Coyotes Like To Check Things Out Thoroughly

Here a coyote is stretching up high to check out a tree stump — coyotes are very curious and inquisitive, and they can be very purposeful. They normally trek along, sniffing at ground level or at eye level, but I also have seen coyotes climb the lower branches of trees when they’ve seen a squirrel there, and I’ve seen them jump high onto an unlikely rock ledge to check out a sound, smell or something they saw. Here, the coyote headed for the tree as if it knew what might be there, and scrutinized it intensely — he seemed to know exactly what he was looking for at that particular spot. He spent over a minute engaged in this activity. However, he left as empty-mouthed as when he arrived. I later checked out the tree stump for myself. There were two large hollows where the coyote had been exploring. One was about a foot deep and the other was about two feet deep. Each was about 8 inches across. Nothing was in those hollows — and they were too close to the ground to serve as wise critter nests.

My thought is that the coyote had found something very interesting there before, or maybe another critter had recently visited this spot leaving its scent there? Seeing this coyote check out the tree reminded me of how keen the memory is for canines. My own dog remembered the exact tree, way off the beaten path, in a heavily wooded area that we had visited only once a year or two earlier. At that time, a raccoon had run to that tree for protection. My dog had followed and watched the fellow watch him from the crook of the tree. Memory of the raccoon incident, and its exact remote location in the middle of nowhere, from a single incident long ago, astonished me because I had totally forgotten about it until my dog ran up to that tree again.

Why Isn’t Mom Around?

Hi Janet:

Last evening my husband, Bud, and our dog were walking on the nearby trails and saw a coyote pup about 150 feet ahead zigzagging back and forth on the trail.  He stopped, remembering that I had told him that coyotes are very protective of pups.  Our dog has a bad sense of smell so didn’t notice the pup.  Then another pup comes out of the blackberries and then a third.  They were very curious and moved about 50 feet down the trail toward Bud and still our dog did not see or smell them.

Bud was delighted but also concerned and was ready to turn around when the little yapper dog who lives much further up the hill but next to the trail saw our dog and came down the trail full throttle and barking loudly.  He was not at all interested in the pups but he did scare them and they dashed into the blackberry bushes.  Bud continued up the trail and only when he got to the spot they disappeared into did our dog smell them.  He then went nuts of course.

Is this normal for pups to be exploring without an adult near?  We knew that there was a den closeby that area because of the amount of scat on the trail.  We have noticed pup scat lately also. We also suspect there is another den about half a mile from this one.  How much area does a group of coyotes claim?  Or do they claim it at all?

We have many black-tailed deer in the area and many fawns each spring.  I have been curious about the possibility of coyotes killing very young fawns that are left in hiding while their mothers graze elsewhere.  I have never seen any evidence of this happening.  Does it?

Thanks for all you do for coyotes!  Ginny

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Hi Ginny –

Thanks for sharing your concerns — it’s a very interesting situation. From my own experience and from what I have read, coyote pups are keenly watched by their parents — either by one or by both parents. Even if a parent is not apparently around, the parent/s are always close by and ready to defend the pups if necessary. I should add that I have seen a mother coyote keep an eye on her brood from a huge distance away — she kept an eye on them as she relaxed in the sunshine. And then I saw her dash off in their direction, but I do not know why. Mothers do leave their pups when they go off to hunt, but she tucks them away in a safe spot where they normally stay. 

Other possible explanations for pups without a parent close by, include an overtaxed single parent who happens to be in hot pursuit of prey nearby, or a parent holding off another dog which had chased it in hopes that that dog wouldn’t find the pups. Worse would be if the parents have been injured or are ill and unable to defend their brood, or if they’ve met an untimely death.

More than likely, the pups just strayed from where they were supposed to stay put. But it wouldn’t hurt to check on them.

Maybe you could take walks in that area of the woods for the next few days until you can figure out the situation? Whatever you do, don’t get too close to the pups and don’t try picking them up — a parent coyote may come out of hiding to ferociously defend its young. If you continue to see the pups without a parent, you have a dilemma: I’m not sure the pups can survive without their parents, however anything you do to interfere is going to alter their natural lives forever.

If you see the pups alone again, you could call the humane society. If they are progressive, they would help raise the pups in such a way so that they won’t become habituated and so that they can be released again into the wild. Most humane societies are not equipped to do this.

You could also leave the pups to see if they make it on their own — maybe the humane society could suggest a way for you to help these pups without actually intruding on them or overtly interfering so as not to habituate them or alter their wildness?

As for the fawns, coyotes tend to look for the easiest prey to catch. Voles and gophers work fine in my area, but they also eat skunks, raccoons and squirrels here. Yes, coyotes are known to prey on newborn deer. I’ve read where newborn deer are protected by their lack of odor — I don’t know how much protection this offers against coyotes. But also, coyotes are known to be very individualistic in their behaviors and just because coyotes in one area eat certain prey doesn’t mean they do so in other areas. So to find out what yours specifically are up to and what their eating and preying habits are, you would need to explore for such activity.

You said there was another den only half a mile away from this one. A coyote family normally has more than one den which it moves the pups between. Moving the pups diminishes flea infestations and also it  serves as protection against predators.

Also, it is not unusual for coyotes — including very young ones — to be curious about walkers and dogs, and follow them.  However, a parent — if he is around — may decide that this kind of behavior calls for disciplinary action: see Charles Wood’s posting  More Dominant Male/Father Coyote Behavior .

I hope this helps a little. Please let me know, and please keep me posted on what you find out!  Sincerely, Janet

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Thanks for your reply Janet.  Bud went to the same spot tonight and didn’t see the pups.  There is a lot of underbrush and blackberries everywhere along the trail except where it has been removed as invasive species.  Coyotes are not seen often because of this.  Lots of people let their dogs run loose on the trail but Bud did not see anyone else yesterday although it is a fairly large, heavily wooded area with several trails.

Regulars on the trail only see coyotes a few times a year.  Most of the trees are deciduous so I really tried to spot them during the winter but no such luck.  I think they are very used to the dogs and walkers and so know where to locate so they are not within view.  We will keep an eye on the situation as best we can.  The city only removes invasive species by hand so they do not have funding for much work.  They primarily remove the holly trees hoping to attract songbirds.  There are some songbirds there but also in residence is a Cooper’s Hawk(s) who dines on those same songbirds.  Ginny

What To Do With A Long Strip Of Tree Bark?

If something like this were to appear in your path, you might be inclined to look at it, grab it, move it and then, after some thought, abandon it as not being too interesting after all. A good long bored yawn might cap off the “encounter.”

Checking Out the Crook Of A Tree Stump

“Something must be hiding in here which might be good to eat or fun to play with.” The stump was explored, but nothing of interest was found.

“Youngster Gets Bold, continued” by Charles Wood

From Janet: I’m wondering if the youngster is more curious than “confronting”? The youngsters here, at 18 months, still don’t have it in them to confront — but they are curious sometimes and have approached a little because of this.

It may be that the youngster was being curious as opposed to confronting.  The Approach picture in this post was taken just prior to the YoungsterContronts picture in my previous post.  It really is hard to infer intent, state of mind.  What does the body language in Approach communicate?  I am not at all sure.  Does the raised tail suggest anything?  The picture EyesonMe was taken a few minutes before the youngster came down the road.  The look it was giving me seems as it should:  no warmth.  When the other day I saw one youngster emerge from the brushy den area and then quickly retreat, I waited an hour for it to “get curious” and pop its head out again.  In vain I waited.  In Spring 2009 I was taking pictures in their field and noticed a young one about 10 feet away spying on me from the brush.  I was startled and it startled and ran off.  The big trouble this year started when a new pup did the same.  Dad showed up shortly after the pup fled.  Dad first sought out the transgressing pup and then hurriedly returned and went ballistic on my dog and me.  How Dad had handled the pup I couldn’t see.  What happens in dense brush stays in dense brush.

Part of my inclination to infer that the youngster on Wednesday was confronting comes from the contexts of the particular road the youngster used for its approach.  Both Mom and Dad use the same road to approach me aggressively.  The parents will go down that path half way to stand and stare.  Also, they will lie at the half way point on that road.  It is a good vantage point to track me along the river or when I am on the east-west road with the bridge.  Either Mom or Dad will take that half way position and watch as I leave.  Once I leave for the other side of the river they retreat from that position.  Also, Tuesday night Mom charged my dog and me down that road, came all the way to us at the fence and ran back and forth, did some dirt scraping.  The youngster took the same path Wednesday evening and was moving at a half trot even after my dog alerted.  It was a stealthy choice of an approach path considering where I was standing Wednesday night.  I had to carefully study the area my dog was looking towards in order to see movement in the dim light.  I believe the youngster halted because I lit it with my flashlight, an aid to get my camera to focus.  In the dim light, looking through my telephoto lens, I thought the approaching coyote was angry Dad and wanted to stop him.  Its demeanor suggested Dad, and I wasn’t certain of which coyote it was until I got home and enlarged the photograph.  All in all, I am predisposed to think of that particular path as one which my coyotes use for signaling displeasure.  These preconceptions of mine make it hard to not assemble a “story” that in actuality may not be at all related to the actual intent of the animal.  Either way, as a challenge or curiosity, the youngster was showing some new independence.  I left because Mom and Dad may have not liked that and it was dark enough for all of them to become really unpleasant.  It is the case that when the parents come down that road towards the fence it is always to warn and watch.

I’m wondering if at 18 months your boys are a little slow?  It is so cute that they seem to be mamma’s boys.  One difference may be that they don’t have (or do you?) coyote rivals that dispute with your pack?  I’m waiting to see how the two boys eventually separate from each other and their mom.  Are there other females around to entice them away from Mom come January?  I can’t wait to find out.  I wonder if another male will solicit their mom and chase the boys off.

That was a great link to that Carol Kaesuk Yoon article.  I’m heartened to read that coyote watching is “like working with a ghost species.”  You have such great opportunities there, always something new with great pictures

From Janet: Yes, the situation I’ve been observing here seems very unusual. There is no dad, and there are no other coyotes close by who might challenge these youngsters. They live in an idyllic haven and have not HAD to grow up. These particular youngsters have been “allowed” to be “slow” in growing up. I, too, am particularly interested in dispersal time and mating season and what this will bring in the way of new behaviors. The pup of the year before dispersed in November, at the age of 20 months — will it be the same with these? That pup either followed his own instinctual timeline or may have been booted out because of conflicts with these younger siblings — I’ll never know the exact reason.

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.

Another Toy: A Smelly Sock!

Coyotes, like people, are curious about the unusual. So, when a single dirty sock was found, it was examined, toyed with, marked by urinating on it, and then abandoned. Why was this single sock in a field in a park? I doubt that it had been dropped there by a human because it was not close to a trail. My suspicion is that the coyote found it elsewhere beforehand and brought it to this spot where it would come across it again. People leave clothing out in bags for charity, old clothes are dumped in the garbage, there are homeless camps. I know that dogs very often like smelly objects, such as human shoes and socks. Coyotes also like smelly objects, and a dirty sock would have fit the bill!

Chewing A Bush

This coyote had just fled from a dog and walker when I took the first photo — it had run to this location where it stopped and sat down, I think it stopped here by pure chance. I thought to myself, “I’ll have to move, there is a branch in the way”. But then, the coyote started chewing on the branch, so I did not move. It chewed pretty intently and I watched. Then, it stopped and looked intently off to the side. A second coyote appeared slowly from where this coyote was now looking, intruding on whatever pleasure the first coyote had found. Maybe it was trying to figure out what was so much fun.  As the first coyote watched, this second one went straight to the same branch and sniffed it.

This behavior may have revealed a hierarch. The first coyote watched intently at first, and then turned its gaze away. But when the second coyote finally moved between the first fella and his branch, the first guy flinched and snapped — I was able to see the bared teeth. The first coyote then continued moving forwards whereupon the second one followed, as if he had been cued to do so. But first, guy who came in later, the second fella, backed up a little in order to try biting the bush for himself before moving on: “I wonder what is so neat about this branch?” Mmmmm.

So the second coyote may have been either “herding” the first one to move on and then “trying” the branch as it did so. Or, it may have come over with the intention of taking over what the first coyote was doing. In both cases the second coyote seemed to be displaying some dominance. In both cases, the second coyote was calling the shots, unless, of course, the first coyote had engaged in the chewing with the intent of luring the other one over. It’s fun to speculate.

Perplexed And Fascinated By A Sibling’s Activity

I watched a pair of siblings actively descend a hill. But the similarity in energy and activity stopped there. The first to arrive on the trail stopped to wait for the other. When the second one arrived, he did not turn or wait for the first one at all. He ran straight for a bush area where he energetically sniffed, jumped about, pushed his way through. He remained in this spot engaged in this activity, while the first coyote watched, perplexed and fascinated by this siblings activity. The activity and the watching lasted for four full minutes.

Exquisite Expressiveness

Today a friend wanted to sit up on some rocks as we waited for another friend. So we climbed up and sat down. One of the dogs was with us and sat on the other side with my friend after being told firmly to do so. As I was climbing up, this very expressive coyote appeared, with its full attention and curiosity fixed on the dog. Unfortunately I could not see the dog nor its expressions. I have no idea about the eye contact between the two. But I did have full view of the coyote and was able to capture its open inquisitiveness, curiosity and obvious draw to the dog seated on the other side of the rock.

More Imitating Mom and Curiosity

An incident  which caught my attention was when a dog came into an area where three coyotes had been hunting. The mother coyote slowly approached the dog in her usual “halloween cat” stance warning pose, while the younger ones for the most part ignored the dog in the distance.  However, as the mother continued her warning stance, and continued her darting towards and then back from the dog, the two younger coyotes joined her in approaching the dog: one did so distantly, but the other actually seemed to imitate the mother a little bit.

This is the first time I have seen a younger pup imitating this stance of the mother’s. My thought has always been that this mother puts on this warning posture, not only to warn the dog away, but also as a lesson to her young charges. The young coyote appeared to imitate, in this case, without the underlying motivations of the mother. I say this because, having seen this coyote and dog in proximity a number of times before, I knew that the young coyote felt no threat from this dog — but the point seemed to be to imitate just the outer behavior of the mom. A few minutes later, almost as if to prove what I had just observed — the the behavior driven by the need to threaten — this same young coyote approached the same dog carefully, again without fear, in a curious manner from behind — always from behind because it is safer that way. If the dog would have turned around, the coyote would have jumped back to increase the distance as I have seen it do before — but this did not happen because the dog never turned around. The dog had been intently sniffing something on the ground and ignoring the coyote. When the dog moved on, the coyote went right up to the spot the dog had been sniffing to check it out: “What were you doing there and what was so interesting?” And here, again, is the reason we humans are so charmed by coyotes: their “insatiable curiosity.”

I Wonder What Was So Fascinating About The Cactus

So today I watched this coyote get up from a long rest, then walk over to this cactus plant. The coyote spent time examining the cactus!! It looked like a pretty thorough investigation. I wondered what was so fascinating about it — could it be snails again?

Later, I went back to examine what the coyote’s interest might have been, and I found nothing — not one snail! So it is a big question. I’ll return to that spot over the next several days: maybe an answer will present itself.

This same coyote poked its nose deep into the bed of tough succulents that was close by. It did so over and over again: I didn’t see the coyote come up with anything at all.  Although I couldn’t find anything there either, I have seen snails on ice plants which are similar, so maybe again, its simply about the escargot? I’ll add an update if I find anything out.

Update: July 18, 2010: Well, I finally found that snails do climb up cactus plants! There was one snail, not high, but nevertheless it was there on the cactus about two inches from the base. This coyote had probably seen snails on this plant before which would be why it was searching so hard when I took these photos.

Push-Pull of Wind-Buffeted Palms

The wind was pretty strong when this coyote stopped at a palm tree where the fronds were whipping around strongly. The coyote was startled and scared, jumping several feet, and then fleeing, but only a few feet. Curiosity was stronger than the fear, because the coyote returned again and again with the same response. Slowly the coyote calmed down, and just watched for a few minutes, and then trotted off on its merry way. This is a young coyote, still learning about the world. It was fun to watch and reminded me of an incident with my own dog.

My dog, a large 96 pound lab-mix was not by any means a fearful dog. However, on one of our normal everyday walks, on the planted space adjacent to a sidewalk, someone had placed two life-sized ceramic geese. They must have looked pretty real and been somewhat scary, because my dog went up very carefully, stalking and walking low, and absolutely ready to flee. These geese were not even moving. But my dog approached, growling and ran back. Then he did it again, and then again. There was a NEED to approach, yet a fear. This was the exact same behavior as the coyote when it reacted to the palm fronds whipping around in the wind.

One Coyote Filching The Other’s Lunch!

Ever have your hard-earned spoils swiped? Today I watched two young coyotes, buddies, trot together, then stop together to hunt. There didn’t seem to be any possessiveness about who found the hunting place. I’ve seen this “hunting togetherness” often. Results from this hunt were not immediately forthcoming, so one coyote gave up and walked on. But the other stayed and caught a very small vole. Instead of gobbling it down, the coyote ran off to a more protected area to finish killing the rodent and then to eat it. But the other coyote was right there watching. The successful hunter dropped his prey several times. The second coyote just watched at first, but then went for it.  The vole wasn’t dead yet, it  still moved, so I suppose instincts caused both coyotes to try to grab it. Both coyotes then did grab it together, because next I saw them both clenched on the prey, each trying to pull it away from the other. It was a minor struggle, but the guy who originally caught the vole was not the one who ended up with it. That the hunter gave it up so easily was kind of interesting, and points to harmony as being very important in coyote social relations. I’ve seen harmony take precedence all the time.

Different Seasons Bring Variations in Energy Levels & Behavior

I have noticed that the coyotes are a little more “purposefully” active lately — this is after several months of being much less so. Whenever I spotted a coyote during the previous few months, it was not so “out in the open” and its behavior was not so “purposeful”, but rather “lazy” and “ho-hum.”

Within the last two weeks this seems to have changed somewhat: I’m seeing more intention in their behaviors when I see them and slightly more activity.  Could this be a seasonal phenomenon?  Could it be that hormones have changed, whether or not there are new pups involved? For instance, roaming seems to be done more as an adult family unit — a pack — with the attendant “watching out” for one another. Also, although the “dog watching” continues to be infrequent and sporadic as it has been in the last few months, when I do see this, it appears to be more intent: there is less intermittent dozing when they do watch or monitor the dogs in the park, and they sometimes hurry to better viewing spots, even though these new spots bring the coyotes closer in to the dogs — maybe 200 feet away.

Again, here it is important to keep our dogs leashed, both for our dogs’ protection and for the coyotes. We all want to avoid encounters which might lead to possible injuries. The animals are just doing what their instincts demand of them in warding off each other.  Only we humans can prevent the closer interactions by keeping the animals apart. Please read the “Coyote Safety” posting at the top of the page.

Curiosity vs. Fleeing

Coyotes generally prefer not to be seen. However, they also can be quite curious which at times overrides their shyness. I think both of these tendencies, curiosity and shyness, are always present in a coyote, but sometimes one is stronger than the other. If you happen to see a coyote, you can be sure that it saw you. It might stop to examine you or your dog, especially if you have stopped to look at it. It is probably best, if you have a dog, to always keep moving on — all interactions between coyotes and dogs should be avoided in order to avert future problem interactions. Here are three examples of coyote encounters I have had:

I was alone when one coyote came in my direction. It stopped when it saw me and placed its front paws on a rock to lift itself so that it could see me better. I stopped to watch it and I was very still — it was probably curious because of my own stillness. This stillness often increases a coyote’s curiosity: it wants to know what you are doing and where you are going, and it can’t figure these out when you are still! The coyote did not hang around long, just long enough to get a good look.

In a second example, the set of two coyotes, pictured above, had been fleeing from a group of dog walkers when they happened in my direction. Again, I was alone and very still as I watched them — they approached a short distance to look at me. At the same time, they kept their attention mainly on the dog group which was coming in their direction.  Dogs have often chased coyotes, so the coyotes often are wary and defensive against dogs, especially the more active dogs. As the dog walkers approached, the coyotes fled.

In my third example, I saw a coyote which was very shy. It saw me walking on a path. Without stopping, it hopped up on a rock to get a better view of me. I continued walking. I could see that this coyote was uncomfortable that it had been seen. It did not stay to examine me, but fled very quickly and I did not see it again.

Please keep your dogs leashed in a coyote area. Please see the posting at the head of this blog: safety measures for keeping a coyote from coming too close. Coyotes in our parks have never come up to humans, though they have approached some of the dogs. Please keep a safe distance for your own, your dog’s and the coyote’s safety.

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