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!