Breeding Behavior: Pull-Push

The coyote breeding season takes place just once a year, and it’s occurring right now: there’s only a very short window of opportunity for this to happen. This 17 second video shows some of the behavior involved. Note that SHE gives him two little nips and then rubs against him and faces away from him. HE is enticed and gets all excited about what seems to him to be an invitation: he eyes her intently and swishes his tail excitedly, or nervously. But the minute she sees his intentions and his lust (I guess that’s the right word!) she bares her teeth and growls at him: “Cool it, fella!” He gets her message and is completely respectful of it, or maybe he just doesn’t want to be bitten. Anyway, he’ll have to wait. When she’s ready, she’ll let him know. He runs off, and she runs off, happily, after him! Caught on a field camera.

For more postings on breeding behavior, see: *Courting Behavior in Full Swing*, and *Breeding Season: NO!*, *Breeding Season: Smells and Walking on Eggshells*, *‘Tis The Season*, and *Mood Swings: Two Different Days*.

Four-Minute Slice of Nightlife

As the last bit of daylight flickered out, I was able to see this coyote and able to take a couple photos. The photo to the left approximates what could initially be seen in the little light there was, and that light soon faded away. After just a few shots, the camera would no longer focus automatically. It was too dark to see with one’s naked eyes — all I could really see now was that there was movement — but the camera’s amazing video setting (manually focused as best as I could) and an at-home edit which boosted the light, brought a few short moments of a mated coyote pair’s nightlife and interactions to light, as seen in the video below. Coyotes are very social and interact all the time, and the video at nightfall shows several minutes of them doing so.

Mom was chilling on a knoll of grass, obviously waiting for her mate to appear because when he finally arrives, she hurries over to be with him. The scene takes place along a roadway, and you’ll see cars passing by which don’t disturb the coyotes. I’ve learned from observing over the last 15 years that coyotes feel safer under cover of darkness — they know our human vision is not very good at that time.

HE had picked up something and was nibbling on it. Was she reacting to this, or simply greeting him? She raises herself against and over him, and nips the back of his neck. She is the *boss* and she may be emphasizing this. HE stands there and puts up with it UNTIL she gets down, at which point he makes a dash to evade her reach!

She appears to gape in disgust: “Ahhh. Men!” Then she stretches and gapes again before heading in his direction. Before reaching him she passes something smelly and decides to roll in it to absorb its fabulous odors. They both scavenge and appear to find tidbits.

In the meantime, cars pass, one after another which doesn’t affect them in the least. Both coyotes wander towards and away from each other as they find scraps of food. BOTH coyotes *gape* now and then: it looks like a big yawn, but I’ve seen it often as a sign of being upset over something.

Mom looks intently overhead at something and then comes to the edge of the road and looks around as though she’s trying to figure out what is going on. She puts her nose up in the air as she whiffs to *see* beyond the cars: they are always scanning for safety. Again she looks up at the sky and then suddenly both coyotes flee in fear. That’s when I look up and I see what’s bothering them: someone is flying a kite right overhead.

Now it’s too dark even for the video setting of the camera — amazing as it is, it can only go so far. But against the lighter sky, I’m able to capture the kite — this is the only section of the video I did not have to brighten to make it visible. The video is mostly blurry because of the lack of light, but at least you can see what is happening.

San Francisco Coyote film by Nick Stone Schearer is available for viewing via Wild & Scenic Film Festival thru January 23rd

I wanted to share that don’t feed the coyotes (which includes me) is streaming today through January 23rd via the Wild & Scenic Film Festival! The link to order and watch it is here: 

https://watch.eventive.org/wsff/play/61785710eca51400635ea472.

This session includes: My Wild Backyard: New York City (14 minutes), don’t feed the coyotes (30 minutes), My Garden of a Thousand Bees (52 minutes).

I’ve watched “My Garden of a Thousand Bees”, having been told by several people that the work is reminiscent of mine: actually spending time observing critters and discovering fascinating social behaviors!!

It’s a unique film festival, centered around conservation and raising money to help protect the South Yuba River. The in-person screenings were postponed due to Covid but this is a wonderful lineup online. Viewing for this screening is limited to US residents.

Smelling Intelligence

It’s a good time to sum up the little I know I know about smelling, having just seen this yearling, below, throw his nose up in the air and keep it there many long seconds as a dog and walker went by about 50 feet away: he was obviously gathering information through scent. The dog was leashed and showed no apparent interest in the coyote, though it’s hard sometimes to tell, so maybe there was a subtle visual exchange that I didn’t catch.

Nose up in the air and whiffing at the dog that just walked by

We humans can smell plenty of things: bacon cooking, apple pies in the oven, rotten eggs, coffee, fresh bread. We can smell flowers, freshly mown lawns, and some trees such as Eucalyptus. We can smell mildew, dirty clothes, smelly dogs, feces, urine. We can smell skunk, horse stables. Smoke, gases, and all kinds of pollution. And we can usually smell food gone bad. Sounds like a lot, but it’s unimpressive when compared to other animals. We gather information mostly through sight and language. Being able to smell odors and their meanings for the most part isn’t critical to human survival.

So, what specific scents might this coyote have been trying to pick up and decipher, besides that it was a dog? By watching a coyotes’ behaviors, including their reactions to dogs and other coyotes, and their reactions to items which have been in contact with animals or food, we can know something about how fine their smelling is.

Using scent to follow the trail of an intruder coyote

I’ve seen a coyote follow the scent of an intruder coyote who I saw in the area the day before. The sniffing coyote was gaping angrily as she did so: this wasn’t just any scent she was following. She knew exactly WHOSE scent it was and it was someone she disliked and even feared: it was a territorial challenger whose intrusions were heartbreakingly displacing this coyote. I followed the fascinating story and wrote a number of postings about it on this blog.

I’ve seen a coyote intently sniff her mate’s newly broken ankle, seemingly to find out about it, and then prod that injured coyote to move to safety and even try to soothe and comfort the hurt animal. Maybe the smell is based on an increase in heat and blood flow to the injured area, and/or to the coyote’s ability to detect pain, both of which a coyote can apparently sniff out. We know coyotes, as well as wolves and other predators, tend to seek out the most vulnerable prey animals by detecting wounds or other weaknesses, in addition to detecting fear and indecision. Hence, sniffing for them is very much a matter of gathering not only potential prey and food information, but also social information.

Coyotes can smell hormones, pheromones, and an array of body chemicals. We humans of course can’t detect these things at all through our noses, and must rely on vision — and even then, for distinguishing a male from a female animal, we must visually search for the difference which sometimes is not very obvious. Coyotes can decipher general age (youngster, oldster, in-between) and possibly social status, reproductive state, emotional state, aggressive state, and sickness, in addition to injuries. For example, hormones during mating season are attractants: I’ve watched males possessively and completely shadow their mates during breeding season presumably ready to deter another male who might show up. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. All of this olfactory information is important for social, territorial, defensive, reproductive and nutritional purposes: these are things a coyote would need to know for his and his family’s survival and prosperity.

Their sense of smell is not only expansive, it is also powerful such that they can locate prey far beneath the snow. Hunters have seen coyotes stop cold in a pasture and throw up their nose, testing the air, or turning away from a trail walked on by hunters — many hunters believe that coyotes can smell them from a mile away. Deer do the same, I’m told.

And of course they can pick up the scent-print of something no longer present, just like dogs, as precisely as who — in terms of the very specific individual animal, be it a coyote, dog, person or another wild animal — has been in a particular spot, how long they stayed, and how long ago they were there — along with a whole lot more about them. Yikes, it’s like time travel into the past!

Working dog trained to find coyote scat. The dogs have to learn to discriminate what *scat* generally is, which includes learning — through many trials — NOT to sniff out WHO put down the scat, or WHAT is in the scat, among other things. Of course, a dog can sniff ALL of these things, so they have to be taught discrimination.

Domestic dogs’ ability to smell has been studied much more thoroughly than coyotes’. It stands to reason that what a coyote can detect and decipher through its nose is on a par or even keener than that of dogs. Dogs, amazingly, can detect a wide array of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, TB, malaria, epilepsy and even coronavirus in humans: their noses have 300 million scent receptors compared to our 5 million: it appears that they are able to smell very small concentrations of just about anything. They can detect a 2% rise in human body temperature, which is what happens to humans right before an epileptic attack, and the dog therefore is able to alert that individual. They can also detect ovulation, dead bodies, and they are known to detect emotions such as fear, anxiety and even sadness in humans. They can sniff out a cow who is fertile, and even bedbugs. They can also detect bombs, computer gear, and drugs.

The canine physical olfactory organ is large as is the specialized brain area dedicated to identifying scents and interpreting the world through scent — humans lack both.

And we’ve all heard tales of dogs saving people from disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes and becoming edgy before such disasters. With their highly evolved olfactory senses, it would fit logic to assume dogs have the ability to sense changes in the atmosphere as well as impending doom on the wind — as would coyotes — whether from their heightened sense of smell or a special sixth sense. More on the power of dog noses here and here.

Welcome In, 2022!

This new year I’ll be into the 16th year of my coyote documentation work! I take photos in order to record what is going on — my camera is a tool, my notebook: as the saying goes, a photo is worth a thousand words. Location, time of day, which coyote is involved and their all-important behaviors and interactions with each other and their environment are all captured by the camera without having to pull out a pen and take notes. But I don’t necessarily consider myself a *photographer* per se in that I’m not out to get pretty pictures: I’m hoping my documentation work goes much deeper than that, where content supersedes quality: much of my recording takes place at dawn or dusk when the lighting is not good so the images are often not of super quality: they are often distant, blurry or grainy.

That being said, the sheer number of photos I take guarantees that many are bound to be good ones in a photographic sense, and here is such a photo which I entered into a wildlife photo contest and received recognition! I’m hoping my images and the observational stories I attach to them will raise awareness, instruct, and change perspectives. But sometimes there’s more fun involved than anything else, and this photo attests to that!

By the way, photo contests are a fun and exciting way to donate to wildlife: You pay a small fee for each entry which serves as a donation to the sponsoring organization. And if you win, you can recycle your prize money as a donation, which is what I do at my favorite wildlife rehabilitation center: WildCare in San Raphael. To see the the rest of the winners of the WildCare Photo Contest for 2021 visit: https://discoverwildcare.org/living-with-wildlife-photography-contest/. Or see WildCare’s Winter Magazine here. Enjoy! Also, think of donating to this organization which does fantastic work!

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