Stratagem

Note how gingerly this coyote initially pursues his prey in this video. He begins by listening for little scurrying sounds of voles in their vast tunnel network underground — he does not want to alert them to his presence. So he tiptoes around the spot, carefully positions himself and waits — all the while listening intently. He’s very smart about what he is doing: clever and shrewd.

The hunt then shifts from a mental strategizing to a more physical one — there is a pounce/punch with nose and forepaws, followed by digging, and then another punch of the forepaws, followed by more digging. Punching serves to force some activity below the surface — if the coyote is able to collapse a tunnel or scare the vole, the vole might move so that the coyote will either see or hear it. His last recourse is to stick his nose in a tunnel entryway. After all that, he came up empty handed!  One can see why coyotes get their reputation for being clever, cunning, crafty, shrewd, tricky, and smart.

15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbara Knupp
    Jan 16, 2013 @ 16:53:39

    Fascinating. Sometimes just before day break, after the harvest, we’ve observed a pair of coyotes in the fields hunting moles, voles, and mice.

    Husband just came in from his morning walk to report seeing 4 coyotes crossing the road from a large field into the Conservation Reserve Program field adjacent to our farm. He said the largest coyote stopped and seemed to look for traffic before crossing. Then one by one the others followed. The CRP field is large, vacant, and overgrown. It is adjacent to our crop fields, separated by the tractor path, on which my cameras pick up coyote photos. On the other side is a cow pasture with plenty of water and behind it large hay fields.

    In the past week, I’ve seen more evidence of coyotes on the farm. Husband reports fresh scat in the same area at the back of the farm most days. We wonder if the scat is from the same coyotes. Maybe its a sign of a little competition for territory?

    I am abit surprised that there were 4 coyotes travelling together this morning. I would think they would be in pairs at this time of year?

    Reply

  2. Charles Wood
    Jan 16, 2013 @ 20:18:42

    It is likely that the four are related individuals, siblings and/or parent(s) and children. Packs, consisting of family members, forage alone or in pairs, but they all meet up in reunions daily. Scat marks territory and such marking serves to prevent competitive conflict between different coyote families. I’ve read that the parents spend more time together at this time of year, but they still have their kids around. By fall, winter, coyote youngsters spend more and more of their time alone. Undispersed kids, associates, will help tend to new pups and assist in territory defense until they eventually disperse. We ordinarily get only a few glimpses of coyotes, and need to fill in the otherwise blank contexts from what is known about their social behavior.

    Reply

    • Barbara Knupp
      Jan 17, 2013 @ 01:54:52

      Thanks for the info! While the family may still be intact and the youngsters haven’t left, I assume that only the adults will breed. Dogs can come in “season” as early as 6 months. A female born in March or April could certainly be bred by Jan – tho most breeders would consider her too immature. Would a coyote breed its first year? Would litter mates breed? I can certainly see this happening among dogs but as coyotes have a more structured family life, I wonder if that is as likely.

      In my few observations, one coyote seems to take the lead and serve as “point man.” As Charles and Janet write, there seems to be alot of communication between the coyotes. I’ve also noted coyotes working together but always keeping a little distance from each other. For example, I watched a pair trek down a path with one about 5 feet in front of the other. Another time, I watched 3 trek up a hill together but again not close. I’ve wondered if my observations were coincidental or some type of safety strategy.

      I really appreciate the information.

    • yipps
      Jan 17, 2013 @ 03:17:29

      Hi Barbara — Remember that coyotes only come into estrus once a year, in January through February, and the males, too, only produce sperm during this one time of year. I’ve read that it is possible for coyotes to breed at one year of age, but I don’t know if this is common. And, as with other species, litter mates can breed, but I wonder if it is at all common. I don’t know. I know a mom and son who became a bonded pair — no pups though — the son is four years old now. In this case, Mom used to be the “point man”, but her son now takes the lead an equal number of times, and when she’s in the lead, he often takes off on a tangent! Hmmm. I’ve seen the distance vary during treks, however, one reason for keeping a certain distance might be communication: coyotes speak in body language, and it’s easier to see the entire animal from several feet away. Just a thought. Janet

  3. Jenny
    Jan 16, 2013 @ 23:52:20

    Love this, thanks for posting! Would you mind if I reblog it? My blog is http://www.spokesandpetals.wordpress.com – I write a lot about coyotes and other animals in the pantheon of urban ecology.

    Reply

    • yipps
      Jan 17, 2013 @ 02:51:58

      Hi Jenny — Of course you may republish, no problem. Anything to help with that new year’s resolution! I enjoyed meeting your blog! Great fox photo! Janet

    • Jenny
      Jan 17, 2013 @ 02:56:38

      Thanks for the permission – and for reading! Isn’t that fox photo wonderful? Unfortunately I can’t take the credit for it, but it’s certainly one of the best that I’ve seen in quite awhile.

    • yipps
      Jan 17, 2013 @ 03:29:58

      Yes, very cool! Janet

  4. Jenny
    Jan 17, 2013 @ 03:04:05

    Reblogged this on spokes and petals and commented:
    Here’s a wonderful little post from “Coyote Yipps” on the hunting habits of the coyote. It illustrates nicely the manner in which they jam their snouts into the earth whilst attempting to root out rodents. (I never cease to be impressed by the strong schnozes of canines. I once met a dog, a wonderful border collie named Syd, who played basketball voraciously, using her nose to steal the ball from any human antagonist. I was always worried, but after seeing film of foxes, wolves, and now coyotes thrusting their faces into the earth, I can see that Syd knew that her lovely face was in no danger.)

    Reply

  5. Charles Wood
    Jan 17, 2013 @ 04:07:36

    Hi Barbara and Janet. This study discusses pack structure (and found instances of unrelated coyotes being taken into a pack!) http://twel.osu.edu/projects/completed/Theses-Dissertations/Hennessy,%20Cecilia-Thesis.pdf . From it I gather that dispersal and mate selection mechanisms for the most part prevent related individuals from producing offspring.

    About how old: that I don’t understand. They say a coyote can breed at one year. But at one year, it is a few months past the time when coyotes come into season. For example, if coyotes are in season in January and February, last year’s offspring aren’t a year old during the first mating season. In late March or April, they reach their first year mark, and breeding season is over. So I don’t understand how a one year old coyote can be fertile, or find a fertile mate since that will only happen next January-February. I’ve eighteen month old youngsters still with their parents, but by January they don’t seem to be around, suggesting that generally they disperse before or during the mating season just before they turn two years old. Delayed dispersal seems to happen too, just like with my nephew!

    Reply

    • yipps
      Jan 17, 2013 @ 04:15:59

      Hi Charles — Yes, this is in keeping with what I have seen. I’ve seen dispersal at 18 to 21 months, not before. Breeding takes place after that. Janet

  6. Barbara Knupp
    Jan 21, 2013 @ 13:52:00

    Thanks Charles for the article! Much to digest. Driving along the interstate through eastern KY in Oct – including the Daniel Boone National Forest – I noticed several coyote remains along the highway. After reading the article, I wonder if they were unwary juveniles searching for new territory. Actually, I’ve noticed more coyote remains along highways this Fall. Am I just more aware or possibly its a sign of an expanding population. Last winter was quite mild.

    Very interesting to learn of coyote litters raised by two females – really the family. It seems that coyotes, like dogs, are very vulnerable at birth. At birth dogs are deaf, blind, cannot maintain body temperatures, cannot walk. Dogs sometimes open their eyes by 10 days – tho it seems to me that smaller eyes open a little later. The Bar Harbor studies in the ’70s (I believe) showed dogs are oblivious to anything except Mom until 21 days of age when they suddenly realize they have litter mates and there is something besides warmth and milk to life. It is then they begin to learn from their environment. According to this article, coyotes seem to run earlier than dogs – at least in my experience and I’ve never worked with breeds such as greyhounds which are running machines.

    Also, interesting that an outsider might be allowed into a pack. I had wondered how coyotes ensured some genetic diversity with tight pack relationships. Close family breeding is an agricultural tool that can bring out (and solidify) the best – and the worst – in the gene pool. It is believed to decrease litter size without some out crosses.

    It keeps striking me that coyotes are all about survival. Amazing that such a maligned and hunted animal can not only survive but thrive indeed increasing its range into areas which would seem totally inhospitable – rural, suburban, and urban.

    Have to laugh that my alma mater’s team is the Wolf Pack – to indicate strength and power. Maybe it should be the Coyotes – to indicate cunning and survival.

    Well I continue to read and digest this article – along with other Yipps articles. Thanks again! Quite an education.

    Reply

    • yipps
      Jan 21, 2013 @ 14:33:38

      Hi Barbara —

      Very interesting comment. Apparently cars kill a huge number of coyotes in Chicago — it is the chief way they die. I think your supposition that many of those coyote remains along roads are young ones is valid. The young ones have to learn to be wary: for example, I used to watch a mother and her yearling coyote cross a street. The older one waited at the light for the rush of cars to pass and then crossed safely. The younger one darted across the road relying on chance. I saw this one almost get hit several times. As for who does the wandering, I’ve noticed that even coyotes with established territories are wandering more at this time of year. I wonder why? Maybe they are trying to keep aware of newly claimed areas?

  7. Charles Wood
    Jan 21, 2013 @ 18:31:18

    Hi Barbara. As good as those studies are to read they always lead to more unanswered questions. What seems clear though is that there is genetic diversity among coyotes where mated pairs aren’t likely to be related individuals, but the mechanisms that produce that diversity aren’t well understood: mate selection and dispersal. I can’t help but speculate that if we could actually see pheramones the way we can see pollen, then the reason for the wandering of coyote young would be self-evident. Love or power, coyote young attracted away or driven away: until there are studies to say otherwise, I choose love.

    Reply

  8. Barbara Knupp
    Jan 22, 2013 @ 03:00:15

    Agreed, I too, would say coyote love is what drives much do the wanderlust this time of year. Just think of deer behavior during rut to realize the impact.

    Reply

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