Some Dispersal Routes and Family Situations Over The Last Two Seasons

This dispersal diagram on its own, with the several paragraphs that follow it, will give you a nice visual summary of what happens to our coyotes when they leave home. Individual family situations/histories follow [press MORE to read on]: this section is long because I’ve tried to include all their connections. I know each coyote: their personalities, behaviors, family situations and relationships, but it might be tedious reading for anyone who doesn’t. So know that the dispersal diagram section is enough to get the idea across.

A Dispersal Diagram

Have you ever wondered where our coyotes go once they disperse from their birth territories, and what their situations are?

When individual coyotes disperse — leave their birth territories — or for that matter, in one case here, abandon their long-claimed established territories totally — they disappear into the ether almost always never to be seen again by me. Only by chance had I ever seen a few of the dispersed youngsters again, but I didn’t follow through — I’ve always been more concerned with family life, relationships, and individual interactions. However, very recently I’ve been noticing my dispersed youngsters again somewhere else, or on their way somewhere else, and gone from home, so I’ve made a point of following or following-up on a number of these to what appear to be their final (final for now) territory destinations.

Dispersing coyotes are the ones who wander in order to explore their options, find their own territories, and pair-up long-term with mates: their routes are the thin red lines in the diagram. Once they find a territory — be it a vacant or vacated niche, or one they’ve had to fight for — they pretty much tend to stick to that general area: these are the colored circles on the diagram. Most of the dispersals are youngsters, heading out to make it on their own in the world, but I’ve also seen older mated pairs and even an older individual leave a territory to find another. Sometimes a couple of siblings may leave together, but mostly they leave alone, as far as I have seen. Most of the time the breakaway from home is complete and final, but I’ve also seen several individuals repeatedly return home for a period of time before taking a final leave. I’ve seen youngsters leave home slightly before 9 months of age, and as late as 2.5 years of age — they leave of their own accord, when they are ready and without any prodding from parents or siblings, or they are driven out by either parents or siblings. Please remember that what I say here is based entirely on my own first-hand observations: there are going to be situations that I myself have not seen.

I’ve depicted some of these routes and destinations in the diagram above. The colored circles on this map show some of the territories that I’m most familiar with — these are the territories from where or to where these coyotes travelled. The connected circles are fragmented but constitute one territory centered around a park or around one large open green space or an accumulation of smaller green spaces. Park or open-space boundaries hold no meaning for coyotes, so of course the surrounding neighborhoods are a part of these territories. General routes, from their birth territories to their new permanent territorial homes are shown on the map by thin arrow-headed red lines. Naturally, their movements were not smooth lines at all, but rather jagged, erratic, interrupted, and with diversions along the way. In the case of “Wired”, I left off her full-city-length circuits to avoid cluttering. The arrow-head itself is where individual coyotes ended up at their new “forever” homes where they have remained — or in one case remained for a full year and raising a new litter of pups before picking up and moving on again. I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to follow dispersals in the blue circles, but I’ve included some of these in the diagram simply to show there are more dispersals going on than covered in this posting. Two of the coyotes I talk about I had never seen before — they would have come from one of these blue areas or an area not depicted on the map.

Several years ago, before the time-frame of this posting, I saw dispersing youngsters meanly driven away by territorial owners. The flip side of this is that this year, I’ve seen a couple of youngsters warmly welcomed into territories by the resident coyotes. This goes to show that what you might see as a family with pups isn’t always a genetic family!

Then, below, in the second section, I tell a little bit more about the family or territorial situations of the recent dispersals diagrammed above — just bare-bones “to”-and-“from” situational summaries to help round-out their dispersal stories: there are a lot of coyotes and a lot of stories. The diagram covers dispersals over just the last couple of seasons, and one from several years earlier as a precursor to her last year’s story. A number of the individuals I watched grow up from different territories ended pairing up in new territories with others I had watched grow up elsewhere, so in many cases I’ve been familiar all along with both partners of a new pair. In a few instances I know the origins of only one of the new pair. The weft and warp of intertwining individuals has resulted in a tangle in the telling, as you’ll see below!  Any repetitions are to ensure you catch the connections. I’ve grouped these descriptions by family of origin, and maybe this will make it easier. And remember that all of our San Francisco coyotes came from just four original coyote founders.

Several consistencies pop up in my descriptions below. I mention “long-entrenched families on the same territories for many years”. This, along with coyotes’ propensity to mate for life are elements of permanence and stability which can last many years. A stable family can better defend its land than can a loner coyote: having a mate helps. And an intimate knowledge of that land which goes along with ownership better ensures survival because resource locations are known and there are fewer unknown hazards than in the unfamiliar world beyond. Keeping other coyotes out of this territory eliminates the competition for these resources. I also mention “vacated territories” and “forced ousters”, and the “disappearance” of stable oldsters from their lands, which are elements of impermanence and change. Please note that each coyote is an individual: no two stories or situations are the same. So these are some facets involved in coyote dispersal. I’ve sprinked in photos, even though most people can’t tell one coyote from another, but I can, and part of who I’m writing for is myself!  :)) 


The Dispersed and their Family Situations

FAMILY ONE

Sparks, born last year, dispersed at 11 months of age, wandering around for seven months, and even stopping or resting at several locations for 3 weeks to a month along the way (he had a fractured wrist), before settling 5 miles away from his birthplace where he moved in with a 3-year old, Cai2, a mother with 5-month-old pups. Cai’s previous male companion, Stumpf, had disappeared a month earlier and may have been “the sick” coyote that several people had seen but I had not. Into this situation came Sparks who had come from a long-entrenched family that owned the same territory for continuous generations over the last 13 years. He was one of 6 siblings born in 2019, and it was probably sibling rivalry between brothers that drove him out, judging from what I saw. Whether these two coyotes are forming a pair-bond, or Cai2 is simply taking care of a youngster in need, only time will tell. I don’t normally see males pair up at just 18 months of age, which is what Sparks is.

[press the “more” button below to bring up the rest of the posting if you can’t already see it]

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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.

Wild Plums, Eagles, Runt and Big Sis, by Walkaboutlou

“We are entering wild plum season, with blackberry, raspberry and blueberry fast approaching”

Hi Janet.

I hope you are well as summer flies. We are already entering wild plum season, with blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry also fast approaching.

Of course, this is appreciated by our local coyote. I was talking with one property owner who has been spying on some coyote pups the last 3 weeks. I enjoyed his observations and here are some.

“The pack consists of parents and a female yearling daughter with 5 pups. The pups were moved to a “rendezvous” area at around 6 weeks. Immediately, they changed dramatically. They started foraging for, and catching crickets, grasshoppers and mice/voles. There are also several plum trees in rendezvous area and the pups feast on plums daily. They are so full of fruit, bugs and mice, they sometimes ignore parents returning with food. They were at first scared of deer, but now playfully charge at them.

An incident occurred when it was noticed the “runt” pup had lacerations to his back and it seemed had trouble with back legs. Evidence indicates a golden eagle, as the pups hid for at least 2 days before being moved again. And an eagle kept returning to site and sitting in trees surrounding area. On 3rd day pup seemed listless, and then the older sister carried it a bit then groomed it some time, then slept with it. For several days she stayed with injured pup while parents fed pups AND older daughter while she cared for runt. The pup, though stunted and weak, is rallying again and hunting bugs and eating fruit, as well as being fed by parents.

No doubt it wouldn’t have survived without big sister’s week long special care. When the parents returned with venison (from scavenging road killed deer) the big sister guarded the runt while he ate a slice of meat as big as himself! He might be an undersized underdog, but he is grabbing the chances his big sister gave him. We see a coyote trotting along….but are almost never aware of the family bonds and life saving deeds they often share.”

Lou🐾🌾

“Most people don’t realize golden eagle are more than happy to take a young fox, coyote or wolf. This pup was very fortunate to escape, and have a big sis. ❤🐾

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

More

Recess

“Pictures are worth a thousand words.” These photos depict a triad of coyote lads playing. There’s horsing around, cuddling, competition, domination, ownership, and some teeth-baring reactions.

A ball they found is included in the play. You’ll see them run with the ball, chase each other, roll it with their noses, battle for it, entice the others with it, coddle the ball lovingly, play tug-of-war with it.

You’ll also see them play without the ball: teasingly grabbing or nipping another’s leg, provokingly grabbing another’s back, somersaulting over another or tumbling over each other in an affectionate pileup, lying on each other, nibbling on each other.

They played for about 30 minutes with something happening every second of that time. I’ve limited this posting to include about one photo a minute — it was hard culling them down to just 40 photos! Second from the bottom is a slide show you can quickly flip through by pressing the advance arrow, or you can let it play at it’s own speed.

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What I describe above is what meets the uninitiated eye, and it is, in fact, what is going on. But there is more going on. The playing includes subtle hints (subtle to us) of one-upmanship from one of the coyotes towards the other two: this challenging type of play comes only from that one coyote and not the others. The other thing going on is that this trio of coyotes, by their extended presence here, has claimed the area as their own in opposition to the dogs who have been banned from congregating in the area due to the coronavirus. So dogs and owners are actually looking in on this activity and the coyotes are knowingly “performing” for them.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Pensive Dad

This Dad is meticulously assessing and re-evaluating the safety of his denning area’s periphery. It’s something he does on a continuing and regular basis, and now even more so during pupping season. You’ll see him slowly walking and looking around, sniffing for WHO might have been here, and he listens to the voices close by: he can tell he is off people’s radar and so is unconcerned about them.

This hidden tunnelway sees skunks, raccoons, squirrels, red tail hawks, sharp shins, stellar jays, rats and mice . . . and an occasional unleashed dog who’s gotten whiff of a coyote and decided to pursue it. He is able to “see” all of this through his nose.

You might wonder what exactly is going through this father’s mind as he carries out his job: your guess is as good as mine, but you can be sure he, as a father, has the same concerns and worries that a human father might have: I think it’s important to see these commonalities.

Afterwards, he takes a drink of water from a watering hole to the left and then “marks” the area before moving on. He spent seven full minutes reflecting and thinking as he looked around this one spot. This is his seventh year as a dad: he knows the ropes and what he has to do to keep his family safe.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Adoption? [updated]

I’ve had to revise this posting a little because one of the coyotes I talk about, who I was told and accepted as “the female” of a pair, turns out not to be a female at all, but a solid male, and the younger one turns out to be a female!

After a year of absence, this Dad (above right) returned to his former territory which was being kept by two coyotes who I believed to be his two-year-old offspring — youngsters born the year before last. The Dad’s family situation is a very interesting one, and I’ll be writing about it soon, but here I want to concentrate on what Dad came back to: he returned to this, his previous territory, and to the two younger coyotes. I had only been seeing one of these youngsters sporadically fleetingly until very recently, but two were there now. The youngsters welcomed Dad back, and now the three began hanging out together.

But the situation isn’t what I thought it was. I’ve slowly come to realize that one of the youngsters, although he looked familiar somehow, was not one of Dad’s surviving four youngsters born in 2018. Initially, I thought time might have caused some appearance changes which were preventing me from seeing “who” this was of the four, but I wasn’t making any headway in trying to identify him (I identify by their facial features), and he really didn’t have the signature family look of the others in the litter: I have noted that there are striking family resemblances within some coyote families, and this had been one such family. Then, over the last week it became obvious that this coyote was actually a year younger than the two-year old. There’s a difference in general demeanor and behavior that become obvious when you contrast and compare the different ages.

Suddenly familiarity rang a bell. I went back into my earlier photos of another family in a far off territory — this is where the coyote came from. This youngster is from an entirely different birth family, and born last year.* She had distanced herself from the rougher tumble of her brothers (dispersed) of which there were three. For a while she lived alone in an isolated open space which is where I photographed her most recently, but I hadn’t checked on her since then. She’s only a year old. She’s too young to be forming a family of her own (I haven’t seen females form families of their own until they are at least two years of age). Instead, I found she had joined another young male (two-year-old) on that male’s birth territory — maybe they would become mates when the time was right

I’ve seen this kind of arrangement several times now: a dispersing youngster seems to take cover under the wing of an older coyote (even though not much older) with a territory: the territory owning coyote lets the other in. In one instance in the past, a youngster male moved on after five months. His mentor female a year later appeared to be harboring yet another young male — that fellow has now become her mate — and maybe that was their plan all along.

So, these two have been companions for each other, which makes sense in such a social species: one apparently a mentor and caregiver and the other a youngster who needed a little more time to mature: it’s kind of an “adoption” or “halfway station situation”. This is the situation — two immature youngsters — to which “Dad” returned.

I wonder how prevalent this kind of arrangement is between ‘stabler coyotes with territories’ and ‘dispersing ones’. The older territorial-owning coyotes seem to become very protective of their younger proteges, a behavior you might expect from a parent. The important thing to note is that this little group of three coyotes in this park is a “family”, all of whom are not related individuals, whereas most families consist of a mated pair and their own offspring.

See these related postings on two other youngsters, males in this situation: Happiness is Having Someone to Watch Out For, and Camaraderie and “Checking In”,  and Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

*[Professor Ben Sacks at UCDavis will confirm this with DNA from scat which will reveal our coyotes’ relationships. In fact, he’s working on a “pedigree” of all of our San Francisco coyotes, who, it turns out, all descended from just FOUR original founding members]

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.