Mom Checks In, by Charles Wood



I was pleased to see Mom in her field just after sunset.  A week or so ago I also saw a lone coyote in the field, too far away to identify.  I haven’t seen Mom, Dad and their juvenile together for almost two months.

It had been so long since I’d seen my coyotes that a friend asked me if I thought that they had left.  Anything is possible.  However I doubt that Mom and Dad would willingly leave productive range.  Mom looks like she is getting enough to eat.  Their field allows them to reproduce more or less in secret.  Dad has been in that field for well over a year and Mom may have been there as long, though certainly since late January 2010.

Mom’s most noticeable distinguishing feature is her drooping ear, now noticeably worse and worrisome to me.  I had thought her ear drooped for fighting, but now think she has an infection.  She spotted me standing on the river bank and stood staring until I began to leave.  As I walked she moved off the road to watch from cover while lying down.  From that brush-obscured vantage point she could also watch north, east and south.  Smart coyote, always working.

Each visit invites me back.  Is their youngster still there?  How is Dad doing?  Will the couple stay put?  Will they have pups again?  Is Mom’s ear a threat?  Will they be in that field long enough for me to see them start showing gray?

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

All Yawn

A Bite To Eat

Find, pounce, poke, retrieve, crunch, gulp, shake, lick chops. That’s how it goes. Sometimes any of these steps can take lots of time, and sometimes it’s over quickly. This sequence here was very quick.

Ritual Greeting?

Ritual greetings are used in coyote packs to confirm the social order. Here a young coyote approaches the Alpha, who is his mother, to greet her with kisses and muzzle rubs. Note that his ears are always back.  She seems to only accept it and to put up with it — she does not return the behavior in any way. In fact, the young one did not approach with his usual wiggly joyfulness — maybe because that had already happened an hour earlier?

The Stick Finder & The Stick Snitcher

Here, one fellow finds a stick and begins having fun with it: tugging at it and chewing on it. But a second guy comes up and wants that very same stick.

The first guy repels the second guy’s attempts to take it with a growl.  However, the second guy doesn’t give up and tries to weight down the first guy and then he tries a frontal approach again, both unsuccessfully. Finally he tries the ultimate put-down: he mounts the first fellow who then moves to get away from the tight grasp.

Seeing that the stick is no longer his, the first guy resigns and  moves off some distance to watch. Not to be totally defeated, he returns and grabs a different stick to pull on. Ohhhh, but now fellow #2 actually wants THIS particular stick and goes for it.

Fellow number one snarls angrily, but it is fellow two, who at this stage is succeeding in showing himself to be the more dominant of the two, now has the second stick.

So, the fun is over for the time being.

Back When Play Began Turning Into Bullying

The two siblings in this coyote family used to play evenhandedly — this is not so now. In the first slide, as one of the siblings begins to dominate the other, Mom snarls her discontent at them and moves away from them. Notice that one sibling continually goes after the other one to dominate by pushing him, mounting him or forcing him to the ground — it is always the same one that does this. In the end, the dominated runs off from his tormentor, almost always with ears back, tail under and back arched.  These photos were taken at the beginning of October — about when I started noticing this one-sided pattern to sibling interactions.

Family Greeting Sequence: Smothering Mom Who Then Needs To Get Away

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Here is a display of strong family affection — affection for Mom from two of her full-grown pups aged 18 months at the time. Joy from the juveniles can be seen in their body movements and facial expressions as they approach her. They approach her with lowered heads in deference to her Alpha status — so the greeting is both one of love and a confirmation of their respect for her. Mom is the coyote on the far right in these photos. Mom appears to “allow” them to display this affection — but I have seldom seen her return it.

In this sequence, Mom soon tires of it all. After the first initial greeting with just one of the pups she moves off and lies down. At this point the other youth appears and both this time approached her with kisses and hugs (close body contact). She then gets annoyed at the pile up, reacting with a gaping snarl (#13) and then moves off. The younger ones follow and Mom snarls again (#17) but they offer apologetic kisses and then they all settle down now with plenty of space between each other.  This entire sequence lasted over three minutes. These photos were actually taken at the beginning of October when these displays were still going strong: the displays are not nearly as lengthy or nor as intense recently.

As The World Turns

Here is a coyote at the top of a hill watching as a group of dogs and walkers pass by on a trail at the bottom of the hill. Coyotes seem to enjoy doing this — I think it is entertainment for them. In this instance, it’s as if this coyote was watching the latest episode of a soap opera!  Most of the time a coyote will just sit, but here we can see when the interest heightens and when things get boring!

Bounding Through The Brush With Abandon

This fellow looked so happy as he navigated over the tangled growth on a hillside. Although coyotes use “the beaten path” and “paths of least resistance” very frequently, “off the trail” can be as much of a joyride for a coyote as an off-trail dirt bike might be for us!

Two Instances of Mom Dashing Off To Save The Day

Coyotes don’t appear to run much if they don’t have to. They tend to conserve their energy for when they need it, as far as I have seen. However, extreme joy or fear seem to prompt speed. During games of chase I’ve seen them whiz at top speed. Interestingly, the games are kept in a limited area by running in large circles: they never seem to get too far from where the game began. Another instance of joyful running is when they see Mom and decide to join her: Mom always has elicited ecstatic joy as pups run to greet her!

When I have seen coyotes run for other reasons than play, it has always been for more serious reasons. For example, when they are attempting to escape from a dog. Another example is when Mom, who is Alpha and pack leader, sees her pups approached or threatened by a dog: this is what I am depicting here: “Mom to the rescue”. This kind of run is bullet-fast and always in a bee line.

I show two examples of this. In both cases, Mom was resting when suddenly she became aware of a possible threat from a dog to one of her pups off in the far distance — as far as 500 feet away. A dog had either chased or come too close.  The pups are now 20 months old — not infants at all, and larger in size than she is. However, they are not extremely savvy and she knows this. So far, I have never seen them put on a warning display — instead they simply flee from danger. So, when she is within view of them being threatened, she fills in the void.

In the first case she dashed down a hill from where she had been watching, sprinted across a field. By the time she got to her destination the dogs were gone, but the pup was still sitting on the hillside. She continued her lookout — standing guard  — now from this much closer location.

The second example began in the same way: a relaxed Mom, and then, as her attention became riveted on the situation in the distance, her ears focused forward, and off she dashed, over 500 feet away. By the time she arrived, although the pup was no longer in sight, having retreated into the underbrush, she began a distressed barking session. Walkers have been leading their dogs away when this happens, and that is what went on this time.

A Season Change, And Fewer Voles

The classical seasons involve a Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Each season has very definite characteristics that we all become familiar with when we are children, even though they don’t quite fit the reality of where we live. Some places really don’t fit the mold at all. One of these places is the Bay Area of California.

In the Bay Area our seasons might be defined as being more subtle by those used to the classical seasons. However, in many ways, our seasonal changes offer contrasts that are stark.

Summers here are often the coldest part of the year due to the heavy summer fog: cold air brought down along the coast from Alaska hits the hot arid air further inland, and the result is fog. Many of us love the natural “air conditioning” when further in from the coast the temperatures are sweltering. However, the fog can be relentless: this summer we had only three full days of sunshine. In addition, our summers are dry: ours is actually a desert climate. Many of the grasses that define the landscape dry out and become dormant in the summer — some would say brown, some would say golden!! Not only the grasses, but trees as well become more dry and more sparse in their growth — this is in summertime!

Animal life also goes through its changes throughout the year. I’m specifically referring to voles, one of the prime food sources for coyotes. Voles are intriguing because some populations regularly go through cycles of low to high numbers with occasional, sudden increases that can send numbers soaring up to several thousand per acre. The vole population during this past summer was noted by everyone as being profuse in some of the parks. Through the end of the summer one would see these little critters — many of them — darting across open trails, or just sitting at the opening to their burrows, sometimes in twos and threes. We all wondered why there were so many of them when there never had been this many before. One theory is that the exceptionally good rains in the springtime had increased their food supply. My friend Jeff has a theory: he thinks that since more of them are being eaten by owls, hawks, raccoons and coyotes, they have compensated by over-reproducing themselves. These are speculations by observers who frequent the park, we don’t really know the reason, but without evidence that can be found in other sources, it is fun to think about the possibilities.

Now, summer is over. The rains began at the end of October, and already, within a few days of them, the terrain is again covered with tiny green sprouts poking themselves up out of the ground which had been barren and dry for so long and in so many places. Our winter and spring are the greenest because that is the rainy season. In some places the rains have caused severe flooding, not only because there are huge rainstorms, but also because the ground is much too dry to absorb any water at all, so the rain sits on top and then flows high.

More about voles. Voles do not hibernate and they are not nocturnal. Rather, they are active at all times with periodic rest periods interspersed. A vole colony can number in the hundreds: one vole seen above ground means there are many more underground. Winter apparently is a time when they work extra hard on their tunnels. The size of the tunnel system varies with the type of habitat and food supply and population — it can be as expansive as a few hundred square feet, with many openings that measure about an inch and a half in diameter. Voles themselves, without their short tails, measure about three to four inches long when full grown.

The tunnels include nests for their young which are lined with grass, moss and feathers. Voles are extremely prolific, with females maturing in 35 to 40 days and having 5 to 10 litters per year, averaging four to six vole babies — but only two or possibly three of these survive to weaning. Although they can breed at any time of the year, birthing usually occurs from March through June. Voles seem to die off early, at about 2 months of age; some live to be about a year and one half years old, but never two years old.

Vole numbers fluctuate from year to year, increasing rapidly under favorable conditions. In some areas their numbers are cyclical, peaking every 3 to 6 years before dropping back to low levels.

Voles eat vegetation, roots, grass, bark, seeds. They have been known to eat snails and insects, these perhaps as unintended side effects of the way they collect their food. They will eat roots they run into as they dig, or they may pull plants into their burrows from below.

Chasing Game — On One’s Own Terms

I was watching as three coyotes appeared on the horizon and remained there. The activity was minor. Suddenly, one of them shot down the hill in a frenzy — as if he might have flipped out — there was a swishing sound and suddenly he was down at the bottom of the hill. The others gazed at him seemingly dumbfounded — probably as dumbfounded as I myself felt. What the heck was going on? Then this coyote raced up the hill again with great exuberance and pure gusto. He just wanted to play! His frenzied activity worked. Invitations to play lately have been met with cruel put downs by his sibling. This time, he ran in, but didn’t give the other guy a chance to dominate him. It was almost a dare. This fellow whizzed by his dominating sibling, and the dominating fellow felt compelled to go after him. Ah! The long awaited game finally was happening. Mom got excited and joined in. And less-dominant guy led the whole thing, smiling exuberantly as he did so!! Finally, out of breath, the two followers ascended to the top of the hill, still with their full attention on this guy, and he, the force behind the show, remained below, panting hard but obviously happy. He had had his game! The chase game lasted less than two minutes.

Pursued Against One’s Will

Here you have a young coyote using a trail in a park. He had been avoiding and walking away from dog-walking groups all morning. His walk is obviously a casual one on a trail which appeared to have no one on it. The coyote left the trail long enough for an attempt at hunting in some brushes but then returned to the path. Suddenly, from over 200 feet ahead, a dog on the trail spotted this coyote and came after him furiously. The dog was right on the coyote’s tail — and it is this extreme closeness which is so disturbing. The coyote got away. But the story could have been different, with the dog hurting the coyote, and the coyote hurting the dog in self-defense. For the dog, chasing is game, but for the coyote it involved running for its life: coyotes live in a much more real world than our dogs do. I have avoided putting photos of dogs in the blog, but this one needs to be put in to bring home to everyone that wildlife and dogs need to be kept apart. This type of scenario can be avoided by restraining our dogs in parks that have coyotes.

A woman nearby who watched the event was able to grab her unleashed dog to prevent it, too, from going after the coyote — something it has done frequently and I could tell from the way the dog was pulling on the owner’s hold that the dog desperately wanted to do so again. The dog probably would not have pulled this way if it had been prevented from chasing the coyotes so many times before. I was pleased that she put in this effort this time.

Street Stories

This was told to me by the fellow who “plays pine cone” with his dog. He saw a coyote walking down his street. It is a small street, a long one-block long with a dead-end which hits a park. As in many neighborhoods, the houses actually abut each other, so there is no way “out” of the street until you hit either end. So, the coyote was walking stealthily down the street in broad daylight, when suddenly a group of people emerged from one of the houses. The coyote was quick to disappear from view, ducking under a truck which was parked there. It was a great hiding place. No one saw him — except this one man who told me the story. Coyotes are sometimes much more cat-like than dog-like.

Play Wrestling: Only A Short Time Ago

These photos, too, as in the last posting, were taken at the end of September. Notice Mom is off to the side keeping an eye on things — a behavior I have seen frequently with her.  I have not seen this kind of bantering for some time now, though only yesterday I did see a wonderful game of “chase” — initiated by low man on the totem pole. Chase can still be played because, after all, you keep out of the grasp of the other fellow who likes to bully you!

These playful behaviors may pick up again after the hierarchy has firmed up — we will see!

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