Intruder

Coyotes can find themselves in dire straits, not always caused by humans, and here is an example of this. Let’s give them a break whenever we can!

Nature is full of conflict and it can be harsh. Few people are even aware that all those birds on a spring morning aren’t simply singing beautiful songs as the sun begins to show itself and as the day comes into bloom. No, most of these sounds are territorial warnings and battle cries, and the parks are war zones. When animals aren’t fighting for, or defending their territories, they are eating each other. This, I’m afraid, is what is going on. Yes, there’s much sweetness in-between, but the point is that it isn’t all sweetness.

A resident coyote family which “owns” a territory has to protect its territory exclusively for itself — it’s a survival tactic. This ensures that the resources on that territory will be available to them alone, without competition from other coyotes. This is the reason intruders are driven off. But what about the intruder?  It’s important to see his point of view as well. The intruder is looking for a place to live. It might be a coyote who has been displaced from his own territory (usually by humans), or a younger coyote dispersing from its natal territory. New environments are hazardous for all animals because they are unknown, as are the situations on them.

Within the span of several weeks I saw one newcomer/intruder coyote welcomed into a new territory: he paired-up with a loner coyote on her territory — yes, this has been incredibly heartwarming and “sweet” to watch, as I posted just a short while ago.

During that same several weeks, in another park, an intruder coyote was viciously driven out — circumstances were different for him and decidedly not hospitable. I’ve seen enough coyotes driven off brutally from claimed territories to know that it is not a rare occurrence. The misconception that “coyotes seldom get into physical altercations with other coyotes” (a statement made by an individual who also claims that only ‘degreed individuals’ have the right to know coyote behavior) arises from a lack of field-work and first-hand observation, which are of course at the foundation of any legitimate inquiry into coyote behavior. This is what I do.

Most of the fighting I have observed has occurred when it was too dark to photo-record, but there was still a smattering of light when I captured the following series. It was late dusk and getting darker, however my camera with a 16,000 ISO captured the activity even though much of it is blurry due to the low light — nevertheless, you’ll get the idea. So here are my first-hand observations with 65 photos. (Note that these photos have been lightened so you can see the activity). [Also see Territorial Fighting Can Be Vicious]

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At this point in time [the makeup of families changes routinely as pups are born, and eventually disperse at various times during the year] the resident coyote family consisted of the mated pair, I’ll call them Mom and Dad, one Yearling female aged 2.5, and several pups, who have been kept secluded, even now at 6.5 months of age. I know them all well. On the contrary, I had not seen the intruder youngster before, so I don’t know his background. I do know that he is a male probably 1.5 years of age.

When I arrived, I immediately knew something was wrong because one of the two female coyotes, Mom, was “messaging” the intruder by approaching and gaping (slide #1). The intruder kept his distance, squeezing his eyes tightly shut at regular intervals, and then lay down, keeping his distance when the two resident females lay down. Each coyote was waiting for another to do something. I had never seen a coyote repeatedly squeezing his eyes like this before, but it was obviously a stress indicator, and reminded me of a human squeezing away the tears of pain. My wildlife behavior contact suggested that he might be trying desperately to be accepted by the group and the blinking was his way of communicating “I am not threatening”. When his eyes were open, they were wide open, glassy and scared.

After ten minutes, all three coyotes jaunted towards the interior of the park without incident — I don’t know what prompted this. The two resident females soon lay down on a knoll and watched the intruder distance himself further away (#14). The intruder then stopped and turned around to watch them, and they watched back. I noticed the intruder had a limp, and I don’t know if that was inflicted by the two females before I came, or if he had come to the area with it — it could have been a battle wound at another territory, or even from at own natal territory from which he dispersed and from which he may have been driven out. He then, too, lay down, in the distance.

I began walking in his direction, and when I was half-way there, the two females got up and came my way, at first trotting, but once they had passed me, they pursued the intruder at a run (slide #15). The intruder ran to keep away. Soon again, they all came to a standstill, where, again, the two resident females lay down and watched while the intruder kept his distance. But then the Yearling got up and began poking around (might she have been “testing” him? I don’t know) and the intruder got closer to her, not aggressively, but almost beseechingly.  The Yearling reacted with an intensely aggressive messaging display which had little effect on the intruder. She ended up walking away from him. (see slides #20-25).

And THEN, I guess this is what the females had been waiting for: DAD appeared in the distance (slide #28). I don’t think he had a clue as to what was going on. He had probably been occupied with the hidden pups. First Mom went to greet him angrily, and he reacted in kind to her mood — there sometimes has been mild sparring between these two (slide #29). Then she gaped at Dad and ultimately prodded him with her paw — an action I have seen coyotes do when they want the other to do something (slide #30). As the Yearling joined these two, Dad finally began picking up on the cues. He looked around and saw the intruder in the distance. “Oh!” Dad yawned, squinted his eyes, and headed for the intruder, first deliberately and slowly, and then charging at a run. Dad made contact with the intruder, threw him to the ground and began attacking viciously. Poor intruder! The females joined in to help towards the end but soon left the fray, and now it was between Dad and the Intruder (slides #40-50).

But first there was a standoff, with scared intruder facing Dad, both with their hackles up. The intruder again squeezed his eyes shut and I felt his anguish and desperate situation (#52). At this point, Dad kicked the dirt in anger and went after him again (#54). The intruder headed into the bushes for some protection but Dad followed him there. Finally, when the opportunity came up, the defeated intruder headed off, tail tucked under and back arched in a protective posture (#59). Dad followed him to behind a pile of wood chips. Most of the attacks now were in the heavy growth behind the wood chips where it was too dark to photograph and I dared not go, but I heard the loud rustling and crackling of dried leaves and breaking twigs, and the repeated short, intense squeals and cries of pain.

Dad then emerged and walked away. But Intruder stuck his head above the woodpile one more time, and so Dad returned to take care of him. I never saw the intruder emerge — he was being taught to not show himself here ever again. I hope he went the other way, but I don’t know how he fared. I’ve seen the wounds from territorial fights — some of them large and deep, and I’ve seen severe limping afterwards. I’ve seen these wounds mostly on older males, probably because they are more willing to standup for themselves. A younger coyote might give up before the wounds become severe? And, it’s interesting that all territorial wounds I’ve ever seen have been on males: it appears that the females are more likely to withdraw than allow themselves to become injured.

Meet “Hunter”: Gold Medalist in High Airborne Pouncing

Coyotes are as individual, unique and different in their competencies as are people: for instance, not every coyote is endowed with the same pouncing ability, or has perfected that skill to the extent this fellow has. He consistently gives stellar leaping performances, day after day after day.

All of the following photos are of that single coyote I have named “Hunter”.  His exceptional skill consists of ease in springing up high, aiming, and then either diving directly down with an added end-bounce, or first sailing through the air for a few feet before his dive. He has eliminated all the extraneous movements which might make another coyote look more clumsy or awkward at times. I’m mesmerized each time I watch him. And usually his only reward is an itsy bitsy little field mouse in the end. I’ve come to believe he’s not in it for the reward, he just seems to love springing up and sailing energetically and efficiently through the air — and that’s probably why he’s so good at it.

Press on each of the photo groups to see them enlarged, and watch the video above which I’ve slowed down so you can appreciate his every move.





She Who Laughs Last, Laughs The Loudest

Here’s a fun photo-essay involving two coyotes and their ownership of a mouse.

SHE caught a mouse and began to play with it. HE, of course, noticed and approached.

Aware that HIS eyes were on HER mouse, she distanced herself fast.

Then she teased him and taunted him, provokingly, and continued to play with her mouse by tossing it and catching it, and dropping it sometimes: “ha ha, this is MINE and you can’t have it!!”  But he watched her carefully, and . . .

the minute that little mouse was tossed a little too far, HE grabbed it and ran with it. She watched him tear off with it. Now it was HIS.

He distanced himself far enough not to be reached, and then played with what was now HIS prize. He kept looking over at her thinking she might try to grab it back. But she was sly and pretended not to care –she pretended to be otherwise occupied.

Then, when she felt HE believed that it didn’t matter to HER, and when he was occupied with “his” mouse and no longer watching her, she snuck over and,

now it was payback time: when that little mouse was tossed too far, SHE grabbed it and took off.

This time there was no more tossing the mouse around. Why take the chance of its being grabbed again? She chewed it up and down the hatch it went. After all, it had been HER mouse before HE stole it from her! And then she grabbed HIS snout in hers to show who was boss: she who laughs last . . .

Teasing each other is something coyotes do a lot of. It’s a form of interaction, and most of it is done in good-will.

Beautiful Solo Howling to Sirens by an Older Male


He has a fairly large family, but they didn’t join-in this time.

Lugubrious Howl After Picking Up An Unwelcome Scent

 

Kicking dirt after his howl (with a youngster beside him)

This lugubrious howl capped extensive and intense sniffing by the resident alpha male of his territorial area. He had been picking-up the scent and following it fervently for several days, and I wondered what was going on. Right before the howl, his nose again was to the ground as he zig-zagged intently over the area. Immediately following the howl, he “kicked” the ground: he was clearly angry, but whomever he was angry at was not present.

Nose to the ground, following the scent

The intense sniffing occurred regularly for several days.

My initial thought was that a wayward dog might be causing alarm, but seldom have I seen dogs here. HOWEVER, the day after the recording, I spotted an intruder female yearling sniffing through the area evasively. She was a coyote I knew. Recognizable facial features apart, she was encumbered with a hefty radio-collar. These are used only in only one park in San Francisco — most of our city coyotes are free of them. So I’ll take this opportunity to say a little about her.

She had been “babysitter” for her own younger siblings born this year in her park several miles away. Pups in the city are more than five-months old now and require less looking-after, so relieved of this responsibility, she is freer to explore away from her home. Might she be making tentative steps at dispersal and looking for an unfilled niche within the city? She’s a year-and-a-half old and ready to move out on her own. Her brother, apparently, dispersed out of the city, dozens of miles south. On the contrary, this gal has been making forays within the city since March, but she always returns home (per Jonathan Young).

The yearling interloper

Might the howl have been either a warning to the intruder, or at least a vocalization of discontentment — the same as when coyotes howl after having been chased by a dog? Most intruders are chased off by resident coyotes — this is what I normally see — but if it happened here, I was not there to see it.

Papa’s five-month old pups.

Whatever was going on seems to have been resolved for the time being. I say this because the very next day this papa left the area for the day, leaving three youngsters and mom there alone. He would not have done so had there been danger lurking nearby. Leaving them for day-long intervals has been a routine behavior of his over the last couple of months, so things seemed back to normal and calm again. The youngsters seemed to know how to take care of themselves by doing what youngsters do best: playing chase and wrestling with each other, and keeping (fairly) hidden.

If the sniffing and howling were indeed because of the intruder, I wonder how serious of an infraction the intrusion was? My only clues that there was a problem were the alpha male’s repeated intense sniffing and his mournful howl, and then the intruder’s appearance. She has not re-appeared and neither has the intense sniffing behavior. Whatever was going on, no longer is.

A Boyfriend for A Loner!

My friend Ilana contacted me after she saw two coyotes where there had only been one ever before. Our loner coyote, a female, has lived reclusively — reclusively when it comes to other coyotes but not people or cars — in one of our parks for two and a half years. Suddenly and for the first time, she was seen walking in the company of another coyote! This is very exciting! I hurried over to the park to take a look, even though it was late at night.

She’s on the right smiling at her new beau!

Because it was nighttime, I saw some wildlife which I don’t normally see during daylight hours: for instance, a barn owl, beautifully white in the light of a streetlamp, fluttering kitelike above its prey, and two raccoons stealthily weaving their way around parked cars and over a cyclone fence on their way somewhere.

Within minutes, I spotted the loner coyote and then the newcomer. They stuck pretty much together. An acquaintance happened along and held my flashlight so that I was able to take a record shot in the dead of darkness. I didn’t know if the coyote’s would be a one-night visit, or something more permanent.

The next morning I returned and saw them again, well after dawn. First, I saw the loner by herself. She sniffed something enticingly-smelly in the middle of an intersection, so she wallowed and rubbed herself on it: perfume for the occasion??  Fortunately, it was Saturday, so traffic was light. She then disappeared into some bushes and soon re-appeared, this time with the newcomer right behind her. It appears that he’s planning on staying a while. My friend Gary’s running club appeared at that moment and I was able to share the event, and the excitement thereof, with them.

When the loner emerged with her new friend, she exuded happiness. It was apparent that, to her, the newcomer was more than welcome here. She was totally solicitous towards him. They went trotting off: I’m sure she was showing him around. Her attention and gaze were regularly in his direction. Repeatedly she extended her snout in his direction in a show of happy acceptance, and they both smiled most of the time. Only once, that I saw — and I was continually watching — did he push back, which surprised her no end, as revealed in her facial expression in this photo I captured (below). Might she have been a bit overbearing in her welcoming behavior? She backed off a little and everything became balanced again.

The resident loner (on the right in all these photos) kept looking at the newcomer as if to say, “Isn’t this fun?”, and reaching with her snout in his direction.

Only once was she told to “cool it”!

The coyotes spent the bulk of their time together hunting, playing chase with each other, and trekking the length of the park. The most amazing part of it was to see how happy they were, especially the loner: she was smiling ear to ear almost every time I saw her; she kept looking at him to make sure he, too, was having a good time, and she became playful frequently to show how much she liked having him there. Walkers in the park were enchanted: TWO now!

Chasing, play, and just being together.

The newcomer is skilled at hunting, especially leaping for prey

Twice she was chased by dogs — this is par for a morning — while he sat in the background and watched. He did not go to her aid, which many coyotes wilI do. In both cases, the exhausted dogs gave up: no dog can maneuver the hills as lithely as a coyote who doesn’t have bulk or pounds weighing her down.

What is on everyone’s mind, I know because everyone is asking me, is pups. Whoa! Coyote females come into heat just once a year in January or February. Our loner is old enough to have pups now at 3 1/2 years of age. Males, interestingly, produce sperm, also, only at this one time of year through a process called spermatogenesis which lasts two months. Males tend to wait to reproduce until they are about 4 years old is what I have seen. We have no idea how old this male is, except that he is at least 1 1/2 years old — he is obviously not young enough to have been born this year.  If he is as old as our female or older, we could have pups next April. If he is younger, it won’t be for a while.

My hope is that paying attention to him might help curtail some of the attention the loner has been paying to human activity, dogs, and cars. Wouldn’t that be nice?!

Please, everyone, keep your dogs away from them: the minute you see a coyote, shorten your leash and walk away. You could pick up a small dog as you walk away. For an introduction to coexistence, watch: Coyotes As Neighbors: What To Know and Do. For How To Handle Coyote Encounters: A Primer, press for the flyer by that name. To learn a little about coyote family life, read this short article which appeared in WildCare Magazine: Inside A Coyote Family

A Newly Discarded Bike Tire Inspires A Coyote’s Inner Child

Here are fifteen slides of fun: investigating and testing yet another discovered novelty! Note the tentative approach with touching, poking, and at first, grabbing the tire only minimally by a torn tire tread, all the while with hackles up and ready to bolt if the need should arise.

This is serious business — getting to tame and know her environment — in this case a bike tire!!  :)) The best way to see these slides is to click on the first one and then scroll through them.

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