Four-Year-Old Sitter to the Rescue?

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Photo credit: The Chronicle

The above photo appeared in The Chronicle a week ago, caught on a field camera by RPD in Golden Gate Park. Of primary interest is that there are SEVEN pups — that’s a huge litter — it’s a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of bodies to take care of.

Often, yearlings — those born to the family the year before — remain on a territory as part of their birth-family and help raise the new litter. But none of the yearlings born last year to the mom are around to help and the dad didn’t even have pups last year, so the only caregivers in this family are the parents. Unusually, BOTH of these coyotes were attached to OTHER mates last year. Although  the vast majority of coyotes mate for life, there are exceptions, and this is one of those. The upshot is that no yearlings are around to help out. And, although each of these parents is seasoned at pup-rearing, neither has had seven pups all at once. Yikes!

Outside help? Intriguingly, a 4-year-old at-this-point unattached female — I’ll call her PETAL — appeared on the scene about a month ago, and I’ve seen her within the denning area. Might Petal have offered herself as an additional caretaker — a nanny? I can’t think of why else she has been allowed to stay.

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Petal indeed served as caregiver to her own younger siblings in 2018 — this is a very normal situation — so she knows what’s involved. Therefore I’m wondering if she might be related to this Golden Gate Park hepta-mom — this might explain her acceptance there, but we’ll have to wait for DNA results to find that out. Then again, maybe a close genetic relationship isn’t necessary for such an arrangement. ?? I use the word “close” because, based on scat analysis to date by Monica Serrano in Benjamin Sacks’ Lab at UC Davis, it appears that all of our San Francisco coyotes come from just four founding individuals.

Petal was born in 2017 in the Presidio where she was tagged and collared. Through the first half of 2018, as a yearling, Petal remained in the Presidio attached to her birth-family where she helped out with the pups born that year.  By fall of 2018, during her second year, she began long forays out of her territory for several days at a time: I spotted her in and around Golden Gate Park for short periods over the course of several months. She appears to have ended up with a companion coyote at Candlestick Park, the closeby shipyard and Bayview Park. I assumed she had a family in that location, but her move back to and remaining in Golden Gate Park indicates maybe not, or that her companion/mate was killed, possibly by a car along the freeway there. Cars are one of the chief killers of coyotes in urban areas. Candlestick is one of the parks I don’t normally visit, so I did not keep up with her.  If/when I find out more about that situation, I’ll amend this posting.

So, is she an outside babysitter, an insider babysitter, or will she soon move on? We’ll have to wait and see. If she stays, I have a couple of questions:

I’m curious as to how this apparently unattached female discovered the large (needy?) family, or how those parents found her? Was it purposeful, or serendipity?  Communication in the coyote world is on a level humans don’t and may never fathom — it’s below our radar. Coyotes communicate through eye contact, facial expression and body language. You can see all this easily if you watch them. They also use vocalizations. But maybe there’s more than that? We are limited by our five senses which are very weak ones. Our hearing is poor (compared to that of animals), we practically can’t smell, and our sight needs lots of daylight with practically zero nighttime vision without light. In this regard, coyotes operate on a higher plane than us. And I’m wondering if their GPS navigation system, if you want to call it that, may in some way have aspects similar to that of migrating birds: coyotes have been navigating through and then out south of the city when they disperse. Is there something guiding them besides trial-and-error and memory? By the way, coyotes have fantastic memories. I’m hoping to post an update at some point.

6/29 update: This four-year old is still hanging out in the area! It’s been several months now. She’s skeletal looking, which is what I have seen parents often become at this time of year when they are regurgitating food for the youngsters which in turn limits the calories which their own bodies are able to absorb. Is she regurgitating food for the resident youngsters? I have not seen this, but her appearance indicates this might be going on. On June 24th she was seen again at her old haunt at Candlestick, but on 7/12 and 7/14 she was back at Golden Gate Park. These are the kind of forays I see before dispersal (a final move) takes place.

© All information and photos in my postings, except where indicated, 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.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. MelindaH
    Jun 04, 2021 @ 01:17:01

    Great story—looking forward to an update!

    Reply

  2. MAURA LUCUS
    Jun 04, 2021 @ 02:47:05

    Love love LOVE your updates!

    Reply

  3. Lisa Febre
    Jun 04, 2021 @ 03:31:42

    Wow!! Can’t wait to see how this plays out!

    Reply

  4. Dallas Rockford
    Jun 04, 2021 @ 05:23:32

    Janet,

    I’ve been to that park and stunned to learn there are that many coyotes in there. It would seem there wouldn’t be enough of a food source to sustain them.

    You may remember my inquiry recently about three coyotes living near our home in Connecticut. I spoke to my neighbors about an upside to having the coyotes. What I refer to is less varmints invading what is a pretty substantial vegetable garden we have (20’x 60′ approx).

    There were an abundance of rabbits, woodchucks/groundhogs, deer, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, possums, skunks, and bobcats. Bobcats are elusive and don’t seem to be garden vandals – but I believe the other critters are either on the run or have been coyote food.

    Just something to consider. They were making a racket 2 night s ago, but I’m wondering if they will move on if the food source is tapped out.

    Reply

    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jun 04, 2021 @ 05:33:08

      Hi Dallas — Seven “pups” is not equal to seven grown coyotes. Remember that survival rate is as low as 20% to 30%.
      Yes, I believe they will move on if the food dries up, but coyotes seem to hunt just enough to keep the prey population around. It would not serve them to hunt the population to extinction I don’t think. Janet

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