Death by car is all too common for coyotes, especially those living in urban and semi-rural areas. To survive into their second year, pups have to learn how to be road savvy. I watched one coyote exercise this important skill set on a busy, very curvy road in some thick fog.
As I was driving down the road (admittedly daydreaming a bit about if the fog would clear up by the time I got to where I was headed) a flash of an image hit the corner of my eye. For a split second, I saw a coyote looking right at me from the side of the road. I turned around at the next available turn and hoped it would still be there. Sure enough, when I came back around the bend she was there, and giving a display of just how wily and adaptable these animals are. She would listen for cars, her ears pointed in opposite directions to listen in front and behind, and when she heard one coming, would pop up off the road into the bushes, wait for the car to pass, then pop down back on the road and keep traveling. I am pretty sure that every car that passed never even saw her (granted, they might have been too busy looking at me and wondering what I was staring at).
She did this with many cars, all the while letting me follow her, pass her, wait for her to catch up, then pass her again to get ahead and watch her continue her journey. Indeed, as long as I was in my car, she didn't mind being within about 12 feet of me.
It was only when I pulled over about 50 feet ahead of her and got out of my car to try and get a different angle that she paid attention to me. At that point, she stopped to look at me for a bit, then headed off the road and down a hill. Though I was sad to see her go, I'm glad she moved off the road for good since this particular highway can be quite dangerous with cars coming quickly around corners, especially on a morning with dense fog, and the traffic was getting heavier.
Not only is this road-smart skill important to the coyote's life, but also to ours. We can thank road-savvy coyotes for getting out of the way when they know a car is coming, because swerving to avoid hitting wildlife, especially on a wet, curvey road, is really dangerous. Just a few minutes up the road after I finished photographing the coyote, I saw this:
Drive extra carefully in the mornings and evenings, and if wildlife does pop out in front of you, it is safer for you and other vehicles on the road if you don't swerve to try and avoid it. It's really sad and emotionally painful to hit a wild animal, but swerving puts you in danger, anyone else on the road in danger, and you may still end up hitting the animal anyway.
The coyote I saw that morning had learned an important skill that all urban coyotes have to learn if they're going to live a long life. Farther up the road that same morning I came across a pup that didn't learn that skill. This one was one of this year's babies, small and beautiful at only around 4-5 months old, but sadly it had not been as alert about traffic as its siblings hopefully are or will become.