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.

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.

Death Affects

A couple of weeks ago, ACC informed me that a pup in one of the families I follow, an 8-month-old male, had been picked up DOA, hit by a car. Deaths affect coyote families enormously and cause behavior changes. Below is what I saw in this one family within the several days following that youngster’s death: searching calls, mourning howls, and shuffling around in the territory.

The day after the death, everything seemed normal in the family: no one in the family acted as though anything was amiss. A couple of the pups came out at dusk, interacted a little, and waited for the family activities to begin. I waited until dark when I could see no more and then left. This was their normal pattern of behavior — nothing had changed at this point. A youngster or adult who doesn’t show up for a day is usually of no concern to the rest of the family — these short absences occur regularly. The following day is when their concern began.

This is Lug, who has been missing ever since ACC picked up a young male DOA who had been killed by a car. 1/9 UPDATE: This fella showed up again, finally, so it was his brother who was killed by the car, not Lug.

By the second night, two days after the youngster’s absence, no one in the family came out into the open field — they were all being careful. They indeed were there, as revealed by the howling I heard, but they all remained hidden in the dense shrubbery close by rather than out in the open. After sirens sounded, they erupted into family howling, which began as a normal howling session — I don’t think the pups understood or even would have been aware of a sibling’s absence on the same level as their parents — but as the howling continued through six long minutes, it changed. Those happy, squealy youngster yips segued into just the adults calling out. Abruptly the adults each emit short and sharp double barks. I’ve heard this *signal* before: it’s a signal that they all must be quiet. Mom then continued to call out for 3 minutes. I’m absolutely certain she was seeking a reply from the missing pup. A response never came.

  • Sirens
  • 0:03 & 0:06 two adults initiate a family response to sirens
  • 0:07 – 0:40 family howling
  • 0:40 – 2:55 back and forth between the adults
  • 2:55 & 3:05 adults each emit short & sharp double “hushing” barks
  • 3:08 to 6:01 then Mom calls repeatedly, apparently for missing pup, no response

The next night there again was family howling, but its tone had changed drastically from the enthusiastic family yipping and then calling, to long howls sounding intermittently lugubrious and mournful. Did they know the missing pup would never come back — that he was no longer alive? I think so. This is the audio:

I think Mom sensed there was a danger in the immediate area that had taken this pup. I don’t think she knew he was killed by a car, but she would have decided that the danger lurked in the area where they had been hanging out. After that second howling session, which appeared sad to me, she moved the family to another location within her territory, I believe, to keep them away from the danger that had taken that one pup, not knowing that the roadway surrounding her park is where the danger lay. I did not see or hear them for the next two weeks. Exactly two weeks later, Mom reappeared for the first time again, and one of the pups again in this location: maybe that’s as long as it takes most dangers to pass.

I have heard what I know to be mournful or disturbed howling several times, and there is a story, posted many years ago on this blog with the same observation: https://coyoteyipps.com/2009/10/04/coyote-story/.

Aside: Several years ago, I came to know a homeless person with a German Shepherd who lived out of her Jeep. She would park outside one of the parks at night, and she got to know one of the coyotes who would trek past her car almost every night and they would acknowledge each other. Even her dog seemed to have a respectful relationship with that coyote. You can be sure there was feeding, but she would not admit to this. This went on for several years, and then the dog died in the car. That night, the coyote stopped right outside her car, sat down, and belted out long howls before walking on: the homeless person was sure he was saying his goodbyes to the dog, and I tend to believe she was right. The deceased dog was in the car, so the coyote must have sensed it in some way other than visually. Within a year, the dog’s owner also died. A few of us got together to grant her last wish: to spread her ashes in *her* park. We left her dog’s collar (which she had saved) there. The next day the collar was gone, and there were coyote tracks in the ashes. Two days later, that same coyote mounted the hill overlooking the park, and again gave a long distressed howl — the kind he might have given if a dog had chased him, but there had been no dog chase. People who heard it ALL wondered why he was so sad. The next day he left the park for good. I can’t but believe his howls were a *goodbye* to that homeless woman.

A Mated Pair in Sync

I first spotted him in the distance as a silhouette against the sky. As I got closer I saw who it was.

It’s always a joy to catch a glimpse of this pair and catch up on how they are. I don’t see them nearly as often as I used to, which over the years has been pretty much every single day. With more ailments, aches and pains as they age, I’m sure they feel more vulnerable and less inclined to risk encounters with dogs. This morning I was overjoyed to see one of them at dawn. I could only see a dark silhouette on the horizon against the lighter sky. I hurried over to be able to identify who it was: it was Dad! He was sitting on a path as the daylight slowly creeped over the horizon. When the first leashed dog walked by in the distance, he got up and sauntered away and over to a grassy knoll, where he again lay down and kept his gaze in one specific direction.

He got up, stretched, scratched, and went over to another grassy knoll where he continued his vigilant gaze

Suddenly his intense gaze softened and he got up slowly as though he were finally ready to leave. And it’s then that I noticed his mate had suddenly appeared next to him. Now his focused gazing into the distance made sense: he had been waiting for her, keeping an eye in the direction she had gone and from which she would be coming. And SHE knew he would be there waiting for her. They are a pair closely in tandem.

They greeted each other gently, warmly, knowingly — I sensed the deep intuition they had for each other — and then they began walking off together, but not before she, the female, acknowledged me from the distance with a knowing glance. I’ve known her for her whole life since she was born, but I’ve known — or I should say *observed* — him only as long as she has, as long as they have been mates over the last two years.

They loitered together for just about a minute, poking into the ground and circling each other. I think he wanted to walk on immediately, but he waited for her, while she seemed to be stalling before *heading-in* for the day together. I had the sense that her stalling was actually testing me — coyotes constantly test — watching for my minutest reactions and reading every flinch I made. I guess I passed, as I always seem to have, because she slowly turned to take the high road where she knew I could observe her (and have many times) even though dogs and people might be on this path — she may even have known that I would be asking folks to leash, as I often have — I absolutely believe she knows when this goes on — whereas he, the male, felt more comfortable taking the lower path where there was plenty of foliage to duck into if a chance encounter were to occur with a dog. So they took separate but parallel paths, based on their individual comfort levels, but still in tandem and within view of each other.

She kept looking in his direction, making sure they were keeping apace of each other.

I soon lost sight of him below the crest of the hill, but I knew he was there because she kept looking back in his direction. She followed a narrow path around the hill, then crossed over the lower path and descended into the thicket. And then, within 2 minutes, he appeared at that same spot, and he also disappeared.

First she descended and disappeared into the nearby woods (left), and he soon followed (right).

It was a real pleasure to see the harmony between these two. They communicate intuitively — and by that I mean in ways we may not be able to decipher: As I watched, I could feel that deep understanding between them. Lately, when I see them, I almost always see them together, just the two of them, without any of their offspring, though the family does come together every evening. These parents have been together for two litters now, and I’m expecting there will be another litter coming up next year.

I probably won’t see them again for a while — that’s the latest pattern — but I felt caught up!

Six-Month-Olds and an Old Pair of Shoes

Of interest is the size of these youngsters: although they were only six months old, they were pretty close to full-size at this age — some filling-in has taken place since then, but not much. I’m not going to say a lot because the video speaks for itself. Just notice the perpetual motion and the perpetual engagement with each other. These critters are absolutely social and they love interacting. There’s lots of good-willed teasing going on, competition, and vying with each other. There’s constant visual engagement and communication through body language. Emotions, desires, moods are all on display. Through play they hone physical and social skills which they’ll use throughout their lives. Enjoy!

The cast: Lil’Girl, Pepper, Pinocchio, and Captain. Cyrano wasn’t there in this play session taken on October 12th, two months ago. Since that time, Captain was found dead of rat poisoning. And an older sibling from last year’s was killed by a car.

Has Spermatogenesis Kicked In?

In this short video clip, you’ll see a 4½ year old female (and two-time mother) coyote exhibiting a keen interest in her long-time mate’s urine odors. Might this kind of behavior have to do with reproduction and, although I don’t know this for sure, would her interest be tied to odors emanating from spermatogenesis in the male? Whether this is the case or not, this is a good time to address the phenomenon of spermatogenesis in coyotes.

Spermatogenesis is the process of producing sperm. For coyotes, unusually and fascinatingly, it kicks in heavily during just the winter months starting about now and coincides pretty exclusively with female ovulation, wherein there occurs just a ten-day window of opportunity for fertilization to occur. The production itself apparently takes about two-months. I decided to read up some more about it in three scientific papers, but I’m sorry I did. I was able to confirm my information above which I already knew, but I didn’t find out anything else about the process. And I was awakened to upsetting scientific methods.

Science often is not as concerned with the well-being of the animals as much as it is with the information that is sought. For one of these studies, captive animals *kept* by our Department of Agriculture were used — animals that had not been allowed to live their natural lives. In another study, animals were captured and removed from their family environments, which in itself is inhumane because these animals are integral parts of long-term family units and are very tied to their territories in an *ownership* type of way. Removing them disrupts not only the family, but the territorial dynamics which have been established. The coyotes were kept in small kennels for 6 months before the actual study even began. Coyotes wander great distances of several miles every single night, so this confinement must have been excruciating for them. They were anesthetized before probes were inserted through their anuses for *electroejaculation* for the purpose of obtaining semen for sperm counts and hormone levels. Only the third study extracted information from post-mortem animals: I’m pretty sure that the 441 animals involved weren’t expressly killed for this study. Might simply watching their behaviors (mating at only one time of year), and using roadkill have provided the sought-after information more humanely and respectfully?

I asked myself, “why do scientists want this information in the first place?” The answer given in the papers was to possibly regulate their numbers: i.e., birth control. BUT, coyotes control their own populations naturally through territoriality: they themselves limit the population in any given area to just one family and they keep other coyotes out. And they also limit their family numbers through behavior: younger females below the alpha mother remain “behaviorally sterile” as long as they remain on their parents’ territory. I read long ago where birth control does not work in coyotes, even with TEN times the amount given other animals.

For me, the welfare of the individual animals comes first, but then again, I’m not a degreed scientist. The population study I’m collaborating on through UC Davis is hands-off and non-invasive. We use visual recognition of the coyotes, and then scat to confirm and expand on those findings. The study also involves diet analysis through DNA found in their scat — again, this is a hands-off and non-invasive study.

I think more and more people are coming to realize that the wildlife around us needs to have their rights protected. I’ve just bought a book, one of a growing number on the subject, that addresses my concerns: The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World by Boyd, David R. which states that, “a growing body of law around the world supports the idea that humans are not the only species with rights; and if nature has rights, then humans have responsibilities.” Apparently *forests* are another group of species that are being viewed as having legal rights. I think this is highly interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Photo Essay: Unwelcome Greetings

Mom was napping in the brown grasses in the late afternoon which is something she routinely does before the evening rendezvous: it was peaceful and calm as the day wore down. “Ahhh, this is life” could have been a thought coming from her head just then. She held her head up every few minutes and looked around and then let it fall back down and closed her eyes. As it got darker, she slowly began to move more and more, and finally she got up and stretched and ambled ever so slowly to I don’t think it mattered where, and then she stopped short.

My camera was focused on her, so at first I didn’t see what was going on outside the area of focus, but her stopping and staring told me that something had grabbed her attention.

Two of her seven-month-old youngsters — I would not call them pups anymore since they are close to full-sized coyotes — appeared. She watched as they greeted each other according to the ranking they had established between themselves. Suddenly my expectation turned to the wiggles and squiggles and ever- so-happy greetings I’ve seen so often at these greetings.

But no. She apparently wanted at that moment to have nothing to do with them, and possibly to continue in the calm space she was in. Communication between coyotes is very definite and precise — much more so than human words which, as we all know, can be very imprecise: facial expressions and body language leave no room for misinterpretation. She was facing away from me, but I knew exactly what was going on with the little I could see: she opened her snout threateningly, wrinkled her nose, pulled back her lips and displayed her teeth: “Hey kids, leave me alone!”

And the youngsters, of course, knew exactly what she meant. They had been approaching her in low crouched positions, carefully and gingerly, showing their respect and subservience — they had obviously encountered her unwelcoming side before. Mom apparently was not in a mood to deal with them. She stood there, keeping them at bay through her snarls and body language.

They move away from her

The youngsters were nervous and turned to interacting calmly with each other: grabbing the other’s snout, falling to the ground, hugging against each other as if for self-protection, etc. They then slowly approached Mom — they felt compelled to greet her — it’s their innate etiquette to do so — even if just to allow her to grab their snouts in a show of solidarity with their respective relationships. After that, and with the continued snarling, they moved on slowly and Mom lay down again in the grasses — the rendezvous and interactions would have to wait until SHE was ready.

These stills are of that interaction, taken in bursts, and at late dusk when there was little light, which is why they are blurry. I could have taken a video, but you would have missed the nuances of what was going on, which requires stopping the action, to see, interpret, and reflect on the behaviors.

Accumulating Stuff

I regularly see coyotes pass through this passageway, usually rather uneventfully, but over a period of about a month I noticed that one of them seemed to accumulate things — including wood, bottles, a cap, a bag, a cloth scrap, a raccoon, and a blanket: as far as I have seen, most coyotes don’t hoard like this. It goes to show that each coyote is unique, both their faces and their personalities, and each family is also different. And yes, I’ve included the cat that was brought in: please, everyone, don’t allow your cats to roam free: cats are much more likely to be grabbed than any of the other stuff you see in this video.

And, by the way, just as every coyote and coyote family is unique, so is every cat, and here is a video of a fairly unique cat chasing away a coyote. I myself have known several coyotes who run from cats, so it’s probably less unique than we think.

Scout’s Continuing Story: Domestic Life and a Recent Scare

Scout reappears after an absence of eleven days after ACC reported they picked up a coyote killed by a car in the area.

A recent scare:

I was given a report that a coyote was picked up, DOA, from 101 at Cesar Chavez on September 27th. That’s Scout’s territory. For eleven days after that I did not see her, nor did most of the folks who know her, and we were coming to the conclusion that we might have lost her: the scare has always been that she would be hit by a car. She often is gone for several days, but not for almost two weeks, except the one time she was driven away by a territorial challenger. As I stated in a previous posting, Deb Campbell, spokesperson for ACC, said that 20 coyotes have been picked up this year hit by cars — more than ever before — and the year isn’t even over yet — and there are probably others that have not been reported to ACC. But Scout finally re-appeared on October 8th, so all is well. . . . for now. . . maybe. The coyote who was killed turns out to have been one of her yearlings who we have not seen since that time. Life can be brutally short for some coyotes, be it in urban setting with cars, or in the wild-wild where they are subject to guns. I’ve seen coyotes live to be 12 years old here in the city, but I’ve also seen lives cut short by cars at 4, 5 and 6 years of age. In captivity, a coyote’s natural lifespan is 14 to 16 years.

I say “maybe” about all being well for Scout, because she was absent for a reason. There is always a reason for any change in behavior. When I finally did see her, she moved slower than usual, with her weight heavy on her bones rather than tightly strung. She looked on the worn, stiff, and older side of things. She walked a little, then lay down in the sun and closed her eyes. Hopefully, whatever is affecting her will pass quickly. Her mate and another yearling son stayed with her as I watched her. This isn’t to say that she didn’t engage in some energetic protective behavior when it was needed that day. She in fact tried repelling a dog who has chased her in the past: she started by approaching and sitting on a path nearby to where the dog and owner were. The owner was exercising. This didn’t produce any results so she began slowly pacing towards the dog, who then chased her, as has happened before. She fled and howled in distress afterwards — so some things never change in spite of other adversities. This is pupping season and coyotes are very protective of their turf and their pups. And in this instance, she was being proactively protective. It’s always best to walk away from them to keep the peace, especially if you have a dog.

So, why might she have been absent for eleven days? I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly what happened, but we do know that something happened or is still going on: maybe she had a mild scrape with a car or other physical trauma; maybe she became ill due to parasites or something else. Maybe her infamous feeder has lured her to another spot? Or maybe she’s just not feeling up to par. I’ve noted that coyotes keep themselves hidden when they feel unwell or unfit and vulnerable.

So that is her very latest news. But how has she been doing previous to this, since she met her new companion in early 2020 when I last wrote about her? I’ve put together an update from that point to the present below, and will soon write a short synopsis of her earlier life for those who haven’t followed her story on my blog here.

Update since she met her new companion:

Scout’s six month exile during the first half of 2019 involved her evading the territorial challenger who pursued her relentlessly throughout the city as she, Scout, attempted over and over again to return to HER hill. That territorial challenger eventually found greener pastures elsewhere and that’s when Scout was finally able to return and re-occupy her territory in June of 2019. But the companion who had produced so much joy for her, Hunter, did not return: during her tumultuous exile, he had moved on to a life without her which can be read about here. Scout remained a loner for months, picking up where she had left off six months earlier, except that her short-lived male companion was no longer around.

Then, in the late fall, I could sense from her sudden renewed energy that something new was brewing. A change in behavior is always caused by *something*: she was more alert and aware than she had been for a while, more ready to *jump-to*. Towards the end of the year I fleetingly glimpsed another coyote several times. Oh, no! Might this be another challenger? She didn’t deserve another such ordeal. OR, might it be a newcomer male who was working his way into this territorial situation and possibly into Scout’s trust? Whoever it was, that coyote was being very secretive.

In February of 2020, I saw Scout run off excitedly and enthusiastically to something that was attracting her again. I thought, here we go again, someone is feeding her: people feeding her has been one of the biggest problems that has impacted her behavior. But, no. She returned in only a few minutes, and a minute after that there appeared a new guy coyote in her wake! She obviously was smitten with him and seemed to be showing him off. As we watched, she went up and groomed him warmly and affectionately, as if introducing him: “this is my new fella”, while he warily took in the situation surrounding himself and then fled the scene quickly. Scooter became her mate. Scout never displayed the same intense camaraderie towards Scooter as she had shown for her first *love*, Hunter, but, hey, she was older and been through the wringer which caused her to grow up substantially from the carefree, happy-go-lucky spirit she had been earlier.

Scout and Scooter

Scooter stuck around for Scout, and they had their first litter that Spring — that was last year, in 2020.

I stayed away from the pupping area, but did capture the following time-lapse video showing a feeding situation; and here, at 11 weeks, the pups are preparing to move out of their birthing den area: Out of the Playpen.

Initially I counted four pups. The den was hidden in a highway right-of-way behind a fence — my camera was placed on that fence-line. It was an extremely noisy — at times deafening with the roaring sound of the traffic — location, but it was not an area visited by dogs or people, and that’s what coyotes want. Soon, only three pups appeared in the field camera: coyote pup survival rate is notoriously low. So three survived to become full sized coyotes. The youngsters have fortunately been more wary and elusive than Scout, as has their dad, her mate. Two of the male youngsters remained in the family, but as of the end of September one had been killed by a car so now only one remains as part of the family.

I became less concerned with Scout once she had a family because suddenly she had something to occupy her time. She began minding her own business rather than engaging people for food, chasing cars, or seeking human attention with her play. Over time, she reverted to some of these previous behaviors, but generally she found her niche in her family.

Issues from the past continued with dogs constantly chasing her and her family, and people feeding her which drew her into the street. To these behaviors, we can add her new protectiveness towards her pups, which increased issues with dogs. Please leash your dog and walk away from the coyotes which works superbly for preventing negative encounters.

This year in April, Scout gave birth again, and again it was behind a fence where dogs could not go, this time at a reservoir. Within weeks though, the Water Department went around blocking most of the under-fence openings that the coyotes used — this is because of the school nearby — so at six weeks of age, on June 1st, the pups were moved to another location only a few blocks away where they have remained ever since.

At this point in time, the pups are six months old, and size-wise could be mistaken for adults, but their behaviors are still very juvenile. Each pup is unique, with her/her own personality. Some are shy, some bolder, some are more solitary while the others are gregarious and competitive, some are more exploratory, whereas others are more careful. All the youngsters like picking on Sister. They are all curious. The two yearling brothers born last year spent a lot of time feeding, babysitting, disciplining and playing with the younger ones: raising youngsters is a family effort. As I said, one of those yearlings was killed by the car on September 27th.

Since a photo is worth a thousand words, here is a gallery of them, showing snippets of what’s been going on with Scout and her family over the last two years. You can click on any of the square photos to enlarge them and then scroll through them all. There have been lots of changes in Scout’s life, but there also have been some defining constants, and these include her steadfast determination and her intense psychological involvement which she now directs towards her family, as depicted in this first photo showing her adoration for one of her pups. Another constant, an unfortunate one imposed by her human neighbors as seen in the photo at the bottom of the page, is people feeding the coyotes, especially along the streets, which causes the coyotes to hang around and beg for more, chase cars, approach people, approach pets.

Mother Scout adoring one of her pups
Older brother and two siblings gang up on Sister — and she’s loving the attention!

Please know that these youngsters living on this almost two-square mile territory will eventually disperse if they survive the car traffic and other hazards of city life, including rat poison, and the territory will remain in the hands of the two alpha-parents until they either die or are no longer able to defend it from a younger pair of challenger coyotes. Before Scout arrived in 2016, the land had been owned by a family whose last member was killed by a car. In 2019 a dispersing female almost took over the territory. We’ll have to wait and write Scout’s continuing history as it happens.

The story of coyotes is incomplete without saying something about the humans and our unique psychologies who interface with them. People have very strong feelings about them: some are fearful of them and want them gone, whereas others have a need to love and “help” them without realizing the harm they are actually causing. We really need to leave them alone. People can be educated to help them cope with their fears, be they real or imagined, and they can be educated to know about the detriments of feeding, which cause coyotes to hang around, including in the streets where the food is often tossed, chase cars, stop cars, and approach people. their hanging around also creates more potential for conflict with dogs. We humans are behind what the coyotes become.

The saddest development is to see Pepper, a six-month old pup of Scout’s now hanging around the street and slurping up food behind a guardrail where it was left for him and his family. These coyotes would be better off hunting than hanging around or searching for food on the shoulder of roadways:

The saddest development is the following: This 6-month-old, Pepper, one of Scout’s pups, has been lured into the streets by folks putting out food for him and his family. This youngster was so focused on the food left for him behind the railing that he was hardly aware of me: I had driven up to the edge of the sidewalk and took this image from my car window, less than 8 feet away..

I’ll soon write a synopsis of Scout’s life for those who haven’t been following her story here.

Calling Forth the Troops at Dusk

Mom slept out in the field all alone — this is something she does frequently as evening sets in. After a while she propped herself up and began grooming herself. After that I could tell she was waiting. She kept looking over the hill to where she knew the rest of the family was and she kept staring in that direction for some time. She seemed to be expecting someone or something.

After a while, she must have become impatient. She got up and stretched in all direction and then began howling, seemingly calling forth the troops — her family. There had been no sirens to set her off. She yipped and barked, but there was no response except for an irritating dog who barked the whole time — three minutes worth — which rendered the recording practically unusable: I salvaged what I could in the recording below.

She began to vocalize – calling her family together. But they didn’t respond.

After another short while, she must have given up, because she trotted off into the direction she had been looking. I had heard my howl and thought I wouldn’t be seeing any more coyotes as it became dark outside, so I began heading out of the park. Just then, howling began — the responses. They came from three directions with one youngster visible as a silhouette against the sky. The family consists of the two alphas and three pups born this year who are now six months old. The silhouette belongs to one of these pups. Here is the video and recording I captured.

Kinky Tail, by Walkaboutlou

This is the continuing saga of a ranch family Lou is following. Lou, as I, zeroes in on an individual family, their relationships, and ordeals — all of which will help you get to know coyotes, not as statistics, but as very individual beings with very full lives and challenges of their own. Use the blog’s search box for Walkaboutlou’s earlier stories, and the last update of this family which is here.

Hi Janet,

Well..it’s October. Fires are nearly out. Mornings are foggy. Rains are starting. Better times. 

I’m able to go out more with my patrolling dog pack. You’ll remember Coyote Slim Jim, his daughter Janet, Big Brother, and the 3 surviving pups of 11 pup combined litter. Dominant female his mate Chica and all other pups fell to local wolves. 

Well…the pack moves on in flux as do territorial changes. [Here are] pics of us in Kinky Tails lands. 

Kinky Tail, the large bold female pup, has literally taken over with her Grandpa Slim Jim. Or is he her elderly Father? We don’t know.

What we do know by their constant ranch family watchers is…

Kinky is extremely close to Slim Jim and shadowed him all summer. As he recovered from injuries likely received from wolves..Slim Jim taught Kinky all about staying close to ranch bison herds and hunting rodents. He also fed off abundant wild plums, turkey, jackrabbit and scavenged deer that were hit by cars on country road but hobble off to die. The road caused deer mortalities were MAJOR feasts and boons to Kinky, Slim Jim, Janet, Brother, and Kinky’s 2 siblings..Batman and Robin. 

Also..they showed big shifts in relationships. Kinky..despite her puppy youth…was a real “bitch” to her sibling brothers at deer carcasses. Such antagonistic behaviors at food sources meant they ate and left fast with Big Brother. Mom..or older stepsister Janet was even less welcome.

Janet wasn’t one for conflict. By August..she found a great big strapping admirer (we thought they only found “partners” in winter.) Janet shifted ranges with her new male pal…and has not returned at all it seems. Big Brother returned to old ranges and his little brothers Batman and Robin followed him. Together they are a young bachelor band Brother of 2 and half years and 2 male pups. 

Kinky and Slim Jim have opted Bison herd areas.

Kinky is marking and calling and patrolling with Slim Jim way ahead of her puppy stage age. She has matured way more rapidly. We feel the wolves killing Chica and most pups…caused an incredibly increased rate of maturation in Kinky Tail. She went from bouncy pup to very intense young groomed princess to be Queen…quick. Months. 

Now…we will wait and see. 

Come winter…will Slim Jim seek a mate in his advanced age, or just try to eke out some more days? Will Kinky Tail become Territorial Female as a Yearling ? Or young mother??? Big brother surely will take a mate at years. Will he opt for old home range? And what will Batman and Robin do? It seems best they stay long as they can with Big Brother. When they “visit” Kinky she drives them away. But if she’s out patrolling..Slim Jim is very sweet to his….sons/grandsons. 

Kinky seems at the Helm. Slim Jim is Hale and Hearty but Old.
Big Brother and little Brothers Batman and Robin fine on old range.
Janet….moved on. Too much drama!

Take care human Janet, Lou

A Calm Rendezvous at Dusk: Family Life

Family members usually hang low during daylight hours, often resting and sleeping in very different locations, and then come together in the evening to begin their activity with their rendezvous which is a very social event where there is a lot of physical contact and grooming, and social interactions such as play and reaffirmation of rankings. Usually the entire family is involved — it might be the one time you are able to see the whole family together.

Alpha female and male greet each other after having spent the daylight hours apart, quietly resting

In the video, Mom, the alpha female, is already out in the open grooming herself when the alpha male joins her at a short distance in the grasses. These two had already greeted each other with nose touches and minor grooming about 200 yards away about ten minutes before this. They spend their time here grooming themselves and biting at gnats or mosquitoes.

Soon one of the youngsters arrives and flops on his back for a long and thorough grooming, mostly to his belly. Grooming serves not only to rid them of all sorts of bugs, such as ticks, but it’s a bonding mechanism as well, and also a control measure: the youngster, as far as I have seen, is required to put up with it whether he/she likes it or not. After the long period of grooming where the youngster lies perfectly still, the two other youngsters arrive. This is a family of five. These youngsters are almost six months old now. They look smaller than they really are because they are keeping low as required.

The controlling adult snarls and snout-clamps, and the pups remaining low to the ground and even crawling on their bellies are how the strong hierarchy, and therefore order, is maintained. When the youngsters start resisting this order is when it’s time for them to go.

As rendezvous go, this one is very calm. I’ve seen them where the youngsters are rearing to go and hardly able to contain themselves in anticipation of the family activity after a daytime of quiet. Parents will be leading them to new places and new adventures — all of it a learning experience for them.

Domestic Friction Between Alpha Female and Alpha Male

Well, disputes occur between members within all social species. Interaction — which is what being social is about — involves and runs the gamut from simple communication, to camaraderie, play, friendship, and agreement, to disagreement, oneupmanship, disputes, fights, and becoming enemies. It happens in human families, and it happens within families of other social species as well, and here it happens between coyotes.

I put out a field camera next to picnic tables a few nights ago. I’ve put it out here before — it’s a good spot because animals regularly come by — mostly raccoons and a skunk. The camera amazingly captured an intense fight between the alpha male and alpha female of a coyote family I’m following: yikes, a family fight! In the video, it’s the alpha male who charges in and angrily confronts the female. She stands up for herself and fights back angrily. Make sure to have your audio on, as the sounds are impressive. These are mature coyotes who only recently have become a pair in a sort of reconfigured family. Each had been part of different families before their changed circumstances (for instance, death of one of their mates) caused them to come together. It could be that the fight in this video is them still working out the hierarchy between themselves. Then again, maybe it’s just a little squabble, or something bigger going on. I don’t know.

When coyotes communicate, be it to our dogs or each other, they are intense about it so that there is no uncertainty, misinterpretation or misunderstanding about what they are trying to get across. Here is a video of a mother coyote communicating to a dog in no uncertain terms: it is intense, insistent and persistent which sometimes makes it very scary to us civilized humans. And here is a photo of a snarly communication by an older sibling to a youngster: notice the surley face, angry eyes, wrinkled nose, gaping mouth, and teeth showing, and this occurred right after the youngster had extended a very warm greeting to that older brother. As I say, coyote communication is intense. This, along with deep growling or grunting is how they communicate with each other, and if that doesn’t work, they can get physical, as in this video.

Screening: “don’t feed the coyotes”, a film by Nick Stone Schearer

September 27th update: This particular one-time screening is over. There will be more screenings (and I’ll post those) before the film will be put on the site which currently does have the trailer: dontfeedthecoyotes.com. The questions and answers which occurred right after the film, however, may be seen here.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: