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Focus on Coyote and California Quail
Mt. Diablo's Other Inhabitants!

by Keith Patterson
Reprinted from the Mount Diablo Review - Fall 2000


The Coyote (Canis latrans), a member of the dog family, is native to California. It closely resembles a small German shepherd dog with the exception of the longer snout and bushy, black-tipped tail. The coyote’s high-pitched, yodel-like yapping can frequently be heard at night. Coyotes are extremely adaptable and can survive on whatever food is available. They hunt rabbits, mice, birds and other small animals as well as young deer and sheep. They will also feed from the carcasses of dead animals and will accept handouts from people in the form of table scraps, pet food and garbage.

Coyotes are found throughout California, from deserts and mountain habitats to urban areas. They have certainly become much more common on and around Mt Diablo in recent years. Problems occur when people begin feeding coyotes, either deliberately or inadvertently. Coyotes will quickly lose their natural fear of people and become bold, even aggressive. Pets are sometimes injured or killed by coyotes.

Coyotes on Mt Diablo tend to live alone or in breeding pairs. Alone, in pairs or in packs, coyotes maintain territories by marking with urine. They also use calls to defend territories. Several solitary males may gather to court a female at the start of the mating season, but the female forms a relationship with only one of them. The mating season extends from January to March so that the pups are born in spring when the food is abundant. The pups are born blind in a natal den. After about 14 days their eyes open and they emerge from the den a few days later. The pups suckle for five to seven weeks; at three weeks they start with semi-solid food regurgitated by both parents. At the end of the summer they can care for themselves and may leave or stay with their parents, depending on food availability and habitat conditions.

If you happen upon coyotes on the mountain steer clear of them as much as possible and vacate the area as soon as possible. If they approach you, and only if, make loud noises and wave your arms to scare them away.

Ø The coyote is one of the fastest mammals in North America, reaching speeds of up to 38.4mph.

Ø Coyotes can breed with wolves and domestic dogs. A dog-coyote mix is called a ‘coydog’.

Ø Many Native American tribes consider the coyote a maker of fateful decisions with the power to transform beings and objects.

 

The California Quail (Callipepla californicus) was selected by the State Legislature in 1931 as the official state bird of California. Sometimes called valley quail, this gallinaceous (chicken-like) bird is widely distributed over approximately 70% of the state where suitable habitat remains. It is one of the most popular upland game species enjoyed by sportsmen (although not on Mt Diablo) and birdwatchers alike.

The quail prefers nesting in woodland-brush areas interspersed with grasslands. When not nesting or brooding young, California quail roost in tall bushes and trees at night. In late summer, fall and winter family groups may join together, forming coveys of 50 to 100 birds or more. In early spring the coveys break up into pairs and look for suitable nesting sites. The species is monogamous; the male takes only one mate during the season. He is a very attentive mate, for he will assist in the incubation of eggs and in the care of young. He is also an alert sentinel warning his mate and young when danger approaches.

The nest is usually constructed on the ground in a shallow depression lined with grass, and is under some protective cover such as a bush, log or weeds. The average clutch size is 10 to 15 creamy eggs that are lightly spotted with golden brown although there has been a tendency towards lower clutch sizes in this area in recent years. The incubation period is 21 to 22 days. The young are ready to leave the nest shortly after drying off.

The diet of California quail consists mainly of seeds during the dryer seasons and greens in the winter and spring. The chick’s diet is composed of insects, greens and seeds until they are several weeks old, at which time their diet becomes similar to that of the adults.

The California quail is very vocal. When birds are busy feeding, a number of different calls may be heard at close range. A scolding call is often given as birds scurry from danger. The year-round assembly call is most commonly heard and is a loud, clear "cuc-ca-coo". It has been interpreted as "chi-ca-go", "come-right-home", "get-right-up" and many other expressions. During the breeding season from April to July, the male, perched on a post, repeats at intervals a single resonant note. The large flocks post sentinels to danger.

Photo credits - Michael Evan Sewell (Coyote) and Brian S. Murphy (Quail).
Some of the information for both these descriptive pieces was taken from California Department of Fish and Game literature.