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.

Pup at 8 Months Still Getting Food From Dad

Although I could not see the details because this occurred within a tree grove, there is enough information here to see that the full-sized, though only 8-month-old, pup approaches its father for food by sticking its snout into the father’s mouth. Apparently, the pup gets something because its attention is on the ground in the second photo, and it stays behind to “finish up” whatever Dad had given him in the third photo.

At 8 months of age a pup does not need help from its father in getting food. However, giving the pup food tightens the strong bond which already exists and may keep the family together for a longer period of time.

Pup Shows Up, but Mom Does Not

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Dad and the trounced female pup who is 7 months old

Four days after the female pup and her mother disappeared — the mother actually disappeared a couple of days before the pup — the pup re-emerged together with Dad!  Apparently she had not been banished, she had not dispersed. Interestingly, however, it is the mother who has not been seen — its been three weeks, and I wonder if her absence is related to her treatment of the pup, or if  she’s gone purely by coincidence.

I saw a lot of affectionate nudging and nose touching between the pup and Dad — something I was particularly aware of after the falling-out with Mom. Dad lay down for a while, positioning himself on a spot with a view to watch his surroundings. The pup mulled about, remaining close by him at first, but then slowly increasing her distance from him and spent her time foraging for gophers. She kept her eye on Dad and vice-versa, each gazing at the other at regular intervals. There was definitely a caring connection between the two.

At one point the pup picked up an old piece of plastic, lay down and played with it — she seemed content and comfortable there. Eventually both pup and Dad wandered into the bushes, and I didn’t see them the next day.

Two days later, again, I came upon this same pup and Dad out trekking alone together!! I don’t think I would have seen them if they hadn’t been accosted by a dog and responded by howling in distress — both of them. The important thing for me was that there was a lot of togetherness and camaraderie shown by Dad, and the sentiment was returned by the pup. They howled together, then ran off separately, and then came together to continue their trek. So, this pup is still around, and I wonder what the trouncing was about!

Punishment Again

This is the second time in the same day that I observed this behavior between this particular seven-month old female pup and her mother. Please see the previous posting.

I had two thoughts that might be related to this:  the first about Great Horned Owl dispersal, and the second about canine intuition regarding the alpha quality in another canine.

I’ve seen Great Horned Owls lovingly raise their owlets for almost a full year, from the time they are born in late March, through the fledging stage when they leave their birth nest, and through months of teaching hunting and other survival skills. Then one day, towards the end of the Fall season, both parents — these are parents who have mated for life and have raised their owlets together for the last 15 years — turn viciously against their offspring forcing them to leave the area. There is room for only one mated Great Horned Owl pair in any territory due to limited resources. As time approaches for the new reproductive cycle to begin, at the end of the calendar year, any offspring born that year are driven away by their parents. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be so totally loved and cared for, and then have those who loved you suddenly attack you. This is what goes on. The young owls fly off to areas as close as the next park over, if there is room there, or as far away as across the US.

My second thought stems from how my 2-year-old female dog reacted when we brought home a new 4-month-old puppy — a male. We found the puppy — abandoned — and we couldn’t just leave him. She must have intuitively known that he would be growing much bigger than her, and that, based on his behavior and activity level and disregard for her, that he would assume the dominant status eventually. It’s only with hindsight that we came to know that this was going on right from the start. Over an extended period of time we noticed that the alpha status had segued to him, and she just accepted the inevitable. An alpha coyote in the wild, it seems, would do its best to prevent this from ever happening, especially from one of its own pups who began showing signs of any kind of dominance.

So, we’ll soon see how this situation pans out: if it settles down, or if it leads to something.

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

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

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.

Breeding Season: Smells and Walking on Eggshells

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This is all about powerful enticing odors — exuding and absorbing them. Attendant behaviors include edginess and short tempers. Odors are left anywhere, but especially on existing odors, such as where a dog has urinated. Odors are absorbed by wallowing in them and sniffing them.

Behaviorally, there is a decisive tentativeness during this time of year as a male and female approach each other. When HE comes over to sniff her, his movements are slow and as inoffensive to her as possible. The minute she shows any signs of flinching, he stops dead-still and waits for her to finish her reaction. He reads every detail of her movements. He is totally accommodating and ever so careful not to annoy.

For her part, she likes his presence — after all, she is walking with him. But she has let him know that he better watch himself — she appears ready to react to any misstep on his part. She rolls in his urine and allows his closeness — if he is careful. They read each other well. She’s been testy recently and he is absolutely walking on eggshells because of it.

I’ve numbered and annotated the 32 slides to explain what is going on in each one.

Pairs

Coyotes may live all alone, they may live as strongly bonded pairs, or they may live in larger groups — the groups are families which consist of a mother and a father, this years pups and some of last years and/or the previous year’s pups. I have heard that lone young males may hang out together until they find mates — but this is more of a temporary situation and I have not actually seen it.

Pairs don’t always necessarily follow the pattern of pairing up as male/female breeding couples. I have followed a mother and son for two years – they remain a seemingly bonded pair. There are also mother and daughter pairs that remain together over an extended period of time if something has happened to Dad. I’m trying to figure out where these two coyotes — Belle and Goggles —  fit in.

I have not figured out their situation totally. There is an older coyote named Goggles — named so because of the lighter colored areas around its eyes; and there is a young female, Belle, so named for her doe-like beauty. The older coyote has been in the area at least four years – the younger one was probably born here. They work as a pair, often leaving together and then splitting up to seek their luck separately as they hunt in the evening  – coming together off and on during their evening outings.

On this particular day, the younger Belle remained close to her protected area when Goggles appeared in the distance, trouping in from afar, coming in the younger one’s direction, but stopping at an obvious gopher hole to inspect and maybe catch an obvious and quick snack — gopher mounds stand out in a mowed area. The meal did not materialize, so the coyote continued in Belle’s direction and disappeared behind some brush. Belle, who had taken refuge in the bushes until this point,  then came out and began to forage on her own, remaining close to her protected area instead of venturing out to where Goggles had gone. She was still eyeing the same vole hole when I departed.

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.

More Squiggling, Kisses and Falling Over Each Other

So, at the risk of being repetitive, I watched again as a mother came to “collect” her family to take them off to a safe place. I had passed two young coyotes earlier, full of beans and play and maybe some mischief, chasing each other and joyfully running up a path. They stopped to watch a dog walker. I sat down to talk to my dog walking friend. Soon, we realized, that we were being investigated — not us so much as the dog. That is always the case.

And shortly, as might have been expected, the mother came running up and so did a sibling. At first our investigating coyote did not notice them, but eyesight, smell and hearing are keen in coyotes, and this one soon turned its eyes in their direction. Immediately he headed for them. Here are photos of the happy and affectionate greeting that I have come to know is a constant occurrence among members of a coyote family. The mother then, with the displays of affection continuing, led the pack off.

I have noticed that the only truly wary coyote of this group is the mother. The younger ones on their own would linger and investigate right in the open if it were not for the mother appearing to lead them away. On many days they do linger and I worry that they haven’t learned what they need to in order to survive in an urban area. I’m wondering how they might learn this. Coyotes who have grown up in an urban park have few dangers presented to them: they’ve learned to avoid dogs. But they need to keep more hidden.

Return of a Prodigal Son: MORE Joy & Affection

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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.

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!

One Coyote Filching The Other’s Lunch!

Ever have your hard-earned spoils swiped? Today I watched two young coyotes, buddies, trot together, then stop together to hunt. There didn’t seem to be any possessiveness about who found the hunting place. I’ve seen this “hunting togetherness” often. Results from this hunt were not immediately forthcoming, so one coyote gave up and walked on. But the other stayed and caught a very small vole. Instead of gobbling it down, the coyote ran off to a more protected area to finish killing the rodent and then to eat it. But the other coyote was right there watching. The successful hunter dropped his prey several times. The second coyote just watched at first, but then went for it.  The vole wasn’t dead yet, it  still moved, so I suppose instincts caused both coyotes to try to grab it. Both coyotes then did grab it together, because next I saw them both clenched on the prey, each trying to pull it away from the other. It was a minor struggle, but the guy who originally caught the vole was not the one who ended up with it. That the hunter gave it up so easily was kind of interesting, and points to harmony as being very important in coyote social relations. I’ve seen harmony take precedence all the time.

Continued Camaraderie Between Siblings & Yelping

Today I passed two one-year-old twin brother coyotes. What stood out is the amazing camaraderie between them. I’ve seen these two alone individually about the same amount of times that I have seen them together. When they are together they seem totally involved with the other, keeping track of what the other is doing and “joining in” with the other if it looks like fun.

These two noticed me and then ignored me, as usual. One continued walking, but since the other stayed behind to observe, the first came back rather than go on. They both then wandered around separately within my view. One pooped on the trail and then entered the tall grass where he apparently looked for food. The other walked by, and, seeing the one in the tall grass, “pounced in” after it — it was an enthusiastic leap. The grass was tall, so this coyote could not possibly have seen prey from his location, but he pounced in anyway to be with his brother, I think. They both then hunted together. I didn’t see that they caught anything at all. One then came out of the grass and walked a way on the trail. The other then came out, smelled the poop left earlier on the trail by his brother, and then headed away from me down a path, then waited for the other, and the other ecstatically followed.  Further on, where the path diverged, one kept going and the other turned off, but kept his eye on the first. This is when I lost track of both of them.

An hour later I saw their mother in this same location: coyote family life and mutual support is very strong, even after the pups reach a year of age. I wondered if she were looking for them, or monitoring for dog activity. Suddenly I heard a “group yelping” that I had never heard before. Although it sounded like five or six coyotes, I know that it could only have been the two young coyotes I had seen earlier. The minute the mother heard them, she was off in their direction. So this “yelping” was a communication — different from the “barking” which had not elicited a behavioral reaction from other coyotes except for a mild perking up of the ears.

Yelping. The “yelping” was not the “barking” that we are so used to in our urban parks. The “barking” has always been a result of having been chased by a dog: a complaining and possibly a statement of “leave me alone”. This “yelping”, on the other hand, lasted only a minute and had a distinct tone of complaining: could it have been that they, the comrades, were fighting over some food? According to Wyman Meinzer, it is at food caches that hierarchies between coyotes are broken and new orders are established. I wonder if this is what might have been going on? I went to the area where I thought the yelping might have come from, but couldn’t find the coyotes. I then walked along the street where I asked a man if he had heard them. He had just come back in the car from walking his dog and had not heard them, but his wife had. Her thought was that after a “kill” this is how the coyotes called the others. Hmmm. I myself have only seen gophers and voles become prey. I’m wondering now about this “yelping” as communication/calling, and if possibly it might have involved a larger animal of prey such as a skunk? The mother definitely had responded to the “yelping”, whereas I have seen her totally ignore “barking”  from another coyote — each had communicated something totally different.

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