Horsin’ Around and Banter

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Coyotes spend a great deal of time playing, which includes horsing around, teasing and bantering. These are extremely social and family minded animals: they are constantly interacting with each other. These two are wild urban coyotes in one of the public parks right in San Francisco, one of the 10 densest urban centers in the country. They are behaving like any of the rest of us might towards a much loved parent!

Here, in the top photo, an adult yearling daughter has just “hopped on Pop”, actually draping her entire body over his like a wet rag! While on top of him, she gave little playful nibbles to his elbows and knees and then she slid off!

She ran off to wrestle energetically with her brother, but within a few minutes she returned to Dad and placed, this time, just a paw on his back, bottom photo, and again, playfully and affectionately nibbled at his elbows, teasing him a little! She’s the only one in this family of three that puts her paws — or even more of herself — on top of anyone else. She is the only female in this family pack. Hmmm. I’m wondering if she has special status due to this, or if she just happens to be the most demonstrative of the group?

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Goodwill Teasing!

There was almost no light, and there were tall grasses between the camera and the coyotes, so these photos are totally washed out and blurry. However, the behavior depicted in them is absolutely fabulous: I decided it was worth it to post them, so I enhanced them as best I could.

A little female yearling coyote “teases” her dad and then her brother by affectionately stretching herself on top of them, and either nuzzling their legs as in the case of her father, or nuzzling their ears, as in the case of her brother! Her behavior was good-willed fun. It was not meant to provoke any kind of reaction — it was simply a display of her affectionate teasing. It looks like this little gal has two BFFs!!

She had been out alone, whiling away the time until the daily family get-together/rendezvous time.

Then her brother appeared and he was absolutely ecstatic to see her. He seemed to “jump for joy” as she and their dad approached him: first he performed one bounce, then one squiggle sitting down, and finally a jump, squiggle and bounce all at the same time!

2014-06-17 (8)Then they all piled up together where there were the usual kisses/nose-touches and wiggly-squiggly movements which are a dead giveaway for the excitement and joy they were feeling.

 

After the general excitement of the initial encounter and greeting died down, the female youngster “hopped on Pop”. It was affectionate contact that they both soaked up. She then twisted her head down and around him and gave him little love nuzzles and bites on his legs. Wow!

The three then broke out into an intense play session: they chased each other wildly, they wrestled, they groomed each other — no photos because the movement in tall grasses with no light just shows blurs. These are all activities which regularly follow the initial rendezvous greetings after spending the day apart sleeping.

During the intensive play period, the female youngster jumped on her brother, as she had done to her dad earlier. Only this time she tugged at one of his ears and then the other, teasing him affectionately.

They played intensively some more and then ran off and out of sight. They would spend the night trekking!

 

photos 6-17pm

Coyotes Celebrate Coming Out Ahead: Intact and Uninjured, and Still In Charge of Their Territory

Here is a typical morning in an urban park where there are coyotes and where dogs run free. If you have a dog and know coyotes are out, or if you see a coyote, you need to leash up and move on. In this park, there is a particular team of dogs which chases and harasses these coyotes on an almost daily basis.

On this day, coyotes were out finishing their nighttime trekking. They picked one of their favorite knolls to hang out on. They often stay out to watch and keep an eye on the dogs which visit the park daily, but also they are there “to be seen” by these same dogs: they want these dogs to know that the territory is already claimed — their presence sends this message. It is a purposeful activity. They knew the route and the time that most dogs would walk by, and that time was coming up. They plopped themselves down high up on the incline a substantial distance from any trails and began grooming themselves.

Most dogs and their owners passed uneventfully, as usual: most folks in San Francisco are in awe of and love their urban coyotes in the parks: It makes the parks seem a little more “natural”, a little closer to the nature that humankind once knew, a little further removed from the city right next door. Both coyotes and dogs learn something about each other as they watch one another, and peace is maintained by the owners keeping their dogs away from them.

Unfortunately, there are antagonistic dogs who pursue, and owners who allow their dogs to pursue and harass coyotes. It is always the same dogs, and it is always the same owners who allow it, and it happens on a regular basis. It happened again today, as predictably as the dawn itself. Two dogs from the same family — therefore a “pack” working as a team together — came up the trail ahead of their owners and went searching for the coyotes, saw them and chased after them. The coyotes ran further up the steep incline which was difficult for the dogs. The coyotes stayed up high on the hill and watched. At one point, when the second dog appeared they came down a little, still keeping their safe distance away.

One of the dog owners, one who had no intention of ever leashing his dogs to control them, ran up the hill towards the coyotes and starting heaving rocks at them, snarling, “Darn coyotes, stop bothering my dogs!!”  The coyotes backed up a little preparing to flee, but the dog owner backed down the hill. Of course, it was the dogs and owner who were doing the harassing, not the other way around.

Eventually the recalcitrant dogs and disrespectful owners walked on. The coyotes watched them leave and then hung around to watch and just “be” for a short time, grooming themselves and probably communicating in ways we humans cannot understand: their distress, relief, joy, excitement, and fears, among other things, are communicated simply by the way they act — by their body language and facial expressions.

Then it was time to go. The coyotes ran towards each other, tails wagging, bodies bouncing and wiggling, and headed off. They were all intact, there were no injuries, the territory was still theirs. They seemed to celebrate all this as they left the area hugging next to each other as they went.

 

It’s The Winter Solstice!

Coyote youngster with thick neck and breast fur for the winter

Coyote youngster with thick fur for the winter

Winter’s darkest day is today — it’s the shortest day of the year and the beginning of Winter!

In case you’ve forgotten, solstice means “stationary sun.”  The sun stands still at 5:11 pm on December 21, which is today. The winter solstice north of the equator always occurs on or around December 21st, give or take 24 hours. The US will get only 9 and 1/2 hours of light this day! Up until the winter solstice, the sun moves southward a little each day, and the days become shorter. As the sun approaches the solstice, this southward march slows down, and at the solstice the sun stops its movement south and pauses, motionless: that will occur at 5:11pm for us! Then after the solstice, it will reverse itself and move a little more northward in the sky each day, and the days will become incrementally longer again.

How does this affect coyotes?

Food chains all begin with plant growth. Plants require plenty of daylight to thrive. Fewer daylight hours mean plants cease or slow down their growth at this time of year. So there are fewer growing plants to feed the voles and gophers, and therefore fewer voles and gophers to feed the coyotes — these are their favorite foods in San Francisco. Animals cope with winter in a number of ways: by migrating, hibernating or adapting. Coyotes adapt.

One of the things they adapt is their diets, by eating other foods which are available at this time of year: foods such as pine seeds, and bark or insects in the bark as shown in the two photos below, which I thought was pretty interesting! They are known as “opportunistic” eaters, which means they can eat just about anything. Coyotes will still eat voles and gophers — but because there are fewer of them, they must supplement their diets at this time of year.

It may be because gophers and voles are not so plentiful in the fields that coyote youngsters are out more alone or in pairs now, rather than foraging all together with the entire family, as they did earlier in the year. Coyote youngsters may also be out alone more because they are feeling much more self-reliant and independent at this time of their lives, after all, the next step in their development will be dispersal.

Note that coyote coats are at their fullest at this time of year. Coyote fur can be over 4 inches in length and can make them look much bigger than they look during the summer when their fur is at its shortest and sparsest.

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.

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?

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:

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/

Fatherhood

Two youngsters dart in for food from Dad — the two very active coyotes in the video are pups who are approaching, but not quite yet, 6 months of age.  Dad regurgitates the food — it looks like whole voles — and the two pups feed in a frenzy. They continue to insert their snouts in his mouth in an attempt to get more food — it’s like an assault!  He gently and repeatedly clasps their snouts in his mouth: Is he indicating that there’s no more food to be had, and/or is he confirming his dominance?  Note at 42 seconds that a pup crosses Dad’s path by going under him!

It appears that Dad is the one to approach for food like this these days. I have not seen this set of pups approach their mother recently in this fashion. Rather, she sits in the distance and watches all the activity — safe from the onslaught!

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]

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

More Play: Tug of War at Dawn

These fellas are thoroughly enjoying a play session, even though it was only for a very short spurt of time. They’ve found a piece of trash — a plastic bag — perfect for a game of tug of war. Play is always initiated with a playful jump, the “rump up” posture, running past the other enticingly, or, in this case, simply picking up the trash bag and eyeing the other daringly. The game was on!  The fun lasted for less than a minute, but it was intense and lots of fun. Then it was over and they moved on. These fellas are “buddies”: playing affirms the strong bond between them.

The invitation to play is not always responded to. That can be sad to watch: you can actually see the initiating animal “deflate”. The anticipation and excitement of a possible game create an energy and stance that are very palpable, and this just seems to drain away — like with a punctured balloon — if the coyote is ignored by the companion coyote.

 

Fun With An Old Found Boot

Coyotes like to have fun. There is more to life than just working hard at making a living — at making ends meet. In fact, most animals are very similar to humans in that regard: they like to, and know how, to have fun.

I’ll never forget the first video clip I saw of a blackbird flying to the top of a snow embankment, lying down on its side, beak downhill, and sliding down a long icy slope. Then he flew to the top and did it again, and again! Here is a video of a crow sliding down a snow slope on a plastic ring!

Now, I look for the fun animals have, and they have a lot of it. Here, an old, smelly, tossed out boot provides fun and enjoyment for two coyotes on their twilight trek.

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