A Chapter Ends

An entire family left their long-time claimed territory, leaving one daughter behind. I thought the vast territory had become hers. For several months, I would find her all alone. And then one day, there were two newcomers with her — both males!

I could tell that she was apprehensive about them for the first little while after they appeared. She kept a squinted, wary eye on them as they loitered around fairly close to each other until dusk darkened the sky and enveloped the landscape. She was assessing them, and they her. Dusk is when she’d usually head off trekking alone, and soon I watched as three of them went off together, not with complete confidence in each other as one would expect in an established family, but they were figuring each other out, and figuring out their relationships, through darting eye-glances: coyotes communicate visually and everything they did sent a message and was interpreted as a message.  I watched these three for the next few weeks as they became more obviously trusting and comfortable with each other. Right from the start, though, she showed a preference for the dark-eyed fella: he was the obvious dominant of the two, and maybe this had everything to do with her choice.

After the first few days during which she showed them “her domain”, they mostly hung-out on their knolls waiting for dusk to come around, and I watched the relationship progress from her being totally “in charge” and leading the howling sessions (in this first video, you can see him ignore the siren until she reacts):

. . . to ‘her chosen fella’ taking charge and leading the chorus when sirens sounded. Note that, although she appeared to have “chosen” her fella early on, the “possessive display” continues, and you’ll see this at the end of these two howling videos.

It wasn’t long before I observed an all-out, no-holds-barred play session: they were in a sand-pit a long distance off and it was dark, but I got this photo above, showing them playing as coyotes do when they like each other: chasing, wrestling, and play-beating up one another in a teasing sort of way. And then, within only a few days of that out-and-out play, the pair was gone. They are now gone and have been for weeks. So, I guess the lady of the house’s new beau came in and swept her off her feet and they loped away into the sunset together to hopefully live happily ever after — isn’t that how these stories are supposed to go? I wonder if I’ll see them again.

Since their departure, I’ve only seen the extra-male a few times: the beautiful pale blue-eyed fellow below. But now he, too is gone. The field has been totally vacant for weeks. The family that left had been there twelve full years I’m told by a fellow observer who knew the Dad from the time he was a mere pup. That fellow observer ceased appearing because the coyotes had. So there’s a big void there right now. I suppose my assumption that the vast territory had become “hers” is incorrect. It’s a coyote no-mans land right now.

Twelve years ago, before this family claimed it as their own, there had been a territorial battle between two families here. I was told that one of the families was so vengeful that it went after and slaughtered the pups of the rival family. Then all families disappeared and only one youngster remained there. He became the owner for the next twelve years until last fall. This story came from my fellow observer who, I can verify, has been an astute and accurate observer and could even identify individual coyotes in the dark (which I still have not mastered). There is no reason not to believe the story. I’m relating it to show just how intense and brutal territorial battles can get: that the battles are fierce shows just how important the land is to coyotes for their survival.

I’m hoping someone comes back soon: it might be the old family, it might be this recently formed pair, it might be the extra-male, or it might be someone never seen before: vacant niches tend to be filled, so let’s see. Of interest to me, as noted in my very last posting, is that observable coyote activity is way down in almost all the territories I study, and may be due to the upcoming pupping season.

 

Togetherness During An Outing

On this outing, their tight bond manifests itself through waiting for, watching out for, communicating with, searching for and constant eye-contact with each other.

Dawn was breaking as I entered a park to hear faint distressed barking in the distance. It was the kind of coyote barking that occurs when they’ve been chased by a dog. It was the male of a pair who was belting out his displeasure. I hurried until I was right next to the sound and recorded it, though I could see no coyote. When it stopped I followed the path to find the male up ahead of me. He trotted along, turning to look at me once and then climbed an embankment where he looked around. I knew he was either looking for the dogs or for his mate. After a few minutes, he trotted on and then dashed into the grasses to this heartwarming scene, in photo below. She had probably been with him when the dog incident occurred. He had stayed put and howled to keep attention on himself while she made her getaway.

Together after being separated by a dog and after *he* howled, drawing attention to himself and away from *her* so she could slither away from danger

Together after being separated by a dog, after which *he* howled in order to draw attention to himself and away from *her* so she could slither away from danger. Here they are curled up together in the grass for a moment.

After their short greeting, they walked on, each hunting alone several hundred feet apart. They kept checking on each other and then headed up the hill where I was standing. The male came up and waited, but the female saw me and preferred taking the long way around me. He then followed her, and they both trotted off together on the path.


I took a circuitous route so as not to interfere. When I next saw them they were still trotting along together. That’s when a dog darted at them and the male gave chase. The owner remembered that it’s best to keep dogs leashed in a coyote area. Then I lost sight of the male, but I followed the female as she foraged in tall grasses. She did so for about 20 minutes on a quiet, untraversed area of the park, but she didn’t catch anything.

trotting along together

trotting along together

At the end of this stretch of her hunting, both she and I looked down to see the male waiting calmly for her on a rock — looking around for her. She began heading down the hill towards him when suddenly he bolted up, saw and assessed what was coming from the other direction and fled: it was a large golden retriever who had caught sight of the coyote and was coming after it. The coyote was fast, and I let the owner know what was going on. So many dog owners are totally oblivious to what their dogs are doing. The dog and owner then went the other way.

Now, the female was out of sight. The male doubled around and headed back to where I had last seen the two coyotes together. He sniffed around and marked the area. People were passing, so he slithered under a bush until all was clear and then headed out again on the trail. Just then a runner appeared with his two dogs. The dogs did not see the coyote, but the coyote saw the dogs, and the owner saw the coyote. The owner leashed one of his dogs, turned and went the other way. Yay! More and more dog-walkers are learning to move away from the coyotes! The coyote just stood and watched him go. Maybe he was surprised that the dogs hadn’t come after him.

So the coyote turned and headed down a grassy hill into the brush. I had seen a lot of psychological contact and togetherness in this mated coyote pair, but also I had seen plenty of dog intrusions. About half an hour later a siren sounded and I recorded the male responding to it from the brush he had entered. Again, I didn’t see him as he howled.  Later on, I had one more glimpse of the male on the other side of the park before he descended, again, into the brush, this time for the duration of the day.

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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.

More Rendezvous Behavior: Fussing Over His Pups, Grooming & Intimacy

Charles Wood and I both have written a number of postings on coyote rendezvous behavior.  Coyotes are social animals who, except for transients and loners, live in nuclear families. They mate for life — coyotes are one of only 3-5% of mammalian species that do so — and the family is what centers their lives. Hey, not so different from us!

I recently wrote about a coyote mated pair — one with a den full of infant pups — who took off to rendezvous at dusk — like a couple on their way to a tryst in the dark.  Mated pairs are special buddies, and you can see it in that posting. I’ve also assembled a photo essay for Bay Nature on “Raising Kids in the City” to let people know about how social and family-minded coyotes are.

Today’s rendezvous was a family one. Mom and two kids were out lolling around on the hidden side of a hillside, waiting for dusk to get a little heavier.

Dad gets up & stretches

Dad gets up & stretches

After seeing them, I kept walking and found Dad sleeping in a little ball, about 400 feet away from where the others were. I settled down to wait for some activity. Suddenly Dad sat up, as if he knew that the others were waiting for him. What was his cue? He hadn’t seen the others — they were within his line of sight, but he had not looked in their direction. I’m sure he hadn’t heard them or smelled them. Maybe it was a cue in his circadian rhythms, much like our own, built in and influenced by daylight hours, or possibly by the movement of the moon?

He allowed himself a long stretch, and then scouted the length of a path before walking slowly into a clump of bushes which were in the direction of the place where the other family members were hanging out.

rendezvous begins

Rendezvous begins with Dad’s arrival

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Since I could no longer see Dad after he disappeared into the bushes, I headed back to the hillside where I had first spotted the 3 other coyote family members. By the time I got to the spot where I could see them again, Dad was there. His arrival had sparked great excitement. Tails were wagging furiously. All coyotes, except Mom, were falling all over each other and doing their little wiggle-squiggle thing that they do when they greet one another.  Mom hadn’t moved from her sphynx-like pose, arms extended and crossed,  a few feet away. Now three pups were visible, but the shyest scurried behind a bush when she saw me.

Dad fusses over the first pup, stopping only to watch an owl pass overhead

As the excitement of the greeting calmed down, Dad approached the two remaining pups, one at a time. The first one he nudged in the snout, and then he poked his own snout into its fur, over and over again, twisting his head this way and that, in a grooming sort of way. The young pup closed its eyes and let itself enjoy the affectionate massage which went along with the grooming.  After about four minutes Dad moved over to the second pup. The first pup got up to follow and stuck its snout under Dad to smell his private parts. Dad did not like this and must have given a sign, because the pup turned away quickly and moved off.

Then Dad groomed the second pup: repeatedly nudging the pup’s head, licking and cleaning it. He then moved to the pup’s rear area and seemed to do the same, though I was on the other side so I could not see exactly where the licking was occurring.

Dad fusses over the second pup, spending lots of time licking and grooming the head and end of this 6-month old pup

Then my Canadian friend walked up, and I explained to her what was going on. We heard a siren in the distance. All coyote activity ceased and there was silence. I suggested to my friend that we might be in for a great family howling session, and I set my camera into “record” mode in preparation. Sure enough, the howling and squealing began, with the entire family joining in, AND was there another pup in the far distance adding its voice to the fabulous chorus!? Then all sounds ceased, after about 2 minutes. All the coyotes ran off, with happy flailing tails, in a single file, into the darkness and out of sight. There was no longer enough light for my camera to focus. My friend and I departed, too, delighted by how magical this had been. Here is the recording:

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

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Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

Mother Daughter Greeting

A joyous wiggly-squiggly muzzle-licking "hello"

A joyous wiggly-squiggly muzzle-licking “hello”

Exuberance, kisses, wiggly-sguiggles, and unbounded joy: that’s the description of a parent/pup greeting, in this case it is a mother-daughter greeting. The greeting lasted only about ten seconds, but it was intense.

The child coyote crouches low, belly right on the dirt, and extends her snout up to reach Mom’s. Ears are laid way back in total submission. At one point, the little girl is ready to turn belly up. This little coyote is ecstatic and overflowing with affection and happiness. Although it is the child that displays most of the affection — note that Mom’s eyes are squeezed shut most of the time, probably for protection from the onslaught — it was Mom who actually joyously ran down the hill to greet this little one, so Mom initiated this greeting! When Mom decided to go, the youngster followed.

This display of affection occurs even if the separation has been less than 1/2 hour. Coyote family members show this kind of affection for each other whenever they’ve been separated for even a short period of time.

Breeding Season: Smells and Walking on Eggshells

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This is all about powerful enticing odors — exuding and absorbing them. Attendant behaviors include edginess and short tempers. Odors are left anywhere, but especially on existing odors, such as where a dog has urinated. Odors are absorbed by wallowing in them and sniffing them.

Behaviorally, there is a decisive tentativeness during this time of year as a male and female approach each other. When HE comes over to sniff her, his movements are slow and as inoffensive to her as possible. The minute she shows any signs of flinching, he stops dead-still and waits for her to finish her reaction. He reads every detail of her movements. He is totally accommodating and ever so careful not to annoy.

For her part, she likes his presence — after all, she is walking with him. But she has let him know that he better watch himself — she appears ready to react to any misstep on his part. She rolls in his urine and allows his closeness — if he is careful. They read each other well. She’s been testy recently and he is absolutely walking on eggshells because of it.

I’ve numbered and annotated the 32 slides to explain what is going on in each one.

Pairs

Coyotes may live all alone, they may live as strongly bonded pairs, or they may live in larger groups — the groups are families which consist of a mother and a father, this years pups and some of last years and/or the previous year’s pups. I have heard that lone young males may hang out together until they find mates — but this is more of a temporary situation and I have not actually seen it.

Pairs don’t always necessarily follow the pattern of pairing up as male/female breeding couples. I have followed a mother and son for two years — they remain a seemingly bonded pair. There are also mother and daughter pairs that remain together over an extended period of time if something has happened to Dad. I’m trying to figure out where these two coyotes — Belle and Goggles —  fit in.

I have not figured out their situation totally. There is an older coyote named Goggles — named so because of the lighter colored areas around its eyes; and there is a young female, Belle, so named for her doe-like beauty. The older coyote has been in the area at least four years — the younger one was probably born here. They work as a pair, often leaving together and then splitting up to seek their luck separately as they hunt in the evening  — coming together off and on during their evening outings.

On this particular day, the younger Belle remained close to her protected area when Goggles appeared in the distance, trouping in from afar, coming in the younger one’s direction, but stopping at an obvious gopher hole to inspect and maybe catch an obvious and quick snack — gopher mounds stand out in a mowed area. The meal did not materialize, so the coyote continued in Belle’s direction and disappeared behind some brush. Belle, who had taken refuge in the bushes until this point,  then came out and began to forage on her own, remaining close to her protected area instead of venturing out to where Goggles had gone. She was still eyeing the same vole hole when I departed.

Adoration On A Foggy Day

There is no other term — just look at the photos: adoration. I’ve known these particular coyotes for a while now. They have a very close relationship: a mother and her two-and-a-half year old son. The jumping for joy, touching, wiggling and squiggling, hugs and kisses were absolutely overwhelming displays of affection — it lasted about 25 seconds. This greeting was an intensely demonstrative one, though there were no accompanying squeals and whining which often go along with greetings.

Almost all of the affectionate display came from the younger male. Mom seemed just as happy to see the son — after all, she is the one that came up to him; he had been standing there and eating — but hers was less demonstrative and much more of a solid and dependable Rock-of-Gibraltar affection. This is how I saw it, based on many hours of previous observations of their behaviors.

After this intense “greeting”, they both ran off  together, and out of sight. It appeared to me that Mom had come to “fetch” the younger one — and he seemed ready to go with her, though, until she appeared, he seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. He had spent the previous hour hunting and eating a number of gophers. They both then headed for a denser growth area in order to “turn in” for the day. I did not see them again.

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