Observations On A Tight-Knit Urban Coyote Family

Young coyotes are innately curious enough to approach a novel situation much more closely than their adult counterparts would. “Kid critters are often not very good at the job of life.” I’ve now watched various litters of coyotes, hawks, raccoons and owls grow up, and I have found that it is the “teens” of all species, including humans — those that are still in the throes of learning and “refining” their behavior — who take chances and are more trusting of what they find in their respective environments. Interestingly, this generality does not  always hold with the younger set, and, it is the “older and wiser” coyotes whom I have seen injured or killed more frequently by accidents.

In one of our urban parks we have had two years of pup litters. Not all pups were endowed with the same wariness as the others. These were small litters, maybe  because “Mom” was getting along in years. Because of her small size, thinness, boldness and energy we have all thought otherwise, but this year there were no new pups at all, which might indicate that she is getting along in years.

This mother first appeared prominently on the scene as a lactating mom. Before that time, people only glimpsed her very occasionally. From the time she appeared after her pupping confinement she has exhibited traits of “being in charge”. She definitely began to allow herself to be seen much more frequently “out in the open.” Although she has never been antagonistically aggressive, she has shown herself to be defensive to a T when it comes to protecting herself from dogs which have chased her, and to protecting areas of the park which might lead to her den area. For these behaviors, she has sometimes been labeled “bold” and “fearless”. She is definitely an Alpha Dominant leader.

We don’t know how many pups were born in each of her litters, but we do know how many survived.  From the litter born in the Spring of 2008, one male survived. This male pup of two years ago had a natural wariness which he never lost — even though he was born and raised right in a public park. He kept hidden in the brush, and was only seen sporadically at twilight. He “dispersed” at the age of a year-and-a-half, in November of 2009. We haven’t seen him since then.

From the litter born in the Spring of 2009, two males survived. Seventeen months later, these three — mother and two sons — form a very tight and affectionate family unit. All the “affection” and “greeting” photos in this blog belong to them.

These pups were not “brought out into the open” until about September, after they had already attained their full adult size. Size, we know, has little to do with maturity. One of these pups is quite similar in behavior to the male of a year earlier: wariness reigns supreme for him. But the other “twin” is less fearful and more venturesome. This one, out of curiosity,  has approached a few of the calmer dogs who have allowed themselves to be sniffed. I’ve seen this coyote pick up a stick right after a dog had chewed it, simply to “see what chewing a stick” was like.

I get the impression that the mother does not like this trust towards dogs at all. When the pup approaches a dog, if she is around, she puts on her warning display for the dog and sometimes nips at its ankles to let it know she does not like it and wishes it to go. In the past, the younger coyotes watched this behavior of hers. But now I am seeing that they are actually imitating her when she does this: a couple of times they have  “joined in” in the charging behavior because they know they are supposed to do what Mom does. I don’t get the impression that they quite understand the “why” of their behavior. Anyway, they are over 17 months old, and their mother is teaching them this behavior now.

These twins can regularly be seen “out in the open” and, although they keep a safe distance from walkers and their dogs, a couple of times I have noted their unconcern about walkers on the path: they have moved off the path just long enough for the walker to go by, and afterwards regained the path to continue in their own direction.

The mother never has approached dogs with this same innocent curiosity. She has only approached dogs to defend herself or to let a dog know that SHE is there and will defend any younger coyotes. I think the mother is trying to teach the younger coyotes not to be so trusting. Recently, I have seen her entice the younger coyotes away from paths which dogs and their owners frequent.

Curiously, I have seen this threesome coyote family come out into the open specifically when groups of dog walkers were out, as if to ask for trouble, or “test” the situation. They wait in the distance, and invariably there is an unleashed dog that goes for one of them. The younger coyotes run off and hide, while the mother steps in to let everyone know she does not want to be chased or pushed around. We can’t control this behavior of coyotes, but we can leash our dogs to prevent them from pursuing the coyotes in the first place. Most people do leash their dogs. But there are a few who continue to feel entitled not to do so.

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