“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.

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

Trounced by a Father

Dad trounces a pup

Dad trounces a pup, 2nd youngster looks on with lowered ears

I observed another pup pommeling by its parent a few mornings ago. This time, it was a father coyote who interjected himself into the fun of his two coyote pups who were excitedly wrestling and and chasing each other. It was very dark, but I was able to capture some images, and, of course, I heard the high pitched, complaining “squeals” from the youngster being trounced. The pup took the beating lying on its back, as the second youngster just looked on with lowered ears. Then, all three coyotes — Dad and two pups — moved to a location not too far off, where the pups continued to play and Dad watched.  Dad actually seemed to be trying to lead them away, but he stopped indulgently, standing there, and watched their fun. After about 10 minutes of this, they all trotted off in a single file after Dad and into hiding.

Why had the Dad trounced the youngster? Had the pups been playing too “rough”? Had one been trying to dominate the other? Did Dad just need to establish some order, or maybe restore his hierarchy in this pack, the way the mother had in the other family pack I wrote about?

These pups here are 8 months old: full-sized, but still pups.

Siblings: Diametric Opposites

“Careful and Dependent” spends her time waiting and watching

Today a coyote youngster was in an open area. This coyote can be characterized as “careful and and dependent”. She’s wary and not willing to take chances, unlike her siblings. Today she had planted herself in a safe location near some bushes — she could escape to the bushes if necessary from any harm. From here she watched her surroundings, and she waited. She seemed to be waiting for a family member — someone familiar —  to appear on the scene.

Soon a sibling did appear on a hilltop, a sibling who has a dramatically different personality type from the one just described. I’ve observed their different personality types right from the start, nothing has changed from day one: just like humans, there is a lot which is innate and unique about each coyote. This one, in contrast to the previous one, could be characterized as “adventuresome and independent”.

The adventurer saw her sibling in the field below and ran down to greet her, happily, caringly, affectionately, and the shy coyote ran to greet her: there was joy and camaraderie.  Both coyotes then wandered around for a short time, and then the adventuresome one headed off to forage, hunt and explore the area beyond view. She was more interested in her explorations than in the other coyote, whereas the shyer coyote kept her eye on the more adventuresome one until she was out of sight.

When the shy one sees the adventuresome one (left),  she runs to be with her (middle), but I’m in the way, so she turns back to her safety spot and remains there (right).

The shy coyote lay down to watch and wait again once her more adventuresome sibling was out of view. The adventuresome coyote seems to serve as a protector and role model for this shy one.

When the adventurer eventually re-appeared in the distance, the shy coyote jumped up and ran full speed to be with her. But  the adventurer had not been aware that the timid coyote was running towards her. The adventurer turned back and away again as the timid one struggled to catch up. That’s when she saw she had come too close to me and would have to pass me to get to where she was going.  She stopped. Apparently it was not worth the risk for her to follow her sibling. Instead she returned to her protected area where she waited again for awhile and then turned in for the day.

Meanwhile, the adventurer spent the entire morning not too far away, discovering new places to dig up gophers, and spreading her wings a little bit more.

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!

The Day The Pummeled Pup Didn’t Appear

The female pup, to the left, keeps away from Mom who surveys the area from up on a hill

I continue to observe this family during their time of family strife — I guess that’s what it is. The next day Mom again appeared on the scene, briefly, midway up a steep incline. The female pup, at the foot of the hill, looked up at her but just kept walking away from her mother and then watched her from behind a bush. Mom soon walked out of view.

The next day I saw the walloped coyote pup alone in a field for a portion of the afternoon. She was out much earlier than usual. Had she removed herself from the company of the others on purpose? Where was the rest of the family?

keeping to herself

keeping to herself

And the next day, she still kept to herself. I saw her walk away even from Dad, a coyote who has lots of affection for his pups and still indulges them with food at 7 months of age. Mom was the only one in the family who was not around. All the other pups watched intently, standing still, and moving their gazes between Dad and the battered one. Had something happened to that relationship, too, or was she just being careful about everyone? She kept to herself, and soon all of them retreated into the bushes.

Then came the day when the pummeled pup didn’t appear at all, and for the next few days I saw neither Mom nor this pup. My initial thought was that, indeed, the pup had been forced out. On this day, two of her siblings were foraging in an open area when Dad appeared on the crest of a distant hill. Both pups dashed towards him, and he came down to meet them. There was an intense greeting, as usual — Dad had brought food for them. He still brings them presents and is loved for this. They ate whatever he had provided for them. Dad has been around less frequently lately, probably because of his injury several weeks ago, so it was a surprise to see him. He was still limping, and his face still bore scars, but I suppose he knew he was needed to check up on his pups and give them some food. I noticed on this day that, not only was his left back leg injured, but he was holding up a front leg, too, at times.

Dad feeds two other pups

After supplying the food to his pups, Dad went up the hill he had come from, and the pups went down the same hill — they had met midway — keeping an eye on each other for about half an hour. Then, first one pup, then the other one, went into the bushes for the day. Dad stayed out just a few more minutes, and then got up and wandered off to his private getaway. Coyote pups and their parents do not necessarily rest in the same locations. In this case, it was obvious that all concerned knew where “their” specific resting places were.

The clobbered pup was nowhere in sight — this was the first day she has been absent, and her absence was blatant to me. And, of course, because she was gone, she did not participate this time in the wiggly-squiggly greeting with Dad, nor did she partake of the treat he had brought.

For the next few days I only ever saw one of the other pups in the field — never the punished one — and it was always alone and didn’t stay out for too long.

After the Lashing

A couple of days after I had videoed a mother coyote lashing out at one of her seven-month old pups — a female, I witnessed a change in behavior between two of the pups towards their mom. These are both females, though I have no idea if gender had anything to do with what I observed.

I watched as Mom came into a large field where three of her pups were absorbed in foraging in three different spots. All pups stopped their foraging activity immediately when they saw her. Two of the pups dashed like bullets across the field in her direction.

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

One of the pups that dashed in her direction, the male, went straight up to her, as always, to greet her, tail flailing with excitement. There were the usual kisses and wiggly little excited movements that indicate all is happy and well between them. He attempted getting food from her, but she had none to offer, and it didn’t really seem to matter.

A female pup heads into the bushes -- right past her Mother who is greeting her son

A female pup heads into the bushes, right past her Mom who is greeting her son [you can see pup's back & tail at top of photo]

Interestingly, the second pup, a female, who had also headed in Mom’s direction, went straight past Mom — who was in the process of greeting the male pup — and into the bushes! She did not stop to participate in the happy greeting which I had always seen her do before. Hmmm. Was she afraid of the mother, having seen the harsh treatment dished out to the other daughter? This would be my guess. All of these are new behaviors, beginning with the lashings of the one daughter, and I can’t help  thinking that they are all related.

The seven-month old female pup who had been  the target of lashings by Mom

The seven-month old female pup who had been the target of lashings by Mom, watching

The female pup who had received the lashing did not head towards the mother coyote.  Even though she was a long distance away from where Mom entered the field, she ran into the bushes closest to her and hung out there, hidden, for a few minutes. Eventually she came out of her hiding place, sat down, and just watched from about 400 feet away — she had no interest in approaching her mother. She looked sad to me.

The mother looked at her for a moment, and eventually moved on and out of sight. Not until then did this daughter continue her foraging before heading into the bushes for the day. There is always communication when coyotes look at one another. I wonder what information their “look” conveyed.

Youngster Makes a Quick Dashaway

The youngster in the middle here is a seven-month old male pup. He’s on good terms with both his parents. He greets both parents, and then Dad, to the left, “puts the youngster down.”

Dad has been out of commission for several days, at least during my observations, due to an injury he sustained either from an aggressive dog or possibly from a fight with a raccoon: his face and head have lacerations, and he limps on both his left legs. I’ve noticed that injured coyotes lay low for a while. Because of his recent absence, he may have a need to re-establish his position in the family hierarchy, which may be why he puts this pup down. The youngster submits easily.

Mom is to the right. She has just finished a pretty amazing harsh attack on this youngster’s female sibling.  Is this youngster fearful of the same punishment which has just been dished out to his sister?

Mother’s Harsh Treatment of Female Pup Continues

Before I started videoing the above, two coyote pups had been foraging in an open field when they spotted Dad coming. They dashed ecstatically in his direction. After only a short truncated greeting, Dad confirmed his dominance towards the male pup, who willing submitted by lying on his back immediately and not protesting.

This “status confirmation”  has become a routine where everyone knows how to behave: the pups acquiesce willingly to the submission which is demanded of them, and all relationships are confirmed as stable. The other pup, the female, also immediately turned on her back and then kept low, even though Dad was on top of the other pup. This little threesome seemed happy for the few moments they were there: everyone did the right thing, everyone smiled and tails wagged.

Then mom appeared on the scene. With everyone’s attention on the mother, the dad let go of his hold on the male pup who calmly got up and wandered in the other direction from which the mom was coming. Mom immediately headed for the female pup — the one which has been the target of Mom’s animosity and displays of dominance in the last few days. Today the treatment became more harsh. That’s Dad casually viewing the altercation from in front; he’s still limping from an injury a week ago.

Note that the female pup is not compliant and snaps back, which may be the problem — but then who wouldn’t self-protect under this onslaught?  Also note Mom’s final emphatic statement: “And take this, too!” No holds barred.

[Please see the previous two postings on this behavior: Punishment and Punishment Again]

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.

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