Trap Cameras: Dad Patrols / Pup Explores

Today, I’m posting a video sequence of a coyote on his patrolling rounds, and of a youngster investigating the area, captured remotely on a trap camera. Pups are 3 months old now and their curiosity is insatiable, of course! But this posting is more about trap cameras which aren’t as benign as most people think.


Use of trap cams and what I’ve seen. I’ve used them extremely sparingly in the past. Out of respect for what coyotes want and so as to observe natural rather than fearful or protective behavior, I stay away from denning areas: rather, I’ve used field cameras to count pups after they start exploring well away from their dens. And I’ve used them more recently for tracking an interloper coyote who was driven from her territory by another coyote.

There IS a difference between trap-cameras and human hand-held cameras, but not necessarily in the way people imagine: I’m referring to the intrusiveness factor. In some ways they may be less interfering than human presence, but in many ways they are more so.

Some of the reactions of coyotes to my and other trap cameras as seen in images from those cameras led to my doing a mini-study on trap-cameras. The outcome: I found that these devices are surprisingly intrusive from the animals’ point of view as seen by the images of their reactions to them. On the other hand, although my motives have been “tested” a couple of times by coyotes (I’ve always walked away when this happens), this is rare. Although they’ve watched me, they effectively have not reacted to me, a human photographing them: this is why I’m able to document their natural family lives. We have plenty of other humans passing through the parks in San Francisco so I just blend in with the rest of them. If these had been non-urban coyotes not used to having humans around, I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do.

Conversely, coyotes DO routinely react to trap cameras, often adversely, and they are as aware of them as they are of any human in their area.

For the coyote, I think it boils down to an “understandable known” which is a human taking photos (and I’m talking about doing so respectfully and from a respectable distance), versus an “incomprehensible unknown” which are the clicks and whirrs and flashes of a contraption without a human presence yet “triggered” and focused on them when they appear: that’s when the lights and the noises go on. I’ve even seen several coyotes test this: they stand in the distance waiting for the IR lamp to turn off or the noises to begin, and then they make a slight movement that confirms THEY are the triggers.

So how are these field cameras intrusive? Coyotes often become startled by them, stopping dead in their tracks. The cameras elicit stares and investigative or wary reactions, especially as the coyote gets closer to them. The cameras all make sounds, and coyotes can hear even the faintest of noises, even if you can’t. So even if these cameras are missed visually by coyotes, they still know they are there — this must make them even more disturbing. Even the “black glow” cameras, where the IR flash is invisible to humans, are very visible to coyotes. I’ve actually seen coyotes interact with these cameras by angrily defecating in front of them, kicking dirt in anger at them, and even taking them down when they can [see photos and video below]. Wow! 

When the field cameras are up high and unreachable, they appear to be ignored or not to be seen, or so I thought, until I looked closer. When I set them on high ledges where they could be accessed by animals — they were.  So it’s a fallacy that trap cameras are not intrusive: coyotes know these are human instruments and likely malevolent in some way. Coyotes may even know you are spying on them.

“In the name of science” is often accepted as a good excuse for using them. Scientists want their “facts”, but people should know that they do impact the animals on deeper levels than they might be aware of. 

Having said all this, I have used trap cameras, as I stated above. Recently, my cameras were left up overtime when I neglected to pick them up for several days because I was too busy to go get them, and I discovered that the cameras caught some behaviors worth posting, always sprinkled with the reactions I’ve just described.

Some of what the cameras caught include: Dad bringing back prey to his pups, a mom regurgitating her food for her only pup, a youngster waiting around impatiently for his parents to return from hunting, older sibling playing with a younger pup,  a mom playing with her youngsters as though she were one of them, parents trying to shoo their youngster into hiding in the bushes but youngster doesn’t heed them, a dad pacing and standing very still as he listens carefully for a possible intruder he’s heard! I’ll post some of these in the coming weeks. The video today shows a pup exploring with insatiable curiosity, and Dad patrolling before that.

Some images and a video of coyotes encountering trap cameras.  Here are examples of how coyotes reacted with suspicion & investigation, kicking dirt in anger, defecating in anger and as a message, and knocking down the camera [Press one of the images to scroll through the gallery].

Another example: https://www.ktvq.com/entertainment/trending/video-extra-we-said-no-cameras

The Gypsy Coyotes Continue Their Peregrinations

Some coyote individuals compromise their reclusiveness and wariness when food is around: they are opportunists after all, and what comes easy they’ll latch onto. However, pups are not something they are willing to compromise for: pups are coyotes’ biggest kept secret.

Two years ago, this coyote pair raised pups here in one of SF’s smaller parks. The coyotes had been tamed by feeders who not only fed them, but befriended them to the degree that the coyotes would wait around at the park entrance for handouts, as close as 5 feet or even less from people and their mostly leashed dogs. But unleashed dogs went chasing after the coyotes on a regular basis, making the coyotes very uncomfortable. The pups of course were kept totally secret, but I suppose dogs and people came close enough, often enough, to the secret den so that Mom decided she didn’t want to repeat the stressful experience.

The pair played like youngsters at dusk, while the youngsters remained secretly hidden from dogs and people — this was in 2017, when few folks saw or knew about any pups in the area. Notwithstanding, the adults were pursued by dogs regularly.

So last year these parents left that park for the duration of the pupping season, in spite of the plentiful supply of food there. They ended up raising their family at another, even smaller, but much more secluded location, where there were fewer dogs and fewer intrusive people. The problem with the new location was that it began being hugely developed and cleared for building purposes, and its diminished natural area became too small to accommodate the family.

So at about the age of six months, the youngsters began navigating back and forth, at night, between this smaller location and the “feeding/dog” park, making it obvious that this family claimed both areas — about a mile apart. Theirs was what is known as a “fragmented” territory.

But there at the old park, the number of incidents of unleashed dogs chasing and attacking coyotes grew, to the point of leaving coyote adults and pups with leg injuries. Some people felt entitled to not leash their dogs and went so far as to claim that the coyotes were playing with their dogs — that the coyotes “liked” being chased by dogs. In addition to the menacing dogs, other coyotes began appearing at that park in the middle of the night, so by the end of the year, we suddenly began to hear territorial fights between the resident coyotes and interloper coyotes at night. The territory would obviously not do as a pupping area for next year’s litter.

Last year’s litter were kept secret at first

This was the situation when, again, the coyotes picked up and left in January of this year.

Their exit, as in the previous year, was orchestrated by Mom. For months before their departure, she was the one who went out each evening, traveling far and wide, mostly alone, but sometimes with her mate, surveying for a more suitable location for her next litter. When she found the right spot, she returned to gather her mate, and with one yearling in tow, off the trio went, traveling through some of the same open spaces they had been through the year before — spending about two weeks at several of these — before packing off to the next temporary 2-week place.

The one yearling they brought with them.

Finally, they settled down, a full 5 miles from their previous two pupping haunts, but still within the City of San Francisco. This is where it appears they will stay to have their pups this year, due in only a few weeks. Human fast-food toss-offs can be found even in this new location, but best of all: dogs are not an issue here since there aren’t any, and humans give them the respected space they need to live more natural lives. It’s not as easy as you might have imagined being an urban coyote.

The expectant parents, Dad grooms Mom

Father and Son

Coyote fathers are totally involved in the raising of their youngsters. Here, Dad and five-month-old son spend a few moments watching the goings-on around them before Dad then grooms the pup — probably removing ticks — and then son prods Dad for some food, unsuccessfully.

More Fleeing From Father

During a calm early morning walk I spotted a coyote running at top speed, bounding in long leaps, through some brush in the distance. Within seconds I could see that this coyote was chasing another coyote who was running lickety-split from his pursuer. Soon the larger, faster, and older coyote caught up and threw the youngster on his back and pummeled him with his snout, delivering a few emphasizing nips in the process.

There was intense rustling of the brush and squeals of pain — the same squeals of pain a young domestic puppy might make if it were hurt. Soon, Dad, because that’s who the disciplinarian was, and discipline is what was going on, descended from that clump of brush where the beatings had occurred, walked on a few paces, and then stopped to look back, to glare back. He remained in this location, turning his attention to sniffing and looking around, and then headed back into the brush where the youngster was. Dad was checking to see if he had gotten his message across. He re-emerged again, glared back again, and then sniffed around some more.  He repeated this about four times, and then finally wandered away from the area through the dense foliage.

Soon, within minutes, Mom appeared from out of nowhere. I don’t know if she had witnessed what went on, or if she just happened by at this time. She looked around and slowly headed to where the youngster was. She found him, greeted him, and offered consolation in the form of grooming and affection.  Several minutes later, they both emerged to where I could better see them. Mom spent time carefully grooming the kid who stood still and lovingly absorbed all the attention directed at him, and he returned the favor, a little. Soon she stopped, and both coyotes directed their attention towards where I was, but it wasn’t me they were watching. Dad suddenly appeared at my lookout point, a point with a good view of where the other coyotes were. Dad was keeping an eye on them. He spent a few minutes staring at them, and they at him.

I had left my crutches (I had twisted my knee several weeks earlier) at the base of the steep and craggy slope with dry grasses which I had inched my way up for a better view, scooting myself upwards on the seat of my pants. I was now 30 feet from the crutches at the base of the hill. The coyote stopped to look at the crutches and then went over to a piece of trash, sniffed it and marked it. I was sure he was going to mark my crutches, which had my scent on them. But no, instead he looked at me respectfully and went on his way without leaving me any messages! He disappeared from view.

Youngster and Mom were sitting perfectly still. Their eyes followed Dad’s trajectory until he was out of sight. Then they continued their activity of grooming and being groomed. I wondered if Youngster had actually been wounded by Dad, because, although I couldn’t see any damage to him from the distance,  Mom’s actions suggested to me that she might be licking small wounds on his haunches. Pinch/bites are messages that dominant coyotes give other coyotes, and dogs, to message them to leave.

After the Youngster had regained his composure following Dad’s treatment, and with the help of Mom’s grooming, affection, attention and solace, Youngster began feeling playful. He jumped over Mom, which must have been a signal or invitation to play. She acquiesced — parent coyotes love playing with their youngsters. After a few minutes of playful wrestling, she led him on a long extended chase up and around and through the bushes and back, over and over again. More grooming ensued and then these two, as Dad had, disappeared from view.

Had Dad been disciplining Youngster for failing to be submissive? Or was there a lesson in boundaries and territoriality, or possibly an issue about the youngster’s safety at the center of Dad’s tough discipline? Dad’s intense bullying is disciplinary now. This pup is 7 months old and there is a lot to learn. Mom’s affection and solace seem to compensate for Dad’s harsher attempts to discipline and teach. Both parents teach and discipline, but it always appears to be the alpha — and the alpha can be either the male or female parent — who is the harshest. The alpha is the coyote who maintains an overall overview of the situation in his/her territory, keeping an eye out for everyone’s safety.

Young Pups Left Alone Hide From All Perceived Dangers

Coyote youngsters are often left alone as their parents go off hunting or trekking. What do they do when they are left alone? They like to explore, sticking to the areas immediately around where their parents have left them — a healthy wariness and fear keeps them put.

From a substantial distance, I’ve seen them pounce on things, pull on sticks, wander around and mostly WATCH what is going on in the distance while sitting very still. If they catch you eyeing them, they’ll hurry away and hide, but first they’ll sit still for a few moments to confirm for themselves that you are actually looking at them. They may move to behind some minimal covering from where they’ll watch for another few minutes, and then, they’ll bound out of sight altogether where they know they will be safer.

pup plays with Mom by pulling on her ear

pup plays with Mom by pulling on her ear

It’s always an exciting event when parents return. After all, parents are not just providers and protectors, they are also playmates. When a parent returns, some of the pups’ shy wariness is tossed aside, but not all of it. For instance, seeing a dog in the distance is a red flag which causes youngsters to run for cover, even if a parent is right there.

With a parent at their side, they are willing to banter and play in little patches of exposed areas between the bushes, even if someone is watching — and they are always aware of all eyes on them — as long as the parent is comfortable with this. Pups take their cues from their parents: one whisper or “look” from a parent indicating that things might not be safe sends youngsters lickety-split into hiding.

Vittles For the Family: Over River and Dale With Grub In His Mouth

2015-06-09

He caught this vole, killed it, and headed home. At one point, his grasp wasn’t right, so he put down his prey in order to carry it more securely, or, perhaps, more comfortably.

Then the long trek home began — it would be about 1/2 mile over stream & dale, field & forest, meadow and sports field. When he saw a runner, he hurried off the path until the runner had gone by. When he saw a dog pack and their owners — all dogs were unleashed, he ducked behind some bushes and was not detected. He waited there for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, though it actually was probably only a few minutes. Finally he re-emerged to continue on his way, trotting, climbing, hurrying to where he wanted to go.

He went fast — I couldn’t keep up, but I could watch him in the distance using the zoom lens of my camera, still carrying his prey in his mouth as he trotted homeward.

He had to get by one last walker, but this was close to a secret passageway where he knew he couldn’t be followed. So he made a dash for it, right across the pathway of the walker who, I’m not surprised to say, didn’t even see him! People are often preoccupied with their own lives and forget to look around.

The coyote continued up a cliff and down again into his secret alcove, where he would deposit the vole in front of a hungry little pup, or in front of the pup’s mom, who then herself would offer the prey to one of her pups. The coyote’s outing had lasted an hour, and his trek back with food in his mouth had lasted almost 20 minutes minutes. This is what coyote family life is about.

2015-06-09

hunting

trekking along with grub in his mouth

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.

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