Unexpected Aftermath of Killing a Coyote

I just posted about the 7-year-old alpha male coyote father who was heartbreakingly killed by our City’s dog catcher (ACC). That occurrence left a gaping vacancy in his territory. What has been the aftermath in the family so far?

I have the perfect opportunity to observe this situation right here and now in San Francisco — so I am doing just that. A previous case I documented, where the alpha father died of natural causes, resulted in a period of chaos before things settled down to a new normal and a new dynamic — and THAT story actually dovetails into this one, which I’ll get to towards the end of this posting. But there has been no chaos here, fascinatingly.

For a couple of days after the alpha male was killed, things went on as normal: the male didn’t seem to be terribly missed by his mate, afterall, coyotes may wander off for a short day or two when they aren’t missed by their families. After several days, however, I noticed his “widowed” mate, the alpha female, wandering around more and marking more and leaving her own scent — more so than had been her normal routine. Was she putting out beacons to signal him to return? Was she looking for him? She would not know that he had been killed by humans, but she would know that he was missing, and so was his scent.

At first marking (left) and then intense sniffing (right) [these are cropped and enhanced trail camera images]. I put out field cameras along what I had seen as their well-travelled routes, hoping to get a glimpse of the activity.

Over only a couple of days, I was surprised to see that she didn’t become more frantic as might be expected, but rather she calmed down, it seems, into a kind of acceptance mode. Her sniffing seemed to segue from searching for something lost into intense inquisitiveness about something new and unfamiliar: her perfunctory quick glancing sniffs changed to intense and lingering poking.

Her family consisted of herself (alpha mom), her mate (now gone), and a four-year-old “nanny” who seems to be helping out with the unusually large litter of seven pups. The “nanny” continued her habitual behavior of simply passing by now and then — I didn’t notice a change in her behavior. Maybe there has been a change in pup behavior in the aftermath of dad’s disappearance: they don’t appear to be exploring as widely as before the killing: is this a safety precaution due to their dad’s disappearance?

Then, within just four days after that shooting, a newcomer male appeared in the area. And he has remained for the last 6 days. Yikes, that was fast! “Vacant niches” in coyote families are notoriously soon filled, we’ve heard. A male outsider would not have been allowed here if alpha dad were still around. But he’s not around, so he’s not marking and leaving his scent, nor is he physically present to drive an outsider away. It’s incredible how quickly “word spread” about his absence: these animals are obviously quick to read scents and other markers that we humans aren’t even aware of, and to appraise situations.

And alpha mom seems to be more than welcoming him! Maybe she had no choice; maybe survival of her family depends on having an amenable “guy” there. My trail camera caught her hopping all over him and putting her paws on his back — she’s asking him to stay. She didn’t spend much time mourning the loss of her just-lost mate. Coyotes are survivors. They don’t feel sorry for themselves or dwell on the past — coyote life seems to be about business as usual and keeping the show on the road. A territory needs a male to better keep things in order and defendable. Will he take on helping to raise the youngsters, or will he shun them? There’s a lot to find out.

SHE is welcoming him by hopping all over him, and then you can see them trekking together in tandem — all within less than a week of her mate’s having been killed.

Interestingly, I know the new male, an older guy, who came from a not so distant territory within the city where he himself already has a family. Hmmm.

And this is the most interesting and juicy part: that new male is one and the same individual who just at the beginning of this pupping season joined an existing family, filling a vacancy in THAT family caused by the loss of its alpha male to natural causes: old age. Let’s call this new fella Rookie. Apparently Rookie went to town when he joined that family because both the alpha female there AND her two-year-old daughter produced pups this year. I called this “den-sharing”, and think of it as kind of “Rookie’s harem”. So it appears that he already has two mates. And now a third? Does this make him into a sort of super alpha male, or will he be giving up that previous family where he has pups from two females? Or maybe he’s just checking out the new vacancy here and won’t stay?

Background information: We all know that coyotes are famously monogamous and mate for life — this is all I had ever seen in 14 years here in San Francisco with two rare and recent exceptions: the den sharing which involved this particular new male, and a divorce which, strangely, involved a previous life of the killed alpha male. It’s a small world.

AND — to further confuse the issue and expand the exception to “mate for life” and “monogamous”, within a distant fragment of that “den sharing” territory, I had seen yet another lactating female WITH this same male, Rookie. Hmmmm. What’s that about? Is Rookie just a rare exception? We’ll have to wait and see how all of this pans out over time. It’s nothing less than a soap-opera, with cliffhangers and all!

© 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.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jo Thompson
    Jul 27, 2021 @ 11:48:38

    Fascinating and illuminating. Thank you for bearing witness and sharing.


  2. Gina Solomon
    Jul 27, 2021 @ 16:29:21

    Wow, this is fascinating! It is indeed a soap opera.
    I remember your posts about the ‘divorce’ but didn’t realize it was the same male that was killed. Poor guy — he went through a lot. Would you write a post about his life? I’d love to read more about him. Seems appropriate – almost like an obituary. I’d be interested in the same about the elderly male who died recently, who you seemed to know well.


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Jul 27, 2021 @ 16:59:56

      Hi Gina — Yes, I should write their histories (biographies?) — each is very interesting and different — so extremely individual. Also Scout’s and Maeve’s, and Ivan’s and Ma’am’s, Silver’s and Chert’s and more. I’ll try putting these together. Thanks for the suggestion. Janet

  3. Karin
    Jul 30, 2021 @ 23:27:22

    sometimes this happens in the wolf world too. “Black Wolf” (look it up on YouTube- they made a documentary) was infamous for being a Cassanova and siring many pups but never hung around, to form his own pack, until his later years. So, while it’s not unheard of, it is rare.


  4. Jeannie warner
    Aug 02, 2021 @ 03:32:08

    Janet.Dont know your email so commenting here.Can you check Bernalwood page? Someone posted a photo of this woman who feeds the coyotes raw meat.She confronted her ,and the lady was not nice about it.Pretty much said she can do what she wants.Just wanted you to see what she looks like


  5. Lisy Meyers
    Aug 03, 2021 @ 12:34:46

    Thank you for amazing information about the wonderful coyotes.


  6. Sandra
    Aug 16, 2021 @ 11:29:17

    Well it has been well documented that disrupting coyote families by killing actually will increase the number of coyotes and the amount of breeding and of course pup production. I guess they hadn’t considered that it could be a single male individual that might be responsible but that more mated pairs would be breeding. Intersting behaviour on “Rookies” part. Perhaps there is some shopping around before they settle on a lifetime mate???


    • yipps:janetkessler
      Aug 16, 2021 @ 16:04:19

      Hi Sandra —

      From what I’ve seen — and I always stick to what I’ve seen first-hand — whether the alpha male dies naturally or is killed, there is usually a disruption in the family which might produce more pups. See this case where the alpha dad died of old age: https://coyoteyipps.com/2021/07/02/den-sharing/. Timing I think was a factor: that alpha dad died shortly before the breeding season.

      In the posting you have just commented on, the killing occurred nowhere close to the breeding season. A new male replaced the killed coyote. Things are running smoothly. Coyotes are individuals and don’t always fall into the generalities humans have created to make them understandable to ourselves.

      Hope this helps! Janet

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