A Chapter Ends

An entire family left their long-time claimed territory, leaving one daughter behind. I thought the vast territory had become hers. For several months, I would find her all alone. And then one day, there were two newcomers with her — both males!

I could tell that she was apprehensive about them for the first little while after they appeared. She kept a squinted, wary eye on them as they loitered around fairly close to each other until dusk darkened the sky and enveloped the landscape. She was assessing them, and they her. Dusk is when she’d usually head off trekking alone, and soon I watched as three of them went off together, not with complete confidence in each other as one would expect in an established family, but they were figuring each other out, and figuring out their relationships, through darting eye-glances: coyotes communicate visually and everything they did sent a message and was interpreted as a message.  I watched these three for the next few weeks as they became more obviously trusting and comfortable with each other. Right from the start, though, she showed a preference for the dark-eyed fella: he was the obvious dominant of the two, and maybe this had everything to do with her choice.

After the first few days during which she showed them “her domain”, they mostly hung-out on their knolls waiting for dusk to come around, and I watched the relationship progress from her being totally “in charge” and leading the howling sessions (in this first video, you can see him ignore the siren until she reacts):

. . . to ‘her chosen fella’ taking charge and leading the chorus when sirens sounded. Note that, although she appeared to have “chosen” her fella early on, the “possessive display” continues, and you’ll see this at the end of these two howling videos.

It wasn’t long before I observed an all-out, no-holds-barred play session: they were in a sand-pit a long distance off and it was dark, but I got this photo above, showing them playing as coyotes do when they like each other: chasing, wrestling, and play-beating up one another in a teasing sort of way. And then, within only a few days of that out-and-out play, the pair was gone. They are now gone and have been for weeks. So, I guess the lady of the house’s new beau came in and swept her off her feet and they loped away into the sunset together to hopefully live happily ever after — isn’t that how these stories are supposed to go? I wonder if I’ll see them again.

Since their departure, I’ve only seen the extra-male a few times: the beautiful pale blue-eyed fellow below. But now he, too is gone. The field has been totally vacant for weeks. The family that left had been there twelve full years I’m told by a fellow observer who knew the Dad from the time he was a mere pup. That fellow observer ceased appearing because the coyotes had. So there’s a big void there right now. I suppose my assumption that the vast territory had become “hers” is incorrect. It’s a coyote no-mans land right now.

Twelve years ago, before this family claimed it as their own, there had been a territorial battle between two families here. I was told that one of the families was so vengeful that it went after and slaughtered the pups of the rival family. Then all families disappeared and only one youngster remained there. He became the owner for the next twelve years until last fall. This story came from my fellow observer who, I can verify, has been an astute and accurate observer and could even identify individual coyotes in the dark (which I still have not mastered). There is no reason not to believe the story. I’m relating it to show just how intense and brutal territorial battles can get: that the battles are fierce shows just how important the land is to coyotes for their survival.

I’m hoping someone comes back soon: it might be the old family, it might be this recently formed pair, it might be the extra-male, or it might be someone never seen before: vacant niches tend to be filled, so let’s see. Of interest to me, as noted in my very last posting, is that observable coyote activity is way down in almost all the territories I study, and may be due to the upcoming pupping season.

 

Moving Around

Maybe you’ve been noticing coyotes where you haven’t seen them before? Or maybe you haven’t been seeing them where sometimes you did? These are the same coyotes. There aren’t suddenly more of them right now, even though it might APPEAR so when they appear in never-before-seen areas. Those I observe have recently been spending less time where they were, and more time roving. They aren’t just wandering aimlessly about: they have purpose to their gait, and intent to their direction. Here is a gallery of travels as I’ve recorded some of them. In this casual gallery, I’ve included photos of a red dawn, a red dusk, and a rainbow which I captured during my recent outings. [The rainbow photo has been enhanced with the “saturation” button — a rainbow is never as brilliant as this, but the dawn and dusk photos have not — the sky really looked like this!]

What are the coyotes actually doing? Those who have left home are searching for new areas for themselves at the same time that they are being driven away by established resident coyotes with territories: they are having a hard time. The resident coyotes, on the other hand, are getting things in order for the next big event of the year: pupping season is just down the road. They are surveying every nook and cranny of their vast homesteads for safety from other coyotes and from dogs and people, they are checking out the food supply, and they are scouting-out the safest den sites in out-of-the-way places where they can hide their precious new arrivals for many months. Pups are one of their best-kept secrets. I make it a point to stay far away from any area where I know there might be a den — this is what coyotes want or they wouldn’t take pains to hide their youngsters so well.

So lately I have been seeing them fleetingly and on the move in a variety of novel places. Folks have recently reported that they’ve spotted coyotes in their yards or even on their porches, or down the street where they hadn’t seen them before.

If you see coyotes where you haven’t before, know that this is normal behavior. Coyotes are regularly in the surrounding neighborhoods of our various city parks, and sometimes, as now, there appears to be somewhat of a spate of such activity. They are not coming after you. It’s not an invasion. They are simply minding their own agendas which have nothing to do with us. Please make sure to continue keeping your distance from them, and always walk away from them, especially if you are walking your dog [see “How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer” for more on this]. It’s best not to let pets wander freely or unsupervised, and if you don’t want coyotes repeatedly visiting your yard, please remove all food sources!

Newcomers

Magic indeed happens, even for coyotes, and it happened here just a few weeks ago. My observations on this particular evening was in a territory from which the entire family had departed several months ago except one 2-1/2 year old female. During the year previous to their departure, this yearling daughter had been excluded from family life mostly by her mother, and she was incessantly harassed by a younger brother, so she lived apart from them, on the fringes of the territory. She was determined to stay.

Over that past year, the family slowly dwindled in size, which is normal as youngsters disperse: the remaining youngsters from three consecutive litters left one by one, and then, to my surprise, Mom and Dad left. Dad returned periodically every week or two, but those visits ceased. I don’t know why Dad and his mate left: Dad had been on this territory for 12 years — he had been born there and won the territory in a dispute we think with his brother. Anyway, 2-1/2 year old yearling now was all alone there. I found her frequently lying down on top of a knoll, or I would hear her howl all alone in the distance when sirens sounded. And then one day a several weeks ago . . . something began to happen!

I reached the top of a hillock to find this yearling running towards me excitedly and maybe even a bit nervously. I was happy to see her energetic stride. And not far behind, surprise!, there came someone else . . . AND then someone else! These were two newcomers who looked strangely familiar, yet I didn’t know them. And then it struck me: I knew where they came from because of their uncanny resemblance to a coyote family in a nearby territory I visit occasionally. I have noted this before: there can be remarkable resemblances within some coyote family groups: in this case, blue eyes was one of the tell-tale signs. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that these two were males. Very exciting!

Showing the newcomers around

The female appeared to be showing-off as well as showing them around. First of all, she showed off her knowledge of what was not dangerous by whizzing right by me. I watched the others follow her lead — to me they looked impressed. They kept a larger distance from me. She proceeded to convey her intimate knowledge of the territory to them by leading them through secret fence passageways and to the backs of houses, and they explored various well-known-to-her brush areas. They criss-crossed an entire section of the territory, marking and exploring and watching each other, and then as night fell they headed out into the streets of San Francisco. I turned back at this point: I was overjoyed for the little female.

Three coyotes where there used to be one.

The next day, I saw the interaction in this video. She seems to be hooked on one of the new fellas and was not afraid to let him know. Note that SHE is the one making all the moves while he seems almost to be putting up with her if not downright annoyed with her. Actually, simply allowing her to do this is his way of accepting her. Anyway, it looks like a relationship is in the making here!

Dispersal: Variations on a Theme

Every dispersal is different, I suppose because each coyote and every family is different. When it’s forced rather than the coyote simply leaving of his/her own accord, I tend to see Moms driving out females, and Dads or even brothers driving out males (though in this latter case, I’ve seen female siblings join-in the driving out process). Some of the youngsters drag their feet or even try to return several times, always without success. I’ve seen “cold turkey” dispersals where youngsters are gone suddenly without apparent warning, I’ve seen gradual dispersals, and I’ve even observed some parents hold on by visiting their dispersed offspring in their new areas. Here in this posting, I’ll describe three very different dispersals.

1) The dispersal of the coyote in the photo below was very gradual and of his own volition. He began leaving for a day at a time to begin with, and then for longer periods of time, returning for increasingly-brief periods which became less frequent over several months, until we no longer saw him again. This happened in the early springtime. He was almost exactly two years old when he left for good. His was a smooth transition: he was not pushed out, but rather was allowed to disperse at his own pace. He had stayed to help with the family’s next litter after him, but was gone right before the following year’s litter arrived. He was a mellow fellow who helped keep order by consoling his siblings when they needed it, and was a stickler for order when things got out of hand between them.

This male dispersed of his own volition at almost exactly 2 years of age (3/5/18)

2) The dispersal that warmed my heart the most was that of this rambunctious yearling male below, who had a testy relationship with an older female sibling, but was always on good terms with his parents and a brother. And then, one day, I saw Dad treat him truly as an equal for the first time. I sensed a huge joy and freedom in this coyote which I had never seen before, and maybe this treatment gave him the confidence to be so. It was as though this were a rite of passage before leaving home. So it was a warm sendoff, almost a goodby party. The “ceremony”, if you will, consisted of an evening of frolicking with Dad as an equal, with Dad instigating the play: they ran together, bucking up, and nipping each others’ ears or heels, and they jumped on each other as equal buddies and friends, liberated from any hierarchy, just playing. The youngster exuded a joy and sense of freedom, along with stature and confidence which he hadn’t displayed before. Two days later he was gone. It was mid-summer. We saw him a few times in a park nearby, but then he was gone from there, too: he was now out making his own way in the world.

Heartwarming sendoff: father and son play a few days before son leaves for good on 5/18 at 14+ months of age. We see him 10 days later in a park nearby, but then never again.

3) The most unusual dispersal is one that happened almost “backwards”.  In this case, a youngster, at the age of a year and a half, was banned to the fringes of her territory by her family which, except for Dad, wouldn’t have much to do with her. She was hounded repeatedly by her brother and her mother. She put up with it and didn’t leave, she just kept her distance. Finally, when she was 2 1/2 years old, the family, which by now consisted of only Mom and Dad, left, leaving her behind on their territory. It was almost like a dispersal in reverse. I never saw Mom again, but Dad came visiting regularly at first, and then less and less.

Below is a series of photos showing one of Dad’s last visits in November. The family bond between him and his daughter had been weakening over time, and compatibility had become rougher and testier with each of Dad’s succeeding visits. She used to experience the same joy as seen above between father and son. The daughter always remained exquisitely happy to see Dad, but Dad became more and more hierarchical and the affectionate part of their bond slowly dissipated.  Although Dad’s treatment of his daughter seems harsh, he was cutting the ties much more gently than if he had simply left for good.

She races enthusiastically to greet Dad when he appears after a long absence.

His look tells her to crouch and approach carefully. She is facing him and keeping down in this photo here.

In the above six photos, she is totally submissive, and he stands above her with hackles up: the hierarchy has little give or affection here. She feels comfortable enough to trot off with him, but is not allowed to do so until she knows her place.

A little later, testiness is the order of the day. This is one of the last visits Dad made to visit her.

In many cases, coyotes are driven off harshly by parents or siblings, and I’ve written about this before. In another case, year after year, a pair of coyote parents has led their youngsters through their fragmented territory, starting when they were about 6 months old: there’s not much stability in this kind of bohemian/gypsy movement, and I suppose the pups eventually tired of this because by 9 months of age, none were around anymore.

I’ve been lucky enough to discover several coyotes I knew as youngsters in their new locations. In one case, I’ve followed a family for 12 years through four generations, and I’m now following that fourth generation in a new location where it appears there may be a fifth generation on the way!

Cuddling, Teasing and Play


Of course pups cuddle, tease and play with each other. And parents do the same with their pups. But in the coyote world, these inter-personal activities are prevalent throughout adulthood between mated pairs: coyotes really like each other (unless they really don’t, which is a different story). They are social, meaning they spend a lot of time together interacting with each other, be it simply through visual communication or more emphatically through physical contact. Their involvement with each other is constant and can be intense.

In this video you’ll see some of that activity between a bonded pair. You’ll see affectionate nudges and teasing, fond provocations, tender mouth clasps or little “kisses” and cuddling. This is what goes on between them when they’re left alone and not having to constantly watch over their shoulders for danger — mostly from dogs. The activity occurs throughout the year, not just during the reproductive season.

Home Alone


Times in many ways have been hard for this young, two-and-a-half-years old female coyote whom I call Sis. Hard, because she was excluded from her family group by her mother and had to live her life apart from them, but within seeing range, for over a year. Only Dad would come over to console her now and then. I was sure she would disperse, but a fellow observer told me that this coyote was strong and would be sticking around. I was surprised that this is, indeed, how it worked out.

Dad visits her

Intruders came through the area several times during this year-long time-frame, and the family drove them out, with this young female right in there helping with that. I felt that she was trying to prove her worthiness to the family, but it didn’t seem to help regain her any acceptance. Eventually, a couple of months ago, the family left the territory entirely, leaving her all alone with one younger pup who now, too, seems to be gone. Dad returned regularly to visit at first, but not often. His visits, too, slowly waned and then ceased.

I often find her alone, as usual, lying on a little knoll with her chin to the ground. I gather that she looks forward to my appearances because she’s always there as though waiting for me. On this day, after the sirens sounded, she responded while lying down — not even bothering to get up! I recorded the entire howl session, her single voice filling the evening. It was just about dark outside causing the video to go out of focus right at the end of the recording.

Wishing All Coyotes, and You, Happiness In the New Year!


Yes, coyotes can be very happy critters. Seeing is believing. “Blissful” only begins to describe this young gal’s elated wallowing on the old tennis ball she has just delighted in playing with for half an hour. May all coyotes, and you, find this much joy in the new year!

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