More Rendezvous Behavior: Fussing Over His Pups, Grooming & Intimacy

Charles Wood and I both have written a number of postings on coyote rendezvous behavior.  Coyotes are social animals who, except for transients and loners, live in nuclear families. They mate for life — coyotes are one of only 3-5% of mammalian species that do so — and the family is what centers their lives. Hey, not so different from us!

I recently wrote about a coyote mated pair — one with a den full of infant pups — who took off to rendezvous at dusk — like a couple on their way to a tryst in the dark.  Mated pairs are special buddies, and you can see it in that posting. I’ve also assembled a photo essay for Bay Nature on “Raising Kids in the City” to let people know about how social and family-minded coyotes are.

Today’s rendezvous was a family one. Mom and two kids were out lolling around on the hidden side of a hillside, waiting for dusk to get a little heavier.

Dad gets up & stretches

Dad gets up & stretches

After seeing them, I kept walking and found Dad sleeping in a little ball, about 400 feet away from where the others were. I settled down to wait for some activity. Suddenly Dad sat up, as if he knew that the others were waiting for him. What was his cue? He hadn’t seen the others — they were within his line of sight, but he had not looked in their direction. I’m sure he hadn’t heard them or smelled them. Maybe it was a cue in his circadian rhythms, much like our own, built in and influenced by daylight hours, or possibly by the movement of the moon?

He allowed himself a long stretch, and then scouted the length of a path before walking slowly into a clump of bushes which were in the direction of the place where the other family members were hanging out.

rendezvous begins

Rendezvous begins with Dad’s arrival

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Since I could no longer see Dad after he disappeared into the bushes, I headed back to the hillside where I had first spotted the 3 other coyote family members. By the time I got to the spot where I could see them again, Dad was there. His arrival had sparked great excitement. Tails were wagging furiously. All coyotes, except Mom, were falling all over each other and doing their little wiggle-squiggle thing that they do when they greet one another.  Mom hadn’t moved from her sphynx-like pose, arms extended and crossed,  a few feet away. Now three pups were visible, but the shyest scurried behind a bush when she saw me.

Dad fusses over the first pup, stopping only to watch an owl pass overhead

As the excitement of the greeting calmed down, Dad approached the two remaining pups, one at a time. The first one he nudged in the snout, and then he poked his own snout into its fur, over and over again, twisting his head this way and that, in a grooming sort of way. The young pup closed its eyes and let itself enjoy the affectionate massage which went along with the grooming.  After about four minutes Dad moved over to the second pup. The first pup got up to follow and stuck its snout under Dad to smell his private parts. Dad did not like this and must have given a sign, because the pup turned away quickly and moved off.

Then Dad groomed the second pup: repeatedly nudging the pup’s head, licking and cleaning it. He then moved to the pup’s rear area and seemed to do the same, though I was on the other side so I could not see exactly where the licking was occurring.

Dad fusses over the second pup, spending lots of time licking and grooming the head and end of this 6-month old pup

Then my Canadian friend walked up, and I explained to her what was going on. We heard a siren in the distance. All coyote activity ceased and there was silence. I suggested to my friend that we might be in for a great family howling session, and I set my camera into “record” mode in preparation. Sure enough, the howling and squealing began, with the entire family joining in, AND was there another pup in the far distance adding its voice to the fabulous chorus!? Then all sounds ceased, after about 2 minutes. All the coyotes ran off, with happy flailing tails, in a single file, into the darkness and out of sight. There was no longer enough light for my camera to focus. My friend and I departed, too, delighted by how magical this had been. Here is the recording:

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Out Walking the Dog
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 19:12:31

    What a wonderful post, and that family howl is magnificent. I was just at the Queens Zoo last weekend which has three elderly coyotes in residence, including Otis, the original “Central Park coyote,” who was captured in the city in 1999! Otis was a young adult, estimated at two years, in 1999, which makes him at least 15 or 16 now. The other coyotes are around the same age. In your observations, how old do wild coyotes usually live, and what is the oldest wild coyote you know of? Thanks, as ever, for your beautiful blog.

    Reply

    • yipps
      Oct 29, 2013 @ 19:33:30

      What a shame that they trapped these coyotes and stuck them in a zoo — incarceration. I’ve been watching wild coyotes for years, and can’t imagine them confined to a caged area. They love trekking long distances — this is what their bodies are made to do. Also, as you saw in this posting, they are intensely social and have strong family ties in a natural environment — this aspect of their lives cannot be fulfilled in a zoo.

      About their ages, I’ve not had enough experience with this. I have “heard” two different versions, but I’ve learned that you shouldn’t rely on what you “hear”. One version says that coyotes in the wild live as short as 5 years, and that they can live in captivity for as long as 16 years or so. Another version says they live 15 years in the wild, and well into their 20s in captivity. Since most wild animals seem to simply disappear from view when they get old, and since coyotes tend to be very elusive anyway, I’m not sure that humans really know what is normal. If I find out anything more specific, I’ll add it here. Janet

      Reply

  2. Charles Wood
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 22:43:54

    About coyote ages: what Janet said.

    I wanted to add that my Mom and Dad coyotes may have been at least 10 when I last saw them a year ago. Here’s my speculation. In 2005 there were coyotes in the den area. My dog and I encountered them and I didn’t return until 2009. If Dad was the coyote I saw in 2005, then he would have been at least 2 0r 3 then. He could have been older. It’s just that at 2 or 3 old, Dad could have been expected to have a mate and defend their territory. Both Mom and Dad looked in their prime in 2009, could have been between 6 and 7 years old and well established in their territory. By 2012, Janet observed that both Mom and Dad were older coyotes. Mom’s hips were acting up, Dad at times looked old.

    So regarding age, I tend to think in terms of a coyotes’ life stages, infant, child, adolescent, young adult, prime years, and decline. Their behavior and comportment give us a read on where they are in that pilgrims progress.

    Reply

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