The “Abandoned” Family

Old alpha female guarding her pups from atop a knoll overlooking the area, and snoozing at the same time, always with one eye open!
Here she is barking at a dog lingering too close to her denning area.

What’s happening in the family Rookie abandoned, and why might he have left?

You’ll recall from my posting that Rookie was actually an unwelcome intruder to begin with within the family he joined and then left. He had moved in on that family which had lost its long-time alpha male to old age, and he moved in right during the short breeding period. The scent of hormones called and he filled that role. But I don’t think Rookie was ever totally accepted. I continued to see the original family grooming each other ever so affectionately — in Rookie’s presence — but he himself, Rookie, appeared to be groomed less often and more out of a sense of duty than anything else.

The remaining yearling male in that family, a two-year-old who might otherwise have been encouraged to disperse, was obviously being encouraged by his mom and remaining sibling to stick around — something I could see through the family’s greetings, grooming and interactions. Well, he’s still there, and with Rookie gone, he appears to be in the process of moving into that alpha male position if he hasn’t already done so.

I get the impression that both Rookie and his abandoned family are happier and better off with the change. Rookie has been warmly and openly accepted by his new mate in a new territory, whereas I don’t think he had ever been totally integrated into the family he left — he always remained “the outsider”. This may be the reason he left. From what I’ve seen in coyote families, interpersonal dynamics and feelings run very much parallel to our own, the big difference being that they seem to move on quickly with the challenges and changes that confront them: with an attitude of, “it is what it is”. And this “abandoned” family is doing just fine — even better — without him. Several generations before this, by the way, within this same family, the family existed and thrived without an alpha male — that male had been killed by rat poison. Over time, one of that alpha’s male offspring ended up moving into that alpha position. This family is quite an inbred one.

How has the abandoned family adjusted to Rookie’s departure? The old alpha female is now the sole overseer and guardian of the family — she had been very much under the thumb of her previous old mate — the one who died of old age — she was always “second” to him in command. But that has now changed. She can be seen guarding and messaging intrusive dogs. Her vigilance keeps her more out in the open, and takes her to knolls with vistas where she perches herself for snoozes, always with one eye open. And she is raising her pups born this year. She still keeps them well hidden, and disciplines them severely for breaking her rules. A couple of days ago I heard intense angry growling, and then the response: the high-pitched complaining yelps of a pup being disciplined. I tried recording it, but did not catch enough of it to post it.

I have not seen the alpha female’s two-year old daughter lately — this is a littermate of the remaining male yearling. Remember that she also and unusually, for being in the same territory, became a mother this year. The last time I saw her she had a horrible huge (6″x 12″) raw, red, inflamed wound on her side. I got the impression it was some kind of mite. I hope she’s healing and I hope she’s still around. I’ll keep my eyes open for her. [UPDATE: Good news! I saw the two-year-old daughter one day after I posted this writeup: she was hunting alone in a field and her hotspot seems to have resolved itself!]

Two-year-old male son of the alpha female is acting as the ipso facto alpha male now. He obviously feels very relaxed at the way things are now.
Alpha mom grooms her yearling male son, creating a tighter bond and promoting him as the territorial male.

And her son grooms her in return just as affectionately.

And off this pair goes, for their evening trek together, probably very happy that Rookie left.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Responding

Most coyote activity usually begins after dark, but sometimes some family members are ready to begin their evening activities well before then. Yesterday, by late afternoon I found this young, almost-two-year-old female lying down in a field in the shadow of some bushes. She was very well concealed, but visible if you actually knew what you were looking for. She kept her eye on the passers-by in the distance, keeping her focus mostly on unleashed active dogs running energetically all over the place, but none came in her direction. Soon, grooming herself became her focus of activity –the bugs were bugging her!

She began getting up to better reach some of the irritating rascals on her body, then she lay back down. After several of these getting-up and then lying-down again cycles, she sat up, stretched, and slowly began to wander off.

She probably had been waiting there for the rest of her family. It’s a place they have met up frequently before heading out together in the evening, but today she was probably tired of waiting and decided to jump-start her activities. Even coyotes can get bored!

leaping after a sound she heard, but coming up empty handed

She walked calmly along, following the line of the bushes, and stopped sporadically at whatever movements caught her eye. A couple of times she bounced fast and high over tall grasses, a little like a jackrabbit, towards something that caught her interest, but the prospective meal never panned out. So she continued on.

She stops to listen

Everything seemed quiet when she suddenly stopped, turned around, and looked into the distance. She listened intently, and then she began calling out. In between her calling out, during the silences, far, far into the distance, I could barely hear two other coyotes calling out (you will also hear a couple of domestic dogs barking). Our young female was responding. This video covers her responding. Her sporadic vocalizations went on for a couple of minutes (this video is the entirety of it) even after the others had ceased their end of the communication. When she was through, she trotted off in their direction. They would meet and greet, as I’ve seen them so often do, and then head out together on their evening trekking expedition, sticking together for a while as a family, splitting apart at time, and then coming together throughout the evening and until dawn.

Each coyote’s voice and pattern of sounds is identifiable and distinguishable by the other coyotes — not dissimilar to the way you recognize voices over the telephone. I myself am able to identify some of the coyotes by their vocalizations. 

Mom Tells Off Her Son, and Dad Stands By

The family was out together, all four of them: Mom, Dad, Daughter and her brother. It’s not often that we see the young daughter: she’s just not comfortable at this point being out when people look at her. The minute she feels noticed, she hurries off and disappears into the surrounding foliage.

Her brother also dislikes being watched. This makes a lot of sense: in the wild, if any animal looks at another animal, it’s probably a predator sizing it up as prey. But brother has become more tolerant of humans eyeing him than his sister. He might leave an area if he feels the focus is on him, but he inevitably returns to the same spot, especially if his parents are out there.

So after Sis left today, only Mom and Dad and Son were out. They wandered around a little, and then Dad moved further away from the others. Suddenly Mom was beating up Son: he was on his back and she was standing over him with teeth bared. Yikes! She seems to have a short temper recently.  She got annoyed at Dad recently while I was watching: I think simply because he bumped into her, maybe brushed against her or stepped on her heels. She not only snarled at him, but she then acted on her “words” and let him know who was boss by raising herself above him: it was an instance of interpersonal coyote communication and interactions showing HER emotional response to him, and HIS tolerance and total deference to her.

What happened with the youngster today? I didn’t see it, it happened very quickly, but probably the same thing. I’ve seen dogs get pretty upset when they’ve been bumped — nothing else but a clumsy bump — by another dog, and maybe something like this happened today. It’s probably disrespectful. Anyway, here are the photos of Mom letting little guy have it with snarls and growls. Dad soon arrived and seemed to take sides with Mom. He may have had to — if you know what I mean. In fact, Mom in this family is the “top dog”.

Eventually, after making sure Son got the message, the two parents walked off. And the little guy stayed behind. He looked dumbfounded, like he had no clue why that had been so intense: “What did I do?” But he knew he was not invited to follow his parents. Parents proceeded to walk around the periphery of their park together, and Son stayed right where he was, searching for gophers, alone.

Maybe this was just a temper-tantrum on Mom’s part — maybe she just wanted a little more respect from him? Then again, maybe she’s setting the stage for dispersal. The earliest dispersal I’ve seen occurred when a pup was nine-months old, which is what this pup is now. We’ll have to see what happens next..

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

 

Crossing the First Divide: One Milestone at a Time

The video depicts 11 week old pups at the end of June, two months ago. It covers the week before they abandoned their denning site entirely. 

This is a time-lapse video sequence taken over a week’s time, showing coyote pup and parent behavior at the entryway to their denning area. This is not a “video” but a “time lapse” sequence.  I’ve speeded it up to 2.5x — so please remember that the action actually was occurring at less than 1/2 the speed which you are seeing here. Time lapse at original speed is excruciatingly slow to watch. All of the activity occurred in the dead of night when it was safest for them — and with only a distant dim street lamp for lighting for the video: this should explain the jerkiness and the blurriness. But the story is captured! It turned out to be a milestone in their lives, i.e., practicing and first steps for moving out of the den. 

The camera was placed at the periphery of their denning area. The “outerworld” — dangerously full of people, traffic and dogs — is past the stake to the right. Before the video even begins, there was one wise little pup who had caught onto parental departures and returns. Hmmm. So, “Where were parents going? What’s out there? Why can’t I go? Looks scary!” Coyotes, even youngsters, are curious. Sneaking past the pups started not working. Mom or Dad had to turn around, turn them back and distract them, thwart them by carrying them and then leading them back to safety.  This is how they began to learn that “out there” was not safe. Boundaries seem to be understood early on, as they later are in territorial divisions between adult coyotes: coyotes firmly understand these.

The videoed part of the adventure, then, begins with the pups going to, and hovering around, this “exit” area. You can see that they are both apprehensive and excited, as they look around hesitantly. They repeat this approaching of the boundary line in the same way for several days — both fearing the outside world and at the same time drawn to it, encouraged now at this age and stage by their parents. Finally Mom or Dad begin leading them out a little way, but one pup is afraid and opts not to go, sitting down and looking back over his shoulder at Mom and siblings beyond the exit. The two beyond the exist see their brother and also get cold feet — decide to hold back too, and they hurry back. It takes a while to get the minds and bodies of the pups all moving in the same direction at the same time! This “sticking their toes out the door” happened once a day. They were getting used to the idea and any new stimulation right there close to home. It’s probably overwhelming to begin with.

By 1:50 in the video, the pups have now finally begun venturing out as a family and this is them returning. Mom anxiously makes sure everyone is in. You can almost hear her “Whew!” She lovingly mouths one of the youngsters (2:40 in the video) over and over: “Good job, Kids!”

The sequence after that, which is the next day, shows them now returning without too much fanfare — it’s old hat by now!

The move obviously required forethought, aim, intent, and direction on the part of the parents who were on the same wavelength with each other, working together and in unison on the project. They were able to communicate this to each other and then to the pups. Their communication isn’t something humans have a handle on — it’s too complicated for us!  I know that the ultimate goal and objective had been to prepare the pups for the move — the area was vacated the very next day. It took over a week of working on this project before it was actually carried out. Coyotes think ahead, plan, retain the plan in their minds, and communicate to each other about it!

Most “denning areas” I’ve observed remain “home” for months, but not in this case. After abandoning this site, the pups were moved every few days to at least four locations until they settled down in the safest spot, where they now have remained through 4 months of age.

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

More

Coyote Anger: Cat-like Growls or Screams

When coyotes communicate, there’s little room for misinterpretation. You already saw this in my last posting about “coyote insistence” through body language. If they are insistent towards humans and our dogs, you can be sure they are just as insistent towards each other. This short video clip, above, shows this. It was taken after a family howl session in response to a siren. The howling and yiping in response to the siren were sing-songy and upbeat as you can hear here:

The family howling then segues into the evening rendezvous, where the entire family excitedly meets and greets for the evening trekk and other family activities. But Mom is not so keen on having all that high-energy wiggly and excited youngster activity around her. Her vocalizations at this point, as seen in the above video, are of the “raspy” type I discuss in my posting on Coyote Voicings. These are anger, annoyed, and warning vocalizations directed at family members. She’s telling the rambunctious youngsters that she wants space and calm: “get away from me”. She also displays her frustration by complaining with a wide vocalized gape to Dad who happens to be standing beside her. These are sounds you may not have heard from a coyote: they are very cat-like — the kind of sounds a cat would make before swiping at something with its claws.

Remember that coyotes also “pounce” for prey in a very cat-like manner, they toy with their prey as cats do, they splay their toes as cats do, and they “warn” with that very familiar “Halloween Cat” stance which includes a hairpin arched back and often a gape and hiss. I have been asked if coyotes are cats or dogs: I can see why such a question might be asked. Of course, coyotes are neither: they are simply themselves. However, they can reproduce with dogs and have many dog-like qualities, but they also have several very cat-like behaviors which dogs don’t have.

A Mated Pair’s Routine Evening


Not all coyotes are experiencing the intense drama you’ve been reading in some of my recent postings. Some have been leading calm and routine existences, without notable incidents except for dogs, and here’s such an example I observed last month.

I find the female snoozing in a large field. Eventually, slowly, she gets up and stretches and wanders off, foraging as she goes. The evening looks to be a very routine one, which is what I want to post here. Soon a siren sounds. She sits down and begins her yipping in response, and then her mate joins in, even as he is hidden from view in the close-by thicket edging the field.

He emerges from the thicket as their chorus ends and looks around until he spots her. Ahhh, there she is! He does a lot of marking and looking around, and both coyotes continue foraging, maintaining a substantial distance between themselves. He keeps glancing over at her, more than usual because it’s mating season — his protective and possessive instincts are in overdrive.

Here she is looking back adoringly at him

Dogs are always around in this park, and today is no exception. During mating and then pupping seasons, coyotes are particularly protective of themselves and their mates or families, so it’s important to keep dogs away from them. This is easy to do: the minute you see a coyote, shorten your leash and walk the other way.

A small unleashed dog appears in the not-far distance coming in the direction of the male who, therefore, kicks dirt. Kicking dirt shows he doesn’t like the situation, that he’s angry. Nevertheless, he moves off and out of the dog and walker’s way. But when the dog, who had been oblivious to the coyote finally sees the coyote, he runs several feet towards the coyote and starts barking. This all takes place at a distance of about 100 feet. The coyote turns around to face the barking dog and begins walking in their direction: the coyote is responding to the dog’s challenge. I ask the owner to leash, and they head the other way. Note that it would have been a much calmer situation had the owner leashed the minute she saw the coyotes and simply walked on. The coyotes continue on their way with the male sniffing and marking the ground continually.

Kicking dirt shows he doesn’t like the situation with the dog approaching, nevertheless, he moves away  and out of the dog and walker’s way.

Soon, the female stops foraging and heads off on a path and the male follows not far behind, continually marking. They walk more parallel than together.

When they reached a larger field within the park, the female somehow captures a bird within the blink of an eye. I’ve seen coyotes catch birds a number of times, and its almost always an injured bird on the ground. This seems to have been what happened here because she expended no effort in the process. She begins devouring it right away. The male, forever curious about everything the female does, comes towards her to investigate. Ahhh, she knows about his tricks (he has taken things she dropped) and so she walks away from him as she finishes off the bird.

As the duo continue foraging in the grass, another dog — a leashed one this time — approaches closer and closer, so, of course, the coyote messages the dog to keep away. I explain the behavior to the dog owner, and that it’s best not to ever approach them. The dog owner is understanding and goes the other way. These messages always look scary and aggressive: it’s meant to be in order to be effective. Note that coyotes really don’t want to tangle with dogs, but if a dog comes after them, they’ll defend themselves. However if you walk away, they become assured that you aren’t after them. So you need to heed their message and go the other way. Actually, you should not walk in their direction to begin with. Here is a photo sequence of this messaging:

The coyotes keep moving along. They have a direction in mind — it’s one of several paths they routinely take as they head out trekking for the evening. But soon they stop: half a dozen people and dogs are lingering on their intended pathway, so now the two coyotes find a place to hunker down and wait-it-out until the path is clear. The coyotes are in no hurry and they know from experience that, as dusk thickens, dogs and people disperse. When it is clear, they move on.

Everyone who sees them this evening appreciates them sitting and waiting so patiently on the hill above the path. One set of dogs barks and lunges at them ferociously, but they are leashed and far enough away so that the coyotes don’t react. One set of runners goes by without even seeing them. When it is dark and the path is clear, they slowly get up and descend into the forest and then out into the ‘hood.

There’s always drama in coyote lives, but sometimes it’s in routine packets and not life-altering as in some of my other recent posts. The everyday life of a coyote is a pageant full of activity, emotion, tension, suspense: i.e., a true melodrama.

Communication: She Calls To Him, He Comes


There was no siren this time — sirens are what often sets off coyote howling in the city, where they usually begin in tandem or pretty close together. This howling reflects their unity as a family, and possibly territorial separateness from any neighboring coyotes. For more about oral communication, see my post on Voicings.

But this time, it was SHE who vocalized alone: she was calling out to him repeatedly. Rather than answering in-kind and right-off, he apparently responded by actually coming. Then, once she was in his line-of-vision, he began his high-pitched, pup-like locutions, and then her calls morphed into the same type of little “hello there” whines and squeals. These are greetings.

These two coyotes are an old, mated pair. Their evening rendezvous, which this is, although joyous in its own way, was more a confirmation of each coyote’s status towards each other. The male is the dominant fellow in many ways, and you can see this when they finally come together: she crouches down and lets him stand over her: it’s their little ritual. But note that she is the one who did the calling. A more “conversational” back-and-forth communication over the distance can be heard here.

After the meeting/greeting they both went off hunting separately, but sticking close by to each other. Coyotes are social and enjoy each others’ company.

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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