Dispersal: Variations on a Theme

Every dispersal is different, I suppose because each coyote and every family is different. When it’s forced rather than the coyote simply leaving of his/her own accord, I tend to see Moms driving out females, and Dads or even brothers driving out males (though in this latter case, I’ve seen female siblings join-in the driving out process). Some of the youngsters drag their feet or even try to return several times, always without success. I’ve seen “cold turkey” dispersals where youngsters are gone suddenly without apparent warning, I’ve seen gradual dispersals, and I’ve even observed some parents hold on by visiting their dispersed offspring in their new areas. Here in this posting, I’ll describe three very different dispersals.

1) The dispersal of the coyote in the photo below was very gradual and of his own volition. He began leaving for a day at a time to begin with, and then for longer periods of time, returning for increasingly-brief periods which became less frequent over several months, until we no longer saw him again. This happened in the early springtime. He was almost exactly two years old when he left for good. His was a smooth transition: he was not pushed out, but rather was allowed to disperse at his own pace. He had stayed to help with the family’s next litter after him, but was gone right before the following year’s litter arrived. He was a mellow fellow who helped keep order by consoling his siblings when they needed it, and was a stickler for order when things got out of hand between them.

This male dispersed of his own volition at almost exactly 2 years of age (3/5/18)

2) The dispersal that warmed my heart the most was that of this rambunctious yearling male below, who had a testy relationship with an older female sibling, but was always on good terms with his parents and a brother. And then, one day, I saw Dad treat him truly as an equal for the first time. I sensed a huge joy and freedom in this coyote which I had never seen before, and maybe this treatment gave him the confidence to be so. It was as though this were a rite of passage before leaving home. So it was a warm sendoff, almost a goodby party. The “ceremony”, if you will, consisted of an evening of frolicking with Dad as an equal, with Dad instigating the play: they ran together, bucking up, and nipping each others’ ears or heels, and they jumped on each other as equal buddies and friends, liberated from any hierarchy, just playing. The youngster exuded a joy and sense of freedom, along with stature and confidence which he hadn’t displayed before. Two days later he was gone. It was mid-summer. We saw him a few times in a park nearby, but then he was gone from there, too: he was now out making his own way in the world.

Heartwarming sendoff: father and son play a few days before son leaves for good on 5/18 at 14+ months of age. We see him 10 days later in a park nearby, but then never again.

3) The most unusual dispersal is one that happened almost “backwards”.  In this case, a youngster, at the age of a year and a half, was banned to the fringes of her territory by her family which, except for Dad, wouldn’t have much to do with her. She was hounded repeatedly by her brother and her mother. She put up with it and didn’t leave, she just kept her distance. Finally, when she was 2 1/2 years old, the family, which by now consisted of only Mom and Dad, left, leaving her behind on their territory. It was almost like a dispersal in reverse. I never saw Mom again, but Dad came visiting regularly at first, and then less and less.

Below is a series of photos showing one of Dad’s last visits in November. The family bond between him and his daughter had been weakening over time, and compatibility had become rougher and testier with each of Dad’s succeeding visits. She used to experience the same joy as seen above between father and son. The daughter always remained exquisitely happy to see Dad, but Dad became more and more hierarchical and the affectionate part of their bond slowly dissipated.  Although Dad’s treatment of his daughter seems harsh, he was cutting the ties much more gently than if he had simply left for good.

She races enthusiastically to greet Dad when he appears after a long absence.

His look tells her to crouch and approach carefully. She is facing him and keeping down in this photo here.

In the above six photos, she is totally submissive, and he stands above her with hackles up: the hierarchy has little give or affection here. She feels comfortable enough to trot off with him, but is not allowed to do so until she knows her place.

A little later, testiness is the order of the day. This is one of the last visits Dad made to visit her.

In many cases, coyotes are driven off harshly by parents or siblings, and I’ve written about this before. In another case, year after year, a pair of coyote parents has led their youngsters through their fragmented territory, starting when they were about 6 months old: there’s not much stability in this kind of bohemian/gypsy movement, and I suppose the pups eventually tired of this because by 9 months of age, none were around anymore.

I’ve been lucky enough to discover several coyotes I knew as youngsters in their new locations. In one case, I’ve followed a family for 12 years through four generations, and I’m now following that fourth generation in a new location where it appears there may be a fifth generation on the way!

Cuddling, Teasing and Play


Of course pups cuddle, tease and play with each other. And parents do the same with their pups. But in the coyote world, these inter-personal activities are prevalent throughout adulthood between mated pairs: coyotes really like each other (unless they really don’t, which is a different story). They are social, meaning they spend a lot of time together interacting with each other, be it simply through visual communication or more emphatically through physical contact. Their involvement with each other is constant and can be intense.

In this video you’ll see some of that activity between a bonded pair. You’ll see affectionate nudges and teasing, fond provocations, tender mouth clasps or little “kisses” and cuddling. This is what goes on between them when they’re left alone and not having to constantly watch over their shoulders for danger — mostly from dogs. The activity occurs throughout the year, not just during the reproductive season.

Home Alone


Times in many ways have been hard for this young, two-and-a-half-years old female coyote whom I call Sis. Hard, because she was excluded from her family group by her mother and had to live her life apart from them, but within seeing range, for over a year. Only Dad would come over to console her now and then. I was sure she would disperse, but a fellow observer told me that this coyote was strong and would be sticking around. I was surprised that this is, indeed, how it worked out.

Dad visits her

Intruders came through the area several times during this year-long time-frame, and the family drove them out, with this young female right in there helping with that. I felt that she was trying to prove her worthiness to the family, but it didn’t seem to help regain her any acceptance. Eventually, a couple of months ago, the family left the territory entirely, leaving her all alone with one younger pup who now, too, seems to be gone. Dad returned regularly to visit at first, but not often. His visits, too, slowly waned and then ceased.

I often find her alone, as usual, lying on a little knoll with her chin to the ground. I gather that she looks forward to my appearances because she’s always there as though waiting for me. On this day, after the sirens sounded, she responded while lying down — not even bothering to get up! I recorded the entire howl session, her single voice filling the evening. It was just about dark outside causing the video to go out of focus right at the end of the recording.

Wishing All Coyotes, and You, Happiness In the New Year!


Yes, coyotes can be very happy critters. Seeing is believing. “Blissful” only begins to describe this young gal’s elated wallowing on the old tennis ball she has just delighted in playing with for half an hour. May all coyotes, and you, find this much joy in the new year!