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.

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?

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

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

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

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

Dad gets up & stretches

Dad gets up & stretches

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

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

rendezvous begins

Rendezvous begins with Dad’s arrival

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Mom relaxes a few feet away

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

#68 BN6

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

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.

Pups Spied: Showing Themselves When They Shouldn’t

I watched two pups come out of hiding to join their mum as she waited for dark to fall in order to take them on an outing. Only they were not supposed to do that: they were exposing themselves to danger. She was the one who was supposed to get them when the time was right. Rather than happily greeting them with squeals and kisses as they approached her — this is what she normally would have done — she hurried right past them as if they didn’t exist, hoping they would quickly follow, into some denser brush that would hide them! The trick worked! Coyote parents put exceptional effort into protecting their young.

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