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.

Pup at 8 Months Still Getting Food From Dad

Although I could not see the details because this occurred within a tree grove, there is enough information here to see that the full-sized, though only 8-month-old, pup approaches its father for food by sticking its snout into the father’s mouth. Apparently, the pup gets something because its attention is on the ground in the second photo, and it stays behind to “finish up” whatever Dad had given him in the third photo.

At 8 months of age a pup does not need help from its father in getting food. However, giving the pup food tightens the strong bond which already exists and may keep the family together for a longer period of time.

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.

Punishment Again

This is the second time in the same day that I observed this behavior between this particular seven-month old female pup and her mother. Please see the previous posting.

I had two thoughts that might be related to this:  the first about Great Horned Owl dispersal, and the second about canine intuition regarding the alpha quality in another canine.

I’ve seen Great Horned Owls lovingly raise their owlets for almost a full year, from the time they are born in late March, through the fledging stage when they leave their birth nest, and through months of teaching hunting and other survival skills. Then one day, towards the end of the Fall season, both parents — these are parents who have mated for life and have raised their owlets together for the last 15 years — turn viciously against their offspring forcing them to leave the area. There is room for only one mated Great Horned Owl pair in any territory due to limited resources. As time approaches for the new reproductive cycle to begin, at the end of the calendar year, any offspring born that year are driven away by their parents. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be so totally loved and cared for, and then have those who loved you suddenly attack you. This is what goes on. The young owls fly off to areas as close as the next park over, if there is room there, or as far away as across the US.

My second thought stems from how my 2-year-old female dog reacted when we brought home a new 4-month-old puppy — a male. We found the puppy — abandoned — and we couldn’t just leave him. She must have intuitively known that he would be growing much bigger than her, and that, based on his behavior and activity level and disregard for her, that he would assume the dominant status eventually. It’s only with hindsight that we came to know that this was going on right from the start. Over an extended period of time we noticed that the alpha status had segued to him, and she just accepted the inevitable. An alpha coyote in the wild, it seems, would do its best to prevent this from ever happening, especially from one of its own pups who began showing signs of any kind of dominance.

So, we’ll soon see how this situation pans out: if it settles down, or if it leads to something.

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.

Nursing Coyote Mothers

a lactating mother coyote

a lactating mother coyote

I had been told that nursing mother coyotes stay in the dens, or fairly close to them, during the 5 weeks following birth when they are being nursed. Guess what? They don’t!

A nursing mom’s need for nourishment skyrockets during this timeframe in order to keep up with the growing nutritional needs of her pups for which she is the sole supplier through nursing. Nevertheless, moms appear to keep themselves pretty secluded and out of sight. New moms are even more secretive and evasive than normal because the lives of pups now depend on them — it’s a safety measure.

This new mom was in a field only a moment or so. The rest of the time she moved slowly under bushes and next to “edges” of taller growth, where she could easily slip away from view. When she saw anyone coming, she slowly stepped behind something, be it a tree, tall grasses, bushes or a stump, where she would not be noticed, and she wasn’t.  She headed “in” for the day when a man and his dog came around a bend and saw her. He stopped and observed. She calmly slithered out of sight. The dog was leashed and well behaved. It all happened so quick and smoothly!

It’s much too early for pups to be out and about. Pups are kept secluded in their dens until about the fifth week of birth, and even after that, their introduction into the bigger world will be a gradual one, and as secret as possible to begin with!

Mom’s Transformation, by Charles Wood

When I first met Mom she appeared to be a timid coyote. The first two pictures, from May and June 2010, show a reserved Mom. In the May 2010 picture she was peering out at my dog and me. She didn’t want us there and perhaps in just showing herself she said she wanted us to leave.

In the June 2010 picture, she barred my dog’s and my way into the den area. She was lactating and her puppies were about fifty yards behind her. Yet still, with puppies to protect, her eyes didn’t even dare to meet ours.

By August 2010 she had transformed. No longer reserved, the picture from August shows the first time Mom came up to my dog and me to scrape dirt. She seemed exhilarated and free.

The picture in December 2010 shows Mom giving us the look I still see today. Compare her December look to the look she gave in the May and June 2010 pictures. Quite a difference.

The video opens with Dad waiting for his pack to arrive after having run up to me and my two dogs. In fact, Mom was around the corner and up on a ridge, out of Dad’s sight. Neither seemed aware that the other was nearby as they waited for each other. Not shown in the clip, Mom came up just below Dad. He didn’t rise to greet her and his body language wasn’t typical of a happy greeting. Instead Dad looked startled. Maybe Mom had caught Dad unawares, but I think there was more to his atypical gesturing. I think that Dad wasn’t at all surprised to see Mom. Instead, I think Dad was surprised by Mom’s mood.

Upon meeting, typically Mom and Dad are pleased and happy to be in each other’s presence again. They expect joy from each other when greeting, exude joy upon first sighting each other. Yet that day Dad acted startled when he first saw her. To me, Dad’s reaction was a surprised “What’s this? You’re upset? About what? Oh yes, I see. Of course I’m with you on this, of course, of course.” It teemed with domestic intimacy.

Dad had previously approached me and my dogs, messaging us. He was done with that, relaxed, situation under control. When Mom arrived, she wasn’t done, wasn’t relaxed, and the situation wasn’t under control. The man was still there with his camera. Lynne, with two dogs, had been watching Mom as Mom watched Lynne watching her. Then Lynne had started to walk in the wrong direction, toward the den, not away from it. Mom came off the ridge and headed toward Lynne. Coming down, Mom then saw Dad. He was lying with his back to the dogs and the two people, doing nothing. Situation under control? Hardly. Upset? You bet she was upset. With everything!

To Mom it was all messed up. Compared to Mom as she was two years ago, Mom is today a completely different coyote. If my dogs and I are in part responsible for her transformation, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Dad. Then again, maybe there was no transformation, perhaps I just hadn’t yet seen that side of her. Maybe I wrongly thought she was the “nice” coyote when all the while Dad knew her better.

Fierce protector, a master of the bluff, Mom in the clip studied the field as Dad stretched, he preparing to follow Mom’s lead. To camera left, Mom looked toward Lynne as she walked toward me with our two leashed dogs. Mom didn’t even wait for Dad to finish his stretch. She took off at Lynne and the dogs a fraction of a second before Dad was fully ready. Mom looked totally into it, with an exaggerated bounce in her gait. In contrast, Dad’s body language said that he was just along for the ride, accommodating his spouse. I left the camera, ran at the coyotes and they broke off their mock charge.

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.

Aging In The Wild

What happens to our urban wildlife neighbors as they age? I took some photos of an older coyote today. I could see that, as the years go by, the body becomes worn and feels the effects of the accumulated wear and tear, and the effects of time. There is a slightly slower gait and it takes longer to get going. You are a little stiffer and some of your joints hurt — bending to scratch takes a little more effort and does not look as easy as it used to.  You seem to crumple into a blob when you sit sometimes, hanging from your bones instead of sitting up straight and strong.

More time is spent napping during the day and you forget that you’ve already stretched before you take off — or maybe it just takes more stretches to get all the kinks out? Your coat is a little more ragged, tattered and torn and the many scars underneath show through. Not only might your eyes be more swollen, you have to squint often to see past your weaker eyesight — and the animal world doesn’t have the privilege of glasses. Unless a gopher is an easy catch you won’t go for it.

But, to me, it is because of these changes that this coyotes is more adorable than ever. He’s worked hard and earned every one of these badges of his accumulated years. Also, young pups have come and gone, and so have a couple of mates. Life never has been particularly easy, and I can see that it is less so with time.

What really matters is that this coyote is still the alpha of his pack, that this is his own territory, that he protects and hunts every day for his family and his yearly offspring. San Francisco in one of the best habitats around: there is water nearby, there still are trees and thickets which provide protection and cover, and there are fields for hunting! Life is still pretty good!

The Natural Progression of Life, by Charles Wood

Dad message

My dog Holtz and I are about the same physical age, his having caught up with me, both of us with some gray and stiffness.  Dad seems to have passed us both in four months.  I’m told that there may be an underlying physical condition for why of late he is showing prominent hip bones, a sparse coat, white fur and what resemble age spots, though he may have mange.  I’m told that without a physical exam, there is no way to tell what is going on with him.  Christine Barton of the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center continues:  “As long as he appears uninjured and able to move and function normally, there would be no reason to interfere with the natural progression of his life.”  He may look like a beat up old coyote, but he isn’t acting like one.

Dad following up

Sunday before sunset, in the nature preserve, Dad placed himself in front of me and did some scraping.  I took some pictures and Dad walked away from us.  I began to walk away from him, towards the exit.  Seeing me leave, Dad turned and trotted towards Holtz and me.  I lobbed a golf ball towards him and he cut into the brush.  At the exit he re-emerged at a trot, making sure we had got the message.  Seeing us so close to the exit, he trotted off into the woods and disappeared.  I would say that Dad continues to function normally.

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 Health, by Charles Wood

April

Tuesday I found a spot in the nature preserve that seemed good.  I had a long view of a straight paved utility road and hoped to catch crossing it a very young coyote.  I got tired of waiting and walked slowly down the road.  A tree squirrel alerted a bit too far from me.  I stopped to listen for why.  Behind a tall wall of drying wild mustard I heard a quiet rustling coming knee high ever so slightly towards me through the brush.  I backed off immediately and retreated fifty feet.  Then a coyote pushed onto the road where I had been standing.  It was Dad.

August (a)

He stared, shook himself for his face being slightly wet and then trotted away from me on the road.  He cut into the brush on the side opposite from which he had come.  I continued leaving, knowing that Dad would re-emerge and that if I wasn’t quick enough, he would do so ahead of me.  We know each other’s tricks.  Tantalizingly, along the road on the side from which Dad had first appeared, more rustles came from the brush, although I couldn’t take time to investigate.  Dad appeared behind me as I arrived at the exit.

August (b)

Last April Dad looked fit.  Tuesday, allowing for this season’s sparser coat and for his head being a little wet, he nevertheless looked gaunt and his face looked whitened, like that of an old coyote.  I love that coyote and I couldn’t believe the change in him, felt wounded.  It is he, my having checked his markings down to his busted lower left canine tooth.  His eyes are the same, and before I checked that tooth I thought that if it isn’t Dad, then surely it’s his daddy.  Dad’s hips poke out, he seems to squint with his right eye, there is a dark patch on his left face and there are new dark eraser sized markings on his forehead and on the sides of his face.  He is looking like a beat up old coyote.  Yet even so, he’s still got game and I’m hoping he still has his health.

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.