“Didn’t Mom Tell You Not To Play With Your Food?” & Dad Steals The Meal

This was absolutely entertaining to watch today! Little female yearling wanders off to hunt from the area where her Dad had stationed himself to keep an eye on things. She works hard and is extremely patient, which pays off: she succeeds in catching some prey after about 15 minutes of intense effort, and immediately kills it.

Instead of eating the prey right away — an indication that she was not terribly hungry — she plays with her catch for a few minutes, tossing it up in the air, catching it, pouncing on it, and generally just having fun. “Didn’t Mom tell you not to play with your food?” A friend of mine suggested this might be a good descriptive title for this posting.

When I was a kid, if you could get away with it,  much more fun than eating was to see how high you could stack the peas, form a dam in the potatoes and break it so the gravy would run out, make the chicken wing work, organize the carrot sticks in geometrical patterns, spread everything around so it looked like you had eaten most of it. “Don’t play with your food” we were told, but no reason was ever given.

Today I noted that there might be something to that rule! Within a few minutes, Dad came walking over from his lookout post. “There’s Dad! I’ll show him what I can do!” The youngster tossed the prey high up in the air one last time and tumbled over in the process, with Dad watching and closing in. The prey flew up in the air and landed on the other side of Dad.

We all know that coyotes are opportunistic, and here was an opportunity! Dad grabbed the food that had been tossed and ran off with it! And he ate it up! The thief!! Might there be a moral to the story?

And the youngster watched, somewhat bewildered! Dad then scratched himself by pushing his back against the stiff branches of  a bush, and then both coyotes headed over to where the prey had been found in the ground. But there was nothing else to be had from that location. Ahh, that’s life!

The youngster turned to Dad and began grooming him. All appeared to have been forgiven, and maybe even forgotten! The female hadn’t been hungry anyway, right?! Then, they both headed off into the bushes.

Male Yearling Accepts Submissive Role In Order To Stay With Family Pack

Father to the left, daughter in the middle facing us, submitting son to the right, down.

Father to the left, daughter in the middle facing us, submitting son to the right, down.

In a previous posting I described an observation involving a father coyote and his daughter running to an area where another of the pups from the same litter was being messaged to “leave”. This seems logical since any male would be competition for the father in this territory. However, another male youngster from the same litter has been allowed to remain. The explanations I can think of are, 1) this male and the female pup have always been best friends, and 2) this male submits readily, always, when asked to. He is not a threat and won’t be unless and until he rebels against always having to submit.

Here are two incidents I observed recently. In the sequence above the male youngsters moves away from a possible “disagreement”, but he is made to buckle under anyway. Below three coyotes consisting of a dad, a daughter and a son, are interested in the same thing on the ground. Daughter considers the son, her brother, in the way and grabs his snout. Dad supports her with a growl and signs to the son to hit the ground. Son hits the ground obediently.

More Nicks and Dents

More wounds

More wounds

Oh, no!! More gashes and lesions are appearing on the wounded yearling male I posted about earlier. He’s looking totally pockmarked. What is going on? Is he being attacked? These are the kinds of wounds which are inflicted by another coyote. Is another family member, or several family members, attempting to drive this fellow out of the family pack? And is he refusing to go? Or is something else going on?

The Wound Got Bigger

We’ve worried about the fella with the two wounds which was posted a couple of weeks ago. The wound on its haunches grew larger and redder over the next few days, maybe due to its becoming infected. Intervention is always a bad idea unless it is absolutely necessary. Trapping a coyote is extremely traumatic and harmful to these wild creatures. If antibiotics were to be offered, say, hidden in food, there is no guarantee that the right animal would get them.

I recently spoke to a medical doctor about it.  The coyote has been biting and licking it, which I thought was making the condition worse. In fact, it turns out that licking is the best that can happen. Animal saliva contains some antibiotic properties, so this self-medication is the best proactive measure — and it’s being done by the animal himself!

 

Intimate Coyote Sounds, by Jo


After 30 seconds of coyote family “greeting” squeals, this coyote family’s vocalizations settled down into new additional softer sounds that many may not have heard before: little peeps, a playful lower growl, and it’s more like they’re having a conversation toward the end, rather than just the usual merriment.  It was a warm, intimate “conversation”.  “Intimate” is the perfect word for it. . . I would just love to know what they’re talking about!

This recording occurred at night. There was nothing to see, but lots to hear!

Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

Snapping At Mosquitoes; Relating to Coyotes

In February we had our first heavy rainstorm in almost a year. That is when the climate turned humid and muggy: mosquitoes were out buzzing and biting. The mosquitoes were big and sluggish. I was able to hit every one that landed on me. This coyote, it appears, was in the same predicament as I was. He, too, was dealing with mosquitoes.

“In the same predicament”:  As much as possible, I try relating coyote behavior and what drives that behavior to our own human behavior to help me understand them, and to help me explain them to others. In many ways, I have found, coyotes are not so different from ourselves.

Anthropomorphizing has received a bad rap from some academicians, but, I’m finding, just as many support this approach to understanding non-human creatures. Although there may be no science for it, neither is there any against it! In fact, psychologists for many years have used animal studies to understand humans, such as the classic studies of the affect of maternal deprivation.

Courting and New Bonds

It is again breeding season, when unattached coyotes look for partners who will become their lifelong mates. These two coyotes appear to be a new “couple” or “pair”, or at least they are headed in that direction. The male has been following around after the female, at a comfortable distance, without crowding her, and even looking disinterested at times, but always only a few paces away!

The male is totally solicitous of the female, and ever so careful not to annoy or upset her. He watches for, and is alert to, any sign of displeasure from her. She is the queen. She, on the other hand, is much less interested in him, it seems. But she is his “chosen one”, and if she consents to his advances, they will become partners for life.

More Vying for Dad’s Affection: Wanna Smell Me?

This last behavior in the series on vying for Dad’s affection or for possessing him, I thought was particularly interesting. This series of behaviors occurred one right after the other, each behavior increasing with intensity the desire to grab Dad’s attention and affection away from the other sibling. See the last posting on Paws On Pop.

The female youngster has learned from the other members of the family, including her mother, father and brothers — through their intense interest in her odors — that she has or “is” something special, something “different” from the rest of them.

Here, she’s offering herself to be smelled by her Dad — an activity that will draw him to her — and therefore away from her sibling rival who is not depicted in the photos but who is present a few feet away, and who clearly also desires Dad’s love and attention.

She walks up to Dad and lies down and begins to roll over on her back. Dad seems to ignore her the first time — see the first slide. But she tries again, getting up and walking to right in front of him, lying down again and rolling on her back, exposing her underside. This time she has grabbed his attention.

2014-01-07 (23)Dad indeed sniffs her and then she gets up.  They both begin to walk away, but not before Dad confirms his dominance, or possibly his affection, or maybe both, by enclosing her snout in his.

Paws on Pop: More Vying for Dad’s Affection, for Possessing Dad, or Just Family Closeness?

What I see going on here is continued vying for preferential affection and attention from Dad. And Dad sure seems to be indulging these youngsters. He’s letting them climb all over him. I’ve divided up the photos into four groups to make this posting as clear as possible.

This behavior follows directly after the behavior I posted on February 4th: Vying for Dad’s Affection. The female youngster here, above, seems to have become insistent in her possessiveness of Dad: she puts her “paws on pop”. It reminds me of “Hop on Pop”. Notice her affectionate pull on Dad’s ear in the 3rd slide above. Almost all instances of “paws on another coyote” that I have seen have been a demonstration of dominance by a parent or dominant mate, or by one sibling towards another. But here it’s a youngster with paws on a father! Dad is indulging her — it’s probably simply “play dominance”, if even that!

The female falls off of Dad for a moment, but then gets up there again, as the male sibling looks on with interest. The male sibling, off to the side, doesn’t look too comfortable about what’s going on, as indicated by the position of his ears which are low and airplaned out to the sides.

And the female youngster doesn’t just put her paws on Dad, she actually hangs in there for some time! After a few minutes, as seen in the last slide of the three slides above, Dad slithers away from under her. Maybe enough is enough?

Oh, but now it’s the male youngsters turn! He actually “mounts” Dad in the traditional sense: “Hey, I can do this, too, in my own way.” Is he doing this competitively with his sister? Note that Dad puts up with it. He seems totally unphased. After all, these are just kids and.

The female youngster persists, getting on Dad again and pushing off her sibling! Back and forth between the two youngsters. Are they vying for Dad’s attention and vying for “possessing” him, does dominance in any form play into this, or is this just simple family closeness?

Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head

Coyote youngster sits in a downpour

Coyote youngster sits in a downpour

We finally have been getting rain in San Francisco and the Bay Area! After the driest year in recorded history, it’s been raining hard and almost non-stop, adding around 9 inches to our parched landscape! Hooray!

The younger coyotes here are new to rain, having experienced only one previous short rainfall in their entire lives! Youngsters born last year are stepping high through the mud, and holding their ears down, gloomily, showing that this is not the happiest of situations for them — we’re all wary of what is unfamiliar. This heavy rain will change all that!

Older coyotes who grew up with rain are taking the downpour in stride: they enjoy sitting in the rain and watching the few walkers who are willing to venture out in this weather. Hunting is often better during and after a rain, and, most importantly, rain provides an opportunity for a nice “shower”: the rain soaks in and the coyotes shake it out, which loosens the dirt and sends it flying.

Sopping wet

Sopping wet

Vying for Dad’s Affection Again: Who Gets Dad?

A female pup, again, runs so as to insert herself between Dad and her male sibling, and then turns towards Dad with an affectionate little mouth nip, and then grabs his snout in her mouth! Hmmm. Normally, as far as I’ve seen, this gesture is reserved for dominant members of the family, or between siblings. I’m wondering, possibly, if, being the only female in the family pack now, she has acquired special status? Or, is this simply family bantering with the understanding that, “Oh, I’m just playing”? The male sibling on the far side, walks on with his head lowered and with his ears low and airplaned out to the sides — he may be wary of what’s going on.

Although less than a year old, the female youngster is recognized in the family for her “difference” from the others, if not actually for her “female” status. She’s the only one I’ve seen in this family regularly lying on her back with her reproductive parts being sniffed with interest by the others.

We’ve learned that female reproductive hormones kick-in when there is no other reproducing female around, and that only one female — the “alpha” — in any coyote family pack reproduces. The alpha-mother of this particular family has disappeared from the pack, leaving a void. When alpha-females are killed or removed by human “management”, or if they die or become unable to reproduce, the other females in the pack fill in the void by becoming reproductively viable. As far as I know, it does not happen under a year of age, so maybe none of this is relevant. But, then again, maybe it is? I’m speculatively throwing this out as food for thought at this point.

Sibling Rivalry for Dad’s Affection

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I watched this coyote family playing together with abandon when a dog walker appeared in the distance in the park where these coyotes live. It was time for  the coyote family to head into hiding. The two youngsters followed Dad, single file, to this location where they all sat down close together for a short time before ducking into some bushes.

At first what I thought was going on was that the two nine-month-old youngsters were indulging Dad: “Hey, we like you, Dad!” — one pup mouthed and licked Dad’s ear while the other one did the same to Dad’s snout! They were not soliciting food from their father — food solicitation occurs upon Dad’s return when he has been away hunting, not after a play session.

But as I watched, it suddenly occurred to me that there was probably something a little more subtle and selfish going on. The behavior brought to mind behavior I had detected before between siblings in another coyote family. It seems that the youngsters were actually vying for preferential parental attention and favoritism. Dad is to the left — and each coyote youngster was vying to sit next to him, exclusive of the other.

The youngster in back is actually squeezing her way between her sibling to the right, and Dad to the left, inserting herself into the coveted space next to Dad. But the other youngster does not budge. Of course, this youngster could have just sat on the other side, but her plan involved splitting Dad and the other sibling apart.

Doesn’t this happen in human families between very young children? It did in mine. Whomever gets to sit next to Mom or Dad has the prime position, and feels, whether true or not, that parental preference has been bestowed on him/her. If this rivalry, which is only subtle now, intensifies and plays itself out over the next few months, one of these youngsters will be forced out of the family pack by the other. As this happens, as far as I have seen, the one being forced out will generally carry its ears airplaned out to the sides and lowered.

“We are all One…”, by Geri Vistein

[Geri Vistein helps us understand what it is like to be a coyote in most areas of North America]

photo by Jerry Mercier

photo by Jerry Mercier

What is the Coyote in this photo feeling….does she feel…..does she feel like us….?

From time to time in my work as a biologist, certain members of the community have some difficulty accepting the reality that Coyotes share with us the common journey through life on this planet….that they experience the pain, grief, loss, suffering that we do….and ALSO the fun, the joy, the companionship, the joy of life that we do.

I want to encourage you to view the outstanding documentary “When the Mountains Tremble”  If you have Netflix, you can get through them. Watch the film first, then watch it again with the director’s commentary. The film is about the Native people of Guatamala and the atrocities heaped on them for the past 500 years….since the Spanish invaded central America. The film focuses on what has been going on in the second half of the last century.

As I watched the film, as a biologist, I could not but help think that what these descendants of the Mayans were enduring were what Coyote contnues to endure. ….fleeing their homes and hiding in the forests…babies on mothers’ backs, traveling only at night to meet for fear of being rounded up and tortured, trying to hold onto their culture and their language at impossible odds.  

But the film also shows the indomitable spirit of the Guatamalan Native peoples, the strong bonds that they continue to share with each other, and their courage and  undaunting efforts to survive as a people.  I say Coyote desires and acts in the same manner….we have seen this repeatedly through our science. 

If you wish to get more of a sense of Coyote’s life here in Maine, and in many places in north America…..since the Europeans invaded this land….watch this documentary. If you have a difficult time accepting this comparison, please ask yourself … WHY?

[Reprinted with permission by Biologist Geri Vistein, from her website, http://www.coyotelivesinmaine.com/. Please visit this beautiful and informative site! Also, please visit Geri's Facebook page for farmers and ranchers: https://www.facebook.com/FarmingwithCoyotesinMaine]

Bug Off!!

This is a father coyote who absolutely indulges his offspring. He grooms them, shows them affection, cuddles with them, brings them food, plays with them, keeps a watchful eye out for their safety. You name it, and he’s there for them. His attention and care appear limitless.

Well, almost limitless. Dad here has wandered from the group and appears to have found something to nibble on. Overwhelming curiosity, and maybe the hope that Dad might share, draw a youngster towards Dad. The youngster approaches slowly, carefully and ever so non-threateningly — as though, maybe, all he really wants is a “peek” at what Dad has there.

Ahh! Enough is enough. Dad knows this trick and tells the youngster to “bug off!”  Maybe the message wasn’t as clear as it could have been. The youngster actually tries one more time to stick its nose into Dad’s business, but this time, Dad charges the youngster with teeth bared and snaps. The message this time is clear: the youngster responds by laying down far enough away so as not to be a bother. Even though the youngster didn’t go far, he did remain lying down — it was obviously a position of acquiescence.

Ahh! Space is established

Ahh! An acceptable distance is established

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