’s likely that these curious pups are getting close to see, smell and interpret its presence.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis found that fewer wild animals, including coyotes, were hit by cars during the shelter in place orders this past spring. This data further highlights the importance of working to improve and enhance our existing roadways for the benefit of all life. Photo: Teddy Miller

That’s a lot of pups. Is this a typical litter size?

Coyotes typically have three to seven pups in each litter — sometimes more, sometimes fewer. We counted five pups, so this fits right in the average litter size. Pairs mate in the spring (February through March), and a little over two months later, the pups are born in the pack’s den. They’re born blind and won’t emerge from the den until they’re about three to six weeks of age.

Fun Facts About Coyotes:

  • They normally hunt alone or in pairs.
  • As opportunistic feeders, they’ll eat just about anything.
  • A typical litter size is about three to seven pups (they adjust based on food abundance and population density!).
  • They can run almost 40 miles an hour.
  • They are very vocal, making the most noise at night to communicate with one another and keep track of the members of the pack.
  • Coyotes are typically monogamous.
Coyote communities have a dynamic that is called “fission-fusion,” where they are able to function as a pack, as smaller family groups and as solitary animals. Fission-fusion societies are known in primates as well, including humans. Photo: Teddy Miller

How have the recent fires impacted these animals?

It’s a big question, considering this year we’ve experienced the largest and most destructive wildfire season on record. While the SCU Lightning Complex fire burned relatively close to where this footage was captured, I’m relieved to say that these coyotes were documented outside the burn zone. Wildlife in California are also adapted to wildfire, so they do know what to do when wildfire strikes.

That’s not to understate the impacts of wildfire on these animals. The ecosystems of the Diablo Range and Santa Cruz Mountains have been affected, from microorganisms in the soil all the way “up” the chain and it will take years for us to better understand this transformation.

Why is POST conducting this research?

Creating a network of protected open spaces has been mission-critical for POST since our nonprofit was founded in 1977. The goal is for our region to be a place where wildlife can move, adapt and thrive in the face of a changing landscape and climate.

When habitat fragmentation prevents wildlife from being able to find mates, food, water and habitat, they become isolated, which puts them at risk of extinction. When we lose a species from the ecosystem (especially top predators), it can create a cascade effect that throws the entire ecosystem out of balance. Preserving and restoring connections to larger habitat areas is critical to the ecological health of the whole landscape and system.

Our research around the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains is focused on identifying the habitats and features wildlife need to move safely to and from the Gabilan and Diablo ranges. These are important dynamics to understand for our ongoing efforts to protect and enhance wildlife crossings and habitats throughout the region.

With this robust dataset, we will be able to better identify the areas of safe passage for wildlife in the Southern Santa Cruz Mountains that can be maintained or enhanced, as well as areas where crossing structures could be most useful.

What’s Next? 

There’s so much more work to do. Saving vital wildlife habitat from the threat of urban development is critical to ensure the security of our regional ecosystem. The data we’re collecting will be crucial to inform future conservation efforts in and around the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. Stay tuned as we learn more!

                                               

Thanks to all of our partners who are involved in the Southern Santa Cruz Mountains Wildlife Connectivity Study – particularly Pathways for Wildlife, SCL Ecological, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Santa Clara Valley Habitat AgencyThe Nature Conservancy, and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. We are also grateful for the generous support of Resources Legacy FundWestern Digital Foundation, and the Arthur L & Elaine V Johnson Foundation.

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 80,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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