Injured Coyote and Altruistic Behavior by His Mate

Leg or paw injuries are very common in urban coyotes — I see them all the time. Most that I’ve seen are the result of dogs chasing them: legs get twisted, pulled, or even dislocated and broken as they try to get away in an urban environment.  I’ve also seen several instances of this resulting from coyote/coyote interactions.

Before I even knew that this coyote was injured, I watched his caring mate investigate the severity of the leg injury. Coyotes apparently investigate through their noses more than their eyes: she sniffed the leg intently. We’ve all seen our canine companions sniff each other to find out about each other, and I’ve read about dogs who can actually sniff a two-degree temperature change in humans (which happens just before an epileptic episode), so this kind of investigative sniffing is very understandable. Their eye-to-eye gaze afterwards, in the photo below, appears to show that each understood what was going on.

Then the female did her best to get the injured male coyote to follow her to a safer area. She tried her darnedest: she poked and prodded and pushed with her paw, her head, and her whole body. He complained and rebelled with a gaping show of teeth, but eventually he gave in a little and went with her, even if only for a short distance. I posted a similar instance of this type of prodding to get a mate to do something, see Coyote Communication: An Example.

Shortly thereafter, always looking out for him, the female noticed active dogs nearby. She immediately hurried over towards the dogs to divert any potential pursuers (that’s her rushing off at the beginning of the video). None came his way. “Altruism, in the biological sense, refers to a behavior performed by an individual that increases the fitness of another individual while decreasing the fitness of the one performing the behavior.”[Wikipedia] She was clearly placing herself at a greater risk for being pursued while reducing his risk.

Later on there was more intimate contact between the two coyotes, as seen below, but I couldn’t tell if she was still trying to move him away from the area, or simply nuzzling him: this contact lasted only a few seconds, so I think it was simply a nuzzling.

Affectionate Grooming and a Paw-Lick “Thank You!”

Grooming is a major social activity for coyotes. It is part and parcel of companionships, friendships and pair-bonding, as well as family-ties. Grooming also has health benefits: for example, it reduces ticks which often act as vectors for spreading disease and infection. It also, apparently, is a calming factor in many animals.

Here, only one of the pair engages in the grooming. Judging by this pair’s everyday behavior, the grooming is almost certainly an extension of her affection and caring for him. And, as though that weren’t profound enough on its own, notice how the groomed one actually ‘thanks’ the groomer with an affectionate lick to her paw: “I like you a whole lot, too!”

Wow!

Camaraderie and “Checking-In”

Although coyotes have nabbed raccoons and often work as a team to do so, our coyotes here in San Francisco usually forage individually because of the nature of their prey: small rodents, squirrels, voles, even birds, berries, etc. Even so, they often head out to hunt in pairs. They are social animals, so being together is as much fun for them as it is for us. They often become separated as they follow their noses to areas quite distant from the other, but eventually, they come together to “check-in”. When this happens, there is a little greeting and acknowledgement which consists of eye contact, nose touches, and sometimes some play.

These photos today are of a recently bonded pair of coyotes. Their relationship as a pair is new. Their regular “checking-in” involves more overt displays of joy than most: you can just hear them thinking: “I’m so happy to see you, I’m so happy that you are here with me!” Their interactions at this time are much more similar to what happens at an evening rendezvous, when coyotes come together after having been sleeping apart most of the daylight hours. The rendezvous is a very intense time of socialization between coyotes: there are wiggles and squiggles and joyous jumping over each other, chasing, lots of body contact, body hugs and love bites. Well, this pair greet each other in this manner after they’ve been apart for only 5-10 minutes! It appears that this new match was made in heaven!

A joyous game of chase and catch-me-if-you-can

Playful jumping all over each other

Hugs and togetherness in midair

Body contact even as they run off together

A provokingly affectionate teasing nip to the leg

Contact again, with a paw on his back

Background on these two coyotes: This pair of coyotes came together only several months ago. In her birth family, the three-and-a-half years old female had been an “only child” where her parents left her by herself hours on end, so she was used to being all alone. She dispersed early and became the resident coyote in her new claimed territory which had been left vacant by a coyote hit by a car several years earlier. Here, she remained a loner, and over time, began focusing on cars, humans and dogs for entertainment: coyotes are social animals, and with no other coyotes around, she made do with what there was in sort-of the form of virtual interactions. I worked with the community to discourage interactions in order to preserve her wary and wily wildness as much as possible. Education of this sort worked because most people wanted to do what was best for her. It appears that this coyote didn’t know what she had been missing in the form of “real” interactions until the male showed up. Suddenly, she was overjoyed to finally have a real companion! She is the one who displays the most exuberance and joy when they “check-in”.

The younger newcomer male arrived after having been dispersed — driven out — from his birth family in August by his own siblings who had formed an alliance or bond between themselves: there was no room for him there as an adult. Once youngsters disperse, I usually don’t see them again, but I have been privileged to reconnect with three of them after they dispersed. Once I get to know coyotes, they become easily identifiable through their very distinct appearances and behaviors. Of interest to many people might be that there happen to be “family resemblances” in some coyote families, no different from family resemblances in human families. This male came from a family of four siblings who used to play endlessly together through a year-and-a-half of age.

The play gets more rough and tumble, but is always affectionate

Jumping all over each other with hugs

“Ha ha, gotcha!” Teasing is how they display their connectiveness

Pulling him by his fur has got to be high on the list of tolerances between bonded coyotes

Only a good friend would allow you to grab him by the scruff of the neck with your teeth!

Pestering and Taunting: Sibling Rivalry


Sibling rivalry and discord are part-and-parcel of coyote families, just as are the formation of tight and everlasting bonds and friendships.

Here a younger sibling continues to harasses his sister (see Yearling Taunts) through body blows/bangs/punches or smacks. He seems to have a need to egg-her-on, whereas she just wants to be left alone atop the mound. This younger brother followed her there explicitly to taunt her and dives into his activity the minute she tries lying down. This is now an established behavior between these two.

No other coyote in this family engages in the type of body blows he performs at the beginning of this video except his mother. Mom is an expert at this, and this 8-month old pup watched and learned from her, and now uses his sister as his punching bag to practice his technique. Coyotes are keen observers: they learn by watching and copying. It’s fascinating to watch.

After the body bangs, the younger sibling continues to be “in his sister’s face” by yanking up dried sticks disruptively right next to her. He’s purposefully making himself into an utter nuisance and is probably hoping for a rise from her.

Eventually, a third older sibling comes to check out the activity, but he soon leaves because the disruptive behavior is not enough to warrant interference. This older sibling is very mild, peace-loving, and generally aloof from the first two, but he has occasionally been a disciplinarian when their behavior became too disruptive, and he also has approached the female to comfort her after some of the youngster’s harassment sessions, which lately are growing in number and intensity.

Coyote families are orderly, so growing disruptive behavior is not tolerated for long. This behavior will eventually lead to someone’s dispersal.

Yearling Taunts Older Sister As He Practices Body Blows

This video depicts a yearling male taunting his two-year-old sister with an unusual technique he picked up from his mother. Coyotes learn by observing and imitating, which is definitely what went on here. The only coyote I know who regularly uses this body-blow method for discipline or fighting, is these coyotes’ mother who has used it at various times towards her daughter, this same two-year-old sister. The yearling male obviously picked it up from her by watching and imitating her, and in this video he bangs his sister tauntingly and mercilessly with this new-found skill. He is doing it simply to bully and harass her.

What led to this is that older sister for a while attempted dominating younger brother and got rather aggressive in doing so. This may be because younger brother had the habit of following big sister around and imitating her, and as he did so, he would get in her way. So Sister reacted. Soon, Mom interfered and forbade daughter from any aggression towards her younger brother. If Sister showed any aggression towards younger brother, Mom would interfere with an aggressive put-down towards the daughter. The result was that younger brother became more and more taunting, and the daughter had no recourse except to put up with it, which she is doing here, as he practices and perfects his body-blow technique on her.

Interestingly, he’s the one who ended up dispersing, of his own volition, at a year-and-a-half of age, whereas she is still part of her birth family.

In Harmony

In this posting, I want to show the amazingly joyous tuned-in camaraderie, if you will, that is displayed between these two coyotes. The rapport is fascinating, with the coyotes not only walking side-by-side, constantly looking at each other, and even hunting alongside each other, but in addition, you can see that they are blatantly thrilled with each other’s company! They are in-tune to each other’s moods and intentions, and they both are on the same wavelength as far as their “togetherness” is concerned.

I don’t remember ever watching two adult coyotes getting to know each other like this. In all the pairs I’ve been observing, I either came to an established pair, or siblings became a pair, or a youngster moved into a vacated adult position caused by a death — yes, there is a lot of inbreeding in coyotes, at least in San Francisco. But now I have an opportunity to document coyotes getting to know each other from the word “go”.

The pair just met a couple of months ago when the dispersing 1.5 year-old male appeared on the doorstep (footpath?) of the 3.5 year-old loner female’s territory: she had been living all alone there for three years, so this has been a huge change for her.  She welcomed him right from the start. From the beginning there was a lot of eye-contact, and snout-touches, but initially there was also tentativeness and carefulness which over the weeks has morphed into uninhibited displays of “oneness” and affection as trust has grown.

Eye-to-eye contact as they walk along: there’s rapport, harmony and they are in-tune

The photos show the magnetic draw between these two through their warmth and enthusiastic reaching out for contact and even play-bites: these are “I like you” gestures. As an observer, I actually feel their affectionate engagement between them.

Eye to eye joy and zeroing in on each other

Meeting “that special friend” is something most of us can relate to! My next posting about these two will be about their “checking in” with each other after a short period of being apart, with teasing and fun between them, which are what coyotes use to show each other how much they like each other, and how at-ease they are with one another.

Reaching towards the other with a little snout hug

Almost walking arm-in-arm

An affectionate gentle snout-bite as they walk along

Stopping for a short grooming — he’s picking a bug off her coat

Allowing him to share her “find”.

Leaning into each other for an affectionate face rub

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

Coyote Communication: An Example

Coyotes communicate constantly through eye-contact, as I’ve written about many times. The communication can become stronger with an intense gaze or stare, and the communication can turn physical, for emphasis. I’ve seen females prod or poke their mates either with a paw or their snouts, or even push with their forelegs and entire bodies, to get the other coyote to do something. I’ve given some “proding” examples previously in Intruder: Territorial Fighting (slide #30), and Pestering. 

The injured male insisted on remaining out in the open and visible (he has been primed by human feeders and befrienders to hang around — note we are working on eliminating this human behavior), whereas it appears that his mate’s instincts were telling her that being exposed out in the open wasn’t such a good idea. Coyotes do watch out for each other. HE did not seem to agree with her wisdom and resisted her. She persisted in upping her communication intensity, causing him a lot of anguish and uneasiness which can be read in his tense body stance and movements.

This series of photos shows a progression in intensity of communication between a protective female mate and her resistant, injured male “better-half”.

[Click on each series-of-four to enlarge and run through them as a slide-show]

The female begins her communication to the injured male (above) by simply making him aware that she’s there: she walks over and lies down close by under the bushes where she is somewhat hidden but “present”.  He must have sensed her gaze from that distance. I missed the signal, but before she even gets up to approach him, he bolts up guardedly and looks in her direction: has she emitted a sound that has alerted him to her intentions?


Next (above) she approaches him decisively, places herself directly in front of him, only inches away, and looks at him razor-sharply in the eye. She holds that gaze for many seconds. The gaze breaks for a second, but then recommences closer and more intense than before, and she gives him a little tweak of the nose — first with a nose-lick and then a nose-nip. He squeals in pain and moves away from her mouth, standing erectly and guardedly.


When she begins turning her head in his direction again, he lunges away. When she looks at him again he returns a pained and uneasy look — it’s his muzzle that has been injured (above).


She seems to understand and now uses her paws to push/prod him to get going, and then gives him a whole body push. He responds by distancing himself from her. She approaches him again (above).


After more of the same, he relents, and she finally is able to lead him away, reluctantly at first, but he does follow, tarrying a little and resisting by sniffing as they move along, and eventually stepping in line with her, until they both disappear into the underbrush.


[I spend my time observing and documenting coyote behavior and then writing and posting about them, in order to show people what they are really like. Mine are all first-hand observations, made on my own, usually about family life, which you can’t find much about beyond a few photos of pups on the internet. I get into what is actually going on. I’m a self-taught naturalist who is in the field many hours every day. I don’t know of any academics who are doing this, so this information is not available elsewhere. Hope you enjoy it, learn from it, and then embrace coyotes for who they really are! Janet]

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