Hmmm. . . Strictly Monogamous?

Well, these three coyotes were not just “frolicking and playing” as some people thought! By the way, coyotes are known to mate for life, mates are usually extremely loyal to one another, and both parents raise the young: it usually is a real “family unit” in the sense that our families are. But, as in our families, variations and exceptions take many forms.

Mom was there with her two-year-old Daughter, along with a new-to-the-area four-year-old Male. Dad (Mom’s long-time mate) had disappeared two months ago, so there was no male scent-marking in the area which might have warned off this male. Mom appeared not to like new Male and kept snarling at him. Daughter I think was conflicted: she joined her Mom in some of the snarling, at the same time, from all appearances, she appeared to love this new focused attention from the visitor: she had his undivided attention and she probably never felt so special before! She let him lick her under the tail and allowed, and even encouraged, him to mount her.

The visiting Male already had a mate on the adjacent territory where he had pups last year. That mate happened to be his mother. Inbreeding is not uncommon for coyotes, and I’ve seen a lot of it here in San Francisco. In spite of Male’s stable family situation and claim to a prime territory in the city, here he was romancing Daughter in the next territory over. It occurred to me that maybe his mother’s/mate’s hormones and reproductive odors might be waning with age (she’s ten) and therefore possibly less attractive to him? I don’t know this, it’s just something that occurred to me without knowing the science.

And the story is actually more convoluted than that: Unbeknownst to either Mom or new Male (at least I think it’s unknown to them): Male and Mom are actually full siblings born in what is now the Male’s territory. They were born in two different litters, four years apart. Daughter then would be Male’s niece. [Captions appear below each set of photos]

Oh, so you’re interested in my daughter?” [Mom and Daughter face visiting Male]

Mom seems to be saying: “Well, you don’t pass mustard: I don’t like you. Get OUT!” [But we all know that parents have little say in these matters]. Mom is snarling at and chasing Male.

Above, Mom is interacting with and communicating with Daughter. Mom seems to be warning Daughter that he’s just a scoundrel — I got the impression that Mom wanted Daughter to join her in chasing the fellow out. But Daughter didn’t seem to be on board.

Daughter becomes giddy with excitement — this type of attention was all new to her. It happens to us all, doesn’t it? Something new and probably inexplicable was happening to her and it was energizing her with excitement. It looked like she was having her first coming-of-age experience. She’s two years old and just about ready for this.

Well, this is what happened, in spite of Mom. However, there was no “tie”, so mating didn’t actually take place — but they did go through the motions: He mounted her half a dozen times. At this point, four weeks later, it appears that they ran off together — they “eloped”. I haven’t seen either of them for a month now, either here or on his territory. Hopefully there will be another installment of this soap opera! I want to add, that Male’s abandoned mate called to him repeatedly, with no response. She now doesn’t not have a mate around to help her defend her territory.

It’s Mating Season, and things don’t always work

Right now it’s mating season for coyotes.  This is a once-a-year event, and actually distinguishes coyotes from dogs who have a twice-a-year reproductive cycle. Here is a short summary of the process.

An unattached female usually has several suitors, and it’s the female who then chooses among them: see Coyote Courtship by Walkaboutlou — in this story, the fella who brings her a gift of a rabbit is the one who wins her!! Then, usually, the pair remain together for life, but not always! See “Till Death Do Us Part?“.

In most instances, when the female is in heat, the male will closely and carefully guard her and stay with her. The earliest I’ve seen females reproduce is 2 years of age. The earliest I’ve seen males reproduce is 3 years of age. I’ve heard of them reproducing at a younger age, but I have never seen it myself.

Interestingly, coyote males only produce sperm at this one time of year. Producing that sperm is a two-month long process called spermatogenesis. They, too, become fertile at the same time the females do, and have only a very short window of opportunity in which to ‘perform’. It doesn’t appear that this “system” has limited the number of coyotes around!

Mating in coyotes involves a “tie”, which is how you know that it didn’t happen in the above video — the process was not completed in this video. The tie is where both coyotes become “locked” together for as long as 20 minutes — back end to back end. You can imagine that they are extremely vulnerable during these 20 minutes. In the video above, the male mounts the female, but obviously something isn’t right. He turns around to examine the problem or fix it, then they move out of the range of the camera.

As the time of birth approaches, the female will dig a den or find an appropriate alternative (expand another critter’s hole, find harborage under a rock or fallen tree trunk, etc.). During birth, she’ll want to be left alone, so the male waits or guards the area outside where birthing is taking place — I’ve seen males guard like this for about a week. See The Birthing Rock. During this time, the male often brings food to the female. Then, I’ve seen coyote mothers first emerge from their dens anywhere from one day to almost a week after they give birth.

Pups are born after a 63 day gestation period. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as seven pups born, with an average of 3 or 4. Of that larger litter, only four survived to disperse or move on. Survival rate can be as low as 20% in the wild, but it appears to be higher in urban areas. Pups are raised by both parents.  Lactation occurs until about June. As the pups are being weaned they are introduced to regurgitated food from their parents which eventually will be replaced with more and more solid food in the form of dead rodents and then live ones until the pups get the knack of hunting for themselves. However, I have seen a father coyote still regurgitating for his fully yearling pups!!

Pups are kept well hidden and as “secret” as possible until they attain some ability to take care of themselves.  Then they hunt together in twos or threes and eventually the youngsters will head off on hunting and explorational forays of their own. They disperse sometime between one and two years of age, usually. In the meantime, for the 1-2 years before dispersal, they live very full and rich family lives, with interactions between them, along with feelings that rival our own.

Coyote Courtship, by Walkaboutlou

[Here’s a “Holiday Special”!  Hope it makes you smile as much as it did me. ]

Hi Janet,

I recently spoke with a good friend and ranch patriarch. His sunset of life is nearing. His fire turning to warm coals. But he is very comfortable and content. His sons all have taken up ranching. And ranching in time honored ways as well as innovative. One of these…is leaving coyote alone.

For over 90 years, coyote have not been allowed to be hunted or harassed on this vast ranch. They were taught…almost like dogs…lessons. By the ranchers and LGD and a culture of mutual respect..and enforcement…coyote have thrived here. The land has been utilized in ways that spacing and wild areas are maintained or created. It really is a place of balance for livestock and wildlife.

The Patriarch, especially..enjoyed coyote from childhood. He has known every coyote pack and most coyote there his whole life. He knows their family history and eras.

One story he loves to relay is watching a young coyote he knew since pup pick her mate after weeks of male courtship.

The images added to this story are not the of coyotes written about, but hopefully they will trigger your imaginations as to how those coyotes might have appeared. This is what I imagine  two-year old Chica to look like.

She arrived at a clearing in December, away from her very strict and territorial parents. She was almost 2 years.

She would mouse and listen to calls. Answer with her own. Within days..a pattern developed. She would arrive early..mouse and lounge…and the males would come. 1, 2, 3…….3 males eventually. Following her. Laying about her while she rested. Trying to play.  Trying to lure her away. Trying to disperse each other as rivals.

Each afternoon, she returned home. The courting males stopped at edge of her territory. There, Chica would endure hip slams from younger siblings, and slams from mother. Her mother seemed incensed by Chica’s scent of other males.

Chica would flee apologetic..and rest faraway from pack.

And the next day….same all over.

For over a month…this happened.

The Rancher noted the males. Handsome was new and big and very impressive. Big and robust. He was taller and bigger than most coyote. And had a grayish hue instead of the tans.  Then another male, named Zip. He seemed so fast and very restless. He literally trotted circles all day around the others and seemed almost overheated. The 3rd male was Slim Jim. Widowed in past year, 8 year old Slim Jim was outclassed a bit. His tattered ears and dull teeth didn’t better his impression.

The males increased competing. No fighting but definite jockeying for position and time with Chica.

Late January, only Handsome and Slim Jim were at hand. Zip had left…seen miles away days later. Slim Jim had bite marks on face. Hmmmm

The males followed Chica endlessly. She stopped going home. But Handsome seemed the right choice.

But then…Handsome and Slim Jim fought very briefly. It seemed Handsome won. But then he was pushy and aggressive to Chica in the next few hours. She ran from him. And Slim Jim hovered about. When Handsome was distracted, Slim Jim quietly groomed her neck. Just a moment.

That evening Slim Jim returned, JackRabbit in mouth. Chica ran to him and begged. He dropped the whole prize to her. And when Handsome tried to smell and take some…Chica turned on him…joined by Slim Jim.

They drove Handsome away hard. And with the jackrabbit and subsequent Handsome drive off…they became united.

Tattered Slim Jim had won a mate. He seemed renewed. His coat improved with her attention and grooming in the weeks to come. And Chica got to be Queen of a large and good territory.

The Rancher says seeing the courtship is one of his favorite memories. He had no clue….selection could take…..weeks!

Slim Jim and Chica showed him…every coyote..has real stories. Like us.

Enjoy the stories Janet!


The images added to this story are not of the coyotes written about, but hopefully they will trigger your imaginations as to what those coyotes might have looked like. This is what I imagine Tattered Slim Jim to look like.

A Peek At Some Courting Behavior

The courting behavior of these coyotes usually entails the fellow following and keeping tabs on his gal. She is more aloof than he is, but she seems to like his attention — as long as it’s a “hands-off” affair. Not until her cycle is ready for him will she permit very close contact. This sequence of photos, taken during an extended observation period in January, illustrates this behavior.

So many photos: I find individual photos much more revealing than a video — they stop the action and let me reflect on what is going on. I tend to click continuously as I observe, which allows me to record the whole story, and allows me to review what happened in a short amount of time which wouldn’t be true for a video recording. I then simply pick out whichever photos tell the story. My trouble is in eliminating some of the photos for my story! So, there are a lot of photos here — hope you aren’t overwhelmed!

The male of this pair was up before dawn overseeing his domain — performing sentry duty. The female soon appeared and greeted him with a quick acknowledgement  in the form of grooming. But when he then approached her a little too intimately with his head over her back, she flung around and faced him standoffishly. He backed off and she then wandered away, and he followed at a non-confining distance. (See below)

They kept stopping and staring at each other for long periods of time at about 100 feet apart: her need was to keep her distance from him; his was to keep tabs on her. (Photos below)

After interminable staring, she walked on, turning around repeatedly to watch what he was doing, maybe to see if he was following, and, indeed, he followed her. (Below)

Then he suddenly swerved off of her trail — he had found something: a gopher. She noticed this from a rock in the distance and yawned in pretend-disinterest. He settled down to eat his gopher. She tried to look disinterested, but I noticed that she peeked at him before lying down on the rock with her back towards him. Below

He finished his meal, urinated (marked) on the spot, and trotted over to be closer to her. She looked away uninterested. So he settled down not too close, and not too far away — about fifteen feet away and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. I think her need was for him to respect a certain distance. Once she was happy with him showing this respect, she felt free to move around. She finally got up and stretched, ho-hum, ever so casually, like he didn’t matter, shook off the rain and walked over to where he had eaten his gopher. He watched her go, and soon got up and followed.

She walked on and this time he approached her — too closely this time. He attempted making contact by again putting his head over her back. She would have none of it. She flinched, brushed him off, and sat down, with her ears back: “NO”. He had no choice but to walk on and she watched him go. (See below)

He then walked to the rock on which she had been lying. It’s as though they were each checking out every detail about the other — coyotes can pick up a lot of information with their nostrils. He again looked over at her and she at him. See below.

This is when a couple of walkers with their dogs chanced by. The dogs were leashed and the group walked on, but the coyotes had been interrupted. They now ceased their standoffish behavior toward each other and followed the walkers at a distance, sniffing out everywhere that the dog had stopped. See below

The coyote pair stopped following as the walkers distanced themselves — the people and their dog were not interested in the coyotes, and this is all the coyotes wanted to know. The male urinated his displeasure when a runner went by, and the female just settled down to watch the male coyote who took off into the distance. She watched him go and then got up, nonchalantly stretched in her ho-hum manner, and disappeared into the bushes at about the same time that her mate disappeared from view.

Intimations of Courting Behavior Have Begun Between Unattached Coyotes

I saw the first intimations of coyote courting behavior at the end of November. It was between unattached coyotes. These two have always been happy to see each other, engaging in joyous playing and hunting together until now. But this time, when these two saw each other, they hesitated and incorporated some antagonistic displays towards each other — the female with a snarl, the male with his hackles up, stiff, erect and somewhat dominating.

They approached each other and greeted each other as usual by touching their noses, but they did so hesitantly and warily. Then the female passed in front of the male and he sniffed her. She sat down to prevent further investigation. He then approached her from the back and attempted putting a paw on her back. He was testing her. She snarled and snapped at him with her hackles up, showing she would have nothing of it, that she was unavailable or unready for him, at least for now. They stayed like this for a moment, and then she finally reached up and gave him a friendly nip on the chin. Each then went in separate directions.

From what I’ve seen before, the male will become much more solicitous and learn to approach her in the way she wants him to. I know that the female will bide her time in making any choices among her various solicitors. She wants control. It is the female, in the end, who makes a choice as to who will become her lifelong mate.

The other trend I’m seeing right now is that females, for the most part, are staying much more apart and pretty distant from the males of their families. The males — bachelors — are hanging out together more than they did in the past, while the females spend a greater portion of their time alone and away from the fellas.

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.

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.

‘Tis The Season

Here is a little drama during mating season. The neat thing is that I sense a lot of respect and understanding between these coyotes — a respect and understanding that comes from affection, and also from a rigidly established hierarchy. In the photos, you see the male approach the female who has been observing the world go by in a very relaxed manner. Affection is often displayed between these two — kisses and nuzzling, often with the use of a paw, as here. Here, the affection begins no differently than usual: he puts his paw on her face and caresses her, nuzzling her affectionately.

Then he shifts around and tries mounting. He gives it a try, but after a short time she breaks away from his hold, barring her teeth: the answer is “no.”  She is not receptive to his advances at the moment. To emphasize her “no”, she then lifts herself and puts both her paws on his back and keeps them there in a display of dominance. When she walks away, thinking his advances are over, he runs after her — his intentions must have been obvious to her, because she now wraps her jaws around his, and he allows this. Her statement is stronger this time, and he accepts her command. There is clear communication between them. They continue hunting for a long time. Several times he became interested in her odor, and sniffed her intently, but he never tried mounting again during this observation.

I have read that mating in coyotes actually makes them very vulnerable to dangers. The reason is that there is a “tie” which occurs which prevents them from separating for an extended period. If a predator or danger of any sort were to arise, they wouldn’t be able to do much about it. Please see the following post with a video I found on youtube which shows this.

Togetherness in the Fog

Coyotes are very family minded creatures: raising their families and interacting with family members consumes much of their time. So, seeing coyotes together is not uncommon. However, this coyote pair has been sticking more closely together than usual these days. It’s that time of year — love is in the air in the animal world!

Coyotes breed only once a year, and that time of year is now: January to February. The female comes into heat for only about a five day period. The male, too, only produces sperm for this once-a-year event. It takes about 60 days for the sperm to be created in a process called spermatogenesis. After the very short breeding season, all reproductive processes cease and recede until it all begins all over again the following year.

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