Four!

Today I was met by a surprise — surprises are always thrilling. Early in the morning I noticed that at this park there were two coyotes on the horizon — this is not a very common place to see more than one coyote. One of the coyotes ran down to investigate from a distance, and the other remained up on the horizon. I adjusted my camera to an ISO of 3200 because there was so little light at this hour of the day before dawn. I do not like using this setting because of the graininess, but a grainy photo is better than none at all. With the camera I am able to record and magnify what I see, and therefore examine features that might distinguish one animal from another.  I was able to identify one of the coyotes! Shortly thereafter, it disappeared into the underbrush. Coyotes are not often seen by most people. Only a few of us have noticed that there even has been a second one in this area, not to mention a third one I’ve become aware of.

I decided to leave the park after this short glimpse of activity. As I left, I noticed that the one coyote up on the horizon was still there. As I came around a bend in the path, around some bushes, I was super surprised to see three more coyotes — this included the one which had disappeared in the underbrush a moment earlier! I looked back up on the horizon, and that one was still there. This is the first time I have seen four coyotes all at once in any of the parks. I was able to distinguish each coyote once I got home and looked at the photos. The “newcomer” was very similar in appearance to another coyote that I was able to identify recently. Of course, this is probably not a newcomer at all, these coyotes have been here all along. But this is the first time I have seen a fourth, and it is the first time I have seen four coyotes all at once.

The new coyote was more ill-at-ease than the others, and stayed out only a moment before hiding in the brush. Meanwhile, the other two continued to stare at me, very cautiously. After a few more moments, the one up on the horizon came running down to these two and the three trotted off together. This, too, was unusual for me to see: normally the coyotes disappear on their own into the brush area which is closest to them, but this time the one on the horizon seemed to need to move the rest of them on. I tried speculating as to why its behavior might have been different this time: of course, there may have been no reason at all; or it may have wanted the others out of the way because of all the aggression that has recently been aimed at the coyotes by a group of people in the park; or it may have seen a dog coming, or it may not have liked me looking at them for so long. My husband later warned me that I had inadvertently been between the coyotes. If you are aware of it, this kind of situation should be avoided, for safety sake. Also, a lone coyote or two might be different from a pack. Packs always consist of family members: pups, some yearlings, the parents. We might need to consider the possibilities of having a larger coyote population in our parks for a while. The likelihood is that a couple of them will disperse and move on because of territorial constraints — a territory will only support so many coyotes. I’ll try to find out when dispersal takes place.

Anyway, it is very exciting to discover everything that comes to light about coyotes, and seeing this foursome was, for me, a particularly spectacular discovery!

Distinguishing Different Coyotes: Facial Features and Behaviors

In one of our parks I have now been able to distinguish three coyotes:  a mom and her male yearling have been seen since last year, though the yearling has been seen by only a couple of people  – and they were not totally sure about this.  And on September 17th I was able to distinguish an additional female, which appeared to be a pup from this year’s litter. The mom was lactating both last year and this year. It is odd that she would have only one puppy each year, but that is what the observation has been — so far.

Distinguishing between each coyote by their markings is not always a reliable way of telling them apart : the coats have been changing with the seasons, and daylight conditions seem to alter the appearance of their coat markings, so that you cannot be sure of yourself.  I have found that the only reliable way to tell the coyotes apart is by their unique facial features, aided by observing their very different behavior — and a camera is better than the naked eye .

Boldness, shyness, amount of curiosity, amount of daring, sitting to observe or ready to flee, running forwards to observe or only away from, and easiness of gate are all behavioral characteristics which help identify these individuals. Facial features in coyotes are as different from each other as are humans’: The yearling has a built-in frown with thin eyes and a wide, almost squat face. The new female has a storybook wolf-like look with rounder but closer set eyes, which give the snout a wider and a more prominent look. The mom, until recently, has had a classical, sleek look, with unbelievably gorgeous, child-like eyes.

The mom has changed physically over the last few months. She was exceptionally thin and sprightly, but ever since her leg injury from which it took her a full month to recover, she seems older and heavier with more prominent line markings. However, her behavior remains her tell-tale, unchanging, distinguishing feature. No coyote has ever behaved like this one: she’s totally on top of her world.