Siblings: Diametric Opposites

“Careful and Dependent” spends her time waiting and watching

Today a coyote youngster was in an open area. This coyote can be characterized as “careful and and dependent”. She’s wary and not willing to take chances, unlike her siblings. Today she had planted herself in a safe location near some bushes — she could escape to the bushes if necessary from any harm. From here she watched her surroundings, and she waited. She seemed to be waiting for a family member — someone familiar —  to appear on the scene.

Soon a sibling did appear on a hilltop, a sibling who has a dramatically different personality type from the one just described. I’ve observed their different personality types right from the start, nothing has changed from day one: just like humans, there is a lot which is innate and unique about each coyote. This one, in contrast to the previous one, could be characterized as “adventuresome and independent”.

The adventurer saw her sibling in the field below and ran down to greet her, happily, caringly, affectionately, and the shy coyote ran to greet her: there was joy and camaraderie.  Both coyotes then wandered around for a short time, and then the adventuresome one headed off to forage, hunt and explore the area beyond view. She was more interested in her explorations than in the other coyote, whereas the shyer coyote kept her eye on the more adventuresome one until she was out of sight.

When the shy one sees the adventuresome one (left),  she runs to be with her (middle), but I’m in the way, so she turns back to her safety spot and remains there (right).

The shy coyote lay down to watch and wait again once her more adventuresome sibling was out of view. The adventuresome coyote seems to serve as a protector and role model for this shy one.

When the adventurer eventually re-appeared in the distance, the shy coyote jumped up and ran full speed to be with her. But  the adventurer had not been aware that the timid coyote was running towards her. The adventurer turned back and away again as the timid one struggled to catch up. That’s when she saw she had come too close to me and would have to pass me to get to where she was going.  She stopped. Apparently it was not worth the risk for her to follow her sibling. Instead she returned to her protected area where she waited again for awhile and then turned in for the day.

Meanwhile, the adventurer spent the entire morning not too far away, discovering new places to dig up gophers, and spreading her wings a little bit more.

Personalities Emerge Early

rough and tumble and playful

rough and tumble — they’re playful

There’s an array of trait possibilities which form our personalities and make each of us unique. This is as true for animals as it is for humans. Pet owners will tell you that dogs from the same litter can differ tremendously: each pup brings its own unique combination of characteristics into the world.

And coyotes, too, are unique individuals.  I’ve seen this particular litter three times now and I’m seeing behavioral differences which distinguish each pup.

The top photo shows pups who are rough and tumble and full of play. They like to run pell mell after each other — tumbling over each other and getting all tangled up is part of the fun.

reserved and careful and even a little bit dainty

Diametrically opposed is a very little reserved and careful pup. This one sat back and watched as the others roughhouse and play fearlessly. When she noticed me, she hid behind a tree. She? Of course I don’t know, but that would be my guess based on her comparative smallness and daintiness. I wonder if she is a runt.

the adventurer

the adventurer

And then, there’s the adventurer who is curious and explores far-off distances alone — probably unbeknownst to his parents who are still trying to keep the pups’ existence a secret.

I’ve caught him — he stands out as being larger and stronger than the others — on my field camera not anywhere near where I’ve seen the others: exploring and examining the territory, totally on his own.

I’ve also spotted this one sleeping on his own out in the open, which is something his parents do, but not his siblings. This one seems to be exceptionally bright, inquisitive, and self-sufficient — at least comparatively. Just hope he doesn’t get himself into trouble early on by wandering so far off from the rest of them in this litter.

Mystery Foxes, by Charles Wood

Dad 2010

I took the 2010 picture of Dad in early June. He walked out of his hiding place in the brush and boldly strutted by Holtz and me. Dad stopped not far away and seemed pleased with himself as I photographed him.

Thursday Dad ran at my two dogs and me, stopped, and watched as I made them stop their barking and lie down. Dad was in his field on the other side of a fence and my dogs and I were up on the river bank. Instead of walking my usual southbound route I had come up to their field from the south. My plan was to catch my coyotes unawares. I didn’t.

Both photographs show the prominent scar on Dad’s nose. Mom’s droopy ear and Dad’s nose uniquely identify them. Mom and Dad are a solid core for their pack, their children. I know Mom and Dad when I see them and I can count on seeing them. The children seem as a furry blur in comparison and are harder to distinguish and monitor.

Dad 2012

Two days ago a jogger spoke to me as he went by on the river bank. He yelled out that he had just seen a fox. I was surprised to hear that since I haven’t seen a fox on the river in at least ten years. I walked to where he had pointed and I didn’t see anything. I can’t imagine that someone would confuse Dad or Mom with a fox. I can imagine that someone would confuse a coyote puppy with a fox. In the first week of June last year a park ranger said he had seen two foxes in the field. It is a bit of a mystery that fox sightings occur at about the time I expect coyote puppies to be out and about.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Spectacular Ordinary Sand!

Wow, this post is totally off topic, but I thought everyone might want to see the beauty which photography can reveal. Who would have known??

“Viewed at a magnification of over 250 times real life, tiny grains of sand are shown to be delicate, colorful structures as unique as snowflakes. When seen well beyond the limits of human eyesight, the miniature particles are exposed as fragments of crystals, spiral fragments of shells and crumbs of volcanic rock.”

Note that they are as individualistic and as interesting as people or coyotes if you’re willing to look hard enough!!

Please see the full article in the Daily Mail, or Dr. Gary Greenberg’s Microphotography site: sandgrains.com 

(posted with Dr. Gary Greenberg’s permission)

“Choose One, Ladies”, by Charles Wood

If you were a marriageable young coyote female, which brother would you pick?  Would it be Mister?  Or would it be Tom?  Does Mister’s white-tipped tail seal the deal?  Or would you forgive Tom that fault when you say “I do.”?

Mister has a yearling brother Tom.  How could I have confused Tom with Mister?  Yet confuse them I did.  Tom is one more male yearling to add to my pack, last pictured together in my post here:  Los Angeles Area Pack, by Charles Wood.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Encountering Someone New

I recognize all of the coyotes I see on a regular basis as individuals — and they recognize me — so when I did encounter someone absolutely new, it gave me the opportunity to observe a kind of wary curiosity towards me which I had not seen in a while. This little gal was charming in her careful-curious/ push-pull behavior towards me!  I’ve named her “Wary”.

Her individualistic characteristics would probably not be recognizable to many, but to me they stood out: her extremely fine and pointed snout, her uneven and almost human eyes, her large rounded ears with the very dark centers which she kept straight up and higher than any of the other coyotes do, her compact stance. There were coat markings, but it is the facial features and comportment which have always interested me the most. There was a delicacy about her and an alertness or readiness to flee — along with the very natural “insatiable curiosity” which is so characteristic of most coyotes.

She did not ignore me as most of the others now do, but watched me carefully and questioningly — always on her toes and ready to split.  After standing there, very still, and observing each other from a large distance on the path where we first spotted each other, she turned to hurry off, but then came back to peek at me from behind a bush, stretching her neck to make sure she could see me, and to see what I was doing. For my part, I walked away when I could tell she was having second thoughts about watching me watching her — but she decided to linger  a little longer which gained me a few more minutes to try to get a good shot of her. Then, her better instincts took over, and she trotted away.

I don’t know if I’ll ever run into her again, but I’ve named her anyway, just in case I do see her again. I say “her” because of her delicate features. The coyotes whose gender I could not be sure of  I tend to label as females until and unless they prove this is not so. Females tend to have “sweeter” or “cuter” faces with narrower jaws and foreheads and delicate little noses — at least compared to the males. Young coyotes have these same features until they grow out of them — which is why two I knew as infants I called females — but they ended up revealing that they were males — not for a full year did I know this! I have a friend who laughs at the change: “they were girls for almost a year”!  The older males I have seen were obviously male: they were bulkier and hulking, husky fellows who huffed and puffed, kicking and scraping the ground in a big display of power before departing. Their message was clear and I stayed clear. I wonder if the young males I’ve known will be like this? I wonder if this one will remain a female?

Why Isn’t Mom Around?

Hi Janet:

Last evening my husband, Bud, and our dog were walking on the nearby trails and saw a coyote pup about 150 feet ahead zigzagging back and forth on the trail.  He stopped, remembering that I had told him that coyotes are very protective of pups.  Our dog has a bad sense of smell so didn’t notice the pup.  Then another pup comes out of the blackberries and then a third.  They were very curious and moved about 50 feet down the trail toward Bud and still our dog did not see or smell them.

Bud was delighted but also concerned and was ready to turn around when the little yapper dog who lives much further up the hill but next to the trail saw our dog and came down the trail full throttle and barking loudly.  He was not at all interested in the pups but he did scare them and they dashed into the blackberry bushes.  Bud continued up the trail and only when he got to the spot they disappeared into did our dog smell them.  He then went nuts of course.

Is this normal for pups to be exploring without an adult near?  We knew that there was a den closeby that area because of the amount of scat on the trail.  We have noticed pup scat lately also. We also suspect there is another den about half a mile from this one.  How much area does a group of coyotes claim?  Or do they claim it at all?

We have many black-tailed deer in the area and many fawns each spring.  I have been curious about the possibility of coyotes killing very young fawns that are left in hiding while their mothers graze elsewhere.  I have never seen any evidence of this happening.  Does it?

Thanks for all you do for coyotes!  Ginny

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Hi Ginny –

Thanks for sharing your concerns — it’s a very interesting situation. From my own experience and from what I have read, coyote pups are keenly watched by their parents — either by one or by both parents. Even if a parent is not apparently around, the parent/s are always close by and ready to defend the pups if necessary. I should add that I have seen a mother coyote keep an eye on her brood from a huge distance away — she kept an eye on them as she relaxed in the sunshine. And then I saw her dash off in their direction, but I do not know why. Mothers do leave their pups when they go off to hunt, but she tucks them away in a safe spot where they normally stay. 

Other possible explanations for pups without a parent close by, include an overtaxed single parent who happens to be in hot pursuit of prey nearby, or a parent holding off another dog which had chased it in hopes that that dog wouldn’t find the pups. Worse would be if the parents have been injured or are ill and unable to defend their brood, or if they’ve met an untimely death.

More than likely, the pups just strayed from where they were supposed to stay put. But it wouldn’t hurt to check on them.

Maybe you could take walks in that area of the woods for the next few days until you can figure out the situation? Whatever you do, don’t get too close to the pups and don’t try picking them up — a parent coyote may come out of hiding to ferociously defend its young. If you continue to see the pups without a parent, you have a dilemma: I’m not sure the pups can survive without their parents, however anything you do to interfere is going to alter their natural lives forever.

If you see the pups alone again, you could call the humane society. If they are progressive, they would help raise the pups in such a way so that they won’t become habituated and so that they can be released again into the wild. Most humane societies are not equipped to do this.

You could also leave the pups to see if they make it on their own — maybe the humane society could suggest a way for you to help these pups without actually intruding on them or overtly interfering so as not to habituate them or alter their wildness?

As for the fawns, coyotes tend to look for the easiest prey to catch. Voles and gophers work fine in my area, but they also eat skunks, raccoons and squirrels here. Yes, coyotes are known to prey on newborn deer. I’ve read where newborn deer are protected by their lack of odor — I don’t know how much protection this offers against coyotes. But also, coyotes are known to be very individualistic in their behaviors and just because coyotes in one area eat certain prey doesn’t mean they do so in other areas. So to find out what yours specifically are up to and what their eating and preying habits are, you would need to explore for such activity.

You said there was another den only half a mile away from this one. A coyote family normally has more than one den which it moves the pups between. Moving the pups diminishes flea infestations and also it  serves as protection against predators.

Also, it is not unusual for coyotes — including very young ones — to be curious about walkers and dogs, and follow them.  However, a parent — if he is around — may decide that this kind of behavior calls for disciplinary action: see Charles Wood’s posting  More Dominant Male/Father Coyote Behavior .

I hope this helps a little. Please let me know, and please keep me posted on what you find out!  Sincerely, Janet

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Thanks for your reply Janet.  Bud went to the same spot tonight and didn’t see the pups.  There is a lot of underbrush and blackberries everywhere along the trail except where it has been removed as invasive species.  Coyotes are not seen often because of this.  Lots of people let their dogs run loose on the trail but Bud did not see anyone else yesterday although it is a fairly large, heavily wooded area with several trails.

Regulars on the trail only see coyotes a few times a year.  Most of the trees are deciduous so I really tried to spot them during the winter but no such luck.  I think they are very used to the dogs and walkers and so know where to locate so they are not within view.  We will keep an eye on the situation as best we can.  The city only removes invasive species by hand so they do not have funding for much work.  They primarily remove the holly trees hoping to attract songbirds.  There are some songbirds there but also in residence is a Cooper’s Hawk(s) who dines on those same songbirds.  Ginny

Adolescence, by Charles Wood

Bold on Saturday

My Los Angeles coyotes are certainly more available to me than they were over the winter.  Yet I am only seeing Mister and Bold moving around.

A couple days ago at twilight Mister quickly trotted down their road, stopped in the brush to wait and then a few minutes later returned to where he had come.  I believe he wanted coyote companionship because his gait was unusually brisk and because in the past I have repeatedly observed family members rendezvousing around dusk at the area he briefly visited.  Twice this week I saw Bold travel from their nesting grounds to a marshy area a little north east of it.  She seemed driven by an idea of where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do.  On Saturday she found a spot suitable to urinate on and had her legs set in order to precisely aim while she stared at me.  Her ears are deliberately positioned to sense any approach from her left or her right.  She seems as a self-possessed young female who knows what she wants out of life and how to get it.  Mister seems as a coyote who for now takes his anxieties a little too seriously, too quick to bark at me, too impatient for others to be there when he wants them to be.  (Mom in contrast waits for others very patiently.)  Shy for now seems to enjoy everything in too full a measure.  Perhaps her wariness balances her and keeps her from getting into situations she isn’t yet ready to greet.

Bold on Thursday

I haven’t seen Mom or Dad for over a week.  I speculatively attribute their absence to their being preoccupied with new puppies.  I have been wondering how helpful the yearlings are with day care.  It is starting to look like they aren’t all that helpful because what I have been seeing is them either playing or walking around absorbed in themselves.  Still, the mere fact of their presence at Mom & Dad’s surely must make their home a more secure place for them all.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Los Angeles Area Pack, by Charles Wood

Bold

Wednesday I saw Bold as I was standing on the river bank.  She sat on the road in the field and after a few minutes began an approach.  I left for home.  Undoubtedly there are three siblings from last year with Mom and Dad this pupping season, two females (Bold and Shy) and Mister.

It is clear from the picture today that Bold is female.  She is also identifiable in that she lacks Mister’s black tipped lower lip, a trait Mister evidently got from Dad.  Sister Shy also lacks a black tipped lower lip, is slightly smaller than her siblings, and her eyes are friendlier.  Mister seems a little smaller and rangier than Bold.

Shy

Bold and Mister actively warn me while Shy has only warned me when accompanied by Dad.  Shy is less purposed around me, leaves more quickly, usually has her mouth open and/or tongue out, and has a happy-dog personality.

Mister

A year ago I would have described Mom as, though not exactly friendly, at least somewhat indifferent compared to active Dad.  Yet soon enough Mom began to warn me on sight as does Dad.  Bold’s fuse is longer than Dad’s and Mister’s while Mom stares a little longer before going to work on me.  Shy doesn’t work without encouragement and Bold is firm in her stare and willing to escalate if I linger.

Dad

It isn’t possible for me to observe my five coyotes without raising their concerns to some degree or another.  I’ve only seen the siblings hunt when they were very young.  The only one I saw eating was a pup chewing on a dead bird.  They don’t play with sticks or pine cones when I am around.  It is typical for me to spot a coyote only after one or more has spotted me.  Other than from Shy, the looks I get are of coyotes enduring my dog Holtz and me yet again, enduring the task I represent to them, the task of inviting me to leave.  Shy won’t hold my gaze for long, the others will stare at length.

Mom

Our encounters are engaging though not entirely entertaining.  Still, in the two years I have been observing Mom and Dad I’ve learned a few things.  Coyotes maintain a more or less permanent home; year old coyote offspring, both male and female, can stay with their parents despite new puppies; father coyotes do child care; and coyotes hide themselves and their puppies well, to name the most significant.  I’m not sure how I will manage to see young puppies this year when there are five observant adult coyotes united in their will to not allow it.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Dad’s Son, by Charles Wood

Saturday as I arrived at the bridge I saw that I had already been spotted by one of my Los Angeles area coyotes.  It wasn’t glad to see me, sat and stared up.  It stood and began to urinate like a male.  Yet it wasn’t Dad.  It was a yearling male coyote!  I’ve named him Mister.

I had thought there were four coyotes in my field:  Mom, Dad and two female yearling coyotes, Bold and Shy.  I was wrong.  I didn’t realize that one of the survivors from last year’s litter was a male.  My previously posted video (http://coyoteyipps.com/2011/04/21/dad-and-his-daughter-bold-by-charles-wood/) was also of the male coyote I saw Saturday, though I thought then that I was observing Bold.  I wasn’t.  It was Mister.

After first recognizing a male youngster, Mister, I wondered if he and Bold were the same coyote, wondered if I had Bold’s gender wrong.  On study, Mister has, like Dad, a lower lip with a black tip and Bold lacks that marking.  Shy has unique markings under her left eye and walks around with her mouth open.  Bold may also be a male, but “she” is not Mister and neither Bold nor Mister are Shy.

Mister

One reason in favor of my accepting three survivors from last year is that in August 2010 I took a photograph that appeared to have one too many youngsters in it, a youngster standing off at the side partly hidden by a bush while two other youngsters greeted Dad.  That mystery coyote didn’t participate in the greeting and vanished quickly.  Photographs are difficult to interpret and I felt there wasn’t enough evidence to allow myself a third survivor.  Unfortunately for me, I usually see one or two coyotes, three infrequently, four very rare.  I’m now willing to accept that the August 2010 photograph indeed shows a third surviving youngster from 2010’s litter of seven.

Mister

Mister was the only coyote I saw Saturday.  Evidently none of the others thought he needed any help, though some or all of them may have been there concealed.  One of Mister’s roles in child care is to keep me away, as they all do.  I had read that young males are driven off by their parents before the next litter is born:  not absolutely true.

Last year I didn’t see any undispersed youngsters around when the puppies emerged.  Nor did I see Mom and Dad together with the puppies, just saw Dad caring for them, from June to the end of August when I did see Mom again.  By the end of August I would see two youngsters and missed that there was a third.  Still, four of the puppies had apparently not survived through August.  I suspect that life is easier for Mom and Dad with some of last year’s puppies around to help with newborns and to defend their territory.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

To Be or Not To Be Seen

I am finding a few polar opposites in coyote personalities. One set of polar opposites is to be seen or not to be seen. In the top row of photos is a coyote who I noticed at about the same time he noticed me. He looked around briefly, and then decided to move out of sight. This is very normal behavior for most coyotes. They are shy and they don’t want to be seen.

On the other end of the spectrum is the coyote who, instead of moving out of sight, actually deposits himself on a rock or hill where he knows he will be seen. He knows you are watching him — or maybe he knows you are admiring him. He almost poses for you. And sometimes, he almost falls asleep — eyes close and the head nods off and is caught with a sudden jerk that wakes the coyote up — and he knows you are watching the whole time. Of course, a safe distance and no dog are pre-requisites for a coyote who chooses to be seen.

“River Pack Update: Some things change, some stay the same” by Charles Wood

My last post was February 22, 2011 when I photographed the mom coyote that lives in a small field that borders one of Los Angeles County’s concrete ‘rivers’.  That post was about 9 weeks after having seen Mom, Dad and their two undispersed female children who by today would be about a year old.  In the past I called one of the children Bold and the other Shy.  I have included their earlier photographs in today’s post.

A couple weeks ago I began to enter their small field a few times to walk along its roads with my leashed dog Holtz.  Coyote tracks and droppings were on the roads, yet my coyotes, if even present during my visits, would not come out.  I remember winter 2009-10 was a time I rarely saw my coyotes.  Winter 2010-11 has been the same.  I wondered if Dad was still paired with Mom and if not, who would be with whom and would there be more pups this year.  I wondered if the two female youngsters had dispersed or worse.  Perhaps they had all moved to other areas.

Today as I walked south on their road, at their nest area, I spotted the first youngster peering from the brush.  She came out to watch us and then left to hide.  In her photograph, note she has distinct blemishes below her left eye.  Regardless, I’m not sure if this first youngster is Bold or Shy.  I seriously doubt it was neither.

I continued my walk and later left the field via the same road.  Dad peered out from the nest area.  I photographed him and he went back into the brush.  I walked on towards the exit and Dad and a youngster came out to the road and watched our progress and assessed whatever odors we had left on the road.  I say ‘a’ youngster because I am not sure which it was.  Eventually Dad and the first youngster pictured began to follow Holtz and I as we continued to leave.  They did so after returning to the brush and coming out to the road several times.  For the fact that they were not in my continuous view, I’m not sure Dad’s companion in approach is the same youngster shown marking on the road.  I am sure Dad’s companion in approach is the first youngster because the final picture of her in this series shows the same blemish pattern below the left eye.  If she is Bold, she is still so.  If she is Shy, she is less so and learned more from Dad today about how to deal with intruder dogs.  What has changed, and what is the same?

Certainly Dad is the same in his distaste for Holtz.  When following us, Dad decided to quickly close the distance between us.  Before so doing, he scraped dirt.  He and the youngster split up, where Dad came east of the rocks and the youngster came towards us to the west of the rocks.  They met up at the rocks, the youngster holding back as Dad charged Holtz.  The Dad And Youngster photograph was taken after Dad’s charge.  He had come to about 20 feet and stopped, backed off some and stood as shown.  He seemed calmer so I took his picture.  I didn’t take pictures during Dad’s charge because I was charging towards Dad to get in front of Holtz.  Here we see one function of long hair on a coyote’s nape and shoulders:  he sure looks bigger!

My exit strategy after such a confrontation is to walk on, stop, turn around and stare, walk on, turn to stare.  Dad’s exit strategy is to pace, yawn, poke his tongue out, find a nearby site to lie down, attend to his grooming needs and stay put as we leave.  The youngster wanders around, visits Dad, wanders some more, going back and forth yet not forward.

I’m happy to know Dad is still holding his field and that at least one of last year’s pups is alive and undispersed.  I suspect that Mom is present and that there may indeed be more pups this year.  I’m interested to know if last year’s pup(s) will remain and have a role in caring for newborns.  The weeds are growing back quickly in the areas cleared in fall and winter.  The coyotes make use of the additional cover as a puppy kindergarten.  Last year I began seeing the pups in late June, observing them from outside of the field.  The information gained today leaves me content to now keep out of the field.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos:Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

One-Upmanship: Coyote behavior

After watching a coyote “show up” a dog, I was reminded of such behaviors with my own two dogs. One can see coyotes as very similar to one’s own dogs in many ways, except that a coyote must totally depend on itself for survival, so its behaviors have more serious intent.

Cinder, my cattle-dog mix, was extremely brave behind a fence, showing certain dogs exactly what she thought of them. In her mind, she had the power to tell them off. However, walking on a sidewalk, she maintained her decorum and safety by never testing these same dogs. On the sidewalk, there was no  barrier to protect her from the other dog.

My other dog, Park, a large lab mix, was once on a walk with me when we passed a dog who was barking furiously at Park from behind a picket fence — this, for my dog’s daring to come too close to his yard. I would have respected the dog’s wishes and given him and his yard plenty of berth. But no, not Park. Park casually, deliberately and slowly walked right up to where the dog was barking, calmly lifted his leg, and peed right there — and the dog could do nothing about it. “Take that”.

So, today I noticed the same type of behavior in a coyote. The coyote had spent a calm morning observing its park from high up on a knoll. After a few hours, it decided it was time to move on — probably towards home –- but it was in no hurry to get there.

The coyote got up to go, pooped, smelled some Christmas decorations which had not been there before, and ate some grass, keeping its lips up as it did so — I have no idea why it did this, but I did observe it. Then, it turned in its tracks, concentrating its attention over to where a dog was sporadically barking — the dog was in its own yard, behind a cyclone fence. The coyote closed its eyes fairly regularly, as if to block out the sound. The coyote stood still, without moving except for its ears and eyes, for about a minute. Then it stretched as an end to its stillness and as a prelude to something else.

Suddenly, the coyote took several leaping jumps — like a horse rearing up before galloping — and ran rapidly over to where the dog was behind the fence. Its hackles were up. When it got within five feet of the fence, it kept its mouth agape with teeth showing and scratched the ground intently in a bouncy manner. I was able to get four rapid shots of the dog and coyote in close proximity — with the cyclone fence between them — before the dog disappeared totally. It must have retreated into its house. “Take that.” The coyote continued on its merry way, triumphant, down the path and into the bushes.

Postscript: I’m trying to understand coyote behavior as I go along. It seems that the behavior I describe here as one-upmanship might be in a similar vein as the short back-and-forth chase interactions between a large dog and a coyote: that it was done for the interaction with no serious intent — in this case with a fence between?

See posting of February 4th: A short back and forth chase: interaction between a large dog and a coyote.

Some Thoughts: studying coyotes, individuality

A thought about studying animal life. I know it is the norm to interfere in an animal’s life to study it: to take the animal out of its environment, to handle it and mark it, to attach devices to it, to stick it in a cage or enclosure, to make it endure what we have in mind for it — basically to disrupt an animal’s life or interfere just because it is convenient for the study. Most of the time this is not necessary. When a coyote advocate suggested that we shoot colored paintballs at them so that we humans “could more easily identify each one” I became aware of how humans place their own desires and needs for convenience first, before that of the animal. Every single animal, when it is caught and handled by a human, is absolutely terrified for its life — no matter how short or humane the treatment might be called.

My point is that if we care for the animal, this should come first. It should come before our own needs, and it should come before our reputations in our fields of study. We do not need to disrupt or interfere in an animal’s life to learn about it. The animals can be studied, and probably to better effect, if they are just left alone, with their families, and in their territories. It is with their families and those they have bonded with that we can discover the richness of their emotional life and where the richness of interactive behavior can be found. Interfering disrupts every aspect of their lives and alters it, often absolutely.

I also think, unconventionally, that if you are particularly “into” an animal — seeing it with empathy and understanding — that it really knows this and develops a certain trust for you, so that it could very well be somewhat “into” you — allowing you a view what it might guard from others: this is a mutual respect relationship. Animals who reveal themselves to you, because they want to, will show you more about themselves than you could ever learn by simply watching them. Examples of this approach which I can think of include Jane Goodall and Farley Mowat, and there are others. I know this is considered totally inadequate and definitely contrary to scientific methods by many animal behaviorists, yet I’m seeing that more and more animal scientists are turning more and more in this direction. They now name the animals they work with instead of relying on numbers, and they recognize different individual personalities of each animal, and treat them with empathy.

Individual Personalities count as such a big factor when looking at behavior of any species. More and more people have been able to see this: just go to YouTube to see accounts of “individual” animals — individual personalities rather than what we have all learned as generalities. The problem with categorical descriptions is that people begin to actually SEE the categories instead of the truth. In human terms, this included blonds in the 60s, hippies in the 70s, blacks way back in history. The truth is that there is much more to an animal or human than a category or generalization; and generalizations that hold for a group are almost never entirely true for each individual.