Camaraderie and “Checking-In”

Although coyotes have nabbed raccoons and often work as a team to do so, our coyotes here in San Francisco usually forage individually because of the nature of their prey: small rodents, squirrels, voles, even birds, berries, etc. Even so, they often head out to hunt in pairs. They are social animals, so being together is as much fun for them as it is for us. They often become separated as they follow their noses to areas quite distant from the other, but eventually, they come together to “check-in”. When this happens, there is a little greeting and acknowledgement which consists of eye contact, nose touches, and sometimes some play.

These photos today are of a recently bonded pair of coyotes. Their relationship as a pair is new. Their regular “checking-in” involves more overt displays of joy than most: you can just hear them thinking: “I’m so happy to see you, I’m so happy that you are here with me!” Their interactions at this time are much more similar to what happens at an evening rendezvous, when coyotes come together after having been sleeping apart most of the daylight hours. The rendezvous is a very intense time of socialization between coyotes: there are wiggles and squiggles and joyous jumping over each other, chasing, lots of body contact, body hugs and love bites. Well, this pair greet each other in this manner after they’ve been apart for only 5-10 minutes! It appears that this new match was made in heaven!

A joyous game of chase and catch-me-if-you-can

Playful jumping all over each other

Hugs and togetherness in midair

Body contact even as they run off together

A provokingly affectionate teasing nip to the leg

Contact again, with a paw on his back

Background on these two coyotes: This pair of coyotes came together only several months ago. In her birth family, the three-and-a-half years old female had been an “only child” where her parents left her by herself hours on end, so she was used to being all alone. She dispersed early and became the resident coyote in her new claimed territory which had been left vacant by a coyote hit by a car several years earlier. Here, she remained a loner, and over time, began focusing on cars, humans and dogs for entertainment: coyotes are social animals, and with no other coyotes around, she made do with what there was in sort-of the form of virtual interactions. I worked with the community to discourage interactions in order to preserve her wary and wily wildness as much as possible. Education of this sort worked because most people wanted to do what was best for her. It appears that this coyote didn’t know what she had been missing in the form of “real” interactions until the male showed up. Suddenly, she was overjoyed to finally have a real companion! She is the one who displays the most exuberance and joy when they “check-in”.

The younger newcomer male arrived after having been dispersed — driven out — from his birth family in August by his own siblings who had formed an alliance or bond between themselves: there was no room for him there as an adult. Once youngsters disperse, I usually don’t see them again, but I have been privileged to reconnect with three of them after they dispersed. Once I get to know coyotes, they become easily identifiable through their very distinct appearances and behaviors. Of interest to many people might be that there happen to be “family resemblances” in some coyote families, no different from family resemblances in human families. This male came from a family of four siblings who used to play endlessly together through a year-and-a-half of age.

The play gets more rough and tumble, but is always affectionate

Jumping all over each other with hugs

“Ha ha, gotcha!” Teasing is how they display their connectiveness

Pulling him by his fur has got to be high on the list of tolerances between bonded coyotes

Only a good friend would allow you to grab him by the scruff of the neck with your teeth!

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.

Pups Are Left While Parents Rendezvous and Play

“Catch me if you can!” You can see the fun and happiness in their faces.

Dancing around her and inciting her with his twists and turns

Affectionate poking and grabbing while running together

Full grown coyote family members tend to sleep and rest during the day, usually not all together as might be expected, but apart — and usually within the distance of a football field — from each other. They rendezvous after their day-long rest. The get together is the most exciting part of the day for them: it includes greetings with squealing, wiggles and hugs; playing all kinds of games such a chase, wrestling, play attacks, etc.; there are confirmations of ranks, and there is mutual grooming, and finally they all head off trekking together further afield, which is when they hunt and mark their territories, and also explore and investigate. As pups mature and become more secure, they, too, will gradually join in this important daily event.

But while pups are very young during their first several months, they stick close to “home” because it’s familiar and they feel safest here. Of course, the whole family plays together in this area: there’s chasing and wrestling, tumbling and bumbling, play attacking and jumping on each other, and lots of grooming from parents. But afterwards the adults of the family head off for more adult, rougher and farther-ranging fun, and the youngsters are tucked away in a safe spot, or sometimes not so safe spot, as I’ve discovered.

So here are photos of a  rendezvous: they are all blurry because they were taken as daylight faded (remember that photography is about light — the better the lighting, the better the photo), but I wanted to give you a glimpse into coyote life that you might not otherwise see. I’ve attempted to tease out some of the distinct elements/activities involved in the play and name them for you. These two coyotes are seasoned parents, having produced at least two previous litters, yet they themselves are so puppy-like in their all-out, exuberant and trusting play. The adoration between these two is particularly heart-warming among the coyotes I know — it melts my heart every time I see it. Their rendezvous seldom seems to include the greetings, grooming, or rank confirmations — it’s as though their bond is above needing these rituals — and concentrates almost exclusively on the play I show here.

At their rendezvous, from their first eye-to-eye contact, you can actually see their *guard* let down as the happiness envelops them and they start running and jumping all over each other — it’s no different now than it was two years ago: they didn’t grow up out of this. What normally happens first is that they excitedly and joyfully race towards each other to be together. They engage in chase, catch-me, tease-shoving, tease leg biting: all joyful fun showing how bonded this pair is. This same scenario without the offspring, with variations in play methods and without quite this degree of affection, occurs in every family I know.

Meantime, what about the pups who are supposed to be tucked away safely? The pups are three-months old and recently I found them not so safely tucked away, but out in the open, exploring on their own, while parents were having their own fun in an open field hundreds of yards away and totally absorbed in each other. These pups didn’t even see me until I had been watching for several minutes.

The pups were close to some bushes which could provide an escape route from the dangers of dogs, raccoons, and even humans. They ran off after spending a few moment examining me from the distance, so their self-protective instincts are there, though not necessarily keen. I’m sure that if a quick dog had wanted to grab one of them, it could have. Dogs frequent the area.

Pups are absorbed in their own investigations

That parents devote this daily time strengthening and confirming their devotion to and affection for each other, over and above their “duties” as parents, is revealing of just how strong and important that bond is, and also attests to their amazing fun-loving natures.


Know that concern for youngsters is indeed there: these are very responsible parents, and leaving them for periods of time is what all coyote parents do. A few days later, a piercing explosion nearby showed how quick these coyotes’ reactions were to possible danger to their pups. I surmised this explosion might have been a remainder firework from the 4th of July only a few days before. The sound provoked the immediate appearance and investigation by both parents who approached from different directions, one right after the other, close to the pup area. Obviously, neither parent had been with their pups when the noise sounded.

But it also showed, again, how important the paired parent relationship is. First, Dad appeared. The direction of his gaze revealed that his concern alternated between two different points: where the hidden pups were, and away from them. It became apparent within a minute that his gaze away from them was in the direction of his all-important mate. This fellow is always watching out for her which always makes me think of some human catch-phrases: “She’s the love of his life”, and “She’s his raison d’etre”.  When she appeared, he relaxed. She looked around and assessed the situation, and then went to check on the kids. He soon followed

 

BURSTING With Happiness!

Maybe it’s because she successfully evaded all dogs chasing her, and particularly the very large white dog who has chased her repeatedly in the past. I saw her follow that dog at a distance this morning to make sure the dog was headed away from her. Did this contribute to her happiness, or are coyotes just plain happy critters — just happy to be alive??

Anyway, after rolling on a deliciously smelly piece of wood, she exuberantly battled dried brambles — Doña Quijote fashion, and finally turned her attention to a ball. She knew I was watching and peeked over at me now and then, smiling — yes, smiling — and then continued her play. *Performing* and *showing off* indeed are coyote behaviors, no different from your dog’s, or for that matter, your children’s!

The photos alone are worth a million words, why say more? I’ve divided them into the smelly piece of wood, battling the brambles, and then rolling on the ball — all within the space of 15 minutes! If you click on the first photo of each section, you will be able to see the photos enlarged as a slideshow. Enjoy!


First, wallowing joyfully on the deliciously smelly piece of wood:


Second, battling dried brambles as Doña Quijote (Doña Coyote?), and winning! This is a game this coyote plays often.


And finally, so much fun with a found ball: