DEAR JOAN: I took a picture of an animal I saw across the street from my house on the south side of Livermore. I believe it to be a coyote because it looked too big to be a fox. It looked like it was eating some rotting apples left out there by my neighbor.
I haven't seen it since, but wondered if I should tell my neighbors who have outside cats and dogs. Can you confirm that this is a coyote?
DEAR D.: Yes, that is definitely a coyote, and it would be a good idea to tell your neighbors.
Although you should use caution around coyotes, most of them have a fear of humans and would prefer to have nothing to do with us. Coyotes will hunt in packs and bring down larger animals such as deer and cattle, but individually they go after smaller creatures -- squirrels, ground squirrels, rats, gophers and, unfortunately, cats and dogs.
They hunt mostly at night, but that doesn't mean you won't see them in the daytime. The best thing to do is make sure your dogs and cats are indoors at night, and if you have to let the dogs out for a bedtime potty break, go with them and keep them on leashes.
DEAR JOAN: I found a severed paw on our driveway recently. There were no other parts or any gore around. What animal does this belong to? How could this end up in our yard?
We do see skunks around our house but not many raccoons. Occasionally birds of prey are seen circling overhead, and recently a large, noisy flock of crows (numbering) four to five dozen comes every day.
DEAR C.: The paw is from a coyote. I can't say what killed it -- hit by a car, ate a poisoned rat, met with some other fatal disaster -- but I can hazard a guess how it ended up on your driveway. And, by the way, ick.
That large, noisy flock of crows that drops by every day may have had something to do with it. When a creature dies in the wild, even if that's in suburban Los Altos, other creatures feed off it. They can make short work of a body. The bigger scavengers will get the best parts, leaving leftovers for the smaller ones. Likely a crow or even a vulture grabbed the paw and took off with it, only to accidentally drop it. Perhaps a cat or something else discouraged it from retrieving it and you got an unwanted gift.
DEAR JOAN: I read that letter from a reader who was wondering if a squirrel was fat or pregnant. He stated that he fed her sunflower seeds. I used to give the squirrels at the library sunflower seeds until I read that it was bad for them. Would you please clarify whether this is true or not since many of your readers probably do this.
DEAR CATHY: Sunflower seeds for squirrels is sort of like chocolate for humans. A little is fine, but too much isn't good.
Squirrels are omnivores. They love sunflower seeds and, if given a choice, will eat nothing but sunflower seeds. But they need a balanced diet, and one that is weighted more toward nuts rather than seeds. Diets containing a high percentage of sunflower seeds have been known to cause a calcium deficiency and bone disease in squirrels that can lead to illness or death.
It's best to let the squirrels manage for themselves. You can plant sunflowers for them. They will eat the seeds when they are "ripe," as a limited treat and not their full-time diet.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.