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Coyotes in the Presidio

December 21, 2021​ Update – Coyote Pupping Season ends

Fall/winter signals the end of coyote pupping season and seasonal trail closures to dogs are now officially back open.

During the 2021 pupping season, three pups were birthed and have now reached the “teenage” phase of their life. They’re on the cusp of dispersing out of their parents’ territory, which generally begins now and continues through winter.

This year’s pups are beginning to explore and become more independent. As the season wanes, the protective behavior exhibited by the parents towards dogs also begins to wane. Which is precisely why we work to create a seasonal buffer between dogs and the active den through trail closures.

As the young pups begin their dispersals and strike out on their own, leaving their parents' territory, they may be more visible around these areas, even during daylight hours. It’s important to remember that these young naïve pups – which are mostly fully grown and around 25-30 pounds – may exhibit behaviors of curiosity. This can lead some to be overly bold behavior, especially when they encounter another canine. 

Given their inexperience, they do not see humans as a threat. Regardless of behaviors exhibited, it’s important to always follow safety guidelines. This curiosity and naivety can also result in a coyote inappropriately approaching a dog (with or without a walker), which can result in conflict. Coyotes can be very responsive when a human is a threat towards them (i.e. hazing). Unlike raccoons, coyotes will generally leave if humans act sufficiently aggressive.

Yelling and acting big is a minimum level of hazing, but combining this with physical objects can produce better results. It’s ok to throw objects such as pinecones or sticks, if available. A good long walking stick can also work as a physical extension of your aggression. Additionally, pepper spray can work so long as it’s the stream form, not the mist. The visual stimulus of the spraying stream can be enough to frighten a coyote and make them leave the area though the use of pepper spray requires extra safety and precautions for you and your dog. Meanwhile, while making these efforts, continue to leave the area with your leashed dog.

Through intensive tracking previous litters, we know that at this age the mostly independent pups will find their own preferred “sub-territories” within the Presidio before leaving the park altogether. Although they’re mostly independent at this age, they still join up with their family on occasion.

At least one of these pups has been frequenting the area between West Washington neighborhood, Rob Hill, and east along Washington towards Park Boulevard. There may be several reasons why a pup would prefer this zone, which could include proximity to natal den site (familiarity), a food source (human or natural), and/or an isolated resting place with good vantage points (for instance, on top of Rob Hill wine bunkers). Understanding these attractants can help us manipulate these features so we can try to discourage coyote presence in the neighborhood. For example, removing all human sourced food (e.g securing trash cans).

Additionally, awareness of coyote activity patterns can help inform dog walking patterns. In general, coyotes tend to be most active in the early morning and evening, though it’s not abnormal nor unusual to see them at any time of the day. If you notice a pattern of coyote presence in the Presidio during a regular time or in a regular place, let us know at coyote@presidiotrust.gov. This information can help Presidio managers better focus our efforts on particular discouragement actions.

As mentioned above, we’re anticipating this year’s litter will be dispersing (permanently leaving the Presidio) over the coming weeks in search of their own territory. This is a predictable part of all coyote pups’ lives. The reality is that these dispersing pups have a low chance of surviving the dangerous journey across these heavily trafficked urban areas.

Note: dogs must be on leash at all times in the park. Be sure to maintain situational awareness and if you encounter a coyote with your dog, the best course of action is to quickly leave the area – even if you see the coyote from a distance, walk away. If the coyote follows,​ be assertive and aggressive (e.g. forcefully throw objects to scare, not harm) while continuing to walk q​uickly away. Do not run. Dog walkers should stay aware of their surroundings and carefully read posted signage. Also, avoid walking dogs near dense vegetation; instead, favor open areas for better visual awareness.

We’ll continue to monitor coyotes in the Presidio and post updates to this page as needed. Should you have questions or wish to report an incident of concern, contact the Wildlife Hotline at (415) 561-4148 or coyote@presidiotrust.gov. We’ll respond to all incident reports.

​If You Encounter a Coyote in the Presidio

double red ear tags and collared alpha female coyote in the Presidio

Alpha female with double red ear tags

  • Keep your distance; do not approach the coyote.
  • Keep your dog on a leash and under your control.
  • Observe posted signs about coyote activity in the park.
  • Supervise children when outdoors.
  • Never attempt to feed a coyote. Do not leave human or pet food outside where coyotes might eat it. Presidio residents should put garbage out on the morning of pickup instead of the night before. To get a clip for your trash bin from Presidio Trust Work Order Service Center, call (415) 561-4270.

If you encounter a coyote within 50 feet and the coyote does not move away on its own, here are ways you can haze/intimidate the animal to help it retain a fear of humans:

  • Be as big and loud as possible; shout in a deep, loud, and aggressive voice.
  • Wave your arms and throw small objects (to scare, not injure).
  • Maintain eye contact, which makes them uncomfortable and timid.
  • If the coyote continues to approach, do not run or turn your back on the coyote, but continue to exaggerate the above gestures while backing away slowly. Please report this type of incident to (415) 561-4148 or coyote@presidiotrust.gov.

If you encounter a coyote during pupping season (spring through fall) AND you have a dog with you, the best course of action is to back away slowly and leave the area immediately. Coyotes will attempt to drive away other coyotes and dogs from their pups, and hazing may not work.

Background: About Coyotes in the Presidio

Coyote 10F hunting gophers

Photo: Coyote 10F, a female born in 2017 (dispersed from the Presidio in 2018), hunting gophers on the parade ground at Fort Winfield Scott in the Presidio (credit: Amy Chong)

After a long absence, coyotes returned to the Presidio in 2002 and are now seen regularly in the park. They're also seen in Marin, Golden Gate Park, Lands’ End, Glen Park, and other open spaces throughout the greater Bay Area.

In 2003-2004, the Presidio Trust began working with other Bay Area agencies to develop strategies to help us assess wildlife behavior and determine appropriate responses. Our management actions range from public education, to hazing/intimidation to ensure the animal retains its fear of humans to – under very rare circumstances – lethal removal of a coyote evaluated and determined to be a threat to public safety.

Within a claimed territory, only one pair of coyotes will breed. This bonded male and female are long-term residents of the territory and known as the alpha pair. The pair vigilantly patrols their territory in order to keep non-resident coyotes out. The alpha p​air remain bonded together for life.

Coyote pupping season usually runs from spring to fall. Typically, as part of the coyotes’ complex social structure, year-old pups are driven from the parents' territory, and the resident population – those that remain in the Presidio long term (e.g. the alpha pair) – remains stable. That said, it’s difficult to know precisely how many coyotes are in the Presidio at a​ny given moment given that individual coyotes can move considerable distances in the course of a single day.

What we’ve Learned about Presidio Coyotes from our Research

Researcher in the Presidio

With the assistance of urban wildlife managers and researchers across the country – including the National Park Service, United States Geological Survey, U.C. Davis, and the United States Department of Agriculture – the Presidio Trust has developed a monitoring program using modern technology to improve the management of coyotes within the Presidio. Our monitoring program began in spring 2016 and involves humanely capturing, tagging, health screening, and attaching temporary GPS collars to resident coyotes in the Presidio.

The goals of the program are to:

  • Help minimize dog/coyote conflict.
  • Help us learn more about the resident coyote population in the Presidio so we can improve our management strategies and reduce coyote and dog/human conflict.
  • More accurately track the size of the coyote population by tagging individual animals.
  • Track coyote movement and activity patterns.
  • Improve our ability to identify an active coyote den site.
  • Assess the health and diet of coyotes.
  • Confirm the number of breeding pairs in the Presidio.
  • Assess genetics within the context of the larger Bay Area.
  • Learn about the movement and ultimate fate of Presidio-born pups.

Since the coyote monitoring program began, we’ve tagged and temporarily collared sixteen coyote individuals. Fourteen of those animals were pups born in three different years/litters. To date, all of those fourteen pups have since dispersed from the Presidio and we’ve tracked their journeys as they try to find their own territory elsewhere (see example dispersal map below). Many of these animals have not survived the harsh realities of urban traffic.

GPS collar data on a young male that left the Presidio

Dispersal Map: This map was generated from the GPS collar data on a young male that left the Presidio in fall 2016. His journey lasted about a month before he was killed by a car on Highway 280.

The Presidio's Current Coyote Population

We monitor Presidio coyotes by using colored ear tags and temporary GPS collars, and use what we learn to help minimize conflicts between coyotes and dogs/humans.

Currently, there are two identifiable coyote individuals in the Presidio, the alpha pair. The alpha female has two red ear tags and a temporary tracking collar while her mate has not yet been tagged.

2021 alpha pair
Left: alpha female, double red ear tags
Right: alpha male, untagged


alpha pair in the Presidio

Alpha Pair

Footage of 2020 pups taken in May from our field cameras.

In 2021, we expect to:
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  • ​Continue to track the movement of collared animals using GPS in order to improve our coyote management strategies.
  • Continue our education and outreach efforts.
  • Identify this year's den site before pups are born so we can use signage and other methods to alert Presidio visitors, including visitors walking with dogs.
  • Improve the way we monitor the den site.
  • Collar and ear tag animals born in spring 2021 beginning later this year.
  • Continue analyzing the wealth of data we have been collecting through our partnership with UC Davis College of Biological Sciences and others.

Coyote Management Issues

Coyote behavior can change depending on the individual animal, the season (e.g. pupping), and the environment. When an issue is reported by the public, we gather as many details as possible. Understanding why an incident occurred will inform the management action. Issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis, and appropriate management tools are implemented in response (e.g. increasing signage, adding fencing, temporarily closing a trail, hazing an animal, etc.).

Abnormal behavior (e.g. food conditioning from being fed by humans) is important to identify and address as quickly as possible. Certain behaviors can be corrected through various methods (hazing/intimidation, etc.) but many abnormal behaviors are uncorrectable. If and when abnormal behaviors are identified and deemed a public safety threat, there are few options other than lethal removal (relocating coyotes is illegal in California and not an option). The unique ear tags reduce the potential for removing the wrong animal.

Something to keep in mind: as with other members of the biological family Canidae (including other extant and extinct dog-like mammals, such as domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals, and dingoes) coyote behavior is shaped through experience. Coyotes in urban environments become gradually conditioned to urban stimuli and the constant presence of humans in populated areas. As a result, urban coyotes express behavioral plasticity – or the ability to change in response to their unique environment. Behavioral plasticity enables coyotes to be successful in urban areas.

For instance, an urban coyote hunting rodents in the grass may behave similar to a urban deer foraging on a lawn at dusk. An urban deer regularly sees humans, and though they may stop for a moment and assess the human presence, if it isn't approached by a human, it will continue foraging. Similarly, a coyote hunting rodents or meandering about its urban territory will appear confident, rather than timid, and will continue hunting unless a human asserts themselves toward the animal. Over time, urban animals gradually develop a heightened level of comfort with perpetual exposure to people and in the absence of threat.

This means a coyote exhibiting bold behavior in the presence of humans shouldn't necessarily be seen as aggressive behavior. Coyotes are extremely quick – they have excellent spatial orientation and often times will not feel vulnerable in the presence of humans at close distances in urban environments. This is important to keep in mind when you encounter coyotes in the Presidio, and when assessing abnormal and normal coyote behavior. However, if a coyote approaches humans, especially without a dog, this may indicate abnormal behavior (e.g. having been fed by humans in the past) and should be reported immediately.   

As part of our Coyote Management program, we continue to monitor coyotes for changes in behavior, and inform the public about ways to reduce coyote and human/dog conflict. In addition to signage, flyers, and seasonal updates, our coyote outreach program has expanded to six local preschool/elementary schools and our citizen science project engages the public to gather information about how coyotes are using the park. These programs help us educate the public while developing programs where we can learn more from community observations.  ​

Help Us Monitor Coyotes in the Presidio

alpha pair

Alpha Pair

If you see a coyote in the Presidio, submit a photo and/or report the sighting via iNaturalist through their app or website. If possible, try to identify the presence of ear tags. Note at least one of the colors (see images above). We regularly monitor iNaturalist for information on coyote activity, location, and other relevant information (e.g. what was the coyote doing when you observed it? Was it sleeping in the sun, hunting gophers in a field, etc.?).

We periodically post updates on this web page with information about where coyotes have recently been seen most frequently.

Learn More and Report Incidents of Concern

  • Read Frequently Asked Questions for simple steps you can take to minimize coyote and dog conflict within the park.
  • Report any incidents of concern (such as aggressive coyote behavior or visitors feeding a coyote) immediately at (415) 561-4148 or coyote@presidiotrust.gov.​
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