Family Interrupted

Seemingly-bucolic coyote family life can be interrupted when one of the adult alphas dies, and that is what happened here. Mom had been the front-guy and always on safety patrol. She always made sure the rest of the family remained hidden and out of view — she didn’t want anyone even looking in the direction of her pups. Shy Dad tended to hang back with the pups — I would see him only occasionally, and then only as dusk approached. And the pups I had only ever seen once. This was the situation when Mom was still there.

Then Mom disappeared, leaving Dad and three youngsters. Several weeks after Mom disappeared, it looked as though the new motherless situation had been accepted by the family: for the first time I began seeing the youngsters playing out in the open during daylight hours, even with Dad nowhere in sight — they were not being supervised like they had been, though they stayed in the distance. I don’t know what control Dad had over them, if any. I only saw him with them at dusk, when they obviously headed out together to hunt. This situation lasted only a few weeks.

Suddenly, into these circumstances there appeared a threesome family unit which I knew from several miles away.  They had come together as a family 10 months earlier: two brothers joined up with a female who became the older brother’s mate. These two males happen to be related to the pups’ mother and had lived with her as a threesome on this territory the prior year, but they had not been around there since then. It’s a small world after all. 

Did they know that Mom had gone missing? Is this why they had come? Or were they attracted by the ever-present garbage which was a food source. Being by a picnic area meant food scraps could constantly be found. OR, speculating further, had they come to take over the territory? I didn’t know the answer, but I wanted to think there was altruism involved: that the two males might have come back to finish raising the youngsters. But this appears not to be the case.

The bolder pup

At the arrival of this threesome, Dad went deeper into hiding, and when I did spot him, only a couple of times, always when the threesome was not around, I could see that he had new facial scars — not major ones, but scars nevertheless. Had he tried battling the newcomers away? The pups no longer frolicked and played out in the open. Two of them disappeared from view — I stopped seeing them altogether. But the boldest pup, interestingly, tried repeatedly to ingratiate/integrate himself into the newcomer pack. But the female would not have it. 

The new males treated that pup neutrally, ignoring him for the most part, and the younger male seemed almost kind to him, allowing comfortable proximity. I wondered if these adult males knew these pups were related? Would it make a difference? 

This neutrality was not the case with the new female. She wanted nothing to do with the pup and was overtly hostile towards “the little twerp”. I use this phrase because she never really appeared to hurt the pup physically, rather, she treated him as a repulsive irritation: she assumed fearsome facial expressions including gaping, snarling and baring her teeth, she charged at him with hackles up, and she even appeared to bite him — though it was probably just a pinch — which resulted in high pitched squeals of hurt, be it physical or psychological: her visceral ire was intense. Pup repeatedly hit the ground in submission and turned onto his back revealing his vulnerable underside with legs splayed: the ultimate white flag. He seemed so badly to want to be accepted.

But the new female wouldn’t have it, she was relentless in spurning him. If she were simply imposing her dominance in a new hierarchy, she would have accepted the pup’s submissive gestures, but she didn’t. The pup further responded to the intimidation, after the put-downs, by repeatedly slinking away with his body hugging the ground, tail held low, as though his feelings were hurt, and then repeatedly came back — inviting more of the same treatment. 

Then one day, I stopped seeing the pup and the father at all, and just saw the threesome at that location, usually together. I thought Dad and pups had been driven from their home totally. But the story continues after this and I’ll need time to stitch it together. For instance, I’ve seen Dad and Pup a couple of times, within the bat of an eye, slinking around the periphery of their homestead, so they still are around.

Also, I’ve seen the threesome back at their own territory every night for the past week — they have been trekking regularly between their territory several miles away and this one at twilight most nights, but not every night. AND, an even newer development, I’ve now seen the pups’ Dad twice, within a flash, at the threesome’s territory where I had never ever seen him before. Maybe what goes around, comes around? OR, I’m conjecturing here, I’m wondering if is it possible that Dad, soon after his mate’s disappearance, might have been searching for a new mate in the threesome’s territory? I’ll review some footage I have during that time slot. If this is the case, he would be the one who provoked the threesome’s visit to his territory. It’s just a thought. The story is already getting pretty convoluted and tangled!  Let’s see what happens!

All photos were taken at late twilight — I’ve been able to lighten them for visibility.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/

I thought pup was pretty brave to face the threesome like this, even if it’s submissively.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Febre
    Oct 13, 2020 @ 15:21:43

    Reading your blog is one of the most important things I do each week. After my close encounter with the coyote this summer, learning why she was following me has really helped me move past the fear and into fascination! Your photos are beautiful, and this particular sequence has shown us something really interesting about not just the pup trying to ingratiate himself, but the behavior of the group he’s trying to join in with. These coyotes live such rich & complicated emotional lives, and now I understand why so many indigenous people’s revered them in their myth & lore and waking life.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Oct 13, 2020 @ 16:41:14

      Thank you, Lisa! You’ve picked up on their essence. Please be an ambassador to convince people of what you know. You know, the American Eagle was considered a pest and vermin for many years before it acquired the dignified status it has today. Hopefully we’ll be able to help coyote achieve the same status. Appreciatively! :)) Janet

    • Lisa Febre
      Oct 13, 2020 @ 21:08:32

      Yes! I’ve tried so hard to be an advocate for leaving them alone in our neighborhood (we’re about 3/4 mile from a state park where the packs live). I just tell wary neighbors that they should just keep their small dogs & cats inside at night & their windows open so they can hear the howling. I so should send you a recording I made a few weeks ago. Our old beagle was attacked by a coyote early one morning (survived) And even that didn’t change me.

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Oct 13, 2020 @ 21:37:27

      Thank you, Lisa. So sorry about the beagle — did you figure out what led up to the attack? Every “attack” I know of could have been prevented in some way. I would love to hear the recording you made a few weeks ago. You could send it to :)) Janet

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