Why Fathers Have Pups

Musings: I imagine that raising a family is as much fun and rewarding for coyotes as it is for us, in spite of the work involved. To begin with, for coyotes as well as us, there must be feelings of anticipation and excitement even before the event: knowing that something big is about to happen in their lives that will require preparation, forethought, and effort.

Thinking about it, procreation in the animal world is less of a conscious decision than a subconscious one, directed by cyclical hormones and drives — it’s a programmed activity, as is the job of rearing the pups once they arrive. For us humans, we have more say in the matter than do coyotes, though for us, too, the process is directed by the same hormonal drives and biological factors. But I think coyote parents, as well as us, bring their own unique experiences and characters into the equation, and of course each pup has her/his own individual temperament and unique relationship with each littermate, resulting in variations on a theme. A lot of work and dedication as well as fun are involved in all cases. The different capacities we are born with, the situations we are born into, and what we do with the agency/choices we have, define who we are as individuals: we all fit into the generalities of the species, with specific variations for each individual and family, be it coyote or human. We should be looking for the commonalities we can relate to! What we are able to relate to, we are more willing to embrace. So, what might parenthood involve for coyotes?

Pup Rearing: Early on, well before pups are born, the coyote pair becomes vigilant and alert: they patrol the periphery of their areas daily so as to KNOW everything that is happening in “their” established areas: it is their job to do so, and it’s part of what is required for what comes next. After digging a den, birthing, and lactation carried out by Mom, Dad, in addition to guarding and patrolling the area, joins in with a “progressive” program of feeding his pups: from regurgitated food through dead prey, to eventually live prey, and finally instruction on hunting and feeding themselves.

Education figures big in coyote lives, no less than in ours! Pups must learn about different types of prey: which are the easiest and which the hardest to capture, which are the safest and which are the most dangerous — and about other foods such as fruit, nuts and bugs, and where those foods are found. Over time, they learn to refine their hunting techniques and skills: many of these are taught by example. Learning through imitation and example avoids some of the pitfalls of a trial-and-error approach, such as a bitten nose, loss of an eye, or worse, though hit-and-miss and experimentation can’t be avoided during growing up, as even we humans know.

Coyotes also teach their youngsters how to be safe and navigate the urban landscape. They teach the youngsters all about territoriality and boundaries, about the hard-and-fast laws of nature generally, and about their species’ specific tendencies which they must respect and abide by to survive well.

Coyotes are extremely social. They mate for life, the youngsters stick together normally for 1 to 2 years, and Dad helps raise the young: in a truncated form, it sounds like us, doesn’t it? Their early social interactions take place predominantly within their own families where, of course, it is safer and more hospitable and forgiving than out in the wider world. It’s a good place to learn.

One of the most important things coyote parents do, I think, is to help shape their pups’ social interactions among themselves: this involves how to get along and the importance of hierarchy. These are passed on through example, discipline, and again, learned through trial-and-error. But also, life is simply “absorbed” collaterally by living in a family. Some coyotes are born more gregarious and outgoing — maybe sometimes a little too “overbearing” for the others — so they have to be damped a bit, while others are much more careful and withdrawn and may have to be encouraged more. Positive or negative reactions from siblings and parents teach pups what is acceptable or not: bite too hard or be too rough, and a sibling will move out of their reach and they won’t be able to play. Lesson learned. Those coyotes who don’t learn to fit in tend to disperse earlier than the others.

Learning through Play: And why am I writing about all this learning when the title of this posting is, “Why do Dads have pups?” What might make it worthwhile? I’m guessing that playtime figures large! During play everyone appears to be enjoying themselves the most, including Dad.

A lot of learning takes place through play. For example, hierarchy and personal boundaries are taught and maintained during play. Hierarchy is necessary for the smooth functioning of coyote families: and you can see it being taught and incorporated during play. There’s no question as to who the authority figure is. Boundaries and hierarchies of different degrees are also worked out among the littermates. At the same time, most of the time, the parents aren’t behaving like dominating dictators or leading the family with bravado, rather, they stand back, letting things happen, and make sure everyone is okay and included. For parents, as for youngsters, family life is fun, it’s rewarding and it’s entertaining, above and beyond the effort it entails.

Dad and Pup Play: I’ve watched Dads engaged in play as an almost equal but always with that “ultimate” control over the youngsters, and I’ve watched them *tolerate* play right underfoot (or above!) in which they are included but they really don’t participate. They were absorbed in their fun and play which included learning and teaching. I’ve posted these photos instead of videos because photos (unlike video which passes by in a whirlwind) stop the action and you can actually see, what is going on. There is perpetual motion, and every second there is something important happening which has meaning for the coyotes: in their eye-contact and facial expressions as well as their body language, almost none of which is caught by simply watching or even taking a video: the motion has to be stopped an examined! 

tug of war 3

tug of war

 Above are fathers playing a spirited game of tug-of-war with their youngsters



Above Dad tolerates the play right under (or over) foot — he’s the yard gym.


Above: *grooming* is one of the joys of parenthood — the kid has to stand there whether he likes it or not!


Discipline is another privilege Dad gets to engage in. Dads, of course, have to be dictators: some are tyrannical, but others are benevolent dictators. The Dad above is a little bit of a tyrant on this spectrum. This is how the unbending hierarchy is maintained.


Above: Dads are sources of endless and (almost) unconditional  affection.


This dad continued bringing *presents* in the way of food until these youngsters were well past the need for it — he did so simply out of fatherly benevolence.


And finally, it’s Dad who may help in the dispersion process. Some youngsters get happy sendoffs, and some must be driven out, as above — father is on the right, driving a yearling son away.

Addendum: When I see a coyote, I don’t simply “see a coyote”. I see “Peter” and his whole situation: his age, who his siblings are, who his parents are, the area he ranges, how he deals with people and dogs, how he deals with each parent and each of his siblings, what injuries he has sustained, his general personality. There is always more going on than first meets the eye. I’ve had to exchange the photos in the original posting with these you see here because some of those actually were two siblings: in a couple of families, the resemblances between a father and son was uncanny and threw me off for a full several months before I finally and definitely teased apart the differences.

© 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/coyoteyipps.com.

Clean-Up and Pack-Fed, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet.

Today’s fence-line check brought a surprise. One of the bison cows from the local herd (nursery herd replacing cattle and sheep on this ranch) was alone and standing curiously immobile. A quick few moments of binocular scouting showed…she was in labor. It seemed she was struggling. Rubbing against trees and moaning. A far off roaming peacock I couldn’t even see gave an alarm call. And with this…an unseen Bison Bull rose from a nearby wallow. He?made me instantly and gave a low bellow. Was he grumpy from disturbed wallow..or a sentinel for cow in labor? I don’t know. But I did know..it was time for me to calmy leave. I called rancher once in reception.

I was called later to be told the bison delivered a nice calf and all was well. Also..the son rancher spotted Slim Jim and yearling son Big Brother waiting patiently for the new mom and calf to walk away. They ate the afterbirth etc…until they were stuffed and made beeline for direction of den. I imagined them trotting the miles back to Moms Chica, Janet, and 11 pups.

There are several bison cows expecting. Who knew that afterbirth could feed a whole pack? Slim Jim [the alpha male coyote] apparently does!!!

[For the composition of the unusual coyote family, see Spring Madness, by Walkaboutlou]

Spring Madness, by Walkaboutlou


Hello Janet!

I hope Spring finds you well. As I make some ranch rounds and visits, I’m preparing for hip replacement (ugh) and am just waiting for clearance and schedule. The hospitals are still lining up surgerys, backlogged months.

I visited the ranch where Slim Jim, an older coyote I shared with you, resides. He and his mate Chica are denned and raising this years pups. Goodness knows how old Slim Jim is. Anywhere from minimal 9 years to 13 years. A very old rare coyote. His mate Chica is still young, around 3 or 4.

But spring madness has reared its head for them.

They have descendants scattered all about, some near. Some far. It appears a daughter has returned….but she was pregnant and seems to have denned with Mom. We don’t know for sure. All we know (and I’m filled in by the landowner…he watches them for months) is that Slim Jim, Chica, and a yearling son seemed settled for pupping when a begging, pregnant, young female came begging. Chica bit her…then relented.

A few days later, Chica and Young female were in and out den area, both deflated and having milk.

We have thought a lot. Studied and scouted and think of possibilities.

It’s very possible she’s a departed daughter whose mate was killed by wolves or Staghound hunting pack. At the outskirts of this non hunting ranch property, wolves and Staghounds have hunted coyote hard along Cascade edges. We know of at least 6 dispatched this way.

A young female. Mate killed. Wolves or Staghound hunters patrolling. Very bad for a single mom facing pup season. We think in desperation she came home..and was grudgingly allowed back. Either way…a desperate pregnant young female came…and was admitted.

Slim Jim is often along a ridge. Watchful..but so old. His yearling son is already feeding both moms with Slim Jim. There are elk and deer carcasses nearby as well as thousands of voles and mice. 4 adult coyote..who knows how many pups. They will be hard pressed…but food is abundant.


Their area and den are anonymous and will stay this way. And they will remain isolated and watched. I hope the best for all of them. C’mon Slim Jim….you can make this season.

Take care Janet


Hi Lou! FASCINATING! I’ve seen a few instances where it appears outsider coyotes have been “admitted” into established families!

Warmly! Janet

Hi Janet, I think coyote have social plasticity we haven’t even dreamed of at times. Anything is possible.

Hi Janet,

The landowner has let me know I can keep visiting but only without dogs. I have to stay on far ridge with my binoculars if I want to try to watch.

The Latest-I have been allowed to name the young female who begged admittance.

She is VERY young…maybe 2. She is very nervous but seems calmer every few days.
The yearling son of Slim Jim and Chica is now Big Brother.
So…adults are Slim Jim. Minimum 9 years. Very possibly older.
Chica-Mom and Dominant Matriarch. 3-4 years old.
Newly Admitted female and mother-named Janet in your honor.

There are 11….ELEVEN!!!!!!! pups counted at the site. It took the landowners family some days to verify. Both mothers are nursing communally.  You cannot tell whose pups are whose. Litters are converged and same age likely by days.

There are a series of dens along this distant ridge and this 1st den is already too small it seems. Or at least..crowded

Janet seems a bit overwhelmed but doing better. She also goes on short forays calling in direction of likely old territory. We think she is calling for her deceased mate. And by her behavior with Big Brother…they definitely seem siblings!

She is ultra submissive to Chica. Chica nurses and grooms all the pups way more than Janet.

Big Brother and Slim Jim feed Chica and pups still. Pups…around 3 weeks. Janet dashes off for quick forage and drink and races back.

The mothers seem very thirsty at times. Slim Jim is always alert but….very worn. He looks well though.

The sheep herd that seasonally comes through here with LGD has been diverted to other grazing areas. This ranch is big enough to do that. I’m so thankful. They said the LGD will “train” the new litter of coyotes this summer but want the pups big enough to run away and escape.

In the many decades of various coyote and LGD, they haven’t lost any sheep or goats to coyote. They know Slim Jim, he doesn’t bother sheep, nor does his pack. They know the older LGD and Slim Jim, Chica, Big Brother and Janet…will influence the 11 pups…and allow that process.

It will be a VERY busy spring summer season. 11 pups! I hope i can witness some scenes. The ranch family are all pro coyote. It’s a family hobby.

Anyhow…..I’m so excited. 11 pups!!!!!

Hi Lou! Oh my gosh!! Frantastic! You have the whole, unusual, family here which you can now watch! You’ll have more stories to share with me!!!  And the new gal is . . . Janet!!  Yikes! Thank you for honoring me this way! :))) I’ll add what you’ve said here to the last posting, and let’s continue the thread on the blog if interesting things (or otherwise) come up? If you get any photos at all, even from a distance, please include a couple. Thank you so much, Lou, for sharing this with me. I bet you/we will learn some interesting things through your eyes here.  :)))

Angel: A Melanistic Coyote Consigned to Permanent Rehab, by Kathy

Preamble by Janet:Although my primary work and the heart of my investigations are in San Francisco, this posting here carries us out of San Francisco and to Florida. Whereas the coyotes I document are all wild and free — and we want to keep them that way, the one in this posting is in a very different situation and dependent on humans for care and social interactions. The posting is about a small melanistic (black) coyote named Angel. We don’t have black coyotes out here in the West, it’s an Eastern Coyote phenomenon, and even rare there.

Black coyotes are not common at all and rarely seen in Florida— although hunters occasionally post their photos of melanistic coyotes they have killed, photos of live black coyotes are extremely rare: These two were photographed on a Wildlife Management Area in Florida see: http://wildflorida.com/articles/Black_Coyotes_in_Florida.php

A Stanford University team has studied the genetics of melanism (black color morph) in wolves, coyotes and dogs. This study reveals that the genetic mutation for melanism first arose in dogs some 50,000 years ago and was afterwards passed on to wolves and coyotes.

There must be some positive adaptive purpose—but no one knows exactly what the positive purpose is. We know that the protein beta-defensin 3, which regulates melanism in canids is involved in providing immunity to viral and bacterial skin infections.

A little background on me, Kathy:  I have no formal education or training when it comes to animals – strictly a love for them.  I am a volunteer at a reserve for exotics that no one wants anymore.  I fell in love with Angel when she arrived and have been pretty much her sole caretaker. I got involved with this volunteer work after going on a tour of this rescue facility.  It’s less than 5 miles from my house & I was retired.  Wasn’t sure they would want me because of my age, but lo and behold they said yes.  (I was 67 when I started there – now 73!!!)

The coyotes weren’t there when I started.  I found myself being drawn to the animals that other volunteers weren’t spending a lot of time with. (Everyone wants to spend time with big cats & wolves). Consequently, my first 2 special kids were the two female hyenas.  There is no one there who loves them more than I do!  We have a fantastic bond.

Then I decided Osiris, the African Serval, who was someone’s pet for 14 years, needed some human time. African Servals are crazy and very moody. I still love him though. When Angel came along, I waited awhile, but no one stepped up to the plate. Therefore, she’s my baby and everyone knows it. I’m so happy to work with her even though she has become my biggest challenge.

Angel’s backstory:  She was hit by a car in Florida when she was 3 months old.  A woman picked her up thinking she was a puppy and took her to her vet.  She had a broken leg & a broken pelvis. The vet identified her as a melanistic coyote and did not give her back to the woman who found her.  She then went to a rehab facility for 3 months.  In fixing her pelvis, the birth canal was narrowed so she couldn’t be released back into the wild – pregnancy would have killed her, consequently she came to us.

Angel’s behaviors:  I have been working with her for almost 5 years now.  In the beginning she was terrified of everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING.  With [wildlife animal behaviorist] Debbie’s help, I have been trying to get her to trust me more and have been somewhat successful.

When she first came there she would hide during the tours.  She still won’t come out when the group is in front of her enclosure; however, she will come out when they wind back around and are several feet from her home.  So the group does get to see her now & hear her story. Recently she has decided it’s perfectly okay to come out when very small groups are by her cage. She will come out when volunteers are near now. This is a big improvement from when she first arrived at our facility.

When I first started working with her and needed to give her flea meds I was never sure if she had ingested them or not. She didn’t want me watching her eat. After several long months, she now will take her treat & eat it, looking at me while I stand about 20 feet from her cage.  She still doesn’t want me to watch her eat anything else.  She has a log with holes drilled in it so I can put treats in there.  Have never seen her take anything out, but it’s always empty by the end of the day.

We got hit by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and that was traumatic for her.  Not only because of the storm, but because of the cleanup afterwards.  For quite some time we had tree specialists coming in and cutting down our larger trees so they don’t fall on cages during a heavy storm.  Shortly after the storm and when the trees guys were there a few days a week, she would eat & then vomit all of it up.  She was so scared.  When she didn’t stop this, I started feeding her whole rabbits or chickens & late in the afternoon when everyone was gone.  After a few months, I put her back on her regular diet & feeding in the morning.  Thought she was cured.  However, the other day we had 3 brand new volunteers working two enclosures down & I found her food regurgitated when I went in to clean. I have to pay particular attention to what is happening in her vicinity and change her feeding schedule accordingly.

She will now let me sit in her enclosure with her, but not too close.  She comes down from her elevated den box & will run laps while I sit there.  She is getting better about that & now will sometimes walk instead of run.  Sometimes she will come down to see what I am doing when I am outside her enclosure filing her water pail and splash tub. She lets me know when she’s had enough of me by going up to her den box & lying down.

She loves her stuffed animals & protects them like babies.  Takes them in when it rains so they don’t get wet.  So cute!

For quite some time we weren’t sure if Angel would join in with the wolves & coyotes when they did a group howl.  If has been confirmed by some volunteers who have seen and heard her that she is joining in.  That’s  good news.  She feels comfortable to join them, but not when we humans are within sight!

I can now approach her when she is on her platform without her freaking out.  She lets me get to the edge of the platform before she backs into the den box.  Whenever she is fearful, she will pull her ears back & flatten them.  Of course, I stop whatever I am doing at that point.

I could probably go on and on, but this will give you some idea of how she acts.

By the way, we have 6 other coyotes, who exhibit similar skittishness, but not to the extent that Angel displays. As for these other coyotes, I share the responsibility with a couple of people.  There are 3 pairs and they don’t get along – hence we have plywood between the cages blocking their access to each other.  I prepare the diets 3 days/week & clean their cages 3 days/week.  One of the other volunteers had calmed Sundance down to the point where she will allow a couple of us to pet her, mostly from the outside of the cage.  She has now become very used to me and will let me pet her while I am in her enclosure.  The other day she actually rolled over and let me pet her belly.  What a trusting gesture that was!!Only one of them is aggressive – Cheyenne, a female, who has bitten (lightly) two volunteers on the butt.  Hasn’t tried it with me yet!

Sparks: A Happy Springtime Update

Update: My own smile extended from ear to ear this morning as I spotted the coyote I’ve labeled as “Sparks” — all my coyotes have pronounceable labels instead of numbers to make them easier to remember — sauntering along a path with his easy, bouncing little trot, contented and happy as as a lark, with a huge grin on his own face! See photo below. Life is good for him now: more stable and settled, more predictable and secure, than it was 6 months ago and before. He paused, looked at me, sat down to scratch, and then continued comfortably on his way. 

Interestingly, another coyote family lives here in the Presidio, where he seems to have ended up his dispersal journey: they are a mated pair — territorial claimants here for over a year — who share the same pathways with this guy — I haven’t seen a shared territorial arrangement before here in San Francisco. The Presidio is the largest of the territories I’ve documented here in SF: there has been basically just one family in that park, but maybe there’s actually room for two — or at least one family and one additional single guy. I have seen no sign of a mate with Sparks, and as far as I have seen here in SF, males wait until they are 3 or 4 years old before settling down with a mate and starting a family.

Maybe there’s a truce or pact, or some kind of understanding between these coyotes. OR, might it be that Sparks has been adopted into the breeding pair’s family in a distant sort of way? He had been allowed to remain on another family’s territory for several weeks during an earlier part of his dispersal peregrinations — he was actually welcomed and interacted with warmly by the alpha female, the mother, in that family: I thought of it as an adoption, even though it lasted only several weeks. Possibly he was allowed to stay there, and here at the Presidio, on account of his leg injury, or because he is a youngster, or both!  I myself have not seen him interact with the Presidio family pair, or even seen them together, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. I’ve heard a number of reports of him having been chased (chased out?) angrily by one of the resident alphas, starting in mid-January, but then he always turns up again, so maybe that’s not what was really going on. Or maybe he’s become a very savvy and successful interloper, living on the fringes of the alphas’ territory where they repeatedly try driving him off: Chicago, according to a graduate student I’m working with, is apparently full of this category of coyotes, but not San Francisco . . . . yet. Then again, maybe these two entities simply avoid each other. Until I see them interact, I can only offer speculations about what might be going on. At any rate, the important point is that they’ve been seen in the same areas and on the same paths over the last 6 months. So this is Sparks’ situation now.

I’ll repeat Sparks’ dispersal history here (I’ve posted this before). Being able to keep up with a coyote’s journey after leaving home is very exciting, and that’s what I’ve been able to do in more and more cases. Sparks just turned two: I’ve known him since his birth in 2019. He was one of a litter of five that year: two females and three males. That’s the largest litter his parents had produced — all previous litters, and the one after that one, numbered one to three (and even none during a couple of years). He dispersed from his home a year ago at almost exactly one year of age, having been the second in his litter to do so. A sister left a couple of months before him at 9 months of age and I’ve been able to follow her as well. A brother just recently left at almost two years of age, and two of his siblings — now two years old — still remain at their birthplace and in what remains of their birth family.

When Sparks first dispersed, a year ago, he hippity-hopped to various locations in the city, remaining at each for several weeks before moving on. During the summer he managed to severely break a foreleg — so there were tumultuations during his early roving adventures. As it happens, previous to that, he had severely sprained the other front leg, and recovered over time. With this new break, he hobbled around for months, unable to put much weight, if any at all, on it. The pain must have been horrific because he ended up painfully retracing his steps back to one of the safer areas he had been through earlier on. Here, he remained in someone’s protected backyard where he spent many hours sleeping over a 3 weeks period. It took a long time to heal, but it eventually did with the help of the neighbors who made sure he was not disturbed in any way.

These concerned neighbors indeed sought outside help, but were told they should leave the animal alone. I totally agree with this policy. In my 14 years of observations, I’ve seen a substantial number of debilitating injuries in coyotes: among them, two broken legs and a broken ankle, and I’ve also known these coyotes’ individual intense social situations and how much they stood to lose were they to have been removed for rehabilitation by humans. It’s hard to go back to your previous situation once you’ve been removed and assumed dead. Nature is an excellent healer, and all of these animals healed on their own by leaving them alone.

Sparks’ human “guardian angels” allowed him to heal on his own. He then left his human protectors’ yard when he himself felt ready to go, which surprisingly occurred before he was completely healed. But he must have felt ready because he left. He continued with a limp for a long time after that, but some weight could be put on that leg by then: he was much more actively mobile after 3 weeks. And now he’s make the Presidio his home.

The bottom photo shows how that foreleg, above the wrist, is somewhat thickened: coyotes wear their histories as bumps and scars on their bodies! I should point out that probably no one else would notice this slightly deformed foreleg. Anyway, he obviously feels very at ease and at home where he has now been for over half a year, and it looks like he’ll stay. At two years of age, he’s still, from all appearances, a loner and a bachelor, and a happy one at that! What will come next? . . . to be continued!

As I beamed with joy at seeing this coyote and took a few photos (I’m not in the Presidio very often), a runner stopped to ask me if the coyote was dangerous. “Nah,” I replied.  I reminded her that all she had to do was keep her distance and walk away without running. Also important: never feed or try to interact with them by trying to become their “friend”. These are wild animals and should be respected as such, even though they are citizen coyotes. Definition of citizen: a resident of a city or town; a native, inhabitant, or denizen of any place.

© 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/coyoteyipps.com.


Reindeer Cyclone (from Twitter)

Every once in awhile I post something unrelated to coyotes. This is super-fascinating, so I had to post it. I had not seen or heard about this before. Enjoy! :))

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