Consonance and Dissonance — All In A Family and All In A Day

My day and a coyote’s day overlap for only a few short hours on any given day: in the mornings shortly before the coyotes “turn in for the day”, and in the evenings, shortly before dark, when their activities pick up, but mine must come to an end because there’s no visibility in the dark. I was able to follow the goings-on of one coyote family from an early morning sighting, on through until it was too dark to see them anymore in the evening.

On this particular day I arrived as day was breaking and all was quiet. As I walked along, a female coyote came out to the path a ways in front of me. I stopped and watched, and I was watched back. She stretched and ambled on down the path, but soon stopped, sat down, scratched, and then gave me a good morning vocalization which reverberated loudly in the absolutely quiet and still of the morning. I listened for any responses from other coyotes, but there were none. The coyote poked around for a few minutes and then wandered in back of a bush where I lost sight of her until I went to the top of the next hill which allowed me to see her from above, sleeping in a little opening by some bushes.

I sat watching, and then maybe 20 minutes later, I heard a very distant howl, and then right away a closer howl — two coyotes communicating with each other. The coyote which I was watching remained lying down, raising only her head to gave a short response — she was letting her family know where she was, and that she was safe. I remained on my hilltop where I could keep an eye on her: I wondered if/when she might move to a more hidden location.

As I watched, the coyote who had howled from the far distance — it was the young male whose signature howl I know well — trotted into view, and continued on, until he came to a little lookout knoll in the far but visible distance. He stood there for a while surveying the area. A couple of leashed dogs passed — I don’t think dogs or owners were aware of the coyote investigating the park activities.

Soon this coyote retraced his steps and, maybe because of their earlier communication, or maybe by scent, came upon the female sleeping by the bushes. She got up and the two greeted each other with mutual grooming. Eventually they both hunkered down together in that same little opening by the bushes.

I left the park, but came back every several hours to find the coyotes had not moved. They were not so far off from the main path — maybe only 50 feet or so, but neither dogs nor walkers seemed to be aware of their presence. Maybe they were downwind from the path?

sleeping all day in the same spot: hidden but visible to me

sleeping all day in the same spot: hidden but visible to me

Towards evening, I returned again to watch the coyotes begin their “day” anew. I perched at the top of the hill I had been on before. The coyotes were still asleep where I had last seen them. At around 6 — it was still sunny out — the male moved off to a location close by where he could watch the passers by and groom himself. Some people noticed him and took his photo from several hundred feet away. Within an hour, the female coyote, too, got up, stretched, and headed through the dense bushes. It is at this moment that sirens sounded. The male stood up, looked around, and began to howl. The female, from her hidden location in the bushes, joined in. The duo joyously sang their duet together in the warm afternoon sun. Their life appeared pretty harmonious to me.

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Then, things changed. From my direction, and into view of the recording camera, came the alpha male. He was not happy with either the howling, or with the twosome howling together. He immediately lunged towards the male and forced him down on his back, growling threateningly to emphasize everything he was trying to communicate to the younger male. The female had her turn, but she more readily went belly up for the alpha male. After a few minutes of this intense dominance activity — these interactions never last long — they all settled down to wait.

calm after the storm, finally

calm after the storm, finally

Eventually the female got up and began wandering off. This is normally how the trekking begins in the evenings with this family: she’s the one who initiates the process and always heads off first. But when the younger male decided to join her, he was again accosted and put down hard by the alpha. I missed capturing the action or sounds because I wasn’t quick enough on the draw, but I can say that the loud squeals of pain were intense. When I looked over, dominant male was hovering over younger male again.

female heads off on her own

female heads off on her own

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younger male is put down harshly by the alpha of the family

From that point on, younger male made no attempt to catch up with the departed female. He seemed to know that it was his job to stay with the alpha. They both remained in the field hunting together, and watching each other: the elder making sure the younger obeyed, the younger watching for feedback of approval or disapproval.

Half an hour later, these two males headed in the direction the female had gone. I followed them through the park and further, but soon I had trouble seeing, so my overlap time with the coyotes was over for the day. I’m always, always charmed by coyote interactions. This morning these coyote interactions had been so harmonious. This evening there had been dissonance and discord: when no question was left about who was boss, and exactly where each coyote fit into the family, life continued on smoothly. It occurred to me that the dominant male had things to teach the younger male, and that female needed time to herself which the older male knew about?

This family, like all coyote families, keeps in touch with each other constantly. They share a very close family life together, constantly doing things together. The dissonance which occurs is a check which keeps order in the family so that it can function smoothly as it hunts and lives. The time-frame for this story was about 15 hours.

“Break It Up!”

This is a twenty minute episode in the day of a coyote family as they enjoyed some rest time together — at least initially. The alpha male, when he became aware of it, apparently didn’t like the other two devoting so much attention to each other, so he exercised his alpha prerogative by lunging at them with open jaws and putting them down on their backs. All in the everyday restful afternoon of a coyote family. There are 16 numbered slides.

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Adroit at Keeping Two Mutually Attracted Coyotes Apart

The video above begins with the alpha coyote running towards a beta female coyote who has suddenly appeared on the scene. The beta doesn’t stop to greet him, but runs right past him to greet her favorite coyote, a beta male. The female keeps low. During the video, put your eye on the fellow in the middle and follow him. You can’t miss his exellent ability to thwart contact and greetings between the two beta coyotes.



The above sequence of slides, again, shows the skill with which the alpha coyote thwarts interaction between the same mutually attracted beta coyotes. A wound was actually inflicted during this incident, as can be heard in the very short [and unfortunately muffled] recording — there’s a growl and then a yip of pain — and as can be seen in the slide below, taken the next day.

notice wound that had been inflicted on the snout

notice wound that has been inflicted on the snout

Photo: Parent and Two Youngsters Play Three-Way Tug-Of-War With a Stick

2014-06-23

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Sneaky, Devious, Guileful, Slippery — a Thief!

Tricky, foxy, covert, furtive, stealthy, underhanded, sly, shifty, duplicitous, scheming, shady, shifty, sly, wily . . .

So the story begins as I observe a coyote eating something big. It’s raining, and not only that, the rain has seeped into my lens. I keep wiping it dry, but focus is an off and on thing on this day with the rain and the damp lens — I wonder if any of my photos will even turn out. Soon I see that he’s being observed by one of his youngsters — his full-grown daughter — she keeps away. Eventually I’m able to make out the ringed tail of a raccoon — this is what he’s been eating, and this is what Daughter has been watching him eat.

After about 20 minutes, Daughter, and then Dad, move on to another area of the park. It looks as though the raccoon has been forgotten for now. They keep their distance, but constantly observe each other, in a way that makes me think each is suspicious of what the other is doing: as they move along, they circle back and forth while darting furtive glances at each other. I can feel the suspicion and distrust — there’s duplicity in the air. When a runner comes through, this pattern of behavior is broken and they run in opposite directions with Dad scurrying over a hill and Youngster ducking into some bushes, both disappearing from view for a short time.

When I next spot Dad he is carrying something which looks like a thick wet stick. But no, as I watch I can see that it’s more important than a stick: he looks like he’s carefully transporting it. And then I see it’s part of a raccoon — a piece of his earlier meal — the “drumstick”, so to speak, with a very distinctive raccoon paw still attached. I’m the only one around, and he lets me watch. He walks some distance, then stops, darting glances in all directions, obviously scanning for a place to bury his treasure. He stops on a rock and focuses intently on various possibilities. He glances at me a couple of times, but continues his search. No, this place won’t do. So he heads to a grove of trees close by and begins looking around there for a safe spot to deposit his possession: “This looks good”.  He finds the perfect spot and spends time creating a little depression with his snout, deposits the drumstick into the depression, and then covers it with leaves, again using his snout. He pees on it and then he trots away, looking around as if to make sure no one important has seen him.

Daughter now comes into view up the path that he’s on — Dad and Daughter pass each other and move apart — 2 ships passing in the night. They stay apart, but watch each other as they sniff the ground. It’s the same little pantomime dance between the two of them them that I saw earlier of avoidance and suspicion — I’m probably reading it this way because I know about the hidden drumstick. Dad then, nonchalantly as if he has nothing to hide, heads up to the top of a hill and sits down to observe, possibly to throw Daughter off the track, possibly hoping she’ll follow him there. But nothing escapes her, and her nose picks up the scent of Dad’s earlier route and probably the raccoon.

She follows the scent, and I follow her. But she passes right past the burial spot without going over to it, so I go back to check on Dad who has not moved. When I come back, half a minute later, I see that I’ve missed “the discovery”:  Daughter now has the drumstick in her mouth! Didn’t Dad see her take it? I guess not, because Dad is sitting oblivious of the situation at the top of a hill behind some trees. Youngster now does what Dad did: she trots away some distance and then glances around for a safe burial spot, finds one, and buries the drumstick. Ahhh! Now it is hers.

No, the story is not over yet!

She now wanders back to where she had unburied the drumstick — maybe she’s looking for more of the same? This, now, is when Dad sees her close to where he had buried the drumstick. Dad runs down the hill towards the spot. She moves away then watches him. He moves towards his burial spot and sniffs around. Is he aware that it’s gone? If he is, does he know who took it? He pees various times on the spot. Finally Daughter joins him and they both appear to explore the area together! What are they looking for? Is he searching for his drumstick. She may be searching for more of the same — or is she deceiving him and pretending that she’s looking for whatever he’s looking for? It’s confusing, but these thoughts occurred to me. It is during this joint exploration that the suspicion and avoidance seem to have faded away. They trot off together and all seems well between them.

Thieving, apparently, is common among animals. I recently read that Robins steal from each other and hide things from each other!

The next day I checked out where Daughter had buried the drumstick. It was gone. I wonder who was the slyest trickster of the two?!

Brother Becomes Fed Up With Sis; Dad Tolerates No Dissension

To capture the behaviors I’m looking for, I often keep my face glued to the camera as coyotes interact. This way, I catch extended sequences, not only of a particular behavior, but of what went on preceding and following the behavior, all of which help make sense of what I see. Today I was taking a break from holding up the weighty camera — my camera is always hand-held and can get pretty heavy after a while, and of course, THAT is when I heard a yelp — the same cry a dog makes when it’s been bitten by another dog, only there were no dogs around, just coyotes. It’s a sound I hadn’t heard before from coyotes. Dusk was well on its way to darkness and I was some distance away, but I quickly focused as best I could on the two sibling coyotes who had been hunting together.

What I saw surprised me because it deviated from what I had been seeing. The male youngster, with teeth bared, was standing over the female who was on her back, breaking the established hierarchy. And I knew why: the female often is right in the others’ face — something she’s been getting away with way too often: I’ve concluded that she’s been granted special status because of being a female — the only female — in this particular family since her mother died. Dad enforces the ranking always. Dad is the leader and alpha. Daughter seems to have a dual ranking in relation to Dad: she is below him ultimately, but he allows her a certain equality and is tolerant of certain of her behaviors when it comes to personal interactions. For instance, she is allowed to put her paws on him whereas neither he nor Son ever put their paws on her or on each other. And Son, low man on the totem pole, must submit always to having Daughter put her snout around his. As I said, Dad is often around to enforce the rankings, but even when he is not, the established ranking is adhered to. Why Daughter has special status may be because a female is needed in the family — Dad doesn’t want her driven out, and there seem to be matriarchal aspects to coyote families. In this family, her special status has been ceded to her by Dad, and Son abides by Dad’s dictates.

But Dad wasn’t around today when the incident occurred. Daughter was bitten because she was too much in Son’s face. Son had found something in the ground and had been intent on keeping it for himself when Daughter came up and stuck her nose in his work, making a nuisance of herself. Angry Son reacted in a flash, biting her and putting her on her back where she was kept for a minute. She then got up, ducking out of the way and continued to watch, again, from too close. For this she was growled at again, but not nipped again.

But the squeal of pain that I heard was apparently also heard by Dad, who had been sleeping in a thicket not far off. Both youngster coyotes, with their very fine hearing, heard him and looked his way immediately when he emerged from the brush. Daughter, submissively, with ears back and a crouching, crawling gait, hurried towards him. She might as well have been saying: “Daddy, did you see what he did to me?” as she greeted him submissively. Dad charged towards the son with tail straight out and hackles up: he was not happy with the altercation. He was not going to tolerate dissension in his family! He forced Son on his back and made him stay there a few moments, enclosing Son’s snout in his.

 

Surprisingly, Daughter had to kowtow to Dad also this time. Maybe Dad is more even-handed than I thought, and maybe Daughter is, usually, simply a little quicker to submit to him. However, in front of Dad, who was now there to protect her, she grabbed her brother’s snout in hers, reconfirming her superiority to him. Soon the two were allowed up, and all three coyotes continued to hunt, but not before Daughter again lay on her back in front of Dad, letting him know that she knew her lower status next to him. In this case, I don’t think she was doing it for her brother’s sake to divert attention away from her brother as I’ve seen so often — as much as for her own!

Dispersion in Progress — with complications

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

Imagine yourself as a young coyote in a perfect world. You live in an urban park which is ideal as a habitat — ideal beyond imagination: there are forests of trees with thick undergrowth for protection, a lake and streams with fresh water, open fields for hunting the overabundance of gophers and voles, there are snails and fruit to eat, there are dogs passing through which provide you with visual entertainment — even if some of them go after you, and you are protected by a city which encourages coexistence and does not allow trapping and killing of its urban wildlife. Pretty fantastic!

It’s true that nasty rumors and myths about coyotes spring up now and then which could result in harm to you, but most are short-lived and, more and more these days, the misinformation is brushed aside by a majority of park goers who have learned about coyote behavior and know that the sensationalist stories are all hype.

Family life, too, is ideal. You live with a father who has raised you and cared for you, and you have a sister who absolutely adores you as much as you adore her. You spend hours together, grooming each other or exuberantly playing all sorts of games you’ve invented for yourselves, such as chase and catch, tug of war, wrestling, steal the meal, jump over one another, hide and seek. Life is really a blast, and it’s been this way for the entire 16 months you’ve been alive to enjoy it, except the brief interlude immediately after Mom went missing — but you were young and  that was soon forgotten because Dad was there to carry on for you. Things would have to be really, really bad for you even to consider such a thing as leaving.

in happier times: joyfully playing with sibling, and a family outing

But life is not static: we all graduate to new levels and must go on at some point.  Life is ever-changing and change is occurring now, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of who you are. You are a young male, and any territory only has room for one adult coyote male. Dad is feeling your coming-of-age and his instincts are becoming stronger, day by day, to push you out and away from his turf.

Recently, Dad has been charging at you, coming at you like a bullet to kick or nip you. You submit always and quickly, but that isn’t enough sometimes.  More and more, you’ve been staying out of his way. You don’t join him and your sister so often, and you spend your time more and more alone. However, you have strong yearnings to be with your sister, to play with her, to exchange mutual grooming and care, after all, you are a very social creature, and family life has been an integral part of your life since birth. Recently, greetings with her have changed to include sniffing and having one’s underside sniffed — something new is going on.

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

Sister has found herself in the middle. By loving and playing with you, her brother, she’s inadvertently hindering her father, it seems. When she sees the antagonistic behavior of her father, she does her best to keep the peace, running interference, by interjecting herself between the two males to divert Dad’s attention by grooming him (Dad) or sticking her muzzle in his — and it works.  After, or even before, taking care of Dad, she approaches you with her warm and affectionate greetings, and then she plays with you wholeheartedly, and Dad seems to accept that he must let her be this way, so you still hang in there, at least for now..

even now: sister adores brother and lets him know it

sister continues to adore brother and lets him know it

We all know how this is going to end, and it is definitely heartbreaking to watch the process. The Dad’s dispersing ritual is happening more and more frequently.

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Yesterday I saw the process again — it’s in full swing.

Dad and Sis had been out foraging, and began heading off on a trek when the yearling male — her brother and his son — appeared out of the bushes. He had kept apart and away, but was very aware of them as revealed when he tried joining them on the trek, albeit tailing them at a considerable distance, possibly so as to avoid detection by Dad. There was such a pull to be with them. But the minute Dad saw him, he, Dad, launched himself in the male youngster’s direction, charging at him, punching with his snout, nipping, kicking and turning him over on his back.  

This intense attack happened in tall grasses, which prevented me from taking clear photos. At the beginning of the encounter I heard an unusual, never heard before, short throaty snarl or gnarl. It was a warning of some sort. And I don’t know if the attacker or the defender made the noise because they were partially hidden from view. Besides the gnarly snarl,  there was flailing in the grass, running off a little and more flailing in the grass. When they emerged enough for me to see them fully, Dad was walking away from male youngster, and youngster was keeping his distance from Dad but following, not fleeing. Young male desperately wanted to join sister and dad for the family trek.

Sis, who had been standing far beyond Dad, looked back to see her brother sitting beyond Dad, and came running over to him joyfully to greet him. She brushed right past Dad, straight toward her brother and these siblings engaged in a long greeting, body contact, nose and paw touches and finally grooming. Dad looked on and did nothing. Sis wasn’t taking sides, she was just being “Sis in the middle.”

When the warm sibling greetings were over, Sis ran to catch up with Dad, looking back invitingly for her brother to come along. She loves her father as she does her brother. She approached Dad and engaged in grooming him while he looked back over his shoulder, glaringly at the younger male, his son: “do not come”. But the male youngster did come, with Sis encouraging him. Sis no doubt sensed the tremendous tension between the males in her family probably without comprehending any of it, and so, possibly in an attempt to dissipate it, she dashed off as if in hot pursuit of prey, enticing the others to join her and in the process to forget their strife. It kind of worked because they now were concentrating on other things, on hunting in the forest.

Then, sirens sounded and they all howled together — was the spat over? I don’t think so. Dad then walked on, all alone, without being joined by either of the two youngsters.  That is the last I saw of him that evening. Had he lost the skirmish? Even if he had, he won’t loose the battle — he’s a five year old mature male, and his son is just a 16 month old ingenue.

Sis went off hunting, and young male was left standing on a path looking for her. Not being able to locate her, he headed off in a direction opposite from the one his father took, looking dejected as revealed by his slow pace and lowered head. But Sis must have had her brother in mind. She picked up his scent and caught up with him. There was warm body contact, nose touches and wiggles, and Sis put her paws on his back again — was she showing who was boss? Or was this just her way of showing affection — this last is what appears to be the case. It now was dark so I had to leave. I had witnessed an episode of a dispersion process, where a parent forces out a youngster from his territory.

Young Male will eventually have to leave. But I wondered if Sis would stay on the territory with Dad, or if she would go with her brother? I wondered if Dad’s attacking the male youngster would in fact have repercussions of driving out Sis as well. I’ve already seen where both youngsters now flinch in anticipation of Dad’s antagonism: the young male from being on the receiving end and Sis from simply observing it.

This dispersion process has been going on for some time — it’s recently reached a crescendo. I’ll post if things change.

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