Fire!

2011-10-08

Coyotes are very aware of even small changes in their environment. Here, something big has happened and they are checking it out, looking around, spooking, “tasting” it and marking it. It was not until several days after the fire that they would even approach the area. As time goes on, the change will be accepted as the way things are, but initially this is never the case where coyotes are concerned.

I was not there to see the fire as it occurred, and probably neither were these coyotes, or they might have tried putting it out in its early stages! Hope Ryden in her book, God’s Dog, on page 144 refers to an incident she witnessed whereby a coyote put out a small fire (posted in May of 2011) which I’m reprinting here again, below:

“Did you know that coyotes put out fires?” The man asking the question had been smoking a cigarette, which is what probably prompted the question to Hope as they observed a coyote. The man proceeded to set an envelope on fire with his cigarette and tossed it in the coyote’s direction. The coyote quickly “pounced on it, and began drumming the flames with her forefeet while bouncing on and off the blaze until only the edges still had sparks”. The fire wasn’t out yet, so the coyote, with its shoulder, pushed the scrap of paper with embers against the ground, then stood up to examine it, and repeated this again. The fire was now out. Apparently all coyotes put out fires — small fires. Wow!!

Slithering Through Tall Grasses

2014-08-02 slithering through, eyes closed, ears back, crawling lowWith eyes closed at times to protect them, ears laid back flat against its head to protect them and to keep them from impeding a smooth forward progress, crouching down low and using its muzzle to push aside and create openings in the tall tangled-grasses and low-lying burred plants, this coyote made its way quickly across a large field, pretty much undetectable, aided by its superb camouflaged coloration.

 

Dispersion in Progress — with complications

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

Imagine yourself as a young coyote in a perfect world. You live in an urban park which is ideal as a habitat — ideal beyond imagination: there are forests of trees with thick undergrowth for protection, a lake and streams with fresh water, open fields for hunting the overabundance of gophers and voles, there are snails and fruit to eat, there are dogs passing through which provide you with visual entertainment — even if some of them go after you, and you are protected by a city which encourages coexistence and does not allow trapping and killing of its urban wildlife. Pretty fantastic!

It’s true that nasty rumors and myths about coyotes spring up now and then which could result in harm to you, but most are short-lived and, more and more these days, the misinformation is brushed aside by a majority of park goers who have learned about coyote behavior and know that the sensationalist stories are all hype.

Family life, too, is ideal. You live with a father who has raised you and cared for you, and you have a sister who absolutely adores you as much as you adore her. You spend hours together, grooming each other or exuberantly playing all sorts of games you’ve invented for yourselves, such as chase and catch, tug of war, wrestling, steal the meal, jump over one another, hide and seek. Life is really a blast, and it’s been this way for the entire 16 months you’ve been alive to enjoy it, except the brief interlude immediately after Mom went missing — but you were young and  that was soon forgotten because Dad was there to carry on for you. Things would have to be really, really bad for you even to consider such a thing as leaving.

in happier times: joyfully playing with sibling, and a family outing

But life is not static: we all graduate to new levels and must go on at some point.  Life is ever-changing and change is occurring now, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of who you are. You are a young male, and any territory only has room for one adult coyote male. Dad is feeling your coming-of-age and his instincts are becoming stronger, day by day, to push you out and away from his turf.

Recently, Dad has been charging at you, coming at you like a bullet to kick or nip you. You submit always and quickly, but that isn’t enough sometimes.  More and more, you’ve been staying out of his way. You don’t join him and your sister so often, and you spend your time more and more alone. However, you have strong yearnings to be with your sister, to play with her, to exchange mutual grooming and care, after all, you are a very social creature, and family life has been an integral part of your life since birth. Recently, greetings with her have changed to include sniffing and having one’s underside sniffed — something new is going on.

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

Sister has found herself in the middle. By loving and playing with you, her brother, she’s inadvertently hindering her father, it seems. When she sees the antagonistic behavior of her father, she does her best to keep the peace, running interference, by interjecting herself between the two males to divert Dad’s attention by grooming him (Dad) or sticking her muzzle in his — and it works.  After, or even before, taking care of Dad, she approaches you with her warm and affectionate greetings, and then she plays with you wholeheartedly, and Dad seems to accept that he must let her be this way, so you still hang in there, at least for now..

even now: sister adores brother and lets him know it

sister continues to adore brother and lets him know it

We all know how this is going to end, and it is definitely heartbreaking to watch the process. The Dad’s dispersing ritual is happening more and more frequently.

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Yesterday I saw the process again — it’s in full swing.

Dad and Sis had been out foraging, and began heading off on a trek when the yearling male — her brother and his son — appeared out of the bushes. He had kept apart and away, but was very aware of them as revealed when he tried joining them on the trek, albeit tailing them at a considerable distance, possibly so as to avoid detection by Dad. There was such a pull to be with them. But the minute Dad saw him, he, Dad, launched himself in the male youngster’s direction, charging at him, punching with his snout, nipping, kicking and turning him over on his back.  

This intense attack happened in tall grasses, which prevented me from taking clear photos. At the beginning of the encounter I heard an unusual, never heard before, short throaty snarl or gnarl. It was a warning of some sort. And I don’t know if the attacker or the defender made the noise because they were partially hidden from view. Besides the gnarly snarl,  there was flailing in the grass, running off a little and more flailing in the grass. When they emerged enough for me to see them fully, Dad was walking away from male youngster, and youngster was keeping his distance from Dad but following, not fleeing. Young male desperately wanted to join sister and dad for the family trek.

Sis, who had been standing far beyond Dad, looked back to see her brother sitting beyond Dad, and came running over to him joyfully to greet him. She brushed right past Dad, straight toward her brother and these siblings engaged in a long greeting, body contact, nose and paw touches and finally grooming. Dad looked on and did nothing. Sis wasn’t taking sides, she was just being “Sis in the middle.”

When the warm sibling greetings were over, Sis ran to catch up with Dad, looking back invitingly for her brother to come along. She loves her father as she does her brother. She approached Dad and engaged in grooming him while he looked back over his shoulder, glaringly at the younger male, his son: “do not come”. But the male youngster did come, with Sis encouraging him. Sis no doubt sensed the tremendous tension between the males in her family probably without comprehending any of it, and so, possibly in an attempt to dissipate it, she dashed off as if in hot pursuit of prey, enticing the others to join her and in the process to forget their strife. It kind of worked because they now were concentrating on other things, on hunting in the forest.

Then, sirens sounded and they all howled together — was the spat over? I don’t think so. Dad then walked on, all alone, without being joined by either of the two youngsters.  That is the last I saw of him that evening. Had he lost the skirmish? Even if he had, he won’t loose the battle — he’s a five year old mature male, and his son is just a 16 month old ingenue.

Sis went off hunting, and young male was left standing on a path looking for her. Not being able to locate her, he headed off in a direction opposite from the one his father took, looking dejected as revealed by his slow pace and lowered head. But Sis must have had her brother in mind. She picked up his scent and caught up with him. There was warm body contact, nose touches and wiggles, and Sis put her paws on his back again — was she showing who was boss? Or was this just her way of showing affection — this last is what appears to be the case. It now was dark so I had to leave. I had witnessed an episode of a dispersion process, where a parent forces out a youngster from his territory.

Young Male will eventually have to leave. But I wondered if Sis would stay on the territory with Dad, or if she would go with her brother? I wondered if Dad’s attacking the male youngster would in fact have repercussions of driving out Sis as well. I’ve already seen where both youngsters now flinch in anticipation of Dad’s antagonism: the young male from being on the receiving end and Sis from simply observing it.

This dispersion process has been going on for some time — it’s recently reached a crescendo. I’ll post if things change.

Catches a Cricket and Plays With It

 


Coyotes have extremely fine-tuned control and sensitivity of their teeth and mouths — really no different from our own fingers. The coyote in these photos has caught a cricket and carried it ever so gently in it’s mouth. She picked up the cricket and put it down several times without killing it. She wanted to watch it and spent several minutes doing so! In the end, of course, she ate it.

Watching this sensitive and fine-tuned control involving a coyote’s teeth reminded me of an incident years ago with my dog, a cattle dog who was part wild dingo, who also had the same fine minute control. Coyote sensitivity and dexterity is finer than a domestic dog’s — they require this for survival whereas a dog does not, but describing a domestic dog’s minute control can give insight into that of a coyote’s.

My dog had had an operation on her arm to remove a floating bone segment, leaving her with a six-inch scar. Two days before the veterinarian was scheduled to take out her stitches, Cinder took them out herself. There were 18 of them, and I would have stopped her except I didn’t discover that she was doing this until 15 of the stitches had already come out and the wound remained closed. So I watched as she took out the last three. It was unbelievable! She worked about 5 minutes on EACH of those last stitches, not touching the skin at all. The stitches were “snipped” when she had manipulated them into position with her teeth.

I immediately drove her to the veterinary office, fearing she might have done damage. The vet said that Cinder knew it was time for those stitches to come out and that she had done an incredibly good job of it.

Interesting beyond the coyote’s fine and gentle handling of the cricket with her teeth is that this coyote was fascinated by the cricket and its movements, and spent several minutes absorbed in watching it and moving it several times.

Ants In Your Pants??

This coyote had been resting ever so calmly and peacefully when suddenly he started flinching erratically.  This must be where the definition of being  “bugged” or having “ants in your pants” comes from. Size had nothing to do with who won this bout of antagonistic behavior! It was the coyote who fled!

English idioms: If someone has ants in their pants, they are agitated or excited about something and can’t keep still. To bug someone is to annoy or irritate them.

Two Coyotes and A Catch-Of-The-Day

It was foggy, so I couldn’t tell who was who until I got home and looked at my photos, but I observed a coyote bringing in some large prey — too foggy to tell what, taking it into the bushes to deposit it and possibly hide it from other coyotes, and then coming out to either explore or to make sure no one had seen him hide it.

Another coyote soon appeared on the scene and these two, who normally would have approached each other with happy greetings or just to be together, stood frozen about 100 feet apart, glaring distrustfully at each other: “Yeah, what do you want,” and “Yeah, what are you up to!” The new coyote disappeared into the brushes — no point in dealing with that kind of welcome from the first coyote. The first coyote then went to where the new one entered the bushes to check out what he might be up to, then he himself descended into the bushes.

Shortly thereafter, a coyote came out of those same bushes carrying the same prey that was taken in, and began a long journey all the way across the park with it and then disappeared into a distant thicket.

When I got home I blew up the photos and increased the contrast. I could now see much more than I could see when I took the photos. The prey had been a small raccoon. Most interesting was that it was “Dad” who had brought in the prey and hidden it. Then “Daughter” came into the scene at which point Dad looked at her glaringly and suspiciously. She went into the bushes and Dad ran over to keep an eye on her activities. Then he, too, went into the bushes at a slightly different location. I didn’t see him again.

Then Daughter came out of the bushes and looked around  — the coast was clear, so she went back into the bushes, picked up the prey, and carried it off to a distant part of the park.

So Dad brought the prey to this location where he hid it, and when he was no longer around, Daughter grabbed the prey and ran off with it. Note that the amazingly similar photos #1 and #12 are different coyotes carrying the same prey, and you can only tell this by zooming in closely on the original large file!

Did she steal Dad’s prey?

Inside A Coyote Family

2014-08-15 (6)Coyote news stories tend to be based on negative “incidents” — either a dog disappears, or someone has spotted a Coyote crossing the street where they think there should not be one. Newspapers thrive on controversy and sensationalism, and this kind of story fills the bill. But there is Coyote news out there which is positive, interesting, useful and newsworthy, too!

To continue reading and see the photos, just click on the thumbnail image to the left. It is a two-page photo-essay on coyote family life which can be read in the current Wildcare Magazine, Autumn, 2014.

2014-08-15 (7)What an honor to have my work — two articles and a bunch of photos — featured in WildCare Magazine’s Autumn, 2014 issue, including the photo on the magazine cover!  To look through the entire magazine, click on the image to the right.  To donate to WildCare, please press here.


 

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