Punishment

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When “disciplining”, the alpha of a family pack gently puts her/his mouth around the snout of a coyote who is out-of-line, and maybe turns the “underdog” on its back for a few moments. This discipline could be reinforced by the alpha placing its paws on the back of the fellow who is out-of-line. The subordinate quickly shows deference and everything is back to normal within a few seconds:  the alpha status is reconfirmed and everyone knows their role in the family hierarchy. This is not what I saw today, twice.

What I saw today I’m going to call “punishment” — it is much more severe. I’ve thought about what might have lead to this kind of punishment:

The most probable reasons involve defiance of the alpha figure, in this case the mother, or possibly disobeying commands that are meant to protect the family pack and help with its survival. Hierarchy has to be rigidly maintained in a healthy coyote family.

Or, maybe the alpha needed to bring down the highest-ranking pup? Maybe it was becoming too powerful among its siblings?

Then again, this harsh discipline might just be the first steps in forcing dispersal. But then, why would the mother be targeting just the one pup, a female?

I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities. I don’t know enough at this stage to state with certainty what is going on, but I tend to think the punishment was for the youngsters own good, and not self-aggrandizement by a mean mother.  But I was totally taken aback as I observed it.

The youngster in this observation is almost seven-months old, a female. She approached her mother, belly scraping the ground, showing deference, submission and caution. This did not include the wiggly squealing happy meeting that I usually see. The pup approached and quickly turned on her back, with the aid of the mother’s legs. The mother then stood, crouched low, over the youngster for a long period of time, snarling now and then at the slightest hint of movement or protesting from the pup. At one point, as the pup lay there quietly, the mother licked the female pup’s private parts. and then the pup’s inner leg. The pup remained quiet at first. Then the pup seemed to protest and tried getting up, and even almost got up at one point. The mother snarled viciously and was able to quickly put the pup down again.  Then the pup did break away for a moment, but the mother quickly used her entire body to hold the pup down. There were then a series of hard punch-bites from the alpha-Mom.  This was all carried out in silence except for one high pitched whimper from the pup near the end of the “session”.  The pup then was able to get up and dash off for cover into some bushes about 50 feet away.

Mom then sat up and looked ahead and around, without a second glance towards the pup in the bushes. Within a few minutes she headed down the hill. The pup came out of the bushes and watched — watched longingly and sadly as the mother headed off. Were they not reconciled? Would this continue? At the bottom of the hill the mom looked back, seemingly disapprovingly, at the pup, and then continued on. The pup stayed at her spot by the bushes and looked very sad, watching the mother disappear into the distance. Many minutes later, the pup, too, headed down the hill, but in another direction.

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:


A Dad Doesn’t Share

That’s a Dad rolling and rubbing himself on an old, smelly tennis ball — most likely covered with grimy dog saliva. Isn’t that what tennis balls are for?

When the kid comes by to check it out, Dad doesn’t let him.  Dad wants the ball for himself — at least until he finishes his rubdown. When he’s through, he abandons the ball, allowing the kid a turn.

But the kid was only interested in it while Dad had it. He follows Dad, giving the ball only a short sniff  as he passes it.  Maybe he’ll try rolling on it another time.

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/

Rendezvous At Late Dusk

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[14 slides taken in the dark]

Few people know how extremely social coyotes are and that they have intense family lives. This is because coyotes avoid people and people areas as much as possible, and because most of their social activity occurs when it is dark, when we can’t see them. Their social interactions occur within a family unit. Coyotes, unlike wolves and feral dogs, do not form what we know of as traditional “packs” which are groups of individuals that are not related. If you do hear of  “a pack of coyotes”, the “pack” is always a family of related individuals.

New to most folks might be the incredible bonds, devotion, affection and care for each other that coyotes possess and display towards each other — wild coyotes have strong family-lives, not so different from our own! Usually, if a coyote is spotted by someone, all they see is its exterior shell — and most people are thrilled to have seen that — a real coyote!  But within that shell there is an entire complex life, an individual and unique personality, and social bonds and structure that few people ever see or are even aware of.  Coyotes are one of only 3-5% of mammalian species that mate for life, and both parents cooperatively raise the young.

One of the social activities that coyote family members look forward to and enjoy is their daily rendezvous. I was able to observe this behavior again only a few days ago. Unfortunately the photos are almost illegible because it was dark — but since this is how I saw it, this is how I’m going to present it: dark and blurry!

The rendezvous began when the two coyotes, a mated pair, came out from their daytime resting spots within a few minutes of each other. It’s interesting that in the families I have seen, Mom and Dad and pups often rest in three separate locations and these are not necessarily in close proximity to each other. On this particular evening, first she appeared, and she ran excitedly down a hill in anticipation of her active day. Within a short time, he appeared. He ran up to where she had been, and soon caught her scent and followed that.

When each caught sight of the other, they joyfully ran toward the other, they sniffed each other all over, and then there were the kisses and hugs and rubbing against one another that I’ve seen them do often when they greet each other. There were no squeals of delight this time, but sometimes squealing accompanies the greeting. Then they started chasing each other and tumbling over each other — they would frolic and play before going trekking. This continued for about five minutes before they both, still chasing each other, headed off to collect the rest of the young family. The whole family would be going “a-trekking” once it was pitch black outside: it would be a time for hunting, learning, playing, communicating, and interacting as a family. 

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 Father Coyote Feeds His Pups

Here’s a series of photos I caught of a father coyote bringing food to youngsters.

*They see him coming and run towards him, knowing he has food for them.

*One sticks its snout into Dad’s mouth in an attempt to hurry up the process.

*Dad holds them off until he finds a spot accessible to both pups, where he regurgitates the food and then walks away.

*The pups anxiously eat up what has been brought to them.

*One pup then wants more and appeals to Dad by thrusting its snout into Dad’s, but Dad has no more to offer, so the pup returns to the “pile” of regurgitated food.

*When both pups are finished, Dad gives them each a snout squeeze with his own muzzle: this seems to be a mutually initiated behavior with pups thrusting their snouts into Dad’s mouth as he extends his snout to gently grab hold of theirs.  Is this a “thank you” from the pups, or “mind your manners” from Dad?

In addition to the coyotes naturally blending into the landscape with their camouflage coloring, the observation occurred at twilight when it was hard to see, so I feel lucky to even have been aware of the event. Interestingly, Mom did not participate, being too far away to do so, but she was within observing distance, and she was keenly interested in the goings on, as revealed by her focused attention during this feeding event. These pups here are approaching 5 months of age.

Pups Born Just A Few Months Ago Join Mom, Dad and the Fire Engine Sirens

Only mom is barely visible in the distance. Most of the sounds are coming from the bushes!

Mom leads the chorus

Of this group chorus, only Mom can be seen — barely — in the distance. She’s far away, and it’s dusk. I’ve had to enhance the photo to make her really visible. Most of the sounds are coming from coyote pups hidden in various spots within the bushes! It sounds like the bushes are singing!


These pups were just a little over three months old when I made the recording — close in size to those in this photo below, taken elsewhere and at an earlier date: note that this litter in the photo consists of five pups, which is not unusual for coyotes, though many youngsters don’t make it to adulthood.  I don’t know how many pups are in the pack I heard singing: remember that a few coyotes, with their different pitches, can sound like many more than there are.

Of course, coyote pups begin singing at an even younger age than three months, but they sound more like squeaky toys than real coyotes! If you want to hear what the youngest coyotes sound like, click this link: http://youtu.be/xKksJ3fvB1Q

Three Month Old Pups

Three Month Old Pups

Hey, Mom, Wanna Play?

How could anyone not want to be with such adorable pups, you might ask. But mothers need a break from their kids sometimes. Just look at the video, Meet The New Kids On The Block, to see what a coyote mom has to put up with! It looks like an incessant onslaught!

Kids of all species LOVE to play with their parents and want their attention! In the sequence of photos above, the kid comes up to Mom  for fun and games — he doesn’t seem to realize that she’s resting. But she does not want to be pestered here. “Beat it” is what she is saying.

1) Mom resting
2) Hey Mom, wanna play?
3) Please? NO!
4) In this slide he has withdrawn his hand as though it’s been slapped
5) Okay, BE that way! [The "kid" does a funny little twisty dance here!]
6) I’m outta here! Maybe Dad will play.
 

Moms often need free time away from the family.  Below she’s gone off some distance for a break, but she’s keeping an eye on them from her high vantage point, and will rush down to protect them if that is needed.

Mom rests on a knoll in the distance

Mom rests on a knoll in the distance

Meet the New Kids on the Block!

July Seventh – sent to me by my neighbor

Pups Spied: Dad Minds The Youngsters!

What a fantastic surprise to see this sight a few days ago on one of my extended treks through our various Bay Area parks! It looks like, true to reputation, coyote fathers spend their fair share of time minding the kids. Look hard, and you can see it’s the father. Here you see a papa coyote in charge of four youngsters.

Papa minds the youngsters

Papa minds the youngsters

Youngster sticks snout into Papa's mouth

Youngster sticks snout into Papa’s mouth

But fathers’ jobs include much more than childcare. Fathers keep pups fed by bringing them regurgitated food and small whole prey. And they also will help train them to hunt. Note in this second photo how one of the youngsters is pushing its snout into Papa’s: that is what normally elicits the reflux in the father — but it’s just play here.

The kids here were pretty calm, while Papa sat there, ever so proud of his large brood. He saw me in the distance, and stayed there only long enough for me to get a few nice shots. Then he headed them into hiding and away from view.

Playing and observing

Playing and observing

Some Mother Coyotes Are Still Nursing

This mother coyote is in her 8th week of nursing

This mother coyote is in her 8th week of nursing

eating a rat

eating a rat

This mother coyote is still nursing, as seen by the photo. Her pups are in their eighth week of life already. Moms have to eat a huge amount of food to produce the milk necessary to feed the youngsters. But some of the food she eats will be regurgitated and fed as pablum — baby food — to the pups. The pups stick their snouts in the side of her mouth which elicits the necessary reflex for getting the food to them.

Dad Coyote brings home the bacon

Dad Coyote continues to bring home the bacon

Dad Coyotes continue to bring home the bacon, too! Some of the food helps to nourish Mom, but he, too, regurgitates food for the young ones. Soon, if not already, prey being taken home like this will be torn apart for the youngsters and fed to them in bits and pieces — that’s the next step after the “pablum” for them.

The Wayward Puppy, by Charles Wood

Pup Goes Forward

Pup Goes Forward

These pictures are of Dad escorting his puppies in June 2010. He saw me, perceived me as a threat, and stopped. Although not all are pictured, he had at least three puppies with him.

One of the puppies didn’t stop when Dad stopped. Instead it got ahead of him and paused briefly. “One Pup Gets Forward” has the wayward puppy partially concealed in the lower left. Then the wayward puppy went forward, kept going, and got well out of Dad’s reach many yards away.

Dad did not follow the wayward puppy. “Dad Can’t Follow It” pictures Dad angry because one of his puppies got away. A different puppy clings to Dad.

Dad retreated with the rest of the puppies. Way too late for my comfort, the wayward puppy galloped back and caught up with Dad. I’ve never since seen a cute little coyote puppy run that fast. It was galloping as fast as a rocket, so earnestly wanting to be with Dad. I was ecstatic. I had again been able to take pictures of a coyote father with his puppies.

Dad Stops

Dad Stops

When I returned home I studied the photographs and also studied photographs taken on previous days. My study led me to some conclusions.

Generally Dad is cautious and expects danger when walking around. When Dad perceives a threat he makes an assessment and then takes action. With puppies in tow, Dad has fewer choices of action. Puppies are rambunctious and take effort to control. With puppies and perceiving a threat, there isn’t much Dad can effectively do other than to collect them and retreat.

Usually when they all came across me, the puppies noticed when Dad stopped and became cautious too. Cautious, the puppies held still, went to Dad, to each other, hid, or went back in the direction they all came from. The puppies were also curious and looked in my direction to see what Dad’s fuss was all about. When all were somewhat settled, Dad led a retreat. Note that with puppies, when Dad perceives a threat he expects good behavior from his children and usually gets it.

Dad Leaves To Protect Other

Dad Leaves To Protect Other

Unfortunately, this time one of the puppies didn’t get the “caution” message. One puppy kept going forward alone, getting somewhat far away. Initially it stopped, but it wanted to keep going and it did! This time Dad’s circumstances weren’t usual because he had a very poorly behaving puppy!

Yet Dad has situational intelligence and so do I. As I studied the photographs, I thought Dad had to understand that he couldn’t be in two places at the same time. Indeed, he looked toward the wayward puppy and appeared to be stymied, exasperated, resigned, composed, in charge, and as if saying: “I told you to stop.” Then Dad, still looking in charge, lifted his head toward me, the cause of his dilemma.

Dad Can't Follow It

Dad Can’t Follow It

After studying the pictures, I realized just how angry Dad was. Why? It hit me and I was stunned by the thought. Dad was angry with me for separating out a puppy and he was angry because he couldn’t protect them all. In his mind, I had intended to cull one of his young. In my mind, I was but only watching a show. In Dad’s mind, I had won and he had lost a lot. He carried that look of frustrated hatred, a look that comes with a defeat.

In Dad’s mind, one puppy was beyond his protection, liable to be taken by a predator. I think he knew the situation required him to sacrifice one puppy for the safety of the others. Dad couldn’t protect the rest of his flock if he went to help one vulnerable puppy. He loves all his puppies and that day Dad knew he had to let one go. I caused it and Dad was livid. Yet he accepted the situation and acted prudently. Dad offered one of his children up so he could protect the rest. Until I arrived home to excitedly review my pictures, I thought I had been watching a show complete with cute puppies. At home with the photographs, I felt remorse. It wasn’t a show. To Dad, it was as real as life gets, life for which he strives to prepare his young.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Request for Grooming & Tick Removal Denied

He stands in front of her waiting for the routine grooming and tick removal which has become an everyday occurrence between these two. But she is busy grooming herself this time. He stands patiently, but she does not respond — she continues grooming herself. Finally, he lets her know more forcefully by engaging her muzzle — “can’t you see what I want?” Whether she sees it or not, she does not respond. He then plops himself right in front of her — maybe this might get a response? But no, she concentrates on her own grooming. Finally she heads off. He watches, a bit defeated, and then follows her.

I’ve seen this “request” a number of times now in several coyote pairs. More often than not, one ends up grooming the next one. Maybe it involves a request to relieve a particularly bad skin itch or pain. I always wonder why the service is not a mutual one.

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