A Chapter Ends

An entire family left their long-time claimed territory, leaving one daughter behind. I thought the vast territory had become hers. For several months, I would find her all alone. And then one day, there were two newcomers with her — both males!

I could tell that she was apprehensive about them for the first little while after they appeared. She kept a squinted, wary eye on them as they loitered around fairly close to each other until dusk darkened the sky and enveloped the landscape. She was assessing them, and they her. Dusk is when she’d usually head off trekking alone, and soon I watched as three of them went off together, not with complete confidence in each other as one would expect in an established family, but they were figuring each other out, and figuring out their relationships, through darting eye-glances: coyotes communicate visually and everything they did sent a message and was interpreted as a message.  I watched these three for the next few weeks as they became more obviously trusting and comfortable with each other. Right from the start, though, she showed a preference for the dark-eyed fella: he was the obvious dominant of the two, and maybe this had everything to do with her choice.

After the first few days during which she showed them “her domain”, they mostly hung-out on their knolls waiting for dusk to come around, and I watched the relationship progress from her being totally “in charge” and leading the howling sessions (in this first video, you can see him ignore the siren until she reacts):

. . . to ‘her chosen fella’ taking charge and leading the chorus when sirens sounded. Note that, although she appeared to have “chosen” her fella early on, the “possessive display” continues, and you’ll see this at the end of these two howling videos.

It wasn’t long before I observed an all-out, no-holds-barred play session: they were in a sand-pit a long distance off and it was dark, but I got this photo above, showing them playing as coyotes do when they like each other: chasing, wrestling, and play-beating up one another in a teasing sort of way. And then, within only a few days of that out-and-out play, the pair was gone. They are now gone and have been for weeks. So, I guess the lady of the house’s new beau came in and swept her off her feet and they loped away into the sunset together to hopefully live happily ever after — isn’t that how these stories are supposed to go? I wonder if I’ll see them again.

Since their departure, I’ve only seen the extra-male a few times: the beautiful pale blue-eyed fellow below. But now he, too is gone. The field has been totally vacant for weeks. The family that left had been there twelve full years I’m told by a fellow observer who knew the Dad from the time he was a mere pup. That fellow observer ceased appearing because the coyotes had. So there’s a big void there right now. I suppose my assumption that the vast territory had become “hers” is incorrect. It’s a coyote no-mans land right now.

Twelve years ago, before this family claimed it as their own, there had been a territorial battle between two families here. I was told that one of the families was so vengeful that it went after and slaughtered the pups of the rival family. Then all families disappeared and only one youngster remained there. He became the owner for the next twelve years until last fall. This story came from my fellow observer who, I can verify, has been an astute and accurate observer and could even identify individual coyotes in the dark (which I still have not mastered). There is no reason not to believe the story. I’m relating it to show just how intense and brutal territorial battles can get: that the battles are fierce shows just how important the land is to coyotes for their survival.

I’m hoping someone comes back soon: it might be the old family, it might be this recently formed pair, it might be the extra-male, or it might be someone never seen before: vacant niches tend to be filled, so let’s see. Of interest to me, as noted in my very last posting, is that observable coyote activity is way down in almost all the territories I study, and may be due to the upcoming pupping season.

 

A Boyfriend for A Loner!

My friend Ilana contacted me after she saw two coyotes where there had only been one ever before. Our loner coyote, a female, has lived reclusively — reclusively when it comes to other coyotes but not people or cars — in one of our parks for two and a half years. Suddenly and for the first time, she was seen walking in the company of another coyote! This is very exciting! I hurried over to the park to take a look, even though it was late at night.

She’s on the right smiling at her new beau!

Because it was nighttime, I saw some wildlife which I don’t normally see during daylight hours: for instance, a barn owl, beautifully white in the light of a streetlamp, fluttering kitelike above its prey, and two raccoons stealthily weaving their way around parked cars and over a cyclone fence on their way somewhere.

Within minutes, I spotted the loner coyote and then the newcomer. They stuck pretty much together. An acquaintance happened along and held my flashlight so that I was able to take a record shot in the dead of darkness. I didn’t know if the coyote’s would be a one-night visit, or something more permanent.

The next morning I returned and saw them again, well after dawn. First, I saw the loner by herself. She sniffed something enticingly-smelly in the middle of an intersection, so she wallowed and rubbed herself on it: perfume for the occasion??  Fortunately, it was Saturday, so traffic was light. She then disappeared into some bushes and soon re-appeared, this time with the newcomer right behind her. It appears that he’s planning on staying a while. My friend Gary’s running club appeared at that moment and I was able to share the event, and the excitement thereof, with them.

When the loner emerged with her new friend, she exuded happiness. It was apparent that, to her, the newcomer was more than welcome here. She was totally solicitous towards him. They went trotting off: I’m sure she was showing him around. Her attention and gaze were regularly in his direction. Repeatedly she extended her snout in his direction in a show of happy acceptance, and they both smiled most of the time. Only once, that I saw — and I was continually watching — did he push back, which surprised her no end, as revealed in her facial expression in this photo I captured (below). Might she have been a bit overbearing in her welcoming behavior? She backed off a little and everything became balanced again.

The resident loner (on the right in all these photos) kept looking at the newcomer as if to say, “Isn’t this fun?”, and reaching with her snout in his direction.

Only once was she told to “cool it”!

The coyotes spent the bulk of their time together hunting, playing chase with each other, and trekking the length of the park. The most amazing part of it was to see how happy they were, especially the loner: she was smiling ear to ear almost every time I saw her; she kept looking at him to make sure he, too, was having a good time, and she became playful frequently to show how much she liked having him there. Walkers in the park were enchanted: TWO now!

Chasing, play, and just being together.

The newcomer is skilled at hunting, especially leaping for prey

Twice she was chased by dogs — this is par for a morning — while he sat in the background and watched. He did not go to her aid, which many coyotes wilI do. In both cases, the exhausted dogs gave up: no dog can maneuver the hills as lithely as a coyote who doesn’t have bulk or pounds weighing her down.

What is on everyone’s mind, I know because everyone is asking me, is pups. Whoa! Coyote females come into heat just once a year in January or February. Our loner is old enough to have pups now at 3 1/2 years of age. Males, interestingly, produce sperm, also, only at this one time of year through a process called spermatogenesis which lasts two months. Males tend to wait to reproduce until they are about 4 years old is what I have seen. We have no idea how old this male is, except that he is at least 1 1/2 years old — he is obviously not young enough to have been born this year.  If he is as old as our female or older, we could have pups next April. If he is younger, it won’t be for a while.

My hope is that paying attention to him might help curtail some of the attention the loner has been paying to human activity, dogs, and cars. Wouldn’t that be nice?!

Please, everyone, keep your dogs away from them: the minute you see a coyote, shorten your leash and walk away. You could pick up a small dog as you walk away. For an introduction to coexistence, watch: Coyotes As Neighbors: What To Know and Do. For How To Handle Coyote Encounters: A Primer, press for the flyer by that name. To learn a little about coyote family life, read this short article which appeared in WildCare Magazine: Inside A Coyote Family