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.

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?

2014-06-23

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.

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