Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

Contests & Winning

A friend relayed a story to me which I want to re-tell. He was walking in a park in the early evening. He had taken a little-used narrow path high above the beaten trail when he saw a large brown pit-bull dash across the path ahead of him. There was no owner around. Within seconds my friend could see that the dog was chasing a coyote. And within seconds of that, the pit-bull whizzed by him again in the other direction, this time followed by a second coyote: the dog was being warded off by the coyote pack leader which was protecting the chased coyote. It is important to know that this is how alpha coyote’s react: they are protective of their pack members.

But the story didn’t end here. My friend later descended to the path below where he saw the dog, now leashed, and its owner heading out of the park. And following them from 50 feet behind were the two coyotes: they were assuring themselves that the dog was leaving the park. After the dog was gone, the coyotes ran up to the hillside and cavorted playfully. My friend thought that the coyotes might as well have been celebrating and “thumbing their noses” at the departing dog which had disturbed them.

Amusing though it might seem, contests of this sort are the basis for future antagonistic relations between dogs and coyotes. We can prevent these from ever occurring in the first place by keeping our dogs restrained in the parks which we know have coyotes. Even if the dog is kept leashed and no longer chases, the coyotes have now become alerted to this particular dog: he has been tagged as a threat. And the dog has become alerted to the coyotes as something fun to chase — he will now continually look for them: each side will want to play out the contest. ┬áBoth the dog and the coyotes will feel tension if they see each other for some time to come.

More Lone Activity

I recently wrote about the interactions of a pack, which is a coyote family, as I found them traversing a park, headed to their “home” area in the morning. It is rare to see a family together, though two of them can be seen at times. It is more common to encounter a single lone coyote.

The reason for this is that coyotes hunt individually. This is because their food source in this area consists mostly of voles and gophers: small rodents which, as food, cannot be divided up among various hunters — these are crunched and then swallowed whole. In our area it might take more than one coyote to take down a raccoon, but raccoons are not the normal prey for coyotes — they are quite large and fierce fighters. We have seen skunk carcasses, and it is possible that more than one coyote shares in this.

Pack activity does occur in other areas when smaller rodents aren’t so prevalent, and when there happen to be larger prey around. Likely candidates are young deer or unprotected young farm animals such as lambs.