Sibling Rivalry for Dad’s Affection


I watched this coyote family playing together with abandon when a dog walker appeared in the distance in the park where these coyotes live. It was time for  the coyote family to head into hiding. The two youngsters followed Dad, single file, to this location where they all sat down close together for a short time before ducking into some bushes.

At first what I thought was going on was that the two nine-month-old youngsters were indulging Dad: “Hey, we like you, Dad!” — one pup mouthed and licked Dad’s ear while the other one did the same to Dad’s snout! They were not soliciting food from their father — food solicitation occurs upon Dad’s return when he has been away hunting, not after a play session.

But as I watched, it suddenly occurred to me that there was probably something a little more subtle and selfish going on. The behavior brought to mind behavior I had detected before between siblings in another coyote family. It seems that the youngsters were actually vying for preferential parental attention and favoritism. Dad is to the left — and each coyote youngster was vying to sit next to him, exclusive of the other.

The youngster in back is actually squeezing her way between her sibling to the right, and Dad to the left, inserting herself into the coveted space next to Dad. But the other youngster does not budge. Of course, this youngster could have just sat on the other side, but her plan involved splitting Dad and the other sibling apart.

Doesn’t this happen in human families between very young children? It did in mine. Whomever gets to sit next to Mom or Dad has the prime position, and feels, whether true or not, that parental preference has been bestowed on him/her. If this rivalry, which is only subtle now, intensifies and plays itself out over the next few months, one of these youngsters will be forced out of the family pack by the other. As this happens, as far as I have seen, the one being forced out will generally carry its ears airplaned out to the sides and lowered.

“We are all One…”, by Geri Vistein

[Geri Vistein helps us understand what it is like to be a coyote in most areas of North America]

photo by Jerry Mercier

photo by Jerry Mercier

What is the Coyote in this photo feeling….does she feel…..does she feel like us….?

From time to time in my work as a biologist, certain members of the community have some difficulty accepting the reality that Coyotes share with us the common journey through life on this planet….that they experience the pain, grief, loss, suffering that we do….and ALSO the fun, the joy, the companionship, the joy of life that we do.

I want to encourage you to view the outstanding documentary “When the Mountains Tremble”  If you have Netflix, you can get through them. Watch the film first, then watch it again with the director’s commentary. The film is about the Native people of Guatamala and the atrocities heaped on them for the past 500 years….since the Spanish invaded central America. The film focuses on what has been going on in the second half of the last century.

As I watched the film, as a biologist, I could not but help think that what these descendants of the Mayans were enduring were what Coyote contnues to endure. ….fleeing their homes and hiding in the forests…babies on mothers’ backs, traveling only at night to meet for fear of being rounded up and tortured, trying to hold onto their culture and their language at impossible odds.  

But the film also shows the indomitable spirit of the Guatamalan Native peoples, the strong bonds that they continue to share with each other, and their courage and  undaunting efforts to survive as a people.  I say Coyote desires and acts in the same manner….we have seen this repeatedly through our science. 

If you wish to get more of a sense of Coyote’s life here in Maine, and in many places in north America…..since the Europeans invaded this land….watch this documentary. If you have a difficult time accepting this comparison, please ask yourself … WHY?

[Reprinted with permission by Biologist Geri Vistein, from her website, Please visit this beautiful and informative site! Also, please visit Geri’s Facebook page for farmers and ranchers:]

Rat Poison Kills Our Wildlife on up the Food Chain

Many people don’t know that when a hawk or owl or other predator eats a poisoned rodent, that animal gets poisoned too. Please STOP using rat poisons (rodenticides)! These poisons are killing the very animals, like the Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Red-Tailed Hawk above, that naturally control rodents. It causes lethargy, dehydration and disorientation in coyotes which also feed on these rodents. 

Shockingly, over 86% of all tested wildlife patients show evidence of exposure to rat poisons! These animals are eating poisoned rodents and carrying varying loads of toxic poison in their systems as a result. Rat poison used by residents of San Francisco is having dangerous and detrimental effects on the wildlife in the area. 
Rat poisons kill by making whatever animal eats them bleed to death internally – slowly and painfully over a period of days. While the poisoned rats or mice are still alive, they (and their deadly load of poison) can be caught more easily and consumed by other predators including cats and dogs. Rodents are the basic food source for a number of different predators all the way up the food chain, including owls, hawks, ravens, raccoons, skunks and coyotes in our area. It is a terrifying prospect; to kill many animals while targeting only one. We need to find better ways to live well with wildlife. Please visit Wildcare’s page on rodenticides for more information.
Here is a short summary of what you can use instead of rat poison:

PREVENTION is the best method of rodent control. Eliminate all food and friendly habitat space for them.

Remove rat habitat, such as yard debris, trash, construction waste, and dense ivy from around your home.

Remove easy access to food: Completely seal your garbage can and compost, and store bulk food, seed, and dry pet food in secure metal cans. Remove fallen fruit and spilled seeds from birdfeeders, and even take in birdfeeders at night.

Seal openings 1/2 inch or larger around the outside of your house with metal, concrete, or Stuf-fit Copper Mesh Wool, found online or at hardware stores.

Allow natural rodent predators to help out! A family of five owls can eat up to 3,000 rodents in a single breeding season! In our area, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, crows and hawks can also be helpful for this! Any use of rodenticide can kill any of these animals for which the poison was not intended.

Alternatives: catch-and-release traps and high frequency sound emitters are safe, sanitary, and humane solutions. 



Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.


Bug Off!!

This is a father coyote who absolutely indulges his offspring. He grooms them, shows them affection, cuddles with them, brings them food, plays with them, keeps a watchful eye out for their safety. You name it, and he’s there for them. His attention and care appear limitless.

Well, almost limitless. Dad here has wandered from the group and appears to have found something to nibble on. Overwhelming curiosity, and maybe the hope that Dad might share, draw a youngster towards Dad. The youngster approaches slowly, carefully and ever so non-threateningly — as though, maybe, all he really wants is a “peek” at what Dad has there.

Ahh! Enough is enough. Dad knows this trick and tells the youngster to “bug off!”  Maybe the message wasn’t as clear as it could have been. The youngster actually tries one more time to stick its nose into Dad’s business, but this time, Dad charges the youngster with teeth bared and snaps. The message this time is clear: the youngster responds by laying down far enough away so as not to be a bother. Even though the youngster didn’t go far, he did remain lying down — it was obviously a position of acquiescence.

Ahh! Space is established

Ahh! An acceptable distance is established

Paw Injury

He just sat there at first, but the minute he stood up, I could tell there was pain in a paw. Sure enough, within a moment he held it up to keep the weight off of it. When he finally walked, the limp was subtle, but very definite.

He walked in a wide, wide circle around me and looked at me forlornly with ears “airplaned” out to the sides. He moved slowly, coping with the injury and perhaps resigned to living with the pain for a while. I had seen this exact same scenario before in his mother when she had been hit by a car four years ago: ears down, painful movements and a look of sadness. The sadness — I speculated that it might be due to the heavy weight of responsibility she bore — there had been pups to feed. And this was the case with this injured father coyote. Although the father’s injury was not nearly as severe as his mother’s four years ago, I was reminded of the pain, the resignation and that forlorn look from that past injury. In addition to pain, an injury puts a huge damper on what a coyote can do to protect and feed its family — this injury actually occurred back in July, but I forgot to post it. In July there were young pups involved.

I wondered how much parental injury contributes to the low survival rate of young coyote pups. I’ve heard it’s as low as 5-20% in the wild — that’s 5-20% survival rate in their first year. There’s no time to take a break when young pups are around: parents must catch enough food for themselves, and enough food to feed a litter of pups whose nutritional needs, since they are growing, is substantial.

Do coyotes know and comprehend when their ability to live up to their parental responsibilities has been compromised? It is a thought that crossed my mind four years ago when his mother was in the same situation. Of her pups, back then, only two survived, but I don’t know how many she began with.

The father coyote walked ahead and lay down a safe distance from me. He looked over at me and he licked the top of his paw a few times. Then he slowly got up and slowly walked into the bushes.

lying down to lick his paw                                airplane ears


1222 sunning

Even the boldest coyotes are wary of humans. Wariness of humans is a very innate coyote trait. However, there definitely is a continuum as to HOW wary each individual coyote is, and this seems  to be more innate than learned, based on what I’ve been seeing.

I’ve seen coyotes, beginning from when they were small pups, who will not venture out of hiding until it is totally dark outside and until there are no people at all around.

At the other end of the continuum, I’ve seen coyotes, again from the time they were small pups, not afraid to venture forward in broad daylight, albeit always at a safe distance, when people are out walking their pets. The coyote above, sunbathing at noon in an open space frequented by walkers and their dogs, is one such coyote. The coyote’s eyes appeared to be closed, though I bet one of it’s eyelids was kept open just a tad! The coyote would lift its head only occasionally as some walkers passed by within about 200 feet! When a walker and dog approached much closer than this, the coyote dashed quickly to the bushes, putting an end to the sunbathing session.

Happy New Year!

2013-12-03 (2)

It looks like this coyote is welcoming the new year. He’s actually playing with a dead gopher. In the photo above, he has just tossed the gopher up into the air with his snout, pawing the air in the direction the gopher went, and landed on his seat with his arms flailing and extended! The dead gopher itself can be seen at 1:00 o’clock. The arms in the air, I think, are fabulous!  Looks like an energetic starburst — appropriate for welcoming the new year! More photos of the energetic playing are here, below. Coyotes play this way with all sorts of novel items they happen to find — the more novel the item, the better — including found tennis balls, a found boot, a found glove, my own lost hat, stuffed toys dropped by kids in a park, dead rats, etc.


%d bloggers like this: