Coyote Hour on the Mountain

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In the following story, Ramona Arechiga shares her encounter with a young coyote while exploring San Bruno Mountain. Ramona was hired in 2014 as San Mateo County's first Natural Resources Manager. Read more about San Mateo County's Natural Resources Management Department. This article appeared at the San Mateo County Parks Department website: Field Notes: Coyote Hour on San Bruno Mountain

Coyotes are becoming more present in the Bay Area. This is a good thing and indicates that something is going right and that local habitat can support wild animals. It's important to remember, however, that coyotes are wild animals and should NOT become desensitized to humans. This puts both the coyote and us at risk for a negative interaction.

Please take the time to educate yourself about coyotes and how to keep them wild so we can safely coexist, both in our abundant Bay Area open space areas and in our more urban areas:
Coyote Coexistence - links to videos and much more information about co-existing with coyotes - in a manner safe for both us and the coyote
California Department of Fish and Wildlife - Keep Me Wild: Coyote
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) - Keep Wildlife Wild


Coyotes are normally wary of humans and my first experience with one on San Bruno Mountain proved this point. It was an early morning, before 7 a.m., in March. The coyote sounded like an injured beagle and I initially started to look for a hurt dog, until I saw the animal just below the Ridge Trail in a mixed stand of coyote brush (Baccharis pilularis); how appropriate! On Monday, however, my experience with this animal of legend and cartoon proved quite different.

I was standing in a scrubby coyote brush area quietly trying to find a bird on my new bird identification app when I heard a “dog” coming towards me. We looked up, locked eyes and quietly studied each other. After a couple of minutes I gave up on my app and continued hiking and the coyote seemed to blend into the background. After about 10 minutes I found another unknown songbird to ID and again pulled my phone out to try to discern what species I was hearing. A minute later the young coyote popped up on the trail about 20 feet from me. Again we quietly exchanged glances trying not to alarm each other and then, again, I went on my way. This continued for an hour - I would move on, find something cool, stop and then look up at a curious pair of brown eyes.

The young male was healthy, at about 30 pounds, and very handsome as far as coyotes go; but to be honest I haven’t been that close to one before. He had intelligent eyes, a healthy coat mixed with brown, tan and white fur with black guard hairs, long legs and a long narrow nose with a mouthful of beautiful white teeth. He seemed to alternate between curious and cautious and was alert and ready to split whenever I fiddled with my phone or notepad.

While my experience was benign, coyotes are wild animals and should be treated with respect and a healthy fear. In suburban areas some coyotes are becoming increasingly acclimated to people and may become less and less wary. Coyotes often become emboldened and can present risks to small pets and children in suburban areas where human food sources are abundant. For your safety, and his, it is important to not encourage interactions by calling to them or offering them food. It is also important to remember to pack out all your garbage, especially food so that they do not associate humans as food sources.

I invite you to take a quiet walk on San Bruno sometime and keep your eyes and ears open- you’ll be surprised by what you see and by what sees you!

     — Ramona Arechiga, Natural Resources Manager, County of San Mateo Parks Department

San Bruno Mountain State and County Park provides a unique assemblage of plants and habitats that have all but disappeared in San Francisco County due to urbanization. The park is a haven for wildlife and rare plants and provides a glimpse of the ecological diversity that once was common on the northern SF Peninsula.