Adoption? [updated]

I’ve had to revise this posting a little because one of the coyotes I talk about, who I was told and accepted as “the female” of a pair, turns out not to be a female at all, but a solid male, and the younger one turns out to be a female!

After a year of absence, this Dad (above right) returned to his former territory which was being kept by two coyotes who I believed to be his two-year-old offspring — youngsters born the year before last. The Dad’s family situation is a very interesting one, and I’ll be writing about it soon, but here I want to concentrate on what Dad came back to: he returned to this, his previous territory, and to the two younger coyotes. I had only been seeing one of these youngsters sporadically fleetingly until very recently, but two were there now. The youngsters welcomed Dad back, and now the three began hanging out together.

But the situation isn’t what I thought it was. I’ve slowly come to realize that one of the youngsters, although he looked familiar somehow, was not one of Dad’s surviving four youngsters born in 2018. Initially, I thought time might have caused some appearance changes which were preventing me from seeing “who” this was of the four, but I wasn’t making any headway in trying to identify him (I identify by their facial features), and he really didn’t have the signature family look of the others in the litter: I have noted that there are striking family resemblances within some coyote families, and this had been one such family. Then, over the last week it became obvious that this coyote was actually a year younger than the two-year old. There’s a difference in general demeanor and behavior that become obvious when you contrast and compare the different ages.

Suddenly familiarity rang a bell. I went back into my earlier photos of another family in a far off territory — this is where the coyote came from. This youngster is from an entirely different birth family, and born last year.* She had distanced herself from the rougher tumble of her brothers (dispersed) of which there were three. For a while she lived alone in an isolated open space which is where I photographed her most recently, but I hadn’t checked on her since then. She’s only a year old. She’s too young to be forming a family of her own (I haven’t seen females form families of their own until they are at least two years of age). Instead, I found she had joined another young male (two-year-old) on that male’s birth territory — maybe they would become mates when the time was right

I’ve seen this kind of arrangement several times now: a dispersing youngster seems to take cover under the wing of an older coyote (even though not much older) with a territory: the territory owning coyote lets the other in. In one instance in the past, a youngster male moved on after five months. His mentor female a year later appeared to be harboring yet another young male — that fellow has now become her mate — and maybe that was their plan all along.

So, these two have been companions for each other, which makes sense in such a social species: one apparently a mentor and caregiver and the other a youngster who needed a little more time to mature: it’s kind of an “adoption” or “halfway station situation”. This is the situation — two immature youngsters — to which “Dad” returned.

I wonder how prevalent this kind of arrangement is between ‘stabler coyotes with territories’ and ‘dispersing ones’. The older territorial-owning coyotes seem to become very protective of their younger proteges, a behavior you might expect from a parent. The important thing to note is that this little group of three coyotes in this park is a “family”, all of whom are not related individuals, whereas most families consist of a mated pair and their own offspring.

See these related postings on two other youngsters, males in this situation: Happiness is Having Someone to Watch Out For, and Camaraderie and “Checking In”,  and Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

*[Professor Ben Sacks at UCDavis will confirm this with DNA from scat which will reveal our coyotes’ relationships. In fact, he’s working on a “pedigree” of all of our San Francisco coyotes, who, it turns out, all descended from just FOUR original founding members]

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jo Thompson
    Apr 05, 2020 @ 00:39:43

    Fascinating story. I am most eager and excited to have you reveal the findings of Prof. Sacks. Magnificent.

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Apr 05, 2020 @ 03:47:12

      Hi Jo — I’m sure Ben Sacks will be finding many more connections than I have, but he’ll also be confirming the many I have already found. It’s a small coyote world here in San Francisco!

  2. webmaster
    Apr 05, 2020 @ 02:46:40

    That’s very interesting. I wonder if that’s a coyote adaptive behavior in an urban habitat, or if it’s actually a normal part of the coyote life-cycle when one finds itself alone? (two pairs of eyes/ ears are better than one)

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Apr 05, 2020 @ 03:24:28

      I don’t know the answer to your question, but I would THINK it’s a behavior that would apply to coyotes wherever they are. I don’t know why it would exist as an adaptation to solely urban environments. Then again, I study ONLY SF urban coyotes. :))

  3. clairebgilchrist
    Apr 05, 2020 @ 15:56:50

    I agree – this post is fascinating!

    Reply

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