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!

Lou🐾

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.