Update: Into Sparks’ Seventh Month of Dispersal

I have been able to keep up with the youngster coyote I call “Sparks” who I watched grow up from birth. He began his dispersal at just under one year of age with his sister way back in March to a location two miles away from their birthplace. His first few months away from his birth home seemed to agree with him superbly: it looked like he was having a ball! Freedom from the constraints of parents and siblings obviously felt good. He and his sister rendezvoused every evening after dusk with high-pitched squeals of delight and excitement as they tumbled over each other in anticipation of the evening’s adventures. They were adjusting well to the move. It was unfortunately always too dark to capture images of this.

After a couple of months here, it was time to go, and he moved on to a place that was five miles further away, where life suddenly became harder. He was now alone — sister having returned to their birthplace — and he somehow ended up with a broken leg in this unfamiliar territory. He must have been in severe pain because he returned the five miles to the now familiar place he and his sister had first been, to the quiet of a backyard. There, on an undisturbed and protected hillside, he spent several weeks recovering with the help of humankindness by people who guarded his safety and gently cared for him. I have no doubt that this is what kept him alive.

Three weeks of convalescence in someone’s backyard [above]

He stayed there three weeks until he felt better, but, unfortunately, not until he was healed. He left that place on August 14th, and re-appeared the next day, on August 15th in the Presidio. Then, again, he was off of my radar. Of course, no one else who might have seen him would have known “who” this coyote was. I would have to see him myself or recognize him in someone else’s photos: few if anyone else in the city know who each coyote is, and no one else keeps tabs on individuals.

And then, incredibly, magically, just a couple of days ago, I was documenting another one of my coyote families in the North East of the city, when I glimpsed a coyote that didn’t seem to “belong” there — that I hadn’t seen there before. Suddenly it clicked: this was Sparks! He had moved on yet another five miles!

Of supreme interest to me is that he was accepted and warmly welcomed into this long-claimed territory without incident, and not driven off as an intruder. Why was he not driven away by Mom, especially since she has 5-month-old pups now? I’ve seen many intruders/interlopers repulsed away by the territorial claimants, but that didn’t happen here.

I was ecstatic to see the bantering and show-of-affection between these two as you can see in this series of photos taken the next morning [click on above photos to enlarge and scroll through them]

From my inquiries I learned that it has been only four or five days since he arrived, but I thought I would dive into possible outcomes based on what I have seen elsewhere:

1) Maybe it’s only a very temporary resting spot for him — with a very temporary grant to stay there. Might the alpha mom of the territory have sensed his weak physical condition and foreleg pain, and also his downtrodden mental state, and therefore taken him under her wing? At 17 months of age, he’s still a youngster, though you can see that he’s visibly much larger than the alpha female in the middle photo in the top row above. And she herself, in fact, is only two years older than him at 3.5 years of age. In the photo to the left of that, you can see his left front leg is still bent, and although he can walk on it, he retains the limp he acquired back in July: the limp wavers from barely-noticeable mild to causing intense bobbing up and down as he walks.

2) Another possible scenario is that this isn’t a temporary situation, but that he might have been adopted! I have seen another instance of a female yearling joining another family and, so far, remaining with that family for about 6 months: I think of it as a sort adoption. There were no other females in that family which consisted, before her arrival, of just a father and a son at that point. That “adopted” female is still too young to be a reproducing alpha, though by remaining there without challenge, that’s the position she would grow into. Finding more and more of these not-exactly-nuclear family arrangements have changed my idea of what constitutes a standard coyote family. The variations are beginning to appear to me more and more like our own human family variations!

“Mom’s” young male companion

3) A third possibility is that Sparks could have moved in as the new alpha male, although this seems unlikely because of his young age. But the fact is I have not seen “Mom’s” male companion around lately. In addition, I’ve always wondered if that male companion was actually “Mom’s” mate — he always appeared to be more of a younger brother or even another “adoptee”, though I could be wrong.  Whatever his position/role in the family has been, I have not seen him in the last little while — so the “position” may be open.

As an interesting aside: At the beginning of March which would have been mating season, I found “Mom” with a large gash on her forehead, in the Presidio along with this young male companion of hers. The Presidio is five miles away from her own claimed territory. I wondered what she/they were doing there. The gash was of the type she might have picked up after a territorial battle with another coyote. The Presidio has a very dominant alpha female — the gal I refer to as “Wired” — who has battled other females and driven them away ferociously. Wired’s mate happens to be “Mom’s” brother. Was she seeking out her brother?

This is actually the second instance of where I’ve seen a female head off from her own territory to a foreign territory during the receptive phase of her reproductive cycle, and it made me wonder if it was related to reproductive reasons. My DNA study will not be able to reveal this because DNA taken from scat can only follow the maternal line. So the questions remains: who sired her pups this year? And, will Sparks remain there?

So, it’s into any of these situations that Sparks now finds himself. Time will help us decide which is the real one.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Dispersal: One Youngster’s Trajectory Over The Last Five Months

All photos in this posting were taken after his dispersal from home.

We’re on another leg of the dispersal of a coyote I call Sparks. He and a sister, at just about one year of age, stepped away from home [see map below (1)] and out into the wider world where they came to rest and stay about two miles from their birthplace (2).They remained here close to two months — long enough to make me think that this might become their new home, but they did not remain there at this point in time. Maybe they weren’t ready to claim the area as theirs? Maybe they wanted to explore greener pastures, possibly less fragmented pieces of property? Anyway, Sparks’ dispersing “walkabout” — which I think is an apt term — was not over yet, apparently.

By the second week in July Sparks was spotted way up in the Presidio — a full six miles away from his birthplace, whereas the sister returned to their birthplace where I continue to see her romp with her other brothers who vie and compete for her attention. But Sparks had been dominated by these brothers — there may even have been a battle between them — and there was no going back for him.

So Sparks continued to roam in that area for the better part of a week, and by the third week of July found himself in the north-western corner of the city (4), where he was seen limping severely again on that left front leg. It was either a new injury, or the original injury was acting up. The original injury had occurred way back in mid-February and was severe enough — very likely a break, and very likely caused by chasing dogs — for him to retain a severe limp and keep off the leg entirely for over a month. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that injury even though he regained use of the leg.

By July 31st and through August 5th — possibly because the new leg injury had deteriorated so badly from continued use — he returned to that two-mile distant spot (5). This was a space he was familiar with and where he felt safe, including from other coyotes. Here he was observed numerous times with what now had become an identifying characteristic: the severe limp. A worried neighbor spotted him on the hill in back of his house curled up in a ball. The last sighting was of him running, three-legged, licketsplit through the main park of the area on August 5th. UPDATE as of August 15th: Sparks left his neighbor’s yard at the beginning of the heatwave, after almost 3 weeks in a neighbor’s backyard. The neighbors have been worried about what became of him: well, he is now again roaming around in the Presidio! His leg has not healed.

Dispersals, as we’ve seen before — and again, these insights are from my own first-hand observations over the past 13+ years, but also include several photos sent to me — have coyotes exploring through distant corners of our city and some even exiting the city to the south. On the other hand, coyotes who are entrenched territorial claimants seldom have a need to travel such distances, so they don’t: although they still trek away from their homes, it’s not usually the vast distances as the dispersing/exploring youngsters. The territorial owners seem to stay nearer to their homes where it is safe and they know the terrain.

When do coyotes disperse and what causes them to do so? They leave home, as far as I have seen, anywhere from about 9 months of age and up to 2.5 years of age. They do so either on their own initiative and timeline, when they themselves get the urge and without any prodding or provocation from other family members, or they may leave because of growing rivalry and repeated battles aimed to drive them away.

This dispersal period might be navigated with ease and little danger — it could be a piece of cake — or the opposite, with extreme difficulty and constant danger. Territorial claimants might fight them off viciously, or might welcomingly invite them to stay a while — the latter is something I’ve seen only with young dispersing females. Many of the dispersing youngsters have miraculously found vacant locations right here within the city limits itself — spaces either vacated by other coyotes, be it because they moved or died, or some of the maturer dispersers might have fought the resident coyotes — the ones who may have become weak due to old age or even sickness — and won. One of the biggest dangers for dispersing youngsters in urban areas is traffic: they regularly get killed by cars. The city counts about ten such deaths a year officially, but you can be sure there are more that were not reported.  Those youngsters who can’t find vacant spaces within the city have been found to move south and out of the city according to the ecologist at the Presidio. Dispersal is a treacherous time for coyotes and contributes to their notoriously low survival rate: it is claimed that only 30% of coyote litters survive to adulthood, which is their one year old mark.

I don’t know where Sparks will move next. I don’t know if the injury will hinder his ability to survive. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come across him again. If I do, I’ll post about it.

By the way, it’s not necessary to know the dispersal trajectory of every single coyote to understand the process. A few examples give the idea, and I have provided a number in this blog, with maps. The coyotes I’ve been able to follow I do so visually and by examining photos: I recognize them each by their unique faces, so that radio-collaring and tagging are absolutely unnecessary: these heavy and bulky contraptions are intrusive, hampering and even harmful, and not needed to find out what indeed is needed to coexist with them.

Photos taken by other folks during this part of his dispersal “walkabout” [click on any of the photos to scroll through them]

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

Two Youngsters Take A Tentative Step Towards Dispersal

[Note: This posting has been revised! After revisiting my photos, I realized I had mistaken a coyote’s identity. This is so easy to do among siblings who very often look very much alike, and whose facial bone structures continue to grow and therefore alter their appearance, even if ever so slightly, even after a year of age. The change is that Sparks did NOT return home with his sister, which is what I had written, but continued his dispersing “walkabout” to the north of the city. I have edited this post to reflect this].

These two siblings — a brother and a sister — left home together in March when they were just about a year old. I assumed they were leaving for good — dispersing. A couple of months into their absence, I was thrilled to recognize the male when he showed up in another park about two miles away: I’m always exhilarated when I find dispersing youngsters who I’ve watched grow up because most, of course, I never see again after they leave. This male comes from an exceptionally large litter, most of whom I was seeing very irregularly and sporadically recently, so now I had to figure out which sibling was accompanying him, or was it someone he had met and hooked up with from a different family?

That second one remained too distant and seldom appeared in daylight; it was always at the darker end of twilight when I saw them, and this one always seemed to be moving away from me, so it took me a while longer to figure out which individual it was: I have to see their faces to know who each one is. To help me (though it didn’t help) I put out a trap camera on a narrow path close to one of the entrances to the park where I had seen them, not really expecting anything to show up on it.

Apparently I placed the camera well, because I caught these few seconds which, although they didn’t help me identify the second coyote, they did tell me how much fun these guys were having in their newfound freedom! In the video below you’ll see the two youngster coyotes who had been running along a narrow, sandy path. They’ve just jumped over a bush where the camera is hidden, and this is where the short video starts.. They stop to communicate their joy through eye contacting, touching and joyful jumping before continuing on. It’s only a few seconds long, but long enough to tell this part of their story.

People noticed them and told me about them: not only were they spotted in the fragmented parks of the area and on the streets in-between, but they were also seen in several backyards, where they were seen successfully hunting, once even with prey — a white cat — in their mouths.  They seem to have learned to navigate this new area well. Finally I was able to see her — the second coyote’s –face: these photos below have been substantially lightened to make the individuals visible —  they were essentially taken in the dark. Even so, the coyotes are very identifiable.

Far and away from home (above)

I pondered if these two would move on or become entrenched in this newfound location. The area has served as a sort of temporary “stopping off place” for several coyotes I’ve kept track of as they traversed the city, so would it be the same for these, or would it become a more permanent home — even though highly fragmented — since available territories within the city have been dwindling. I checked up on them only a few times as I continued to hear reports of them, and then, one day, suddenly, they no longer were being spotted. Where had they gone?

WELL, as of mid-July, the female, at 16-months of age, was back at her birthplace, after four months of absence! I guess she wasn’t quite ready to disperse lock-stock-and-barrel yet, even though she seemed to have a lot of fun and excitement during her AWOL adventure. And certainly the two of them escaped family tensions during that time “abroad” due to coming-of-age relationships which were beginning to show strain among the brothers.

Rivalry between siblings escalates over time, especially between brothers, and that seems to be kicking in and growing between these two stay-at-home brothers.One is more dominant and he’s displaying a lot of bullying these days. “Underling” brother kowtows towards him, and it’s precisely this kind of behavior that may have driven out Sparks, the dispersed brother this posting is about.

Back to family politics: the two remaining brothers vie for the affection of their sister

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

PostSript: The information in this article was gained by simple recognition of individual coyotes and from a vast knowledge about them gained through first-hand direct observation — without the use of radio-collars or identifying tags which are intrusive and harmful. My direct observations engender a much deeper and more expansive knowledge and understanding of coyotes than can be provided by simply mechanically tracking their movements.  “Look, Ma, no hands”. Try it! My “hard” facts include both photos and DNA from scat.

Another Youngster I Knew Before Dispersal Seems to have a New Territory!

“Blondie” in early 2020, almost 3 years old, after dispersal.

After watching individual coyotes grow up and leave home, I resign myself to thinking that I will never see them again. So you can imagine my thrill in recognizing them in a new location. It’s like coming across a long-lost family member of my own!  Here you have such an individual — one of a growing handful of coyotes that I’ve re-discovered on territories within the city after they’ve grown up and dispersed. Many of our dispersing youngsters appear to move south and out of the city, and a substantial number are killed by cars. Those I find are survivors who did not disperse far.  [Here is a posting about some of the others].

This male is from a family of four siblings to survive into adulthood, ALL of whom I’ve been able to locate in their new territories. I use no collars or tags, just simple recognition. These are animals I had gotten to know well as youngsters through watching and documenting their family interactions as they grew up, including that of their parents and siblings, and recording their immediate family relationships.

The significance of this — its impact — is that I’ve been able to trace the major movements of a number of coyotes within the city, and I’ve been able to construct a limited genealogy of their relationships. Dr. Ben Sacks has extracted DNA from my scat samples and determined that all of our present coyote population here in San Francisco came from just four original founding coyotes: that means they are all related in some way and those connections which I’m unable to put together from visual recognition, his lab will be able to relate through DNA.

The fellow in this posting I named/labeled “Blondie” due to his appearance as compared to his siblings when he was a youngster. Here is his photo as a yearling youngster in 2018 before he dispersed:

Blondie, almost a year old

These photos are all somewhat blurry because they were all taken under almost no light, right at the break of dawn.

I’ve also followed the mate he hooked up with in late 2019, a female born in the Presidio in 2018. She dispersed permanently from that territory in 2020 when a new coyote alpha pair took over that property. When I first re-discovered Blondie and his new mate, they were regular trekkers to Lafayette Park and Alamo Square, but they abandoned that route early this year and moved on, looking for greener pastures. They’ve ended up at Lands End, close to her birth territory, but across town from his. Since they’ve been here a while and they’ve had a family, it is their claimed territory where they will remain. This is the same female with the infected ear which I wrote about in March earlier this year. The ear remains permanently damaged because the infection was not taken care of, but, hey, she still seems to be going strong!

“At home” in their claimed territory

©  All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with permission and with properly displayed credit.

Setting Up House in the Presidio

Puff at his birthplace at one year of age, months before dispersal

Here in San Francisco, I’ve been able to follow about a handful of youngsters after watching them grow up in their separate families, after dispersal, after finding mates and territories of their own and then raise their own litters. This is an update and a slight expansion upon what I previously wrote about the fella I call “Puff”.

When coyotes first disperse, I lose track of them — many I don’t ever see again — so you can imagine my thrill whenever I find any of them again as full grown alphas and territorial claimants in their own right.

Puff is one of those: At three years of age, he has become the new alpha male in the Presidio — across town from his birthplace — after dispersing at over a year-and-a-half of age. I don’t normally state locations, but the coyotes there have already been heavily advertised in the Presidio, which is vast in size, so I don’t feel I am compromising their situation. And it is there that Puff has now become a dad, with all the attendant responsibilities of that role, including intense patrolling, keeping outsider coyotes out, guarding against dog intrusions, and bringing in food for the youngsters! In coyote families, dads help raise the young on a par with moms. So Puff has come of age in a new territory!

About the label, “Puff”. All the coyotes I watch I label according to a characteristic which helps me identify them. I rarely share these, but here are a few more as examples: Chert is the color of the chert rock, Silver has a silver patch on his back, Squirrel sat below a tree filled with squirrels. Scout was an explorer. Puff was a puffball. When a new mate joins a coyote I’ve been watching, I pair up the name appropriately: Bonnie’s new mate became Clyde. Scout’s new mate became Scooter.

It’s my first-hand documentation work that led me to the connection between the new Presidio alpha male and the youngster I watched grow up: no one else in San Francisco is or has been doing this kind of family-life documentation work. My DNA study will confirm my observations with harder facts for the hard-core “scientists” out there.

July 12, 2017

As a youngster, Puff was a playful teaser — the prime mover and leader of his large litter of which there were four surviving siblings (several died before the end of their first year — killed by human negligent acts, including a car).  Play fighting was how they passed the time: this activity, as might be expected, segued into true fighting as the males matured, and at 1.5 years of age, Puff and a brother teamed up to aggressively drive out a third brother — I was there to witness and photo-document the event.

However, I did not witness the actual trigger that drove Puff himself to disperse, if indeed there was one. I’ve watched coyotes disperse anywhere from 9 months to 2.5 years of age, where some were forced to leave by other family members (brothers, fathers, mothers) and some moved away without incident on their own timeline. Amazingly, I’ve been able to follow three of the four all four [updated] survivors in Puff’s litter to and at their new locations where they all are now parenting litters of their own which were born in April. I stay well away from den areas because this is what the coyotes would want, so I have not yet actually seen any pups this year, but I see all the moms who are obviously lactating.

Puff’s new mate is a coyote I call “Wired” (so named because of the radio-collar). The two of them took over the Presidio territory by force from the previous long-time territorial coyote residents there (as per a surveillance camera video capture at the Presidio).

Pre-Presidio, Wired had quite a story of her own: I was able to keep track of her as she roamed, looking for a place of her own. She even viciously pursued another coyote throughout the city after taking over and claiming that coyote’s territory: it turned out that this would be only a “temporary” takeover. Coyotes are well known for being opportunists, and she found something better! She ended up with Puff in the Presidio.

Puff’s birth territory has been abandoned by his parents and inherited by a sister who now is the pupping alpha female of that area. His Mom is still around but keeps a low profile. I’ve seen his Dad around, but not as the alpha male he had been. Oldsters get pushed out by younger reproducing pairs either from within or without of the family. And I’ve actually seen an older territorial pair leave a territory voluntarily, thereby ceding it to a daughter! THAT pair was seen several months later about a mile away, looking decrepit, worn-out and old. I have not seen them again and guess that their lives ended. Might they have known this was coming?

Immediately below is a recent photo of Puff and one of his new mate, “Wired”, and below these, several of the many photos I took of Puff and his siblings months before their dispersals.

Puff on the left as a full-grown, three-year old alpha male, and Wired on the right is his mate. 

©  All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with permission and with properly displayed credit.

It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.


Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

©  All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with permission and with properly displayed credit.

Happiness is Having Someone to Watch Out For

Basking in the sun

This coyote seems to be extra happy these days as seen here on a very sunny morning! First she lay down and basked quietly in the sun for a while, and then as seen in the photos below, she ever so joyfully twisted and turned, contorted and wiggled, and rolled and slithered all over the place, giving herself a wonderful all-over body scratch and massage. She exuded joy. Maybe she was thinking about the new development in her life, which she would reveal to us a couple of days later!

Two days later I saw and heard a new behavior for her. She had been hunting but suddenly stopped short and began howling in front of a man who abruptly appeared, as if he were the cause somehow. She had never howled at a human before. I wondered what kind of dog the man had, but as he walked on, I could see that he had none. She had only ever howled at sirens and dogs who have chased her; and when she had a companion long ago, she would howl to communicate, but she didn’t have a companion now. . . (or did she?)

(note that the high pitched vocalization is the coyote; the barks are a neighbor’s dog)

After a moment of howling which you can hear in the recording above, she trotted briskly and purposefully up the road and away. I could see that the man had nothing to do with her howling. Within five minutes she had returned over the crest of the hill, and there by her side was . . . . a companion coyote! It became obvious now that her howl had been a response to this other coyote whose vocalization we had not heard.

She appeared to be as smitten with him as she had been with a previous young fellow visitor (a 1½ year old) who had spent four months with her. This new fellow, again, is a younger guy, maybe even younger than the last fellow. Has she become a “yearling caregiver” for dispersing coyote youngsters? I had actually witnessed that previous youngster being forcefully kicked out of his home by his siblings in a fight — that’s how I knew he was dispersing — and then shortly thereafter appear in this loner’s territory, where he was wholeheartedly welcomed. Has this new fellow been welcomed as a kid or as a mate? Only time will tell. Whatever the case, the loner seems super-happy to have him there! A companion to care for!

I should mention that I have seen another male youngster in a similar situation with an older female — he eventually became the reigning male mate. We’ll have to see what happens here. Anyway: Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Him” in the upper left corner, and then the two of them, with her being as solicitous and affectionate towards him as possible.

 

Moving Around

Maybe you’ve been noticing coyotes where you haven’t seen them before? Or maybe you haven’t been seeing them where sometimes you did? These are the same coyotes. There aren’t suddenly more of them right now, even though it might APPEAR so when they appear in never-before-seen areas. Those I observe have recently been spending less time where they were, and more time roving. They aren’t just wandering aimlessly about: they have purpose to their gait, and intent to their direction. Here is a gallery of travels as I’ve recorded some of them. In this casual gallery, I’ve included photos of a red dawn, a red dusk, and a rainbow which I captured during my recent outings. [The rainbow photo has been enhanced with the “saturation” button — a rainbow is never as brilliant as this, but the dawn and dusk photos have not — the sky really looked like this!]

What are the coyotes actually doing? Those who have left home are searching for new areas for themselves at the same time that they are being driven away by established resident coyotes with territories: they are having a hard time. The resident coyotes, on the other hand, are getting things in order for the next big event of the year: pupping season is just down the road. They are surveying every nook and cranny of their vast homesteads for safety from other coyotes and from dogs and people, they are checking out the food supply, and they are scouting-out the safest den sites in out-of-the-way places where they can hide their precious new arrivals for many months. Pups are one of their best-kept secrets. I make it a point to stay far away from any area where I know there might be a den — this is what coyotes want or they wouldn’t take pains to hide their youngsters so well.

So lately I have been seeing them fleetingly and on the move in a variety of novel places. Folks have recently reported that they’ve spotted coyotes in their yards or even on their porches, or down the street where they hadn’t seen them before.

If you see coyotes where you haven’t before, know that this is normal behavior. Coyotes are regularly in the surrounding neighborhoods of our various city parks, and sometimes, as now, there appears to be somewhat of a spate of such activity. They are not coming after you. It’s not an invasion. They are simply minding their own agendas which have nothing to do with us. Please make sure to continue keeping your distance from them, and always walk away from them, especially if you are walking your dog [see “How to Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer” for more on this]. It’s best not to let pets wander freely or unsupervised, and if you don’t want coyotes repeatedly visiting your yard, please remove all food sources!

Dispersal: Variations on a Theme

Every dispersal is different, I suppose because each coyote and every family is different. When it’s forced rather than the coyote simply leaving of his/her own accord, I tend to see Moms driving out females, and Dads or even brothers driving out males (though in this latter case, I’ve seen female siblings join-in the driving out process). Some of the youngsters drag their feet or even try to return several times, always without success. I’ve seen “cold turkey” dispersals where youngsters are gone suddenly without apparent warning, I’ve seen gradual dispersals, and I’ve even observed some parents hold on by visiting their dispersed offspring in their new areas. Here in this posting, I’ll describe three very different dispersals.

1) The dispersal of the coyote in the photo below was very gradual and of his own volition. He began leaving for a day at a time to begin with, and then for longer periods of time, returning for increasingly-brief periods which became less frequent over several months, until we no longer saw him again. This happened in the early springtime. He was almost exactly two years old when he left for good. His was a smooth transition: he was not pushed out, but rather was allowed to disperse at his own pace. He had stayed to help with the family’s next litter after him, but was gone right before the following year’s litter arrived. He was a mellow fellow who helped keep order by consoling his siblings when they needed it, and was a stickler for order when things got out of hand between them.

This male dispersed of his own volition at almost exactly 2 years of age (3/5/18)

2) The dispersal that warmed my heart the most was that of this rambunctious yearling male below, who had a testy relationship with an older female sibling, but was always on good terms with his parents and a brother. And then, one day, I saw Dad treat him truly as an equal for the first time. I sensed a huge joy and freedom in this coyote which I had never seen before, and maybe this treatment gave him the confidence to be so. It was as though this were a rite of passage before leaving home. So it was a warm sendoff, almost a goodby party. The “ceremony”, if you will, consisted of an evening of frolicking with Dad as an equal, with Dad instigating the play: they ran together, bucking up, and nipping each others’ ears or heels, and they jumped on each other as equal buddies and friends, liberated from any hierarchy, just playing. The youngster exuded a joy and sense of freedom, along with stature and confidence which he hadn’t displayed before. Two days later he was gone. It was mid-summer. We saw him a few times in a park nearby, but then he was gone from there, too: he was now out making his own way in the world.

Heartwarming sendoff: father and son play a few days before son leaves for good on 5/18 at 14+ months of age. We see him 10 days later in a park nearby, but then never again.

3) The most unusual dispersal is one that happened almost “backwards”.  In this case, a youngster, at the age of a year and a half, was banned to the fringes of her territory by her family which, except for Dad, wouldn’t have much to do with her. She was hounded repeatedly by her brother and her mother. She put up with it and didn’t leave, she just kept her distance. Finally, when she was 2 1/2 years old, the family, which by now consisted of only Mom and Dad, left, leaving her behind on their territory. It was almost like a dispersal in reverse. I never saw Mom again, but Dad came visiting regularly at first, and then less and less.

Below is a series of photos showing one of Dad’s last visits in November. The family bond between him and his daughter had been weakening over time, and compatibility had become rougher and testier with each of Dad’s succeeding visits. She used to experience the same joy as seen above between father and son. The daughter always remained exquisitely happy to see Dad, but Dad became more and more hierarchical and the affectionate part of their bond slowly dissipated.  Although Dad’s treatment of his daughter seems harsh, he was cutting the ties much more gently than if he had simply left for good.

She races enthusiastically to greet Dad when he appears after a long absence.

His look tells her to crouch and approach carefully. She is facing him and keeping down in this photo here.

In the above six photos, she is totally submissive, and he stands above her with hackles up: the hierarchy has little give or affection here. She feels comfortable enough to trot off with him, but is not allowed to do so until she knows her place.

A little later, testiness is the order of the day. This is one of the last visits Dad made to visit her.

In many cases, coyotes are driven off harshly by parents or siblings, and I’ve written about this before. In another case, year after year, a pair of coyote parents has led their youngsters through their fragmented territory, starting when they were about 6 months old: there’s not much stability in this kind of bohemian/gypsy movement, and I suppose the pups eventually tired of this because by 9 months of age, none were around anymore.

I’ve been lucky enough to discover several coyotes I knew as youngsters in their new locations. In one case, I’ve followed a family for 12 years through four generations, and I’m now following that fourth generation in a new location where it appears there may be a fifth generation on the way!