A Panoply of Howling From St. Augustine Wild Reserve

Have you ever heard howling from a bunch of different critters all at once? Kathy Lally, who works at the St. Augustine Wild Reserve in Florida, hears this sort of thing often: the animals do this howling routine several times a day, she says.

“Our critters never hear sirens, so that isn’t what sets them off [as it does in urban areas]. Instead, a wolf will start the howling, which I understand is a contact call, and then other wolves will respond until they are all talking to each other. The coyotes then join in with their yipping — it’s a full chorus of howls and yips from them. Sometimes, but not always, the lions and tigers actually participate. It’s all quite amazing!”

“Got this video today but the coyotes didn’t yip, they were barking instead. I was in a coyote cage at the time so the video is of one of our lions across the way. The lions nor the tigers joined in this time. And, interestingly, the one loner coyote at the reserve never participates in this communication, even though coyote mated pairs always do.”

These are the participants in this recorded howling session:

Adult wolves: Magic, Kashmir, Chaska & Nakai
Year old wolf puppies: Merlin, Spirit, Tonka, Eyota, Raven, Indigo, Nova, Luna, Kachina &Wachiwi
Coyotes: Lakota, Apache, Sundance, Yosemite, Cheyenne & Durango

Here is the same howling a couple of days later, but this time with the camera directed towards the wolves in the rain:

Leg Injuries

When I arrived on the field, I noted that this coyote preferred being off to the side by himself and not interacting with any of the other members of his family. The rest of the family was in the distance, galavanting around together as usual at their evening rendezvous. This made sense a little later on when I saw him follow the others from afar with a very heavy limp. It was his front left paw or wrist which was affected. Staying apart showed the others that he needed a buffer zone for protection and could not interact in their normal roughhousing way.

He was mobile, and that is the factor for deciding if intervention is appropriate: it’s important never to intervene unless absolutely necessary: any kind of capture is extremely traumatic for a wild animal — they become terrified for their lives, as relayed to me by a wildlife rehabilitator, but also removing a coyote from his family would be stressful for the entire group. As it turned out, within a couple of days he was back to normal. I’m supposing that he picked up a thorn which became embedded in his paw, or he twisted his wrist on uneven ground, but I’ll never know for sure what happened.

The other coyotes seemed to understand what an injury was all about — they respected his need, looking over at him occasionally. Only Dad, several times, trotted back to make sure his yearling son was okay, to be with him, and to comfort him with some affection and grooming, as you can see in the photos below. It was sweet to watch. I’m convinced that there is an awareness in coyotes beyond what most humans are willing to accept. And this particular Dad is more apparently concerned with looking out for the welfare of each member of his family than most.

Injuries to legs are not uncommon for coyotes. They have very light bones and joints, and sinewy builds, which constitute the perfect architecture for their needs: quick movements, speed, sustained movement. At the same time, the light, thin bones are more susceptible to injury and twists. That’s the tradeoff and it’s why you’ll see leg injuries in this species. Nonetheless, it’s always upsetting to see an injury in a coyote — the initial reaction is to wonder which way it might go, in addition to wondering exactly how the injury came about.

Pups

I literally stumbled upon a family greeting/meeting during my evening walk a couple of days ago. I had been photographing a 1 to 2 year old female who was mozeying along a trail, minding her own business, pouncing for gophers of which she caught several which she wolfed down, and then she diverted into a pathless forested area.

I remained on the path but peeked over a hedge in her direction, only to find an adult who may have been Mom (or possibly a babysitter yearling), and a pup — pups here in San Francisco are about 6 weeks old now — who had emerged to greet the approaching yearling female. The female approaching did so in a crouched position, which messaged a non-threatening subordinate status. I took a couple of quick photos (which revealed the pup to be a male), and immediately began retracing my steps out of the area. These coyotes withdrew into the bushes due to my presence in order not to reveal any of their additional *secrets*.

As I was distancing myself, Dad appeared, and he wasn’t too happy about what he knew to be the discovery of his family’s hiding place. Dads spend much of their time protecting their den areas and scaring off trespassers. They hope that their mere presence will serve as a deterrent, and indeed, that should be enough. I continued distancing myself, keeping my eye on Dad. Dad messaged me his concern with a few grunts, in addition to his presence, as he watched me leave.

The gophers caught by the yearling might have been for the pup. Yearlings are older siblings to the new pups — they are from the previous, and even previous to that, year’s litter, so they are either one or two years old. They are the “aunties” and help provide for the new litter. Only one or two yearlings, if any, normally stick around like this, the rest of the youngsters from those previous litters “disperse” out of the area to make their own way in the world. A number of San Francisco’s dispersed youngsters last year were tracked as far south as Los Gatos — that’s 60 miles south — all of these were eventually killed by cars. Cars are the primary killers of dispersing coyotes: these coyotes are young and have had very little experience with the extreme dangers of automobiles.


Now might be a good time to review etiquette for coyote encounters, especially during pupping season:

The Golden Standard, and the safest and most effective option, especially when walking your dog, is simple and complete avoidance. Whether you see a coyote in the distance, at mid-distance, approaching you, or if you are surprised by the sudden appearance of one at close-range, shorten your leash and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement — and continue walking away. IF you make a personal decision to shoo it away, please follow the guidelines in the video, How to Shoo Off A Coyote”, but know that this is engagement. What’s safest is simple and complete avoidance.

Coyotes are territorial. Coyotes are possessive. This is no different from you in your home: you don’t allow outsiders to come wandering through, and if you see someone suspicious in the neighborhood you may follow that someone to make sure he/she leaves. This is what coyotes do in the only effective way they can: they repulse with their scary “Halloween cat like stance”, they may follow an intruder out of their area, or or they may nip the haunches of the dog they want to move on and away. They want you to leave, so why not do it?! For more information, see How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

This is how pint-size coyote pups look right now, mid-May, at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

These Yearlings: Still Being Brought Food By Dad

Dad expels food for yearling youngsters — Dad is to the left in all these photos

Coyote pups were born at the end of March and the beginning of April this year here in San Francisco, so they are now four to six weeks old. To begin with, all pups are fed with their mother’s milk. Depending on the mother coyote and her age, this is either obvious or not so much so, as you can see in these photos.

Lactating mothers

As the pups grow, soft food is introduced into the youngsters’ diet. Regurgitated food is what young coyotes are fed as they are weaned off of their early milk diet. Eventually more solid forms of food are introduced: first, parts of and then whole dead rodents, then incapacitated prey, and finally live prey is brought home for the youngsters to learn to deal with and eat.

The youngsters depicted in these photos here were born last year. They appear to still be enjoying an extended puppyhood, even as their mother has gone off to give birth to a new litter. Uninhibited play and fun are still the order of the day for them. Interestingly, they are still receiving presents in the way of food from Dad.

A yearling youngster elicits the regurgitation reflex in his father before a sibling joins him as Dad watches

Upon seeing Dad, the most exuberant and active youngster of the litter runs to greet Dad and thrusts his snout into Dad’s mouth which elicits a regurgitation response. I don’t know if the regurgitation is actually voluntary or an involuntary response. This sort of feeding and being fed keeps everyone in their same states of dependence (for the youngsters) or leadership (for Dad), and is a strong solidifier of bonds and affection.

This particular family was a large one, with seven youngsters being born last year. This is the largest litter I have ever seen here in the city, with most litters being one, two, or three youngsters. But this litter is now down to four. One youngster was killed by a car, and two more were found dead. Although I haven’t found out what those two died of, I can pretty safely assume it was rat-poison or less likely, a natural disease. Coyote pup survival rate is only 20-30%, which, by the way, is actually higher than some human infant survival rates in Africa today where infant mortality is 92% in some villages.

A little about this family: of the four youngsters who survive, there are three rough-and-tumble youngsters — a female and two males — who throw themselves fully into their interactions and play. One of the males is the outstanding activist in the family. Then there is a smaller gal, a loner, who doesn’t appear to like the rough play of the others, nor the competition. And I’ve noticed that she doesn’t hurry over to partake in the regurgitated food her father proffers. In fact, that might be why she is comparatively smaller than the others. Coyotes have innate and very individual personalities which, just like with us humans, are further developed through each coyote’s individual place in the family and the feedback they constantly receive.

Covering Her Scat

looking back at the dogs

Coyote scat is normally deposited right on a path and in plain view to all-comers: it serves as a territorial marker, or it has been placed there or even “performed” visually in a dog’s presence as a message to that dog, the message being that the dog is not welcome. Our own use of the negative explicative, “s..t!”, exudes contempt or worthlessness, which is probably not far from what a coyote is messaging. :))

Today I had a partial view of a coyote defecating behind a tree after eyeing some dogs not far off who she might have had trouble with in the past. Then, surprisingly, she began to cover it up — bury it — by using her snout to push wood chips over it. She covered it thoroughly, pushing with her nose repeatedly. I waited until the coyote trotted away before going over to confirm what I had only partially seen.

the wood chips under which I found the scat (which I moved to the left)

Since there was nothing there to be seen, I had to review my “pooping” photo of her to locate the exact spot where the “mess” had been deposited and then hidden. I moved the wood chips with my boot, and, voilá, there it was: brand new scat. I gathered it up in a doggie-bag: it was still warm.

The question is, since it is normal for a coyote to leave these “messages” out in the open, why had she covered it up? Had she changed her mind about the dogs? How often do they do this? I’ve only seen this behavior a very few times. I had to laugh at the thought that this coyote might have felt it was the right thing to do to remove or cover her mess as she has seen all the dog-walkers do! This area has heavy dog-walking traffic. :))

Reflection, Reflecting

The reflection in the water caught her eye. She tried to make contact with it, but how can you make contact with a contradiction? Water or coyote? Did her reflecting go further . . . ? “Is it me, my reflection: singular, or is there another: you, plural?” The thought fizzled with the effort, and she decided to look no more, but to move on to her more concrete world.

Anger


This is the same happy coyote who is in the previous posting, “BURSTING with Happiness”. But now she has been chased by a large four-year-old white female dog, a 90-pound Pyrador, who is a repeat-chaser. The female dog taunts the coyote on purpose: the dog gives chase to the coyote and even stops at the coyote’s favorite lookout/resting spots and pees there in a sort of “take that!” way. Peeing is used by dogs to communicate dominance and one-upmanship.

The coyote’s reaction to this treatment is anger. She doesn’t get angry often. In fact, she only complains distressingly and angrily this way when this one particular dog chases her, even though other dogs, too, chase her. If you need confirmation that she’s angry, twice towards the end of the video clip you’ll see her kicking the ground, which is a display of anger. She is very upset. Yes, coyotes have feelings.

Below are more photos of anger. These are of another coyote — in this case, a male — displaying his anger in the same way by *kicking the dirt*. He’s not marking his territory. He’s not spreading his scent. He’s upset and angry because a dog has taken the liberty to act disrespectfully towards him in his territory. The dog is a two-year-old female German Shepherd who has, as in the first example, chased the coyote in the past.

These photos were taken as the dog was playing frisbee exuberantly with her owner. The owner kept his dog from chasing the coyote this time.  I tend to think it’s less the dog’s presence — after all, other dogs are not reacted to in this fashion by this coyote — than the dog’s “oneupmanship” and “dismissive” attitude towards the coyote which is so upsetting to the coyote. You’d be surprised at how much is communicated below the reach of human radar. If the owner were not around, the coyote would probably be messaging the dog much more firmly: say, with a nip to the haunches. The message would mean, “go away, leave me alone, leave my territory alone”. It’s how coyotes communicate to each other. When the dog and owner finally left the area, the coyote finally relaxed.

And here’s my favorite example from years ago of the same coyote-anger-display towards a dog who, again, intruded upon a peacefully resting coyote by chasing after it. The coyote turned and faced the challenging dog as in the previous examples: it’s not unlike a provoked bull in a bullfight. The intensity of the anger can be seen in the kicked-up flying debris. In the latter two cases, there were young pups around, hidden nearby.

Also see: Display of Temper and Anger at Being Thwarted.