Coyote Behavior: Dusk

As the light of day wanes, I’m poking around in a park in San Francisco when a coyote darts out of the bushes and rushes past me. I drop what I’m doing, and lift my camera — I’m happiest when there are coyotes around to observe.

He hunts in tall grasses, patiently waiting with his snout close to the ground. Suddenly he darts to the side and pounces. That was his first vole of the evening. He’ll soon catch another in those tall grasses. Voles are small and two are only a snack.

The grasses are super tall right now and coyotes are hard to detect in them. From a distance all one might see — which gives their presence away — is the tippy-tops of the tall grasses erratically wiggling more than the rest of the wind-blown grasses.

He trots deliberately over to another area where he pokes around in several of the openings which he himself might have created in the dense tangle of thick, foot-deep weeds which carpet that part of a hill. He spends time with each opening, sticking his snout in, listening, and moving the stalks aside. After examining several openings in this manner without success,  he turns around and heads towards where I first encountered him. It’s a slow walk, with casual hunting stops along the way, though he doesn’t catch anything else. En route, a distant siren sounds — or maybe it’s not so distant. Maybe it just sounds faint and distant because of the strong winds. He’s at the top of a hill and the wind is blowing strongly and in furious gusts. He begins howling. In the video the wind ruins the recording but the coyote is shown belting forth. Turn the sound way down to see the video — wind on a microphone is deafening so you’ll want to hear it at a low volume.

Immediately, SHE, his mate, returns his calls.Soon there is back and forth communication: howling and yipping which to me is beautiful and and comforting, but which to others might be more readily described as eerie and disturbing. Today it is mostly drowned out and overpowered by the bursts of wind on top of the hill.

Turn the volume on LOW — the wind is blowing furiously which results in a painfully raspy sound in the video. What you may not be able to hear is the beautiful calls and responses between the two coyotes — the mated pair

After several minutes of howling, with snout whipping up and around like the wind itself, he stops and looks around to assess his surroundings for safety, and then heads down the hill and towards her. He seems to know exactly where to find her — he located her by her return calls. But on the way he suddenly stops, frozen in place for a few minutes, and looks around, straining all of his senses: it appears that he has caught her scent sooner than expected.  Instead of waiting from her calling spot in the under-cover for him to arrive, she has set out on her own — maybe to intercept him. But they are not on the same path, so if he had relied on vision alone, he would have missed her.  Using all of his senses, he detects her presence nearby and then sees her several hundred feet away. They stand very still and stare at each other for what seems an eternity but is only a few seconds. Then he relaxes, turns around and walks past some bushes in order to meet up with her.

Their rendezvous and greeting, with variations, is standard for coyotes. He slowly approaches her, and as he gets close, his posture is upright and tall. She immediately falls on her back deferentially. Thus begins their greeting ritual. He smells her carefully — maybe he can tell what she has been up to? When she knows he’s satisfied, she gets up carefully and then she begins grooming him — licking and pulling ticks off his face and affectionately pulling his ear. As she’s grooming she stands next to him, and then she extends her neck over his — he allows it: these two are well matched.

The major block of her days are spent with pups. He is the one who has chosen the safest areas to keep the pups sequestered. His main duties, as displayed by his behaviors, are to patrol for safety and bring home food which he carries in his belly and then regurgitates for the pups. Safety is one of his chief concerns. He often even escorts/shadows her when she decides to go a-hunting. He does so to guard and protect her, but also to keep an eye on her!   Young pups do not participate either in these rendezvous nor the treks which follow. The youngsters are tucked away carefully and left alone during these occasions.

After several minutes of grooming, he steps aside and then he leads in my direction. She has become the shier of the two in the last few months — which she wasn’t at one time — and moves away and around me. His route, keeping his distance, is more in my direction. And this is when I decide to leave — I don’t want to get in their way. It’s getting dark and anyway, the camera will stop being able to process the light soon.

Searching For A Companion After Becoming Separated

These two coyotes, a father and a year-old daughter, were out walking together at dusk, in a thick fog, when a large English Setter up the path went after them. This caused the coyotes to split up, with the female running off and out of sight. The dog owners grabbed their dog and walked on. I watched the remaining coyote, the male, walk on and then head over to some grasses to wait for his walking companion. He waited and waited. Finally he stood up and walked to the crest of a hill where he strained his neck and lifted his head high looking in all directions for her. The crest of a hill is a good vantage point if you’re looking for someone. No luck. He then went down the hill a little ways, walking slowly, and did the same thing. He then turned and looked at me, and I understood.

That he wanted to be with the other coyote, that they were companions who were fond of each other, was obvious. It was joyful to know and understand this, but sad to see the little fellow distressed by her absence and searching for her, but not finding her. In the past I’ve watched coyotes spend half an hour searching for each other after an unexpected encounter on a trail caused them to split up. Coyote family members are good “friends” — not too different from the way we humans are with our family members. They, like us, like being together and doing things together, and they’ll search for one another when they unexpectedly become separated.

Togetherness, Physical Contact, Care in Yearling Siblings


As in our human families, coyotes each have unique individual personalities and they form unique relationships among themselves which are often very affectionate and caring.

Here, two yearling siblings are out exploring and hunting before meeting up with the adults of the family. I was able to watch the two for a couple of hours.

During this time, each kept visually aware of where the other was and what the other was doing. They would separate for only short periods of time and short distances as they explored and hunted, and then they would look up and run towards each other. Besides simply liking each other, they seemed oddly dependent on each other for safety and security on this particular evening.

In these grainy photos taken at twilight, the little female coyote, to the right, after yet again running towards her sibling, rubbed her head against him and then actually raised the front part of her body over his back and partially lay on him!  Togetherness and physical contact are characteristic of coyote family members. As she lay there draped over his body, she engaged in some tender grooming — looks like she was removing bugs from the back of his head — extending her contact with him and staying there for over a minute, and occasionally looking around before both slipped apart and again wandered a little ways apart from each other.

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sibling youngsters totally attuned to each other

Courting and New Bonds

It is again breeding season, when unattached coyotes look for partners who will become their lifelong mates. These two coyotes appear to be a new “couple” or “pair”, or at least they are headed in that direction. The male has been following around after the female, at a comfortable distance, without crowding her, and even looking disinterested at times, but always only a few paces away!

The male is totally solicitous of the female, and ever so careful not to annoy or upset her. He watches for, and is alert to, any sign of displeasure from her. She is the queen. She, on the other hand, is much less interested in him, it seems. But she is his “chosen one”, and if she consents to his advances, they will become partners for life.

Pup at 8 Months Still Getting Food From Dad

Although I could not see the details because this occurred within a tree grove, there is enough information here to see that the full-sized, though only 8-month-old, pup approaches its father for food by sticking its snout into the father’s mouth. Apparently, the pup gets something because its attention is on the ground in the second photo, and it stays behind to “finish up” whatever Dad had given him in the third photo.

At 8 months of age a pup does not need help from its father in getting food. However, giving the pup food tightens the strong bond which already exists and may keep the family together for a longer period of time.

Pup Shows Up, but Mom Does Not

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Dad and the trounced female pup who is 7 months old

Four days after the female pup and her mother disappeared — the mother actually disappeared a couple of days before the pup — the pup re-emerged together with Dad!  Apparently she had not been banished, she had not dispersed. Interestingly, however, it is the mother who has not been seen — its been three weeks, and I wonder if her absence is related to her treatment of the pup, or if  she’s gone purely by coincidence.

I saw a lot of affectionate nudging and nose touching between the pup and Dad — something I was particularly aware of after the falling-out with Mom. Dad lay down for a while, positioning himself on a spot with a view to watch his surroundings. The pup mulled about, remaining close by him at first, but then slowly increasing her distance from him and spent her time foraging for gophers. She kept her eye on Dad and vice-versa, each gazing at the other at regular intervals. There was definitely a caring connection between the two.

At one point the pup picked up an old piece of plastic, lay down and played with it — she seemed content and comfortable there. Eventually both pup and Dad wandered into the bushes, and I didn’t see them the next day.

Two days later, again, I came upon this same pup and Dad out trekking alone together!! I don’t think I would have seen them if they hadn’t been accosted by a dog and responded by howling in distress — both of them. The important thing for me was that there was a lot of togetherness and camaraderie shown by Dad, and the sentiment was returned by the pup. They howled together, then ran off separately, and then came together to continue their trek. So, this pup is still around, and I wonder what the trouncing was about!

Punishment Again

This is the second time in the same day that I observed this behavior between this particular seven-month old female pup and her mother. Please see the previous posting.

I had two thoughts that might be related to this:  the first about Great Horned Owl dispersal, and the second about canine intuition regarding the alpha quality in another canine.

I’ve seen Great Horned Owls lovingly raise their owlets for almost a full year, from the time they are born in late March, through the fledging stage when they leave their birth nest, and through months of teaching hunting and other survival skills. Then one day, towards the end of the Fall season, both parents — these are parents who have mated for life and have raised their owlets together for the last 15 years — turn viciously against their offspring forcing them to leave the area. There is room for only one mated Great Horned Owl pair in any territory due to limited resources. As time approaches for the new reproductive cycle to begin, at the end of the calendar year, any offspring born that year are driven away by their parents. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be so totally loved and cared for, and then have those who loved you suddenly attack you. This is what goes on. The young owls fly off to areas as close as the next park over, if there is room there, or as far away as across the US.

My second thought stems from how my 2-year-old female dog reacted when we brought home a new 4-month-old puppy — a male. We found the puppy — abandoned — and we couldn’t just leave him. She must have intuitively known that he would be growing much bigger than her, and that, based on his behavior and activity level and disregard for her, that he would assume the dominant status eventually. It’s only with hindsight that we came to know that this was going on right from the start. Over an extended period of time we noticed that the alpha status had segued to him, and she just accepted the inevitable. An alpha coyote in the wild, it seems, would do its best to prevent this from ever happening, especially from one of its own pups who began showing signs of any kind of dominance.

So, we’ll soon see how this situation pans out: if it settles down, or if it leads to something.

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