Vital Changes Caused by a Death

This post details the behaviors beginning the previous year leading to the den sharing I wrote about in my last post.

This family left their main haunt of their fragmented territory in March of 2020, shortly after the Coronavirus shelter-in-place rules took effect: these rules encouraged more and more people and their dogs into the parks. The influx was apparently overwhelming to this coyote family. The parents moved themselves and the three new vulnerable pups out of the park in May. Two of the five yearlings born in 2019 dispersed from the area, while three remained at the old main haunt and could be seen periodically, but even they kept themselves well hidden most of the time due to the influx of people and dogs. Mom and Dad returned about once a week in the evenings — sometimes I was able to watch their behavior and interactions at the cusp of darkness. What was noticeable was Dad’s continued firm display of dominance over his yearlings, all of whom accepted the order of things: Dad was still the alpha male and the king of his family. Mom, too, seemed rather dominatingly strict, and after her grooming/greeting sessions with the youngsters she remained apart from them as they all horsed around exuberantly.

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Alpha Dad confirming his dominance towards the yearlings left in the old main haunt of their territory

This changed in October of 2020 — last year. Dad stopped returning at all, even though Mom continued to return at that dusk hour. Several people told me that they had observed a very old coyote in the other fragment of this family’s territory through December — the new place to which they had fled during the virus overcrowding — but I had to rely on others’ reports because I didn’t have time to fit in yet another park: there are just so many hours in a day and I’ve been working alone on this. Dad would have been almost 12 years old when he was last seen in December. Family howling sessions at the old homestead were notable for the absence of Dad’s signature vocalizations, his voice I had come to recognize. His absent voice was sad for me because I knew what it meant.

The three yearlings remained on this segment of the territory, with nightly visits from their parents. To the left: yearling and her favorite brother who apparently was forced out when the newcomer came. Until that time, the three yearlings were inseparable buddies.

So, I would see the three yearlings, but only sporadically, as time passed. Then, in January, I started seeing a little more of Mom. She, along with her three yearlings would come together for their greetings at dusk, then hang around for a little while, spending time grooming, sometimes hunting, sometimes just sitting around, sometimes playing, and then the four would take off for their evening trekking routine.

Mom and three yearlings at their nightly rendezvous, now without Dad

Towards the end of February there was another change. Suddenly the entire park — the older main part of their homestead — was filled with distressing vocalization sessions multiple times a day — at least five times a day. These vocalizations were different — something new was going on. These vocalizations were distressed and disturbed, coming from within the thick bushes where we could not see what was happening. This went on for a couple of weeks.

After one of these sessions, at dusk when I could still see but with difficulty, I spotted a coyote on a distant hill. It was getting dark and the coyote was far off: not good for seeing or for a clear photo. But I took a series of photos of the fella. In fact, I thought it might be Dad returned. My heart skipped a beat . . . or maybe a number of beats . . .  at the prospect!  From first glimpse, I could tell he was not young. He had run up to some rocks where he perched himself, as I remember Dad used to.  When I got home, I was able to zoom-in on the photos. Yikes! This was not Dad at all, but a totally new older, but not “old” coyote. Ahhh, so HE had been the cause of all the vocal commotion over the past few weeks! After zooming into the photos at home, I could tell that his running up to the rocks and perching himself there was probably him defiantly sticking around under vocalized assaults from the rest of the family.

The intensely distressed vocalizations continued the next day and for days to come, in fact they continued over several long weeks. One day, towards the end of one of these intense vocalization sessions, the alpha female Mom jumped out of the bushes and ran towards the family’s routine rendezvous spot, and right after her, almost at her heels, ran that new coyote — the newcomer. They were behaving in unison, and not antagonistically against each other.

The next day I only saw Mom and the one remaining male yearling. I now no longer ever saw the other male yearling. What became of him? He had been his sister’s favorite, but he was gone. Now I continued to see Mom, Daughter, and one remaining Son. Mom spent a huge amount of time grooming the remaining yearling son. She seemed intent on strengthening the bond. And the youngster stood with new self-confidence and stature because of it. The next day there was an intruder dog, and this twosome — mother and son — belted out their proclamation barks, warning all dog-comers that they were not welcome here.

Mom does a super-grooming job on her remaining son, while Newcomer watches from the distance with lowered ears.

Two days later, I saw the male youngster after a normal howling response to sirens. The howling this time was cut-off rather suddenly, something I’ve seen before. The coyotes seemed to be directed to stop by one among themselves, and they all immediately complied. Right afterwards I found the Yearling Son hunting contentedly on a hillside. Before long two other coyotes appeared together: Mom and Newcomer. And this is where it gets interesting. Newcomer held back, remaining close to the bushes. This makes sense since he was new in the area. But Yearling Son approached  Mom and there was a long and deliberate grooming session by Mom. Newcomer just watched, with his ears lowered . . . just lowered, not air-planed. Then Mom and Son began hunting and walking on, but Newcomer remained back. Mom and Son would stop now and then and look back at Newcomer, but he didn’t join them. I saw him get up to make circles of 8 before settling down in the tall grasses where it was hard to see him and where he remained.

Mom and Son sat down and waited, but newcomer remained where he was. When he didn’t budge, they ended up moving on and out of sight. A few minutes later, newcomer got up, and then went in the opposite direction.

Was Mom showing Newcomer, with all the attention she lavished on her one remaining son, that she wanted this son to stay? Might this be because the newcomer had just sent the other son packing — that other son has not been around since Newcomer came. Or might Mom have been grooming her remaining son to become the next alpha male?  This family already is very inbred. We’ll have to wait and see how the story unfolds! Last week I observed Daughter, Newcomer, and Brother together in a threesome grooming session (see photo below); and a few days later, both moms hanging out with their pups. So it’s an unusual family that breaks the generalized standards I have been seeing over the last 14 years.

© 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.

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