Squirrel Trees Coyote, Yet Again

I don’t really know if the squirrel treed the coyote, or if the coyote treed the squirrel, but they both ended up high off the ground in a large pine tree, with the squirrel, as usual, showing itself to be the craftier of the two. The coyote climbed down without a prize, and I got some more shots of a coyote in a tree.

Leapin’ for Squirrels Again

The squirrel chattering loudly on a branch overhead was sooo enticing! The tree was way too thin for a coyote to climb, but maybe leaping would work? It didn’t.

Male and Female Barking

Sirens sounded, and then I could hear the familiar sounds of coyotes “howling”. The howling always includes high pitched squeals along with some barking. I ran to where the sounds were coming from, but did not arrive in time to catch the “howls” on my recording device. The howls segued into a “barking” session, probably prompted on by the appearance of a hostile walker and dog approaching in the distance.

I’m including this recording of the “barking” section to show the slight difference in male and female coyote voices. The female has a “ra-ra-ra-ra” type of bark and a very high pitched, continuous tremolo. Her voice fills most of the recording, with the male’s interspersed. The male has a deeper bark — more like a barking dog’s. The grunts are his. His tremolos are always short, as if he can’t quite keep them going — there are only a few of them: at 17 seconds, 101, 222 and I think 227. See bottom of page: Male and Female Coyotes Barking.

Are Mother And Son Becoming A Pair?

I have been watching the development of a coyote family for several years now. Twenty-one-month-old male sibling pups have led an idyllic existence in an urban park. The hunting of gophers and voles has been good, most dogs are kept away from them, people who see them are thrilled to do so. These siblings have progressed from mutually playful and mutually adoring best-friends, through sibling rivalry which ultimately has created a divide between them.

The rivalry has established who is higher on the hierarchy and who is subservient. I’ve been told that each of these fellows “chose” his position. There was never an all-out battle to see who would be tops, rather the positions have more to do with force of personality and strength of will. The subservient fellow, although still in the vicinity, spends more and more of his time alone now. He has always been the fun-loving one who started most of the play sessions that I witnessed. But over time, beginning this fall, his solicitations to play were answered with more and more bullying and dominance by his sibling, until now there are no more such solicitations. When the dominant sibling approaches, this more subservient fellow is apt to run off or bravely look away and then run off.

Now, I often see the mom and the dominant sibling together — and I get a different feeling about them than previously, almost as if they have become a “pair.”  For one thing, the male has a fullness which I had not noticed before, which may be contributing to why I sense this. Of course, maybe this isn’t going on at all. However, I’ve been impressed with this possibility for several weeks now and I want to keep it in mind as a likelihood. We’ll have to see.

Family Interactions & Dynamics

These interactions lasted about nine minutes. It was not light enough to see anything but the outline of one coyote when I arrived at the scene. I sat down to watch. Soon I became aware of two more coyotes — the mother and subservient sibling, resting only a few feet away from the first fella — the dominant sibling. I’ve put captions on the photos rather than explain it here below. This family interaction took place a while back — at the beginning of November. The family consists of a single mom and her two 21-month-old male offspring who have recently established a strong hierarchy between themselves.

The dominant sibling is the one doing all the approaching on this day: he approaches his sibling to dominate him, and he approaches his mom to increase his bond with her at the expense of his brother.  Of special interest here is that after Mom watches Dominant Sibling hover over and dominate his more subservient sibling, she then makes sure to let this dominating fellow know that she is above him. She does this first by taking his snout in hers and then by raising herself above him with her paws on his back. He allows her to do this: he is below her in the hierarchy, but above his brother.

Displays of dominance include a dominant muzzle enclosed over the more subservient muzzle, standing over and higher than the other fellow, holding the tail up high often with hackles up, approaching. Signs of submissiveness I’ve seen include cowering with ears down or back, head held lower and moving in a slinking fashion, displaying vulnerable parts and letting the dominant guy bite your inner thighs, hitting the ground on your back showing the belly, fleeing.


Wanting To Play; Getting Bullied

One of these two young coyotes found an abandoned dog’s ball and picked it up to play with it. Bullying brother came over and knocked the coyote over for the sole purpose of showing him who was boss, and then hovered over him menacingly. When the bully became momentarily distracted, the more subservient coyote was able to run off. This kind of behavior happens regularly these days and serves as a constant reminder and confirmation of a ranking status which has to become accepted by both coyotes. These photos were taken at the beginning of November when there were still attempts by the more subservient coyote to interact with his sibling.

Assessing A Passing Dog Group By Smell

After a dog group had gone by, this coyote approached the trail a little bit and tried assessing the group by smell — never actually stepping on the path itself.  I don’t know what kinds of smells the coyote was searching for, but smelling is a primary information gathering mechanism for them — could it be the equivalent of several sentences worth for us??

Watching Dogs From A Distant Hillside

Coyotes are often out to catch the “show” during “prime time” — that is, the dog show during prime dog walking time. These fellows look fascinated!! There have been days when I’ve seen them watching like this for a couple of hours. When the park finally becomes cleared of dogs and walkers, the coyotes move on. The dogs are a definite attraction for the coyotes.

Sleeping In A Fallen Tree

This looks like a perfect resting spot — a few moments of shut-eye before heading in for the day. The huge trunk on which the coyote rested was about six feet off of the ground below.

“We Wants It”

This scene reminded me of Gollum in Lord of the Rings — though it was not quite so sinister! These are two coyote male siblings. The one watching has an injured front paw, and I wondered if he was expecting a free handout because of this. This injured fellow watched his hunting sibling and kept his distance at first. After prey had been caught, this fellow approached the successful hunter and then followed him, back and forth. When the hunter finally started eating, the injured guy went right up to him — a growl, ears back and slanted eyes told him to stay away. Not until the meal had been devoured did this envious guy move off, and even then he looked longingly back at what he had missed. The front paw was not badly inured, and the minor limp was gone within a couple of days.

A Hierarchy At Work

Here are the workings of a hierarchy within a coyote family.

To Flee And Play, or Just Flee

Even as a dog walking group was getting closer, this coyote’s attention was diverted by a very large branch in the middle of the path which beckoned to be played with. He managed to pick it up and even maneuver it a little, but it was too heavy or cumbersome to wield while fleeing, so it had to be quickly dropped. Split second decisions were involved: first to pick up the branch at all, and then to drop it posthaste so that the coyote could make a safe and swift getaway.

Keeping Friendly Coyotes At A Distance

It is the nature of the situation that in an urban park where there are coyotes, the coyotes are going to get used to people and dogs. However, it is not good for them or us if they come in too close. It is best to scare them off if they get too close. We want to keep them wild. The coyotes have never approached people in our parks, but they have approached some of the dogs when the dog and owner have appeared suddenly in its immediate vicinity.

I have only seen coyotes go up to a very calm dog which the coyote senses will not chase it. I’ve seen several friendly dog-coyote “greetings” of this sort — always between a fairly mature dog and a younger coyote.  For the most part, the greeting consists of a brief nose touch, after which dog and coyote return to whatever they had been doing beforehand.

Coyotes who approach do not always do so out of friendliness or curiosity. A mother coyote that I keep track of likes to warn dogs who get too close that they need to stay back: it is usually just a warning message, but she has nipped a few dog buts for emphasis.

Selective Limping

Today I was observing the coyote with the recently injured leg. I was happy to see that he walked well, even if a little stiffly at times. He did hold his right hind leg up when he ran and when he twisted himself to move. So I thought that, although the leg has not gotten worse, neither did it look like it has improved much.

And then. . . .  the noise of a squirrel caught my attention, as it did the coyote’s. Within a few seconds that coyote was off in a flash, leg in full use. Ahhh. It turns out to have been only a “selective” limp!!

Actually, my source at the humane society told me that this is normal behavior for a coyote with a leg injury. A coyote will nurse an injured leg when it can, stressing it as little as possible, allowing it time to heal — but when a situation comes up that demands the use of that leg, it will be made to work. This is exactly what I saw going on with this coyote.

North Bay Report: KRCB-FM

Bruce Robinson, News Director at KRCB Public Radio & Television invited Pam Hemphill and me to be interviewed on his radio show after reading the article I had written about coexisting with coyotes. Bruce is a wonderful guy who instantly put us at ease and made this “event” fun and memorable for us. It was aired on December 15th at 5:30 pm and has been archived on the KRCB Newsblog. Thank you Bruce! Think of KRCB as the KQED of the North Bay.

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