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]

Coyote Speaks Her Mind, An Update

I want to update the continuing story of the loner coyote I wrote about in: Coyote Speaks Her Mind to the Dog Who Chased Her Three Weeks Ago! The story through that posting evolved from a dog who repeatedly chased the coyote, to the coyote finally vocalizing her distress at being chased while remaining hidden in the bushes.

Soon thereafter, this coyote would follow that dog, which is now kept leashed, screaming out her anguish, now in plain view — no longer hidden in the bushes. For months this behavior continued, daily, and then the vocalizations stopped, but the following behavior still continued, always at a safe and great distance. 

One might ask, “Why would a little coyote follow a dog — even a large 100 pound dog — if she were fearful of the dog?  The answer appears to be that ‘following’ is used by coyotes both to escort out and to assure themselves that a threatening (or perceived as threatening) animal is leaving an area. It is a territorial behavior. Coyotes’ survival depends on their territoriality: they claim, and exclude other coyotes, from the land which will supply them with, and ensure them a supply of,  food and protection from competitors. The screaming, which incorporates deep raspy sounds, is a brave warning, more bluff than anything else, but also a release of the coyote’s distressed feelings. The coyote appears totally aware that the dog is tethered: she has fled like a bullet when the dog got loose and turned towards her.

The little coyote’s behavior towards that dog is continuing to evolve. Yesterday, after seeing the dog in the far distance, she simply ran the other way and disappeared from view over the crest of the hill before the dog had a chance to see her!

A few days ago, having seen the dog from a great distance, she ran off and hid rather than take a chance at being seen.

Crouching low the minute she saw the dog, in hopes of not being seen

And today, the little coyote didn’t notice the dog — the dog is walked daily in the park — until the dog already was close by. Her evasive strategy this time involved crouching down into the grasses and ducking so as not to be seen. She was not seen by the dog, but she was seen by the owner.  She remained in her crouched-down spot as the dog didn’t seem to notice her (the dog was leashed and couldn’t have moved towards the coyote even if she had wanted to). 

The coyote got up and watched them walk away and disappear over the horizon and then took after them, but remaining out of sight.  She spotted them at the crest of a hill where she sat and kept an eye on them from the distance until they left. This owner is doing as much as he can to avoid conflict by walking his dog on the leash and always walking away from the coyote. Fortunately, he is fascinated and amused by her behavior!

By the way, I have seen this same behavior in a number of females, and one male coyote — it’s not so unusual, so folks with dogs should be aware of it so they don’t freak out if it happens towards their dog. What to do? Simply shorten your leash and keep walking away from the coyote. Also, try to minimize visual communication between your dog and a coyote — the communication is most likely to be negative, so why even go there? Again, simply shorten your leash and walk on and away.

Diverting Attention

The coyote had made herself very visible on the side of the hill during the early dawn hours, sitting there and watching the sparse activity on the path and street below: a few walkers, dog-walkers, workers and traffic. Whenever she spotted a perceived potential *threat*, she ran out onto the path in front of whomever she was worried about, forcing attention towards herself so that the youngster up the hill would not be noticed; or she ran onto the path in back of a dog to make sure dog was moving on. A couple of times she got too close to a dog and the dog reacted by growling and barking. But when the dog and walker moved on with a shortened leash, as I advised, that was always the end of it: this is what the coyote wanted.

I looked up and saw the youngster there watching the goings-on. When looked at directly, he moved to a bushier part of the hill and watched from behind the thicker foliage — this was a shy one.

Soon Mom headed down the street a ways while maintaining eye-contact with the youngster, and then she stood in the middle of the street, eyeing the youngster repeatedly. At this point, it became apparent that she was trying to coax the youth in her direction so that she could take him away from the open space. He was too fearful, and during her ten minute effort he did not come. So Mom returned to the hill and sat there close to the path, again drawing attention to herself apparently as a ploy to keep attention away from the kid. It worked: no one saw the kid except me while I observed.

By the next day, the youngster had still not left that space. Maybe reinforcements were needed to entice the little guy to leave, because now, there were two adult females with him. I spotted the three of them sleeping together on the incline before dawn.  The second female was much more reclusive than the first one — she made no attempt to serve as a decoy. Instead, she, too, remained as hidden as possible, similarly to the youngster, while the first female performed as she had the previous day. You would have thought that during the night there might have been a change in the situation, but there had not been.

On the third day, the lot was vacant! I guess the two adult females had accomplished their mission! The day before had been one of the few times I had seen that particular second female whose relationship to the family I have not figured out. Some coyotes are much more reclusive than others. Most likely, she would be related: either a yearling pup herself from the year before, a sister, or even a parent or aunt of the mother coyote. Coyotes are territorial, and it’s only family groups that live in any particular vicinity, keeping all other coyotes — intruders — out of the picture. This is one reason they feel territorial towards dogs.

Coyote Voicings

Artwork by Kanyon Sayers-Roods

I have added to my Introductory Pages a writeup of Coyote Voicings — Yips, Howls and other Vocalizations: a Panoply of Sounds and Situations.

Summary: Coyote communication occurs mostly via eye contact, facial expressions and body language and it can be very subtle. Coyotes are not forever vocal as humans are; they tend to be on the quiet side — except when they aren’t! Here I explain their voice communications, based on my own daily dedicated observations over the past 11 years, and then I give about 20 examples, chosen from about a thousand that I’ve recorded.

Hi Dad, Wanna Play?

The pup has received a strict and heavy-handed (and probably not-expected) retort and rejection to his enthusiastic, happy invitation to play. He responds, expressing his feelings through tucked chin, ears swiveled back, squinting eyes, tight jaw — not so different from our own painful grimacing to such a retort. The flopping over is rather melodramatic, but I know human kids who might have done that!  :)) I’ve seen coyote pups react this way many times — usually when they are conflicted: it’s as though all synapses fired at once without a clear outcome!

Four Month Old Pup Howls Back at His Family / Dispersal Behavior

This video is a very short (20 seconds) clip of a youngster coyote, a little over four months old, responding to the howls of his family after a siren had sounded. He is on one side of the park alone, independently and very self-sufficiently, exploring and hunting on his own. It’s late dusk and there’s almost no light, but the camera was able to focus on this. Notice that the youngster is listening intently for the rest of the family which is far in the distance, in back of where I’ve standing to video. When he thinks he knows where they are, he takes off in their direction, running.

Interestingly, as he approached them, he veered off and went the other way, never meeting up with them. The howling had stopped by the time he reached them. Might he have decided to avoid what was going on between them? There were four other coyotes who were at the site, including Mom, Dad and two yearling siblings born last year.

I say this because it’s at this point that I and another onlooker heard strong deep warning growls. We heard them again, and then a third time. It’s not often that we hear coyotes actually growl like this because it seems to be limited to use within the coyote world between themselves, apparently to express anger or discipline. Unfortunately my recorder did not pick up the low frequency sounds.

I strained to see what was going on but could only make out that one coyote had pinned another one down and was growling at it. By focusing my camera on the light in the background, I was able to get these two photos below. Once home, where I could actually see the image, I could tell clearly that Mom was standing over her yearling daughter, exercising her dominance. Dispersion time is coming soon for that young female. Punches, nips and dominance displays as this one will increase in order to drive the youngsters off. This is an important part of the coyote’s life cycle: it keeps the population down in claimed territories.

Interestingly, Dad still grooms this female for long stretches of time and very affectionately, reconfirming his bonds and affection for her. In the families I’ve observed, it seems to be the Moms that drive out the females (who I suppose could become competitive with them), and the Dads, or sometimes male siblings, who drive the youngster males out.

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