What Is Natural Coyote Behavior Towards Humans?

2015-05-07Malcolm Margolin’s book, The Ohlone Way, has a brief description of the setting in San Francisco, including the vast number of animals that inhabited the land before the European settlers moved in, and the behavior of these animals towards humans. I am reprinting this excerpt from pages 9 and 11 of his book. It goes a long way to explain the very natural behavior seen in this video between a bobcat and a coyote who are caught in their own very natural interaction with humans standing close by being ignored by the two animals. It is the ignoring of humans which is of prime interest in this posting, though the interaction between the bobcat and coyote is fascinating. I’ve seen the same kind of interaction between a skunk and a coyote:  https://www.facebook.com/jon.snow.56481/videos/vb.25318743/10101407149702764/?type=2&theater.

“The environment of the Bay Area has changed drastically in the last 200 years. Some of the birds and animals are no longer to be found here, and many others have vastly diminished in number. Even those that have survived have (surprisingly enough) altered their habits and characters. The animals of today do not behave the same way they did two centuries ago; for when the Europeans first arrived they found, much to their amazement, that the animals of the Bay Area were relatively unafraid of people.”

“Foxes, which are now very secretive, were virtually underfoot. Mountain lions and bobcats were prominent and visible. Sea otters, which now spend almost their entire lives in the water, were then readily captured on land. The coyote, according to one visitor, was “so daring and dexterous, that it makes no scruple of entering human habitation in the night, and rarely fails to appropriate whatever happens to suit it.”

“Animals seem to have lost their fear and become familiar with man,” noted Captain Beechey. As one read the old journals and diaries, one finds the same observation repeated by one visitor after another. Quail, said Beechey, were “so tame that they would often not start from a stone directed at them.” Rabbits “can sometimes be caught with the hand,” claimed a Spanish ship captain, Geese, according to another visitor, were “so impudent that they can scarcely be frightened away by firing upon them.”

“Suddenly everything changed. Into this land of plenty, this land of “inexpressible fertility” as Captain la Perouse called it, arrived the European and the rifle. For a few years the hunting was easy — so easy (in the words of Frederick Beechey) “as soon to lessen the desire of pursuit.” But the advantages of the gun were short-lived. Within a few generations some birds and animals had been totally exterminated, while others survived by greatly increasing the distance between themselves and people.”

“Today we are the heirs of that distance, and we take it entirely for granted that animals are naturally secretive and afraid of our presence. But for the Indians who lived here before us this was simply not the case. Animals and humans inhabited the very same world, and the distance between them was not very great.

“The Ohlones depended upon animals for food and skins. As hunters they had an intense interest in animals and an intimate knowledge of their behavior. A large part of man’s life was spent learning the ways of animals.

“But their intimate knowledge of animals did not lead to conquest, nor did their familiarity breed contempt. The Ohlones lived in a world where people were few and animals were many, where the bow and arrow were the height of technology, where a deer who was not approached in the proper manner could easily escape and a bear might conceivably  attack — indeed, they lived in a world where the animal kingdom had not yet fallen under the domination of the human race and where (how difficult it is for us to fully grasp the implications of this!) people did not yet see themselves as the undisputed lords of all creation. The Ohlones, like hunting people everywhere, worshipped animal spirits as gods, imitated animal motions in their dances, sought animal powers in their dreams, and even saw themselves belonging to clans with animals as their ancestors. The powerful, graceful animal life of the Bay Area not only filled their world, but filled their minds as well.” 2015-05-09Note that if the humans in the video had approached the coyote, the coyote would have moved away immediately, and yelling or throwing a small pebble at the coyote would have caused it to move away even quicker.

Elephant Helicopter Tails, by Charles Wood

whale-songs-and-elephant-loves-katy-payne

Janet and I have written about coyote family daily meet ups, rendezvous, and in a past post I included a short video of one: http://coyoteyipps.com/2011/07/24/rendezvous-by-charles-wood-2/ . The coyotes act like they haven’t seen each other in days when it has only been a few hours. It’s so joyful!

The other evening I was listening to Krista Tippett interview Katy Payne, an acoustic biologist and founder of The Elephant Listening Project. Here’s a link to that interview:http://www.onbeing.org/program/whale-songs-and-elephant-loves/24 from Krista’s On Being web site.  About 22 minutes into the interview Katy describes elephants family rendezvous greeting sessions that  are very similar to those of coyotes, including the tail twirling. As with coyotes, elephants show the same joyfulness after having been apart for a mere few hours. Incredible!

2015-05-14

Click image to read Rendezvous posting and see Rendezvous video by Charles Wood

Feisty & Berserk Reaction to Dad and his Putdowns

Usually one doesn’t mess with Dad. When Dad comes at you with his tail out, hackles up and belligerent, you go belly up fast and stay there until he releases you. It’s a many-times-a-day occurrence for this young male coyote. The behavior serves to reconfirm the strict hierarchy of dominance and submission between a father and a son coyote. Peace is maintained in the family with this order of things: there’s never any question about who is the boss.

On this day, Son has a feisty and berserk reaction to Dad’s dominating put downs. This reaction occurred after the third such put down within only a few minutes — “enough is enough, man”. First while on his back, Son snaps (teasingly), full of fun and good-naturedly at Dad. He sticks his paws in Dad’s face and then, full of himself, and “possessed by the devil”, runs off, not knowing exactly where to go or what to do, but running and jumping in circles and in fits and starts, and occasionally looking at Dad. Dad sat & watched until it was over, and then went over and put him down one more time!


 Putdown #1 and #2


Son Reacts Playfully


Son Goes Into Full Berserk Mode


Dad’s Reaction and Final Putdown In This Series

My dog would do this — go berserk — after a bath, or, in her eyes, after restraining her in the tub against her will. After the bath, she’d run around the house wildly, jumping on the furniture and wiping herself on whatever was available, as though she were trying to “wipe off” or undo the bath.It was as though she had been bitten and was running from something. She would stop every few seconds to look at us with a grin on her face, rump up, forelegs extended out in front, and ears back. Maybe she was thinking: “Okay, you made me submit, but I’ll show you that I don’t like it and that I have a free spirit.”

Coyotes Remove Ticks From Each Other

I’ve been told that grooming is hierarchical in coyote families. Not so! Here you have two buddies of equal stature taking turns in grooming and taking off ticks from each other. I’ve seen mothers groom their yearling pups, I’ve seen mothers groom their mates, I’ve seen males groom their youngsters and their mates, and I’ve seen youngsters groom each others and their parents. So it’s not about hierarchy. It’s about caring for one another, removing unhealthy ticks and about companionship.

I had been watching these two coyotes groom for several minutes before I decided to videotape them. You can see from the length of the video  — over five minutes long — that this isn’t a perfunctory groom. These guys are really taking care of each other. Ticks are bad this year.

Consonance and Dissonance — All In A Family and All In A Day

My day and a coyote’s day overlap for only a few short hours on any given day: in the mornings shortly before the coyotes “turn in for the day”, and in the evenings, shortly before dark, when their activities pick up, but mine must come to an end because there’s no visibility in the dark. I was able to follow the goings-on of one coyote family from an early morning sighting, on through until it was too dark to see them anymore in the evening.

On this particular day I arrived as day was breaking and all was quiet. As I walked along, a female coyote came out to the path a ways in front of me. I stopped and watched, and I was watched back. She stretched and ambled on down the path, but soon stopped, sat down, scratched, and then gave me a good morning vocalization which reverberated loudly in the absolutely quiet and still of the morning. I listened for any responses from other coyotes, but there were none. The coyote poked around for a few minutes and then wandered in back of a bush where I lost sight of her until I went to the top of the next hill which allowed me to see her from above, sleeping in a little opening by some bushes.

I sat watching, and then maybe 20 minutes later, I heard a very distant howl, and then right away a closer howl — two coyotes communicating with each other. The coyote which I was watching remained lying down, raising only her head to gave a short response — she was letting her family know where she was, and that she was safe. I remained on my hilltop where I could keep an eye on her: I wondered if/when she might move to a more hidden location.

As I watched, the coyote who had howled from the far distance — it was the young male whose signature howl I know well — trotted into view, and continued on, until he came to a little lookout knoll in the far but visible distance. He stood there for a while surveying the area. A couple of leashed dogs passed — I don’t think dogs or owners were aware of the coyote investigating the park activities.

Soon this coyote retraced his steps and, maybe because of their earlier communication, or maybe by scent, came upon the female sleeping by the bushes. She got up and the two greeted each other with mutual grooming. Eventually they both hunkered down together in that same little opening by the bushes.

I left the park, but came back every several hours to find the coyotes had not moved. They were not so far off from the main path — maybe only 50 feet or so, but neither dogs nor walkers seemed to be aware of their presence. Maybe they were downwind from the path?

sleeping all day in the same spot: hidden but visible to me

sleeping all day in the same spot: hidden but visible to me

Towards evening, I returned again to watch the coyotes begin their “day” anew. I perched at the top of the hill I had been on before. The coyotes were still asleep where I had last seen them. At around 6 — it was still sunny out — the male moved off to a location close by where he could watch the passers by and groom himself. Some people noticed him and took his photo from several hundred feet away. Within an hour, the female coyote, too, got up, stretched, and headed through the dense bushes. It is at this moment that sirens sounded. The male stood up, looked around, and began to howl. The female, from her hidden location in the bushes, joined in. The duo joyously sang their duet together in the warm afternoon sun. Their life appeared pretty harmonious to me.

2015-03-30 (1)

Then, things changed. From my direction, and into view of the recording camera, came the alpha male. He was not happy with either the howling, or with the twosome howling together. He immediately lunged towards the male and forced him down on his back, growling threateningly to emphasize everything he was trying to communicate to the younger male. The female had her turn, but she more readily went belly up for the alpha male. After a few minutes of this intense dominance activity — these interactions never last long — they all settled down to wait.

calm after the storm, finally

calm after the storm, finally

Eventually the female got up and began wandering off. This is normally how the trekking begins in the evenings with this family: she’s the one who initiates the process and always heads off first. But when the younger male decided to join her, he was again accosted and put down hard by the alpha. I missed capturing the action or sounds because I wasn’t quick enough on the draw, but I can say that the loud squeals of pain were intense. When I looked over, dominant male was hovering over younger male again.

female heads off on her own

female heads off on her own

2015-03-28 (12)

younger male is put down harshly by the alpha of the family

From that point on, younger male made no attempt to catch up with the departed female. He seemed to know that it was his job to stay with the alpha. They both remained in the field hunting together, and watching each other: the elder making sure the younger obeyed, the younger watching for feedback of approval or disapproval.

Half an hour later, these two males headed in the direction the female had gone. I followed them through the park and further, but soon I had trouble seeing, so my overlap time with the coyotes was over for the day. I’m always, always charmed by coyote interactions. This morning these coyote interactions had been so harmonious. This evening there had been dissonance and discord: when no question was left about who was boss, and exactly where each coyote fit into the family, life continued on smoothly. It occurred to me that the dominant male had things to teach the younger male, and that female needed time to herself which the older male knew about?

This family, like all coyote families, keeps in touch with each other constantly. They share a very close family life together, constantly doing things together. The dissonance which occurs is a check which keeps order in the family so that it can function smoothly as it hunts and lives. The time-frame for this story was about 15 hours.

Finding a Little Hollow To Lie In

2014-10-31 (3)

Gallery

Friendly Coyote-Dog Contact

Recently I observed actual contact — friendly contact — between a young insatiably curious coyote and a dog in one of our parks. A fairly small unleashed dog headed to the bushes where a squirrel was jumping around. The coyote has had his eye on this particular squirrel and the bushes it lives in for a long time, so I’m sure the coyote claimed them as his own. I don’t know if the coyote approached the area initially for the squirrel, as the dog had, or if it was another instance of the coyote’s keen interest in particular dogs.

The coyote reached the dog — the dog owner was not within view. The dog neither ran off in fear, nor showed any antagonism whatsoever towards the coyote. Rather, the dog stood totally still with its ears back and allowed the coyote to sniff from behind. Coyotes approach animals always, if possible, from behind, where there are no teeth! When the dog turned it’s head to look at the coyote — facing the coyote — the coyote’s hackles went up high and it flinched in preparation to flee.  But the dog again looked away, so the coyote continued sniffing and investigating the not-unfriendly dog.

No tails were wagging, so it was not necessarily a “happy” moment. It was more of a “discovery” moment, with neither canine nor canid knowing what to expect from the other, yet each sensed something other than hostility or antagonism from the other. Each animal was allowing an unknown stranger — therefore possible danger — into its personal space. Neither animal was trusting nor overwhelmingly apprehensive, but their mutual hesitant behavior showed that they each had inklings of both. They touched one another briefly and then it was time to go. Both of these canines are full-grown youngsters, about 18 months of age. The coyote is a young male, the dog is a fixed female.

At this point the owner appeared and we discussed that leashing was a good idea in the area.  Since we don’t want to encourage interactions between pets and wildlife in an effort to keep the wildlife wild, we’re suggesting dogs always be kept away from coyotes: coexistence works best when minimum boundaries of 30-50 feet are maintained with people. These boundaries should be increased to minimum 100 feet when dogs are involved.

Previous Older Entries