Family Interrupted: Update

Last October I wrote about a “family interrupted”. A coyote mom, Bonnie, suddenly disappeared from her family (I’ll call this family #3), leaving three five-month-old pups and a very shy dad, Clyde. Territories are best defended by an alpha pair, but there was no longer a pair here to work as a defending team. Within a few short weeks, intruders (family #4) came and took over the territory. It’s actually a very complicated story: nothing is as cut-and-dry as it seems in the coyote world, and unless you are actually there to catch the nuances, you might miss the essence of what is going on.

The intruder males from what has been family #4 — consisting of an alpha male, Blue, an alpha female, Maam, and the male’s younger brother, Buff — were actually related to the disappeared mom, Bonnie, and had lived on this territory with her for over a year (as family #2) during the previous year, having migrated over from a nearby territory which they had occupied long-term until that point and still visited fairly regularly. I’m not sure what sparked their move from that other territory, but it could have been that the old alphas passed away or simply left — I’ve seen the abandoning of territories by older alphas a number of times (due either to a territorial battle, or even without such provocation). What remained of that family #2 — three siblings consisting of two males and a female — were able to move here from that nearby territory when the long-term previous alphas on this territory left. (I hope I haven’t lost you yet). That was family #1 on this territory. The dad, Ivan, had been here at least 12 years — the alpha female, Maya, was a more recent arrival. They appeared to have ceded the land to their two-year old daughter, who, even with repeated beatings and body slams by her mother, would not leave/disperse. So they (the alphas, Ivan and Maya) left.

This daughter, Sissy, attempted wooing one of the newcomer males (the dominant male from family #2), but this didn’t work out — yes, even coyotes are fickle and choosy in picking their lifelong mates. This male eventually and somehow became hostile towards Sissy. Sissy became scared, nervous and flighty, and then one day she was gone for good: the family of the fella she was trying to woo, took over (this is family #2). We had only ever seen the two males, Blue and Buff here, but now, with no females around, their sister, Bonnie, joined them.

At the end of about a year, the two brothers left, leaving Bonnie and her new mate, Clyde to claim the territory and raise their litter of three. The departed older brother, Blue, found a mate, Maam, and another territory, and younger brother, Buff, stayed with them. I don’t know which happened first: that Bonnie found Clyde and then the brothers left, or the other way around. At any rate, as Bonnie raised her litter, only her nuclear family (family #3) lived here.

But then Bonnie suddenly disappeared, as I stated above. The vacancy (semi-vacancy of the territory) caused by her absence apparently attracted the intruders.

Anyway, even if you can’t keep track of all that — and I must say, even I hardly can — what we have here now on this territory is a reconfigured family which includes one of Bonnie’s pups.

I was fascinated to watch one of Bonnie’s pups, Bolder, begging to be included in this family. I saw it happen. I can only guess that the youngster knew she had a greater chance of survival by joining the intruders.

So now we have this unusual family. It consists of a mom, Maam, a dad, Blue, and dad’s younger brother, Buff, and one of Bonnie’s offspring who is now 9 months old, a female I call Bolder. I have not seen Maam and Blue’s pups, though I know they had them because I saw Maam lactating in April and May. And up through today, I’ve not seen any of their youngsters trekking with their parents, which is normal as far as I have seen for almost all pups at this stage. In the few cases where I have seen the pups venture further with their parents — and yes, there are such individuals — I think it is due to a less wary personality, along with picking up behavioral fearlessness towards humans from their mostly fed parents.

This reconfigured family #5, then, has a hierarchy which runs from alpha Maam who is top dog, to the alpha Blue who is her mate, then her mate’s younger brother, Buff who is very submissive towards his older brother, but rather bold in other respects, and finally the little squirt, Bolder, who, although she keeps out of the way a lot of the time, she nevertheless travels with them sometimes. There seems to be a kind of push-pull in her relationship with the rest of family #5, and I get the impression from the others in that family that she’s considered a nuisance by them, though allowed to stay and hang on. I see her with them, but also I see her run from them in fear.

Very sporadically — but enough so that I know they are still around — I see Bolder’s dad, Clyde, and a brother of Bolder’s, Shier, so I’m still trying to figure out this territorial situation and these families.

And here are a couple of recent photos of that reconfigured family.

younger brother, older brother and alpha male, Bonnie’s female pup, alpha female [photo: Janti Sommer]

From left to right: alpha male older brother, pup, younger brother, alpha female [photo: Janti Sommer]

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Febre
    Jan 10, 2021 @ 00:32:18

    I don’t know you you keep it all straight, but wow! Coyote social life is complicated to say the least

    Reply

  2. MelindaH
    Jan 10, 2021 @ 02:22:13

    Wow! That’s a head-spinning saga—glad you can keep it straight. Thank you!

    Reply

  3. Jo Thompson
    Jan 10, 2021 @ 13:33:52

    Fascinating as the story line branches out.
    BTW, why do you use the term “alpha?”

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jan 10, 2021 @ 13:57:16

      Hi Jo — I use the term “alpha” to show who is in charge, i.e., the breeding pair. I could just call them Mom and Dad, but there really is a substantive difference — the “territory” belongs to these parents and they are the “top dogs”.

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