Narrowed-Eyes

A slight narrowing of the eyes is an instinctual, universal expression of anger across various species in the animal world. Today I noticed a coyote narrow its eyes a number of times. I was also able to take a photo of the eyes not-narrowed each time, so you can see the difference. The three photos on the first line show the narrowed eyes, the second line shows normal eyes. The other expression that a coyote uses when it feels displeasure is tightening of the lips so that the teeth show. This is not always meant as a communication, because in these cases sometimes it did not occur when another animal was close enough to have noticed. So it also is an expression of the coyote’s inner emotional state. The 7th photo shows this clearly. The 8th and 9th photos are of a coyote grunting in disapproval — actually preparing to bark. The barking did not begin in these instances.

When did these expressions occur? When dogs were coming towards the coyote, OR when the coyote saw dogs that have intruded upon it in the past! As you can see, our urban coyotes have strong feelings based on their own past experiences and on feeling themselves threatened. I have only seen this in dominant female coyotes.

Amazing Maternal Care & Affection: A Typical Example

What a thrill I had today as I observed coyote behavior.  The intricacies and depth of care, and the bonds and affection within a coyote family I am finding to be very profound.

This morning the moon was full, bright and overpowering. So I sat down to photograph it. I was hoping to get the details of moon topography which my camera is so good at picking up — not so my naked eye! As I was doing this, yes, a coyote wandered by, looked at me, went further off, came closer and then wandered on. What a nice opening for my day!  I then continued my own walk, not needing to see anything else at all that day.

An hour later, on my way back on one of the looped footpaths, I saw the mother coyote headed to where I had seen the other one earlier — the other one being a year-old offspring of this one. I followed at a distance in hopes of picking up some interesting tidbit of behavior. This coyote kept stopping, looking around and then moving ahead, rather purposefully. Then, right at the edge of some tall grass I could barely discern some activity: there were two coyotes now, falling over each other with joy, kisses and hugs. Yes, that is how I would have to characterize it. This greeting lasted about 8 seconds — I only got one bad shot of it. The one photo I have does not convey the intensity and warmth. I have never seen two dogs greet this way, and seldom have I even seen a human and dog greet in this manner. I think the greeting must have also imparted a message to “come with me”, because the mom seemed to lead the way and the younger one followed, back in the direction from which she had just come. Whenever the younger one stopped to examine something, the mom stopped and waited — sometimes sitting patiently while doing so. When the younger coyote appeared in the path in back of the mom again, they walked on.

They soon veered off the path, and proceeded over rocks, tree trunks and overgrowth. I followed as best I could and did end up where they did. The mom trotted on and junior followed. He had been led to food: mom had fetched him to take him to this food. The young one began eating and the mother moved out of sight and into the further distance. I was too far away, with shrubbery in the way, to be able to tell what was being eaten: it looked like soft food, such as a pear or potato.  It was not of animal origin. Possibly there is a pear tree in the area? Or, could the mother have retrieved this from someone’s garbage? The other possibility is food left by late night revelers — of which there are plenty in the park as attested to by the beer cans we find on the weekends.

When all had been eaten, the younger coyote urinated on the food spot, looked around, and moved into the brush area where its mother had gone. I went to the spot where he had eaten to check it out, but nothing remained. So I continued to follow. At this point I could see the mother coyote waiting up on a hill, continually looking in the direction of the younger one. I assumed the younger one was supposed to follow. But the younger one continued to hunt in the area, and then I lost vision of it. The mother obviously was waiting for the youth to follow her. When he didn’t appear, she went looking for him!! The mom began a fairly intense search, trotting this way and that, looking and smelling for clues — even looking down an escape path which I have seen coyotes use. She finally disappeared into the underbrush. I returned to find the young one in the area where I had last seen it. When it saw me this time, it took off into the underbrush, too.

So, this very purposeful family interaction was very rewarding to watch. The sequence included the mom’s initial search for the younger coyote, the super-affectionate greeting, her waiting for the younger one, leading him some distance to food, her going off to wait while he ate, and then her searching for him when he was supposed to follow. The entire series of behaviors constitute a thrilling show of family interconnectedness, care and affection. In coyotes, the family, with all of its attendant interactions, appears to be what social structure is based on.

Coyote Blocking A Path; or Feeling Threatened by a Human Who Is Trying To Retrieve Their Dog

I want to describe two coyote behaviors which I was recently told about.  Although I cannot give the exact details because I wasn’t there, I nonetheless want to describe what I was told so that others will be aware of all possibilities when encountering a coyote. The coyote acted “boldly” for self-protective reasons in both instances  — we have to look at the whole picture to know what is going on. Both of these dog walkers handled the situation really well.

1) Condi has a large, nine-year old Weimaranger. She and her dog stay away from coyotes always. However, a few days ago she said that a coyote would not let them by! The coyote stood ahead in the middle of the path which she was on. Condi did not want to approach with her dog. When she went around to another loop in the path, the coyote had gone there! The only thing she could do was to turn back, which is what she did. I asked Condi what she thought might have been going on. She thought the coyote was possibly guarding a food source.

2) Robin realized something was up when her Ridgeback’s hackles went up and the dog headed off the path to sniff. Yes, there was a coyote right there. But the dog had already gotten too close to the coyote by the time Robin realized this. The coyote began its defensive display as Robin tried going in to grab her dog. She felt that the defensive display was also directed at her as she approached her dog which was close to the coyote, so she stood back and was able to call her dog to her. They then walked on without incident. It is never a good idea for a human to walk towards a coyote, especially if the coyote is already acting defensive — the animal might feel pursued or cornered which might cause it to take more desperate measures to defend itself. I actually saw the threesome coyote family right in that same spot that same morning, maybe around 15 minutes after Robin had passed through. Two other walkers saw these three also at about that time. Coyotes do not like to be approached by dogs. If it happens to be a mother coyote, she can be particularly defensive if her family members are in the area, and this is what we all have to be aware of.

Hole Under a Fence a Coyote Squeezed Through

I watched as a coyote squeezed through this hole under a cyclone fence. The hole under the fence had been dug at some previous date.  I measured it — it was about 7″ down under the fence, and 7″ beyond the fence line — I think this might be the size of their den openings. However, this opening had an angle involved. The coyote slowly went up to the opening, stuck its head under it, and withdrew several times to look around before proceeding through. Finally it slid its head in first — down then up — then arched its back and slithered right through — down and up like a snake. I don’t think a domestic dog would have made it through because of the bend. I saw this coyote’s amazing ability to twist and compact itself. I know that humans, unless they are overweight, can fit through any space that their heads can fit through — I wonder if this is the criteria for coyotes? The opening I saw today required fantastic flexibility, from “through” the hole to “up and out of it”. Hmmm. The bend was the interesting part. It was fun to watch the coyote slither through after scrutinizing its surroundings first.

I’ve made another observation which I wanted to put in here: I’m seeing that individual coyotes actually have habits and routines specific to themselves and not to other coyotes! These habits occur over a period of time, then may change for a while, and then may return. This confirms what I have heard so often: that coyotes are so very individualistic in their behaviors. In fact, aside from facial characteristics, it is the behavior of a coyote which will help me identify it. For example, the way one plays, which ones play, which ones are curious, favorite spots, etc.

Do Coyotes Eat Thistle?

I briefly saw a coyote standing very still by some thistle. The thistle was in the way, but I took a few photos anyway: as I did so, the coyote actually focused on, licked and nibbled on something — and I don’t think it was nibbling the thistle!! My guess is that it was a snail, though I never actually saw the snail — coyotes do eat snails.  Snails climb high on grasses and plants — I’ve seen them get up to 4 feet high on a plant.  I couldn’t imagine that a snail would pick a thorny thistle to slither up, so the next day I went exploring to confirm this. I found both the “bubbles” that snails leave, and snails themselves on these plants: they do indeed climb thorny thistles! Coyotes are opportunistic eaters — which means they will eat almost anything that is available if they need to. I saw this coyote out at a fairly late hour — I’m wondering if it was not finding the food it needed and for that reason continued foraging into later in the day?

Lactating Mothers

Here are photographs of older lactating mother coyotes. From a distance their condition might easily be missed, but zooming-in on an image clearly reveals the state of the coyote. Mother coyotes are nursing their pups at this time and they are very protective of them.

By five to six weeks of age the pups will have been weaned, but the family remains a very dynamic group for interacting, learning, helping each other, playing and hunting.  The family unit is an extremely strong one for coyotes — this is something we humans need to be attuned to.  A mother coyote will watch out for her pups well beyond the point when they are old enough to fend for themselves.

There is only one breeding female and one breeding male per “pack” of coyotes — a “pack” is actually a family unit. Unrelated coyotes do not band together as a “pack” as do feral dogs. Sometimes the dominant one is the female, and sometimes it is the male of the breeding pair — in this case, it is this female mother. It is this dominant coyote which we all need to develop respect for if we want coexistence to work in our urban parks. Respect means not allowing our dogs to intrude on her — by leashing up in a coyote area.

Entertainment: Abandon and Fun With A Ball!

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NOTE THAT THERE ARE 71 SLIDES IN THE ABOVE SLIDE SHOW — IT IS A LONG ONE!

Today I encountered a happy, lone, young male coyote. I know it is a “he” because of the way he urinated standing up (females squat). The coyote first appeared when a dog and walker came along a path — I have found this to be the case very often: dogs seem to draw coyotes out into the open. The dog walker walked on by — both coyote and dog kept their distance and ignored each other. That is how my observations for this posting began.

The coyote watched the walker disappear down the path. And then he smiled — it really is a smile! Then he stretched, scratched, yawned. He walked to the path where he took a spine out of his foot and then walked back to a grassy area where the fun began!  First he played wholeheartedly with a ball for some time — tossing it up and catching it. After a while of this, he took a break, first urinating right on the ball — maybe he was claiming ownership? and then sniffing both the air and the ground — possibly for messages from the rest of the family? Well, there appeared to be no messages, so the young, fun-loving coyote returned to more frolicking in, and chewing on, some straw. After a few minutes it must have been time to move on, because the coyote got up and walked some distance, sporadically stopping and eyeing the ground for movement. It pooped in two places, maybe 200 feet apart. Then I saw it pounce — yes — it had caught a vole which it tossed and then threw to the ground before picking it up, crushing it and swallowing it whole. This young fellow then walked to the crest of a small hill where he looked down below to where dogs might have been — but the park was pretty empty. I turned back at this point.  The slide show above is long — 71 images — how could I leave anything out? However the actual time was amazingly short: the ball play was all within one minute, as was the playing in the hay. The capturing and eating the vole took almost two minutes. And that’s it, time-wise. The little coyote obviously was having a great time. Coyotes smile when they are happy — I have seen it many times and you can see it here!

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Another Dog Incident: A little later a runner told me that he had just seen a “very large” coyote — it was not the same one I had observed earlier — that one was on the other side of the park. It should be known that our coyotes are “western coyotes” and weigh only about 25 pounds. I have found that when someone describes a coyote as “very large” it has more to do with their own apprehensions and fears. Sure enough, the man asked me if the coyote might come up to him and hurt him. I had to assure him that this has never happened in this area, that these coyotes have a healthy fear of people.

We began hearing the distressed barking that a coyote engages in when it has been chased by a dog. This was the coyote the runner had just seen. Then a woman said that a coyote had chased her dog. I want it to be known that coyotes do not chase for no reason — they “chase back” after having been intruded upon first, and then they run to high ground where they engage in a barking session. The distressed barking, which lasts as long as 20 minutes, is both a complaining and a statement of being present: “I’m here and leave me alone”. Why had not the dog been leashed in this known coyote area? I had passed this same dog with its owner only half an hour earlier. The dog had barked at me viciously as I walked on the path — I do not have a dog, so the dog was barking at me and the owner could not control the dog, though she did leash it at that point. I have heard this same dog bark at coyotes various times and chase them. Barking at me or a coyote constitutes a threat — I do not like to be threatened like this. This coyote might have engaged in a self-defensive feint before retreating to the safe barking location where we now saw it. Everyone I know expects a coyote to defend itself from such a threat. The coyote has never harmed. However it has put on defensive bluffing displays which are meant to ward off dogs. If we would respect the coyotes and their space by not intruding on them, such problems would never arise in the first place.

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