Some Mother Coyotes Are Still Nursing

This mother coyote is in her 8th week of nursing

This mother coyote is in her 8th week of nursing

eating a rat

eating a rat

This mother coyote is still nursing, as seen by the photo. Her pups are in their eighth week of life already. Moms have to eat a huge amount of food to produce the milk necessary to feed the youngsters. But some of the food she eats will be regurgitated and fed as pablum — baby food — to the pups. The pups stick their snouts in the side of her mouth which elicits the necessary reflex for getting the food to them.

Dad Coyote brings home the bacon

Dad Coyote continues to bring home the bacon

Dad Coyotes continue to bring home the bacon, too! Some of the food helps to nourish Mom, but he, too, regurgitates food for the young ones. Soon, if not already, prey being taken home like this will be torn apart for the youngsters and fed to them in bits and pieces — that’s the next step after the “pablum” for them.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Wood
    Jun 05, 2013 @ 23:16:07

    Hi Janet. I have a question. Do you see your parent coyotes out at the same time, both away from the den and its pups? Do your parents have any helper coyotes? Mine don’t and I see one parent, or the other, and sometimes both out and away from the pups.


    • yipps
      Jun 06, 2013 @ 00:19:09

      Hi Charles —

      I see the same behavior you are seeing. No helpers or adult pups from previous litters, and BOTH parents are often away at the same time. Pups are left all alone often — from day one after birth, it turns out.

      The one problem I’ve encountered with this is that people sometimes see pups all alone and they’ll take “the poor abandoned pups” to a wildlife center. Unfortunately, what they have done is actually kidnapped the pups from parents who are around to care for them. Kidnapped pups will never receive the same care, affection and training they could receive from their parents. Wildlife centers need to get the information out that people should not pick up coyote pups simply because there is no parent around. If anyone is worried about finding pups without parents, they should monitor the site over a couple of days. But 99% of the time, unless there are trappers in the area functioning at this time, the parents are around to care for the pups.

  2. Barbara Knupp
    Jun 06, 2013 @ 01:19:05

    How interesting that the male also regurgitates food for the young. I’ve watched a canine bitch regurgitate for her pups, it seemed so automatic I thought at the time that it was an involuntary action.


    • yipps
      Jun 06, 2013 @ 05:52:39

      Hi Barbara —

      I wonder what the actual mechanism is that allows them to upchuck the food. I’ve seen coyotes throw up grasses, but for this purpose the process seems to involve a lot of effort: there is intense heaving and belly movement for a good part of a minute before the food comes up. This is not what goes on when food is offered to a youngster. Janet

  3. Barbara Knupp
    Jun 06, 2013 @ 12:01:00

    Most of our bitches didn’t regurgitate for their pups. When they did, it seemed very automatic and effortless as if it just happened . We once had a highly intelligent girl who was a devoted Mom. Yet if a pup was weak at birth, she would immediately kill it by breaking its neck. She would be obviously distressed as we removed the dead pup from the nest but then turn her attentions to the rest of the litter. I wonder if this could be an instinct from her wild ancestors? Highly upsetting to us humans but it may make a lot of sense to an animal in the wild. Have you ever heard of a similar action by a coyote?


    • yipps
      Jun 06, 2013 @ 12:11:10

      Hi Barbara —

      I have not seen this because I’ve never had the privilege of watching any pups while they are that young. BUT, I, too, sense that this might be going on — and maybe for the additional reason of population control? Could that be possible? It’s a thought that has come up in my mind. I think this because some of the packs I’ve seen have only one to two pups year after year.

    • yipps
      Jun 06, 2013 @ 12:12:18

      PS: I’ve read that the females don’t regurgitate food for the young until they’ve stopped nursing.

  4. Barbara Knupp
    Jun 06, 2013 @ 12:53:16

    What I’ve noticed is the mom regurgitates when she is weaning the pups. I saw one do it when I was feeding her pups pablum.

    I hadn’t thought about population control as a reason for a Mom to kill a weak pup. I thought of it as just survival of the fittest. A weak pup may never be strong, even if it survives. It takes moms valuable resources, upsets her, and is quite noisy. As a human , I would spend long hours trying to save a weak pup. Sometimes it would grow up to be a strong adult and other times i just prolonged its death. Population control, survival – nature is efficient.


  5. Charles Wood
    Jun 06, 2013 @ 17:34:13

    In a study by Hope Ryden, published as God’s Dog A Celebration of the North American Coyote, she includes her observation that a coyote mother nursed all her pups to an equal weight, cancelling out any size difference present at birth. Is it correct for me to then say, based on one observation, that most coyote mothers are efficient in nature’s purposes because they nurse pups to equal weight? May I correctly say therefore that dogs are efficient in nature’s purpose because dog mothers nurse runts to average weight?

    We don’t really know much about coyotes in the den. Generalizing one coyote mother’s behavior to other coyotes is neither a description of the coyote species nor can one observation of a coyote be generalized to the dog species.

    Of dogs: although dog runts we generally agree do not do well, it isn’t generally true that dog mothers dispatch runts with neck bites. Rather, runts generally are said to die of benign neglect where domestic dog mothers, according to that view, don’t intervene in the competitions among siblings for nursing space. A dog mother dispatching its runt sounds like an aberrant behavior by one dog, neither generalizable to other dogs nor to coyotes.

    We also have to remember that dogs descent from wolves, that there is no primordial dog in nature from which domesticated dog behaviors descend. Dog behaviors descend from wolves, and have been modified by dogs’ close relationship to the human species. If we want to know about dog behavior in the long distant past we only have to look at living wild wolves for our answers.


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