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.

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.

Distressed Barking By Mother Coyote Due to Presence of Dogs

Parent coyotes are especially edgy at this time of year — it’s pupping season.

As this mother coyote foraged behind some low bushes, dog owners with their mostly leashed dogs walked by on a path about 100 feet away: they stopped and looked at her, though it might have been better if they had just walked on. None of the dogs approached her, though they might have communicated some kind of negativity through their facial expressions and body language. The coyote apparently didn’t like them looking at her, or she didn’t like their negative communication. OR, the dogs may simply have been too close for comfort.  I was concentrating on her, so I couldn’t see what the issue was.

Note that she begins her complaining with little grunts and heaves: it’s an emotional and distressed reaction.  As she initially grunts and heaves, she hasn’t decided to go all out with her barking. But soon, she lets loose. All the dog walkers “got it” once I explained to them what was going on: that this was an edgy mother and coyotes don’t like dogs around them. The walkers and their dogs moved on, and she soon quit her howling and then retreated into the bushes.

Her own mother, too, engaged in this exact same type of barking: it is a distressful bark and only occurs when these coyotes feel harassed or intruded upon by dogs. This type of barking is both a complaining — letting everyone know how she feels — and a communication of standing up for herself, though you can be sure that if a dog went after her, she would skedaddle quickly. The barking session shown here lasted only about three minutes, but I’ve listened to one that lasted well over 20 minutes.

Chased Into A Hollow

Being out at twilight in a park allowed me to glimpse an owl hunting — I don’t see this often. It was quiet and it seemed at first as though no one was around, but I was wrong. Soon a dog appeared, and the owl took off as it and its owner got nearer.

As I watched the owl fly away, I heard another man yell sharply at his dog. That was the tell-tale sign that alerted me to the possible presence of a coyote on a trail.  As I headed in the direction of the voice, I began to hear two coyotes bellowing out their distress at having been chased.  One coyote must have run off, because its barking receded into the distance.

However, the other coyote was very close by, in the bushes. I could not see the coyote at all — so, to begin with, I just took a photo of where the sound was coming from. It was in a hollow right next to the trail — not, as usual, up high and away. Although at first I had heard two coyotes barking together, the barking pattern changed when one ran off.  The barking began alternating between them, one after the other, taking turns, seeming to answer each other, until the far coyote stopped altogether. The nearer one continued a little longer and then also stopped.

Within a short time, the closer coyote must have sensed that the danger had passed — the dog and walker were long gone — because it came out to inspect it’s surroundings, looking around carefully before trotting off to continue what it probably had been doing before the dog arrived: hunting for voles and gophers.

I’m including the recording in which you can hear the near and the far coyotes’ barking. Unfortunately the recorder picked up the sound of my walking as I was trying to visually spot the coyotes!


Warning Bark at a Den Site

We noticed a lone coyote hurrying away, way down the path ahead of  us. There were just a few of us on the path, but there was also a dog. The coyote obviously saw us as threats so it hurried up to a lookout, where, half-hidden, it proceeded to warn us off with its bark for about 20 minutes. A couple of people hung around to watch, as did their dog: they had never heard a coyote barking and were very excited and exhilarated by the experience.

I always suggest to people that  it’s best to move on if you have a dog: this is the reason the coyote was barking. Having said that, I’ve noticed that coyotes will continue barking for a considerable time, whether the threat has departed or not! I took this video at the site of on den way back in April. Other people saw the pups, but I did not. On the video, you’ll hear lots of birds, a human voice and a San Franciscan fog horn in addition to the coyote’s barking!

Distressed Barking After Interference From A Dog

He could have been belting out the Star Spangled Banner, holding the notes perfectly — after all, it happened to be the fourth of July!

I started taking the video as an Irish Setter spotted a coyote trotting down a hill. It was a chance encounter — a mere momentary brush-by — but a surprise for both. The dog turned to go after the coyote, but stopped in an instant response to his owner’s “no”. Nonetheless, adrenalin was already flowing, and the “I’ll get you” look had already been exchanged between the canines, so the coyote ran to an out-of-reach spot and began its distressed and upset barking. The owner and dog left immediately, which made no impact on the coyote who kept barking away for about 20 minutes to an audience of no one. However, as the minutes ticked away, the intensity of the initial barking subsided — I’ve posted a second video of the next part of this same barking session — to be continued on the next posting.

Rendezvous, Almost – by Charles Wood

Friday I saw four of my Los Angeles area coyotes, all more or less together.  Before twilight, Mom and Bold headed north from the nesting grounds to the rendezvous area.  Then Mister showed up to bark as I followed them.  I hadn’t seen Mom since June 13 and at that time she appeared to be traveling alone, as did Bold on June 30.  I often see my coyotes either singly or paired.

Although two coyotes together aren’t unusual, three suggests my pack may be gathering for a rendezvous.  At dusk a fourth coyote showed up, Shy.  Eventually the three yearlings moved out of sight, like Mom who hadn’t showed herself since before twilight.  The only adult I didn’t see was Dad.  I reasoned he must have been with the new puppies and hoped they would head towards us.  They didn’t.  Perhaps Mom went to join Dad and the rendezvous was rescheduled.  Or perhaps there is another rendezvous area and I delayed them moving there to join Dad and the puppies.  In any case, I didn’t see Dad and the puppies.

My presence is definitely seen by my coyotes as involved and the behaviors I see are mostly of their interactions with an involved human who brings his dog.  It was my dog who introduced us, and my interest in coyotes sprang from my interest in their field as a playground for my dog:  not a good start, a start that won’t be overcome.

Once I attempted to break Dad’s misimpression by playing tag with my dog while Dad watched.  I was thinking he would possibly be persuaded that we were cool.  There was no sign of reappraisal, his unamused glare embarrassed me.  Mom expresses Dad’s view, as do Mister, Shy and Bold.  If they have a theory of my mind, it wrongly informs them that I share my dog’s desire for their food.  Yet admittedly, given certain hypotheticals, I would eat their food though they could hardly know I wouldn’t relish it.  Then again, with a flame, ketchup, mustard, vinegar and a dill pickle I can conceive of their food as enjoyable.  I concede they know me in my essentials as well as they need to.

Mister

From time to time I’ve seen coyote life seemly unaffected by my presence.  For example, some crows once buzzed Mom.  She moved her gaze off me and onto the crows, sauntered from the road into wild mustard and returned to gazing at me as the crows moved on.  I had expected a more energetic defense by Mom.  Later I realized that crows can’t fly through wild mustard and that her defense was elegantly parsimonious.  My imaginary defense against buzzing crows, flailing wildly as I thought she should have done, would have been untutored.  It didn’t occur to me that Mom knows crows better than I do.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

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