The Older Man No Longer Hangs Out In The Open


This older man, King of his territorial domain, no longer hangs out in the open where folks and dogs can see him, the way he often did when he was younger. He’s King because he’s the alpha leader of his family group: either the female or the male breeding pair can be dominant over the others, and in this case it is him. Coyotes hang together in families, not as unrelated members of a “pack” — which is what feral domestic dogs do — and the coyote families “own” their territories from which other coyotes are excluded.

This fella is wiser than ever due to his age and experience, and he now prefers safety to beating his chest. He has been through his fair share of injuries — these are unavoidable in the wild, even in the “urban” wild — and they’ve taken a toll in his response times, both physical and judgmental. Injuries are constant in everyday life: they come from fights with raccoons, during hunting when bites and twists and scratches are endured, from human-made items in the environment, including debris that can cause lacerations and cars. In addition they are subject to a number of diseases and parasites, both internal and external which are ever-present in a coyote’s life. He’s almost 7 years old, which is pretty old for a wild coyote, though I’ve known some who were older.

As coyotes get older they fit into their urban setting better. They’ve had time to learn the ropes and learn what is a true threat. So, although this fellow still sometimes comes out from hiding in the bushes to defend other members of his family who are harassed by dogs, and although he still may, rarely, follow a dog he feels is a potential danger to his family to make sure the dog leaves his critical areas, for the most part, the only time I see him is when he’s navigating from one of his hideout locations to another, or hurrying along as he carries food at twilight to his family.

This progression in behavior as a coyote gets older is a normal development. However, it’s not the way all coyotes progress. Each coyote is an individual — same as we humans — and there’s no predicting what path they may take as they age. I watched one female alpha leader actually become more assertive and visible as she aged through her 9 years. Maintaining a visible presence and standing up for her territorial claim was her way of letting others know — coyotes and dogs — that she was Queen of her territorial domain.

Regarding visibility of youngsters, I’ve seen mellow youngsters hang out in a field only as long as there was not a lot of human and dog activity in the park — when that activity picked up, they fled into the bushes. And I’ve seen others ready to take on any comer (any dog) who ventured too close to where the family was hanging out, becoming “front men” (the “linebacker” so to speak) and putting themselves at risk for the safety of their family.

Aging and Squinting

100530We all age. We are aware of this passing of time in our grandparents and even in ourselves, and also in our pets. Joints get stiff, energy diminishes, vision and hearing become impaired, past injuries make themselves known again, there is a slower recovery period.  We slow down physically, and sometimes mentally. It happens to all life.

I would wager that few of us are aware of the aging process in the wildlife that surrounds us. Time and life in general take their toll on them, too.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’ve been watching an older coyote who squints more and more lately — it’s a regular behavior now — when she is looking out into the distance. An aging coyote can lose clarity of vision, can develop cataracts and glaucoma, just like other dogs and like humans. The squinting has been going on for several months, and I have not noticed anything particularly wrong with the eyes, such as discharge or inflammation, so I have to assume it’s simply due to more difficulty with seeing.

A friend gave this explanation about squinting: Squinting allows you to focus better. Its not so much about changing the shape of the lens in the eye which fine tunes focus, it’s more about changing the light entering the eye — a bit like narrowing the aperture of the camera. Squinting gets rid of light “noise” allowing a slight improvement of focus.

Coyotes may squint for other reasons. For instance, coyotes may squint at another coyote or dog they don’t like who they see wandering in the distance — it indicates dislike. If the object of dislike is close enough, squinting becomes a warning device — a communication — which can be read and should be heeded by the other animal. However, the squinting I’ve been observing in this older coyote is not about dislike nor is it a warning because it only occurs when there is no other critter around.

Although I’ve read that dogs squint when they are having vision problems, including glaucoma and cataracts, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it.  It seems to me that dogs are usually more absorbed in their immediate surroundings — they have little, if any, need to be looking for something specific in the far distance. Coyotes, on the other hand, are always surveying their domains. They search for what is going on: they need to see as far and wide as possible. If they are older and squinting as they scan the horizon from a hilltop, might it be because of aging eyes?

Feb 27, 2011 Draft