I’ll Mark Here, Too!

Here are two coyotes wandering around. They both sniffed the tail end of this truck — really!! And then one urinated there. The other was right there watching. “Since you marked here, I’ll mark here, too!” You can see that the first coyote is a female and the second is a male from the way they urinate.

Keep Away From Me/Trapped On A Path

This is a display used by coyotes to keep dogs away. I’ve only seen it used by dominant female coyotes. The display is performed when a dog has chased the coyote or come too close, possibly by accident. HOWEVER, in this particular case, it is the coyote who approached the unleashed dog which was sauntering down a trail. One of the coyote’s full-grown pups was following the dog, also sauntering along good-naturedly!! The coyote’s display is a message: it serves as a warning, most likely it includes a territorial warning, and it is a reminder to the dog not to intrude. Dogs which the coyote has become visually familiar with over time are the only ones I have ever seen approached in this manner by a coyote. In this case, the dog did not respond to the coyote but just walked on, so the coyote moved in a different direction. If you are going to walk in a coyote area with your dog, it is a good idea to carry a “shake-can”  — a six ounce aluminum juice can filled with 10-15 pennies with packaging tape over the opening. Shake it aggressively and vigorously.

A few days ago I was following a coyote on a path to see what might be in store for the day. There were two minor encounters with dogs. In the first, a woman and her small Vizlu appeared over the crest of a hill as the coyote was walking in their direction. Neither knew of the other and both were surprised. The dog, off-leash, ran after the coyote in a playful manner. The coyote could not turn around and run off because I was on the path in back of it. So the coyote ran up a grassy hill where the small dog followed it. The coyote immediately went into its “Halloween Cat Posture” as a warning for the dog to keep off. The woman yelled for her dog, but before the dog obeyed, the coyote had come up to the dog and attempted to nip its leg. We found no bite marks. If a coyote feels threatened, this is a possibility that everyone should be aware of. A dominant female will react this way, whereas betas in a coyote group would probably just flee.

The same thing happened again — a walker blindly coming upon a coyote on a path. This time the walker could not see the coyote because of tall grass growth and curves in the path. Again, I was following behind the coyote when the coyote came to a dead stop — so I knew someone was coming down the path in its direction.  I tried turning back and then getting off the path, but the walker’s dog already had whiff of the coyote and went after it — not viciously, but it went after it. The coyote put on its warning display. This time the woman was able to grab her dog quickly. She turned around and went the other way: this was exactly what she should have done. As she went the coyote began following her. I yelled out that the coyote was in back of her, that she should just keep moving away. She picked up a couple of stones which caused the coyote to flee off the path, and then she went on.

More Family Dynamics & Communication

Here are some photos of another “greeting”: there is always a lot of affection. But also I’m noticing little irritations with each other, as can be seen by their expressions: eyes, ears, snouts, even noses and posture. I can’t read everything that is going on, but a lot is happening. Try looking at the facial expressions and body language. I see constant interaction and communication about feelings, desires, expectations, relationships. For instance, in slide #9 coyote on the left draws his lips up as his sibling approaches; #10 this same coyote gets BETWEEN that sibling and his mother, #11 mother stiffens in reaction.

Actively Hunting

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Here is hunting sequence. It began with two coyotes hunting right in the same spot, but one went off. The hunting session lasted about twenty minutes. Note that when the lone coyote stood still, which was not often, its tail swished slowly back and forth, back and forth, revealing the coyote’s excitement and tension. There was one pounce, but nothing was caught. In the end, the coyote curled up, right there in the open, right at the hunting spot, but at a considerable distance from any path, and fell asleep!  Hunting might last awhile, as it did here, or, it could be totally effortless, lasting a mere split-second — as if the coyote had gone to the refrigerator and pulled out a coke!

In this instance, the coyote seemed to look directly at whatever he was after. But another technique the coyotes use is “triangulating”, where they will cock their heads from side to side for auditory signals which will tell them exactly where the prey is.

Snakes Are Not For Eating

I have seen coyotes pick up dead snakes before, snakes that had already been killed either by them or some other animal, but today I actually watched as a coyote caught a live snake. The coyote was quick and exact in its hunting techniques: it only took one plunge before the coyote had the snake. I watched intently, thinking that this was a “fresh” snake, and might be eaten, but that was not to be. I don’t think that coyotes eat snakes if they don’t have to.

The coyote put down the snake, rolled on it, and played with it, tossing it high in the air. The episode took a little over a minute. I learned that an animal does not have to have decomposed for a coyote to want to roll on it — maybe snakes are strong smelling to begin with. When the coyote was through with these activities, it moved on to making its rounds. Interestingly, the coyote returned to this snake about 40 minutes later, searching for it and picking it up just for a second before dropping it and continuing on the path. Ten minutes later I came back to find the snake was gone: it had probably been picked up by either a red-tail hawk or a raven which are seen constantly flying above.

Lots of Commotion and Noise Can Be Upsetting to Coyotes

I watched as this coyote made its rounds and ended up on a high ledge to watch. Another large field trip of kids was coming into the park. As the coyote watched, it gave off barely audible grunts and narrowed its eyes. It was not happy with the situation — with all the noise and activity. The parks serves as a coyote’s territory and they like it calm.

In another park a coyote actually went to the periphery of a day camp where there was a lot of noise and commotion. Here the coyote began a barking session. The camp director was able to shoo the coyote off easily by walking towards the coyote and tossing stones. Coyotes do not want to be approached by humans. But it is important to know that noise and commotion can be upsetting to a coyote who considers a park its territory, and that it may react to this commotion as an intrusion, in the same way it does when it has been intruded upon by a dog: by engaging in a loud and often long barking session. The barking serves as an announcement of its presence — maybe its ownership of the territory –and an announcement of its being upset.

A Bit of Sibling Rivalry For Mom?

This posting actually goes along with the last one, the one about affection and love, but I wanted to separate these photos out because of something new I saw.  At first glance the “greeting”  appeared to be a pile-up of mutual affection between a mother and her two yearling pups. On closer examination, I could see that it actually consisted of puppy-love for their mother. Of course, Mom is the one that came looking for the pups, knowing full well that her presence would elicit their affection, and she accepted their affection. She seemed to be very even handed with them.

After even further examination, I could see that there were instances of rivalry between the two pups for contact with Mom. In this sequence of photos I saw one of the pups narrow his eyes a number of times at the other yearling when he came close. Hmm. I wonder how this will develop over time!!

Pounds of Love and Affection

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I was watching two yearling coyotes when their mother appeared trotting down the path in their direction. The yearlings had been casually hunting but were now sitting on a bare spot. I wondered if they were waiting for their mother? They saw the mother first. They waited just a moment before running at her, delightedly and joyfully. They couldn’t seem to get enough of her. I have now seen this “greeting” lots of times. It is an indication of the extremely strong family ties which include lots of love, care and concern for each other.

The young coyote body movements alone communicated lots of happiness and affection: leaping, piling up, jumping right over a sibling.  In addition, there were the facial expressions and movements: kisses, mouths agape, ears back, head rubs, pint-size nips, smiles, squinting, reaching for the tip of the snout with a snout, a snout around the mothers, paw on mother’s back. Note that these actions are carried out by the young coyotes towards their mother.

The mother made her way, with all this activity, up to a safer place off the trail. She was the recipient of all the affection. Her expressions were different from theirs. I did not see her outright kiss either one of them. Her reactions included licking her lips, tip of the tongue out, tongue extended further out, squinting, ears back, and . . . .  ducking the onslaught!!

This greeting lasted just under three minutes. Beforehand the two younger coyotes had been hunting together. Now the three of them went off together, led by the mother. I have seen where she “gathers” them together to lead them off. And I have seen them engage in a play session after such a gathering. Very often, as far as I have seen, this morning meeting will signal a time for them to “go in” for the day.

More Toying With Prey

I saw a coyote toying with prey today — the same way a cat does sometimes. This is the second time I’ve seen this. I think the coyote was kind of bored as it wandered. The coyote appeared to be meandering about without being too hungry, but then happened upon an easy catch. The coyote shot up and pounced down effortlessly. The occasion presented itself for some playtime or entertainment, so the coyote used the opportunity for simple amusement before gobbling down the food, seemingly as an afterthought. Please note that the coyote was careful not to crush the prey, lifting it only by the skin at the nape of the neck at first — this was probably so as not to disable the rodent totally. This actually showed me how careful a coyote could be if it wanted to. Mothers, of course, carry their pups this way.  I could not see the vole until it was tossed up in the air several times, by which time it WAS disabled. The entire episode from catch to down-the-hatch took about two minutes.

Animals like to play as much as we humans do. I’ve seen videos of crows and dogs “sledding” down a slippery slope, simply for the fun of it. I have postings of a coyote playing with a ball and playing chase with a sibling. Might “toying with prey” be something akin to us humans with a wind-up-toy?

Pups’ Growing Dominance or Just Affection Allowed by Mom?

I’ve noticed in the last few months that the dominant female in a group of coyotes I watch, although still very protective when it comes to defending her family, appears to not be as assertive or in-your-face about it as she once was. I see her less often these days than I used to, and when I do see her, I feel that there is less dominance in her as compared to several months ago. For instance, she will often get up and leave her perch instead of continue to monitor when certain dog groups walk by. Even so, the year-old pups still look up to her for guidance, and they always greet her ecstatically when they meet her on a path after, probably, only a few hours of separation.

I’ve noted that within her own family her dominance seems to be rather casual, and wonder if this is normal within a family.  Or, could it be a phase? There were no new puppies this year, which could simply be a coyote’s method of controlling the population, or, it could mean that this coyote is getting weaker older. Within her own family, I’ve noticed that care, concern, love and affection are supreme: these are really uplifting to see, and I see them all the time. It may be that the several instances I’ve seen of the mother’s apparent casual dominance, or tolerance, in certain situations has nothing to do, in fact, with dominance, and has everything to do with family ties and affection.

Both younger coyotes have put a paw up on top of their mother’s muzzle, and their muzzle over hers. As far as I have seen, it is the dominant one whose paw and muzzle is always on top. My own dog made this very clear to me once. We went to a pet store where Park lay on the ground, Sphynx-like with forelegs extended. The owner, whom my dog had never seen before, came up and put her hands on top of my dog’s paws. He reacted ferociously, withdrawing his paws from under her hands and moving away — it scared us all. My dog was always very obedient and did what I asked of him quickly. However, even when I put my own hand on his paw, he would smile at me and then slowly lift his to be over mine!!

The other thing I’ve seen is one of the male pups mounting his mother. Both of these instances — the paw on the muzzle and the mounting — look much more like expressions of extreme affection than expressions of dominance by the pups, so I’m wondering how and if the dominance factor fits in here.

The latest item of relevance to this is when I saw the mother’s ears airplaned out to the side and down when in the presence of her pups. In my own dog, this always indicated that the dog was succumbing, maybe under duress, to whatever was going on: a kind of resignation to the circumstances which included a knowledge of what was going to eventually happen. As an example: We had a little female cattle-dog mix. She, of course, was the center of attention always. Then, one day we were walking in Golden Gate Park when a filthy, bouncy little  four-month-old puppy began tailgating her. This was “one of the many events” that occur on walks and was exciting only to that extent for my little dog. We scanned the place for an owner — there was none to be found. We decided that we should take the puppy to the SPCA. So we put our dog into the car, and then the puppy. The minute our dog saw that this puppy was coming home with us, she decided that she would flee — she did not want to put up with this dirty and mannerless homeless fellow.  There was no aggression or growling on her part, rather, she simply tried escaping the situation by attempting to jump out the car window — fortunately she didn’t make it. Her ears went way down and out. We ended up keeping the puppy, which Cinder was never happy about, because, as I later figured out, she knew, right from the start, that this puppy would become the dominant one and that her unique status was going to be compromised.

I wonder if the coyote mother might have a similar inkling? She, however, is not going to flee because these are her own offspring and this is her territory. Could the ears down indicate her own forbearance for now? Maybe there will come a time when she will snap, when she will lay down the law, when she will ban them from her presence. The time for this is not now. These are just thoughts that occurred to me based on my own limited observations on coyotes and my own dogs. I’m sure that these behaviors will fall into place as I see more.

Wanting to Play With Dogs

I watched as a young coyote repeatedly approached a dog which was lying down and chewing on its stick. This was after the two had found themselves in fairly close proximity on a park path: the dog then meandered about looking for a stick and then settled down while the coyote watched. The coyote was extremely curious and approached cautiously, always from behind. At first the coyote’s nose went straight for the dog’s anus. This was repeated several times. The dog remained there chewing, and even wagged its tail. We were curious so we decided to watch for a few minutes before moving on. The coyote then went up and seemingly “nipped” the dog’s tail — it was only the fur of the dog’s tail which was nipped. The coyote sprang back after this daring “touch”, but the dog remained there as before, unphased but obviously aware.  NEXT, the coyote went a little further, actually opening its jaws over the dog’s lower back, the same as it did to its sibling, provoking it to play. This time the dog got up, good-naturedly, but just moved forward a bit. The coyote decided that was as far as he was willing to venture at that time.

We had seen the coyote’s sibling earlier. The dog’s owner said to me:  “Well, now lets see what the other coyote has to say.” Yes, this coyote definitely had said something. We did not see the other coyote, but I was reminded of several instances when coyotes showed their desire to play, or actually did play with domestic dogs, non-aggressive dogs, who were willing to do so. I have had several dog owners tell me that a coyote had approached their dog in a friendly manner. There are two factors that seem to be involved in a coyote’s attraction to a dog: 1) the dog is not interested in the coyote so its activity is pretty bland; 2) the dog is not social with other dogs. I thought it was interesting hat these two dog behavior characteristics have been repeated by a number of dog owners after I inquired about the coyote approaching.

At Bernal Heights there was a coyote who romped with and wrestled with a couple of the dogs. It was only a couple of specific chosen dogs with which the coyote engaged in this play, dogs that had a knack for unthreatening communication. The play didn’t last long, but long enough to satisfy some kind of need of the coyote. That coyote lived all alone. Then, yesterday I met a woman with her two dogs who told me she used to play ball with her two dogs in an open field where frequently a coyote would show up. This coyote, always the same one, had a knack for finding them, wherever they might be, she said. She would toss the ball out, and occasionally the coyote, out on the sidelines, would grab the ball — never retrieving it, but “possessing it” by sitting down with it and holding it. Interestingly, one of her dogs had once chased this coyote and then been grabbed by the coyote. I guess bygones were bygones. Another dog I knew would wallow in a field where a coyote hung out: the coyote would approach the dog and stare at it at close range as if trying to figure out what the dog was doing on its back. Obviously, a dog on its back is not a threat to a coyote. The coyote was very curious. Once this same dog picked up a pine-cone to begin chewing on it. The coyote came over to investigate. This dog also romped short distances with the coyote, and after a romp they would both lay down in the grass, at a considerable distance apart, and just soak up the fun they had, smiling at the other in the distance.

So, these are the instances I have heard about of a coyote playing with a dog. One of the dominant female coyotes which I have been following would never “play” in this fashion. The closest I have seen her come to “playing” with a dog is half-serious game of “one-upmanship”.  Her main communication to any dog which gets too close is a very blatant warning display which says “keep away.”

Marking Where A Dog Had Stopped to Sniff & Urinate

This young coyote watched from the distance as a dog stopped to intently sniff a spot on the side of the trail. The dog urinated on the spot before continuing on. This coyote watched the entire scene and then hurried over to sniff for himself and, of course, then urinate on top of what the dog had left! This is normal coyote and canine behavior, but it is still fun to see as it happens. Canines keep tabs on all other canines this way.

Waiting, Greetings, and . . . Could It Be Just A Smile?

I watched a mother coyote walk around anxiously and finally settle down, up on a ledge, where she stayed. However, she remained anxious, looking around with jerking motions — she was looking for something. Finally, she got up quickly and trotted down the path to where I saw her greet another coyote. This coyote is what she had been waiting for. They kissed and rubbed muzzles — it’s not a calm greeting, it is very active and intense. This time the younger one, a male, put his paw up on his mother’s muzzle during the greeting. I thought, “whoa!” Is this some kind of sign of dominance from the younger male? The other pup — there are two and they are both males, a year old — has the habit of mounting his mother and she allows it, at least for a few minutes. I thought dominant females were, well, dominant. I wonder if she was teaching them things, or maybe keeping the family intact? Or, could there be other things going on?

After the greeting, they started walking down the path in my direction — I moved off quickly. The mother waited for the younger one to follow. My photos reveal BOTH coyotes, as they proceeded, with the exact same open mouth at the same time — it is very similar to the smile I see in the two young pups when they play. And then, a minute later, the mother again has the same open mouth/smile but this time with her nose pulled way up, as if to make sure to reveal the upper canines?  Right after this lip-raised smile, the mother stopped and “licked her lips” though she had not been eating anything. Otherwise, there were no real tongue-tips visible this time as I have seen before. I’m wondering if the open mouth, especially with the nose pulled up and back, has significance beyond the possibility of a contented smile? I’m finding that EVERYTHING, ultimately, has significance, even though I’m not able to decipher it right away!

One Coyote Filching The Other’s Lunch!

Ever have your hard-earned spoils swiped? Today I watched two young coyotes, buddies, trot together, then stop together to hunt. There didn’t seem to be any possessiveness about who found the hunting place. I’ve seen this “hunting togetherness” often. Results from this hunt were not immediately forthcoming, so one coyote gave up and walked on. But the other stayed and caught a very small vole. Instead of gobbling it down, the coyote ran off to a more protected area to finish killing the rodent and then to eat it. But the other coyote was right there watching. The successful hunter dropped his prey several times. The second coyote just watched at first, but then went for it.  The vole wasn’t dead yet, it  still moved, so I suppose instincts caused both coyotes to try to grab it. Both coyotes then did grab it together, because next I saw them both clenched on the prey, each trying to pull it away from the other. It was a minor struggle, but the guy who originally caught the vole was not the one who ended up with it. That the hunter gave it up so easily was kind of interesting, and points to harmony as being very important in coyote social relations. I’ve seen harmony take precedence all the time.

Hiding, Carrion and Barking

All hunting that I have seen, until today, involved coyotes grabbing small voles or gophers, and then swallowing them whole after crunching them. There has been very little tearing apart of the prey. Today I watched a coyote tackle something much larger. It was well hidden in the tall grass, but I watched as the coyote shook its head to pull meat apart. When the coyote left, I went to the spot to find out what this might have been. It was a maggot infested skull: this was true carrion. It obviously had been there some time or it would not have had all the maggots. It was awful. I took photos but am not skilled enough to identify what type of animal it was. From what we have in the area, and from the size of the skull, I would say that it was probably a young raccoon, though it could have been a skunk.

As the coyote feasted, the coyote was well hidden from anyone’s view, tucked off deep in a bushy area — unless you knew it was there. However, it kept an eye on the surrounding area, popping its head down to eat, and up to assess if any danger may have come into play. I was concentrating on trying to figure out what the coyote was eating — hoping the coyote would lift it high enough above the tall grass for me to see — I did not see the prey until I looked for it later. Because of my concentration, I was not aware of the surroundings — I was only aware that the coyote was vigilant. Then, because of the coyote’s intent gaze in one direction, I glanced to the side and saw, just barely out of the corner of my eye, a brown dog’s swishing tail. The dog for sure had not chased the coyote, but it may have given some other indication that it was “onto” the coyote’s location. The coyote quickly descended into the adjacent open area and began an intense barking session.

In the past I have seen coyotes bark like this only when they have been pursued.  In this case, although there was no pursuit that I was able to see, the dog may have been one that had chased the coyote in the past, or the dog may have communicated an active awareness and “eyeing” of the coyote which threatened the coyote. That the coyote had been eating may be a factor that enters into the barking equation. The barking session lasted 3:50 minutes — I’ve mounted the entire session. It is a little tedious, but this is what it is like:  Barking Session.

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