More Rendezvous Behavior: Fussing Over His Pups, Grooming & Intimacy

Charles Wood and I both have written a number of postings on coyote rendezvous behavior.  Coyotes are social animals who, except for transients and loners, live in nuclear families. They mate for life — coyotes are one of only 3-5% of mammalian species that do so — and the family is what centers their lives. Hey, not so different from us!

I recently wrote about a coyote mated pair — one with a den full of infant pups — who took off to rendezvous at dusk – like a couple on their way to a tryst in the dark.  Mated pairs are special buddies, and you can see it in that posting. I’ve also assembled a photo essay for Bay Nature on “Raising Kids in the City” to let people know about how social and family-minded coyotes are.

Today’s rendezvous was a family one. Mom and two kids were out lolling around on the hidden side of a hillside, waiting for dusk to get a little heavier.

Dad gets up & stretches

Dad gets up & stretches

After seeing them, I kept walking and found Dad sleeping in a little ball, about 400 feet away from where the others were. I settled down to wait for some activity. Suddenly Dad sat up, as if he knew that the others were waiting for him. What was his cue? He hadn’t seen the others — they were within his line of sight, but he had not looked in their direction. I’m sure he hadn’t heard them or smelled them. Maybe it was a cue in his circadian rhythms, much like our own, built in and influenced by daylight hours, or possibly by the movement of the moon?

He allowed himself a long stretch, and then scouted the length of a path before walking slowly into a clump of bushes which were in the direction of the place where the other family members were hanging out.

rendezvous begins

Rendezvous begins with Dad’s arrival

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Since I could no longer see Dad after he disappeared into the bushes, I headed back to the hillside where I had first spotted the 3 other coyote family members. By the time I got to the spot where I could see them again, Dad was there. His arrival had sparked great excitement. Tails were wagging furiously. All coyotes, except Mom, were falling all over each other and doing their little wiggle-squiggle thing that they do when they greet one another.  Mom hadn’t moved from her sphynx-like pose, arms extended and crossed,  a few feet away. Now three pups were visible, but the shyest scurried behind a bush when she saw me.

Dad fusses over the first pup, stopping only to watch an owl pass overhead

As the excitement of the greeting calmed down, Dad approached the two remaining pups, one at a time. The first one he nudged in the snout, and then he poked his own snout into its fur, over and over again, twisting his head this way and that, in a grooming sort of way. The young pup closed its eyes and let itself enjoy the affectionate massage which went along with the grooming.  After about four minutes Dad moved over to the second pup. The first pup got up to follow and stuck its snout under Dad to smell his private parts. Dad did not like this and must have given a sign, because the pup turned away quickly and moved off.

Then Dad groomed the second pup: repeatedly nudging the pup’s head, licking and cleaning it. He then moved to the pup’s rear area and seemed to do the same, though I was on the other side so I could not see exactly where the licking was occurring.

Dad fusses over the second pup, spending lots of time licking and grooming the head and end of this 6-month old pup

Then my Canadian friend walked up, and I explained to her what was going on. We heard a siren in the distance. All coyote activity ceased and there was silence. I suggested to my friend that we might be in for a great family howling session, and I set my camera into “record” mode in preparation. Sure enough, the howling and squealing began, with the entire family joining in, AND was there another pup in the far distance adding its voice to the fabulous chorus!? Then all sounds ceased, after about 2 minutes. All the coyotes ran off, with happy flailing tails, in a single file, into the darkness and out of sight. There was no longer enough light for my camera to focus. My friend and I departed, too, delighted by how magical this had been. Here is the recording:


Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

#68 BN6

Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

Greeting Sounds, from Jo


This recording was definitely a special one from last night, very full of love and excitement.  Reminds me of when my dad used to come home from business trips and my brother and I would be shrieking with glee!

At 42 seconds there is a muffled growl, and then it goes silent.  I remember reading “How to Speak Dog” many years go, and the author said that in the wild, the mother dog will silence her pups by placing her mouth over their muzzles and making a low growl, as if to say ‘ssshhh.”  Is that possibly what happens at that 42 second mark?  That would be fascinating!   … Jo

[Hi Jo -- It is very possible that what you describe was going on! Yes, very exciting! Janet]

Mother Daughter Greeting

A joyous wiggly-squiggly muzzle-licking "hello"

A joyous wiggly-squiggly muzzle-licking “hello”

Exuberance, kisses, wiggly-sguiggles, and unbounded joy: that’s the description of a parent/pup greeting, in this case it is a mother-daughter greeting. The greeting lasted only about ten seconds, but it was intense.

The child coyote crouches low, belly right on the dirt, and extends her snout up to reach Mom’s. Ears are laid way back in total submission. At one point, the little girl is ready to turn belly up. This little coyote is ecstatic and overflowing with affection and happiness. Although it is the child that displays most of the affection — note that Mom’s eyes are squeezed shut most of the time, probably for protection from the onslaught — it was Mom who actually joyously ran down the hill to greet this little one, so Mom initiated this greeting! When Mom decided to go, the youngster followed.

This display of affection occurs even if the separation has been less than 1/2 hour. Coyote family members show this kind of affection for each other whenever they’ve been separated for even a short period of time.

A Rendezvous Ritual

Coyotes spend a good deal of their day sleeping. Members of a pack or family may sleep within close proximity of each other, or they may sleep much further apart, but probably within the same couple of acres of each other. They have amazing built-in time clocks, but they also are influenced by circumstances of the moment. My own dog could tell the time and knew what was to be done at that time. For example, I always set off, with my dog, at exactly 2:40 to pick up one of my kids at school. But one day I fell asleep — I would not have made it on time except that my dog began poking me with her muzzle at exactly 2:40. Needless to say, I was amazed. The same is true for coyotes — they seem to know when it is time to meet up, but if people or dogs are around, they will delay.

Most coyotes I know like to go trekking alone. After all, their staple diet consists of voles and gophers — animals that really can’t be divvied up very well. Might as well hunt alone. But some coyotes do enjoy trekking together, usually in pairs. When they hunt in pairs, there is usually a rendezvous beforehand.

Rendezvous locations can remain the same for a while, or they can change drastically from day to day, but coyotes seem to have various favorite meeting spots which they alternate between for a while, before changing these altogether .  This is where they congregate to then move together for their foraging.

In this case here, the older female had spent her day sleeping in the sun quite some distance from where the young male had been also sleeping in the sun. The female was the first to move around — she disappeared into some bushes. In the meantime, I watched the male who moved from where he had been sleeping to a new location where he curled up and then dozed a while longer. Finally, he got up, stretched, scratched, and began to forage. I watched him catch a vole and toy with it. He continued searching for voles and then looked up ahead. He must have seen the female approaching, because he sat down and watched intently. She trotted over, and arrived on the scene.

The ritual began with hugs and kisses. They are hidden in the grass in these photos, but you can see what is going on. It was intense, but lasted only about a minute. That was the first phase of the meeting. Then there was a pause where all activity ceased. I think the male was waiting for something, but since nothing happened he turned around and backed into her — it looked like a request. He did it again and then looked over his shoulder: “well?”. The older female was obliging. She began grooming the young fellow, pulling off burrs and bugs. He accepted this, repeatedly laying his ears back against his head — he seemed to melt with the attention. There was care, affection, and intensity here which few animals that I have seen show each other. The next phase of the meeting involved trotting off together. From what I have seen in the past — though I did not follow them this time — they will spend their time together trekking, marking their territory, hunting, playing, exploring and maybe even meeting up briefly with a couple of lone coyotes who live adjacent to this territory, before again returning to separate localities to rest.

Grooming: Ticks-Be-Gone!

The little coyote I had been watching ignored the faint sound of a siren in the distance, but Maeve, who was far off, began howling from the distance after hearing it. Immediately, the one I had been watching, Silver, joined in, but not for long. He resumed his hunting for awhile and then sat down to watch something in the distance. When Maeve appeared, I realized that he had been watching her approach. The howling had been used to locate each other. He aimlessly moved in her direction, it seemed, and finally met her on a path where he proffered kisses — but she seemed annoyed and shrugged him off with a strong nod of her head. Might this have been because I was there?

He then wandered off to hunt, and these two appear to have lost each other. Maeve went to a path where she sat and seemed to look for him. He, too, looked for her. They were close to each other but not aware of where the other was. So Maeve got up and began to wander, and it is then that Silver spotted her and approached her, and it is then that this grooming took place.

Grooming serves to get rid of bugs and to clean — here it looks as though ticks are being removed. Grooming also is a platform for showing affection, care, and reinforcing family hierarchy. Interestingly, she is the one who did the grooming, he did not groom her back.

“I Like You, Bunches”

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This show of affection — almost cuddling — lasted one-and-a-half minutes. These coyotes touched noses over and over, they rubbed heads and rubbed their bodies against each other over and over, one clambored over the other, one held the other’s snout within its own — to confirm social rank, no doubt. There was communication with tip-of-the-tongue movements and display of emotion with ears down or back. There was a paw on the back and head rub along that same back. There was intense eye to eye contact. And I couldn’t  even see what their snouts were precisely doing part of the time because they were facing away from me — all I could tell was that their snouts were together in this affectionate greeting.

It began when I came upon one coyote grazing in an open field. Soon the other appeared in the distance. They became aware of each other but didn’t move towards each other at first. Then, they trotted in towards each other, and this sequence of photos is what resulted. Afterwards they continued to graze. A runner came by close enough to cause one of the coyotes to quickly bolt away several hundred feet towards some bushes. They both watched the runner go by, and then the second coyote kept its eyes on the first, as if to make sure it was okay and calm before proceeding with its grazing. These two watch out for each other. They are best friends.

More Coyote Kisses!

Again, I came across coyotes ecstatically greeting each other. The greeting went on for a full minute. Most of the activity occurred behind bushes and grasses, but I was able to glimpse a little of it! Notice that the alpha coyote is always standing up, whereas the submissive coyote kisses from a lowered position, almost all the way to the ground. The greetings I’ve seen always involve lots of wiggly ecstatic affection, but greetings may also solidify social hierarchy within a group — these photos would suggest that.

ecstatic greeting with kisses

Adoration On A Foggy Day

There is no other term — just look at the photos: adoration. I’ve known these particular coyotes for a while now. They have a very close relationship: a mother and her two-and-a-half year old son. The jumping for joy, touching, wiggling and squiggling, hugs and kisses were absolutely overwhelming displays of affection — it lasted about 25 seconds. This greeting was an intensely demonstrative one, though there were no accompanying squeals and whining which often go along with greetings.

Almost all of the affectionate display came from the younger male. Mom seemed just as happy to see the son — after all, she is the one that came up to him; he had been standing there and eating — but hers was less demonstrative and much more of a solid and dependable Rock-of-Gibraltar affection. This is how I saw it, based on many hours of previous observations of their behaviors.

After this intense “greeting”, they both ran off  together, and out of sight. It appeared to me that Mom had come to “fetch” the younger one — and he seemed ready to go with her, though, until she appeared, he seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. He had spent the previous hour hunting and eating a number of gophers. They both then headed for a denser growth area in order to “turn in” for the day. I did not see them again.

Family Greeting Sequence: Smothering Mom Who Then Needs To Get Away

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Here is a display of strong family affection — affection for Mom from two of her full-grown pups aged 18 months at the time. Joy from the juveniles can be seen in their body movements and facial expressions as they approach her. They approach her with lowered heads in deference to her Alpha status — so the greeting is both one of love and a confirmation of their respect for her. Mom is the coyote on the far right in these photos. Mom appears to “allow” them to display this affection — but I have seldom seen her return it.

In this sequence, Mom soon tires of it all. After the first initial greeting with just one of the pups she moves off and lies down. At this point the other youth appears and both this time approached her with kisses and hugs (close body contact). She then gets annoyed at the pile up, reacting with a gaping snarl (#13) and then moves off. The younger ones follow and Mom snarls again (#17) but they offer apologetic kisses and then they all settle down now with plenty of space between each other.  This entire sequence lasted over three minutes. These photos were actually taken at the beginning of October when these displays were still going strong: the displays are not nearly as lengthy or nor as intense recently.

Love & Rigid Social Order

A coyote social order is maintained by rituals which constantly confirm who fits where in a group. Here, Mom goes through the ritual of enclosing the snouts of both of her offspring, 19 months old, in her snout and the confirmation seems to be appreciated by everyone — they seem to have interjected their snouts into hers for this confirmation. The two siblings often battle — the battles are only a few seconds long, but they definitely are there. Here, sibling #2 begins to dominate, but Mom walks off at one point and shows her teeth in another. Sibling #2 keeps peace by walking under his dominating sibling’s chin. In the end, the two siblings banter amicably.

Return of a Prodigal Son: MORE Joy & Affection

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23 SLIDES IN THIS SEQUENCE

Well, he was actually right there, not far in the distance, where the other two could see him. But you wouldn’t have known this from the all-out affectionate welcome he received!! Here are more photos of an affectionate family.

Pounds of Love and Affection

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THERE ARE 39 SLIDES IN THIS SEQUENCE

I was watching two yearling coyotes when their mother appeared trotting down the path in their direction. The yearlings had been casually hunting but were now sitting on a bare spot. I wondered if they were waiting for their mother? They saw the mother first. They waited just a moment before running at her, delightedly and joyfully. They couldn’t seem to get enough of her. I have now seen this “greeting” lots of times. It is an indication of the extremely strong family ties which include lots of love, care and concern for each other.

The young coyote body movements alone communicated lots of happiness and affection: leaping, piling up, jumping right over a sibling.  In addition, there were the facial expressions and movements: kisses, mouths agape, ears back, head rubs, pint-size nips, smiles, squinting, reaching for the tip of the snout with a snout, a snout around the mothers, paw on mother’s back. Note that these actions are carried out by the young coyotes towards their mother.

The mother made her way, with all this activity, up to a safer place off the trail. She was the recipient of all the affection. Her expressions were different from theirs. I did not see her outright kiss either one of them. Her reactions included licking her lips, tip of the tongue out, tongue extended further out, squinting, ears back, and . . . .  ducking the onslaught!!

This greeting lasted just under three minutes. Beforehand the two younger coyotes had been hunting together. Now the three of them went off together, led by the mother. I have seen where she “gathers” them together to lead them off. And I have seen them engage in a play session after such a gathering. Very often, as far as I have seen, this morning meeting will signal a time for them to “go in” for the day.

Waiting, Greetings, and . . . Could It Be Just A Smile?

I watched a mother coyote walk around anxiously and finally settle down, up on a ledge, where she stayed. However, she remained anxious, looking around with jerking motions — she was looking for something. Finally, she got up quickly and trotted down the path to where I saw her greet another coyote. This coyote is what she had been waiting for. They kissed and rubbed muzzles — it’s not a calm greeting, it is very active and intense. This time the younger one, a male, put his paw up on his mother’s muzzle during the greeting. I thought, “whoa!” Is this some kind of sign of dominance from the younger male? The other pup — there are two and they are both males, a year old — has the habit of mounting his mother and she allows it, at least for a few minutes. I thought dominant females were, well, dominant. I wonder if she was teaching them things, or maybe keeping the family intact? Or, could there be other things going on?

After the greeting, they started walking down the path in my direction — I moved off quickly. The mother waited for the younger one to follow. My photos reveal BOTH coyotes, as they proceeded, with the exact same open mouth at the same time — it is very similar to the smile I see in the two young pups when they play. And then, a minute later, the mother again has the same open mouth/smile but this time with her nose pulled way up, as if to make sure to reveal the upper canines?  Right after this lip-raised smile, the mother stopped and “licked her lips” though she had not been eating anything. Otherwise, there were no real tongue-tips visible this time as I have seen before. I’m wondering if the open mouth, especially with the nose pulled up and back, has significance beyond the possibility of a contented smile? I’m finding that EVERYTHING, ultimately, has significance, even though I’m not able to decipher it right away!

Adoration, Kisses and Muzzle Rubs

There is intense muzzle rubbing and kissing when coyote family members greet each other. Often this is accompanied by enthusiastic jumps and lots of body contact. At my last observation I was in a position to watch one coyote’s purely adoring gaze as the other one approached before the muzzle rubs and kisses: that is the first photo above. The affection and ties within a coyote family are incredible.

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