A Coyote Watches Me: Coyote behavior

I watched this coyote stay back and watch as a bunch of walkers with their dogs came over a ridge. It remained totally still and it stayed back. The coyote was actually quite distant and camouflaged next to some bushes. Most coyotes maintain a safe distance for their own feelings of security. This one would not have been noticed by dogs or walkers if I hadn’t already spotted it and fixed my camera on it. I was told that I was what gave it away. Everyone leashed up their dogs. Then two of the walkers and their dogs continued walking on the path, at which point the coyote decided to head off, crossing the path in front of them — 100 feet ahead and disappearing over a hill.

I continued my walk and within a short time I found this same coyote grazing alone in the far distance. By grazing I mean that its concentration was on the ground in front of it. It didn’t even look up when I appeared — maybe I was too far away. It finally did look in my direction. I remained where I was and took photos. The coyote was curious, apparently, because it sat down, and then settled into a sphinx-like position to watch me. I pressed the shutter release, but made no other movements.  After not too long, the coyote got up again and trotted in my direction!!

I fleetingly thought to toss stones to dissuade it from coming my way, but it stopped. Coyotes can distinguish each dog and human they have encountered: I had seen this one a number of times before, and therefore it had seen me. Possibly it was curious about my standing so still and wanted a closer look. Also, might it have developed a trust because of my never having breached its critical space? It came to within about 50 feet this time — possibly within sniffing distance? I wonder. I stayed very still. When I did take ONE step to maintain my balance, the coyote tensed — it was obviously on alert. So the coyote examined me, intently gazing in my direction while keeping bushes between us, and then it slowly headed back to where it had been, and then into a thicket area, but first it looked back one more time!

Most coyotes I photograph just ignore me or move on. This is the first one that obviously came in my direction to check me out. It may have done this previously, much less obviously, but with other factors involved, such as dogs around, I cannot be sure. I have seen coyotes approach dogs to assess them, but this is the first one that actually appeared to want to assess me!!

Another thought occurred to me about this behavior. Coyotes learn quickly and thoroughly by watching, especially by watching their trusted mothers — watching from the distance and from hidden locations. This coyote’s mother has always allowed me to photograph her with total unconcern — she often has remained in a prone relaxed position, ignoring me and not moving off, as I clicked a-way. I use the word “ignore” because she really has acted as if I was not there: if something around drew her attention, she reacted and proceeded as if I was part of the woodwork. Might the younger coyote have observed its mother’s behavior, learned to identify me as benign, and now be testing its own safety around me — all based on its mother’s example? It is an idea that I thought was worth considering. Of course, maybe this coyote would have treated everyone this way, but I have not seen any coyote do this before. And I have not seen this coyote often enough to form a definite conclusion about it.

See posting of December 27th: “Sitting, Facing Away”

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