Why Isn’t Mom Around?

Hi Janet:

Last evening my husband, Bud, and our dog were walking on the nearby trails and saw a coyote pup about 150 feet ahead zigzagging back and forth on the trail.  He stopped, remembering that I had told him that coyotes are very protective of pups.  Our dog has a bad sense of smell so didn’t notice the pup.  Then another pup comes out of the blackberries and then a third.  They were very curious and moved about 50 feet down the trail toward Bud and still our dog did not see or smell them.

Bud was delighted but also concerned and was ready to turn around when the little yapper dog who lives much further up the hill but next to the trail saw our dog and came down the trail full throttle and barking loudly.  He was not at all interested in the pups but he did scare them and they dashed into the blackberry bushes.  Bud continued up the trail and only when he got to the spot they disappeared into did our dog smell them.  He then went nuts of course.

Is this normal for pups to be exploring without an adult near?  We knew that there was a den closeby that area because of the amount of scat on the trail.  We have noticed pup scat lately also. We also suspect there is another den about half a mile from this one.  How much area does a group of coyotes claim?  Or do they claim it at all?

We have many black-tailed deer in the area and many fawns each spring.  I have been curious about the possibility of coyotes killing very young fawns that are left in hiding while their mothers graze elsewhere.  I have never seen any evidence of this happening.  Does it?

Thanks for all you do for coyotes!  Ginny

~~~~~~~

Hi Ginny –

Thanks for sharing your concerns — it’s a very interesting situation. From my own experience and from what I have read, coyote pups are keenly watched by their parents — either by one or by both parents. Even if a parent is not apparently around, the parent/s are always close by and ready to defend the pups if necessary. I should add that I have seen a mother coyote keep an eye on her brood from a huge distance away — she kept an eye on them as she relaxed in the sunshine. And then I saw her dash off in their direction, but I do not know why. Mothers do leave their pups when they go off to hunt, but she tucks them away in a safe spot where they normally stay. 

Other possible explanations for pups without a parent close by, include an overtaxed single parent who happens to be in hot pursuit of prey nearby, or a parent holding off another dog which had chased it in hopes that that dog wouldn’t find the pups. Worse would be if the parents have been injured or are ill and unable to defend their brood, or if they’ve met an untimely death.

More than likely, the pups just strayed from where they were supposed to stay put. But it wouldn’t hurt to check on them.

Maybe you could take walks in that area of the woods for the next few days until you can figure out the situation? Whatever you do, don’t get too close to the pups and don’t try picking them up — a parent coyote may come out of hiding to ferociously defend its young. If you continue to see the pups without a parent, you have a dilemma: I’m not sure the pups can survive without their parents, however anything you do to interfere is going to alter their natural lives forever.

If you see the pups alone again, you could call the humane society. If they are progressive, they would help raise the pups in such a way so that they won’t become habituated and so that they can be released again into the wild. Most humane societies are not equipped to do this.

You could also leave the pups to see if they make it on their own — maybe the humane society could suggest a way for you to help these pups without actually intruding on them or overtly interfering so as not to habituate them or alter their wildness?

As for the fawns, coyotes tend to look for the easiest prey to catch. Voles and gophers work fine in my area, but they also eat skunks, raccoons and squirrels here. Yes, coyotes are known to prey on newborn deer. I’ve read where newborn deer are protected by their lack of odor — I don’t know how much protection this offers against coyotes. But also, coyotes are known to be very individualistic in their behaviors and just because coyotes in one area eat certain prey doesn’t mean they do so in other areas. So to find out what yours specifically are up to and what their eating and preying habits are, you would need to explore for such activity.

You said there was another den only half a mile away from this one. A coyote family normally has more than one den which it moves the pups between. Moving the pups diminishes flea infestations and also it  serves as protection against predators.

Also, it is not unusual for coyotes — including very young ones — to be curious about walkers and dogs, and follow them.  However, a parent — if he is around — may decide that this kind of behavior calls for disciplinary action: see Charles Wood’s posting  More Dominant Male/Father Coyote Behavior .

I hope this helps a little. Please let me know, and please keep me posted on what you find out!  Sincerely, Janet

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Thanks for your reply Janet.  Bud went to the same spot tonight and didn’t see the pups.  There is a lot of underbrush and blackberries everywhere along the trail except where it has been removed as invasive species.  Coyotes are not seen often because of this.  Lots of people let their dogs run loose on the trail but Bud did not see anyone else yesterday although it is a fairly large, heavily wooded area with several trails.

Regulars on the trail only see coyotes a few times a year.  Most of the trees are deciduous so I really tried to spot them during the winter but no such luck.  I think they are very used to the dogs and walkers and so know where to locate so they are not within view.  We will keep an eye on the situation as best we can.  The city only removes invasive species by hand so they do not have funding for much work.  They primarily remove the holly trees hoping to attract songbirds.  There are some songbirds there but also in residence is a Cooper’s Hawk(s) who dines on those same songbirds.  Ginny

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Wood
    Jul 14, 2011 @ 10:07:48

    Hi Ginny and Janet –

    I can’t help commenting, too exiting for me that you have seen puppies.

    I’ve been looking for my new pups every day for over a month and I still haven’t seen them. My best chance of seeing the new pups is probably to catch them out being rambunctious the way Bud did.

    I do now regularly see the 5 adults moving around separately or in pairs. If it wasn’t for the mom ‘showing’ earlier and now finishing lactation, and perhaps from puppy scat, it would be hard to believe puppies are there. Also, here too, from late fall through winter it is rare for me to see any of my coyotes.

    Last weekend a friend told me a story about a coyote puppy a few years ago. It walked right into her house in the evening. She kept it overnight inside and found placement for it the next day. I think she should probably have put it outside and let it alone. I don’t think it normal for coyote pups or puppies to be unattended. My friend’s may have been lost or abandoned. Or an unseen parent may been close by. It is a tough call.

    It is more normal for a parent coyote to be nearby its puppies. Coyote pup mortality I’ve read is high, though probably not for the lack of good parenting. It looks like of the seven puppies I saw last year, three yet survive and I don’t know what happened to the four others.

    My impression of coyote parenting is that they mostly correct their puppies after the puppies get into a mess, giving the puppies a lot of rope as they move around and explore.

    Once a puppy investigated me and it took a couple minutes for its dad to show up. When the dad showed up it first sought out the puppy, and whatever passed between them took place in silence and out of view in the brush. I suspect some barred teeth were involved, but I didn’t hear a thing. Then the dad warned me and my dog off. So the dad didn’t prevent his puppy from exploring and being curious, but the dad sure expressed himself about it after the fact.

    Another time, the puppies were frolicking around with the dad off to the side barely in view. The dad didn’t like that I was watching all of them. He stared at me constantly. When a pup would come up to him to play he would grimace at it and turn back to staring at me. The pups were really keyed up with their play, but eventually they noticed that the dad’s mood had changed. After several more minutes all were staring at me and eventually all moved out of view. The dad, upon seeing me and registering his displeasure, didn’t get up and move around gathering up all the puppies to leave. It was interesting instead to see the puppies respond to their dad’s facial expressions and mood, and the puppies really payed attention, but slowly from my point of view.

    Once the mom was with one of her puppies when it was about six months old. She saw me and sat to watch me. The youngster kept pacing back and forth, moving around, sniffing things, moving more. Mom had an exasperated look on her face. My impression was that she was showing her youngster what to do when an unwanted human is around. She didn’t discipline the youngster. Instead she led by example and that exasperated look said to me that she knew it would take the little one a lot more growing to actually do as she did.

    The photographs that Janet linked to of mine in an earlier post was when the pups were very young and the dad did make moves on one and gathered it up with him. In another obsevation, the dad didn’t go after a runaway puppy. Instead he stayed with the group he had by him. He watched one oblivous puppy run too far into my view. He gave me a horrid barred teeth stare and then moved his brood off, abandoning the one that had gone on ahead too far. It seemed like he hated me for putting him in the position of having to leave one to protect the others. Fortunately the errant pup, after a long long minute for me, realized it was alone and ran back to the dad and the others full speed. After that episode Dad seemed to be much more cross with me. As for me, I had learned how dedicated and protective a dad coyote is. So in the normal situation, which I hope yours is, puppies are not out there by themselves. An adult is with them exercising the good judgement that the young ones lack.

    Coyotes definitely claim territory. Mine seem to range within about one and a half square miles, roughly 1,000 aces. It doesn’t seem like enough space for them! I’ve read on the internet estimates of coyote ranges that are ten times greater. Sounds like this topic needs more study! It may be that it is more a question of how much renewable meat per acre there is in an area. My coyotes’ area never seems to run out of rabbits and ground squirrels.

    I don’t know about deer, though if you get deer every year it sounds like there isn’t too much pressure, if any, from coyotes.

    Reply

    • yipps
      Jul 15, 2011 @ 04:23:18

      YES! Thanks, Charles, for your fascinating and “tuned-in” observations of these coyote communications: the puppies responding to their dad’s facial expressions and mood, or a mom teaching, patiently, by example. These confirm and support what I also have been observing: a lot of subtle communication — subtle to us, probably blatant to them — going on constantly between these very social and bright critters.

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