Rufous and Mary’s Place, by Charles Wood

For several years I visited a nearby field to watch two wonderful coyote parents whom I named Mom and Dad. In November 2012 I found that their daughter Mary had paired with Rufous and displaced Mom and Dad from the field. Mary was born about April 2011 and has lived in the field her entire life. (I  don’t know Rufous’ origins or history other than that he is the type to weasel his way into a territory and turn a nice young coyote female against her own parents.)

In the video I included scenes of goings on in the field other than those of coyotes. Rabbits are plentiful, I’ve never seen so many there. The first scene shows two in contention about something. The second scene shows rabbit contentiousness isn’t uncommon and that rabbits take dust baths (the rabbit in the rear flops down to roll in the dust.) Next is Mary investigating and running away, though I could not determine what she ran from.

On a subsequent day both Rufous and Mary went toward the den area. Note the rabbits that jump around in the brush easily getting clear of her. Also, Mary seems to have scratched a marking onto her neck, and at that time appeared to still be nursing (June 7.) Following is a scene of a dancing rabbit. Next, a red-tailed hawk appears to have caught a rabbit. That hawk is a real work horse and is there every day. Over about two months I’ve only seen Rufous and Mary four times.

The final three scenes are from June 28, 2013 and begin with a rabbit once again getting clear of the oncoming coyotes. Rufous goes ahead while Mary hangs back, both having spotted my two dogs and me. Rufous veers camera left and then appears to break into an unsuccessful chase of rabbit. The last scene show Rufous catching up to Mary near the entrance to their den area. Mary doesn’t appear to be nursing any longer, my first having noticed her lactating May 1. If you watch closely you’ll see another rabbit bounding away from Rufous and Mary, neither appearing to have expected to encounter yet another running rabbit. Both appear to look around for where the rabbit might have come from rather than to look for where the rabbit may have gone. As I said, the hawk is a real work horse, but he is an army of one against the rabbits and Rufous and Mary don’t seem to be taking up much slack. Not pictured are two skunks that seem to go wherever they want around Rufous and Mary’s place. Mom and Dad ran a tighter ship, that’s for sure.

Becoming serious now: once Rufous and Mary went into the den area I didn’t hear the sounds of a coyote family reunion. However one clue, perhaps, that there were pups there is that Rufous and Mary were more interested in getting into the den area than in challenging my dogs and me. That was perhaps the first time that they didn’t message us to leave. Once they were concealed in the den area, they didn’t later come back out as in the past to check on my dogs and me, hopefully because they were being secretive and were busy with the pups.

Another observation: when Rufous and Mary were coming straight at my dogs and me, Mary held back and Rufous went first, providing cover for her. When they traveled with their flank towards us, Mary went first where Rufous was placed to cover her rear and flank where he could easily cut off an approach. In neither case were they bunched up. Instead they were positioned for maneuver.

As to the rabbits: in past years there weren’t as many in the field while at the same time more coyotes were living in the field, as many as seven in some years. Rufous and Mary remind me of my dogs where, upon having a rabbit run off, look around for where it came from after a short and unsuccessful chase. In the video it is interesting for me to see that to a coyote as to the camera, a rabbit is just a flashing tail that’s easy to lose sight of, an effective defense for the rabbit.

Old Fur Is Itchy and Bothersome

This coyote has used her hind feet to scrape fur off her upper body. But what about the lower body where the feet can't reach?

Scratching upper back

This coyote has used its hind feet to scrape fur off its upper back. But what about the lower body where the hind feet can’t reach? The shedding there, it turns out, is helped along by other means which I saw today.

These two photos show the coyote innovatively sticking its snout under some stiff straw and walking under it so that the stiff straw scrapes its entire back.

The coyote’s next step was to lie on its back and squirm back and forth, using the stiff stubble coming up from the ground to scrape and scratch fur on the entire back. I’m sure the coyote was after the itch caused by the dead fur, but the effect is actually to help along the shedding process.

Pups Spied: Dad Minds The Youngsters!

What a fantastic surprise to see this sight a few days ago on one of my extended treks through our various Bay Area parks! It looks like, true to reputation, coyote fathers spend their fair share of time minding the kids. Look hard, and you can see it’s the father. Here you see a papa coyote in charge of four youngsters.

Papa minds the youngsters

Papa minds the youngsters

Youngster sticks snout into Papa's mouth

Youngster sticks snout into Papa’s mouth

But fathers’ jobs include much more than childcare. Fathers keep pups fed by bringing them regurgitated food and small whole prey. And they also will help train them to hunt. Note in this second photo how one of the youngsters is pushing its snout into Papa’s: that is what normally elicits the reflux in the father — but it’s just play here.

The kids here were pretty calm, while Papa sat there, ever so proud of his large brood. He saw me in the distance, and stayed there only long enough for me to get a few nice shots. Then he headed them into hiding and away from view.

Playing and observing

Playing and observing

Fur, Bugs

I’m seeing big fat ticks these days, and I’ve suspected that fleas also are rampant because of all the scratching and the resulting loss of fur. But, it turns out that all the scratching may have less to do with bugs than I thought!

constant scratching causes hair loss

constant scratching causes hair loss

The veterinarian suspects the loss of fur may be due not only to the pesky bugs which cause a lot of itching and therefore scratching, but also may be due to the coyote’s helping with the seasonal shed — it appears that coyotes have been using their hind paws — scratching often — in order to get all that itchy dead fur out.

it's not mange; note pattern of hair loss where hind leg can reach

it’s not mange; note pattern of hair loss where hind leg can reach

Coyotes are approaching the time of year when their coats are at their thinnest. But the fur is exceptionally sparse just where those hind legs can reach on the back at the shoulder blades and behind the ears. That is where almost all the scratching is occurring! The rest of the fur is coming off more naturally and at its own pace.

hair loss behind ears

hair loss behind ears

The scratched spots looks mangy, but I’m told that mange is systemic and would not appear just where they can reach with their hind legs. So it’s other things: ticks, fleas and seasonal shed, but no mange. That was a relief to find out!

Happy Summer Solstice! A Summer Gallery of Six Photos

I decided to post a gallery of six photos to celebrate the longest day of the year — the Summer Solstice — and the coming of Summer. No story is attached, except I like these photos taken yesterday! Click on any one to enlarge it, and then scroll through them. For more photos without stories, visit Urbanwildness.com.

Pups Are Still Being Sequestered and They’re VERY Protected

three-month old beginning to venture beyond the den

two-month old beginning to venture beyond the den

Two-month old pups are still being sequestered and kept as secrets by their very protective parents. At least this is their aim. How successful they are in our urban communities often depends on just how secret a place they were able to find for their dens.

I’ve made it a policy not to seek out dens or visit more secluded areas in parks, out of respect for our coyotes’ needs. They really want to be left alone. However, I have a couple of field cameras placed at the periphery of such areas in a couple of our parks. I was able to capture my first images of youngsters and mom, trekking home from what must have been one of their first substantial outings at twilight, when most humans and their dogs have gone in for the evening! This fella, above, is three months old. Note the characteristic coyote marking already appears across his upper back!

But I also saw one young coyote puppy exploring on his own — Mom was nowhere in sight: “Wow, look what’s out here beyond my den site!” Mom probably wouldn’t have allowed it had she known about it! Parents may not have total control — same as in our human families. And youngsters will be youngsters!

Still, parents try their best to keep pups in line and to protect them from any possible harm. This morning I watched a mother coyote follow two dogs closely. She hurried in their direction as they walked through some of her critical territory. They had come too close to her den site, unbeknownst to the dogs and owners: parent coyotes will put themselves out to protect their young, as will most species. The owners were alert and aware and reacted well. One yelled “Get outa here!” and the other tossed a small pebble — and these walkers proceeded walking AWAY from the coyote. In both cases, the mother coyote fled. She needed  to let the dogs know that she was around and that they better behave themselves!

Papa Coyote Catches Another Meal For His Growing Family

This father coyote, almost hidden from view, was hunting for prey when I found him. He continued hunting, looking up twice to check on me. Then, after catching his prey, he came to the opening where I could see him, to show me what he got!! He was there only briefly, finishing off the job without putting his eyes at risk, before taking off, prey in mouth, to feed his youngsters.

I have seen dogs and snakes without an eye — always due to a rodent defending itself when it was caught as prey by these animals. Both cats and coyotes have developed a method of withdrawing their faces quickly after capturing prey and attempting to disable it in order to preserve their eyes. We humans call it “toying” with their prey, but in fact, it has a very valid purpose I’ve been told by animal behaviorists.

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