One Family Documented Virtually

Hunter (previous alpha dad) with wounds and limping on January 5th, 2022. I knew Hunter and his family first-hand, but after he left, my documentation became based on field cameras in this location.

Hunter on left was last seen on January 24th, HarryP (r) the new alpha male started appearing regularly on February 5th.

Use of virtual cameras: I have been able to follow one of my coyote families only virtually with trail cameras. It’s the only family I’ve been tracking this way, where I haven’t actually seen the coyotes in person, first-hand. I use field cameras in a number of the other territories, but in those others I know all the coyotes first-hand. Not here. I hadn’t intended it that way, I had actually hoped I would see them often on an 11 acre section of their territory in the city, but it hasn’t happened. So I’ve come to know them only through the cameras, except for a single short observation session when I saw one of the pups for a couple of minutes. I thought I’d give a short summary of what’s going on there based on the virtual information retrieved from the cameras and that two-minute first-hand viewing — what I already know about coyotes helps fill in the gaps.

Nickie, alpha mom to the left and HarryP, alpha dad to the right.

Identifying the alphas: This, above, is that alpha pair: Nickie is mom — so labeled/named for the nick in her ear — and HarryP is dad, so named for his numerous facial scars. Mom was pregnant in March and then lactating in the months thereafter, so it’s obvious what her position is in the family. Dad is the only other adult around, and he’s displayed that he’s a male.

They had five pups who first emerged from their den on April 28th. They all started as a healthy bunch but only four survive to date, and one either sustained an early injury or contracted an early ailment which left him lame.

Originally there had been five pups, and here they are following Mom. Only four have survived to date.

One lame pup: I consulted my wildlife veterinarian about the lameness. Based on how the youngster walked as shown in the videos, the vet was inclined to think it was some kind of spinal injury with resulting ataxia and loss of coordination, either a birth defect, or due to an actual early physical injury, or even the result of an early illness. Since reviewing the early videos shows all pups were fine to begin with, it has to have been an injury or even some kind of illness contracted after birth that caused the limp. The vet suggested it could even have been distemper which has been going around in the wildlife of this area, though I myself have not seen it in any of the coyotes that I observe. The vet and I decided the best thing to do was allow the animal to live it’s life naturally with its family. Removing him just to keep him alive was not an option.

Here is the vet’s exact prognosis:

Not fixable by human doctors if it is distemper (which is a possibility) — he will get worse and more neurologic and then die possibly from seizures — not pretty.

If it’s a spinal injury — it could improve with time and with rest — but I don’t see him resting — but coyotes are tough. Is he eating enough?  Keeping up with the group?

All you can do is watch and wait. If he would not do well removed from his family, I would leave him — and if his neuro signs are worsening, then call for some help for humane euthanasia.

I call him Tiny Tim, from Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol.”

These first two videos show Tiny Tim early on. #1 is when I first became aware of the severe disability and #2 shows his indomitable will to join in and live.

#1 Tiny Tim has walking issues.
#2 Tiny Tim with his siblings.

Below are two more recent videos, #3 and #4, showing what a long way he’s come. He’s small, but has the personality of a winner: he absolutely keeps up with his three surviving siblings. The kind of active play depicted here is perpetual in coyote pups!

#3 At four months, Tiny Tim keeps up with his siblings!
#4 This is the whole family just a few weeks ago: Mom, Dad and four pups including Tiny Tim keeping up with the rest of them!

Territorial Extent: Identification of coyotes from nighttime infrared images of field cameras can be difficult because facial features are whited out by the “negative” image. But because I’ve been able to identify the scars on Mom’s legs in the images taken on her home turf, I have been able to determine that it is this coyote who I see regularly in a field camera at a location about to a mile away, indicating that this is part of her territory. This distant area used to belong to another coyote pair who no longer ever appear there, and now it has shifted over to this pair. What this indicates is that there has been a re-defining of territorial boundaries in this area. It’s not a big change, rather it’s just a “tweaking” change, but it’s a change nonetheless.

The recent intruder who I have seen scoot between various territories in the city

An Intruder: There has been an intruder caught by the field camera in this territory — a dispersing youngster. They pop up, pretty infrequently, but when they do, it’s for as short a time as a day, or sometimes for as long as two weeks. I’ve seen THIS particular intruder has been as far away as the city limit of Daily City and at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. He appeared only once at this territory’s home base, and only once at each of those other two locations: dispersal takes these youngsters all over the place in a very short period of time as they look for new homes. Most end up moving south and out of the city, as documented by the Presidio ecologists.

Frankly, I don’t think I would have gleaned any more information about this family from first-hand observations than I have virtually.

One real-time observation: A few weeks ago, I actually SAW a pup briefly for the first time for about two minutes. I was watching him carefully groom himself when sirens sounded, and I was able to capture this 25 second video of him responding in the video. To begin with, you hear the whole family’s short response. Then this little guy alone with his tiny little squeaks, and at the 12 second mark you can hear one deep and loud howl from an adult: that is his father’s.

A four-month-old youngster howls in response to sirens. Note his tiny voice!

Relationships: I got a couple of good shots of this pup’s facial features (above left). I was really surprised to see how much he looks like his uncle, the brother of Hunter, the previous territory’s alpha male (above right) — I know few people will see the resemblances I see, but I definitely see them. Anyway, this has potential meaning for me. There are resemblances in different families that are rather striking, and these often lead me to genetic relationships that that I couldn’t have picked up in any other way except DNA. I’m guessing that his Mother might be Hunter’s daughter OR that that, Hunter, actually sired the pups before disappearing.

So: identifications, intruders, family dynamics, redefined territorial boundaries, possible genealogical connections, health and howling — all through field cameras and one two-minute observation time!

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