Pack Strategies, Growing Pups, by Walkaboutlou

Hello Janet!

I hope all is well with you as the season progresses. This time of year flies. I am walking well after hip surgery and slowly recovering.

The updates on the 2 mom coyote pack continue thanks to the careful work and amazing skills of the knowledgeable ranch family who have allowed coyote to share their massive ranch properties. Decades of tolerance and behavior modifications have created a land where coyote, livestock, wildlife all thrive. (LGD dogs are big part..but thats another story) The extended family all take turns monitoring and studying the coyotes. They are documenting great stuff.

Old SlimJim, (father) Chica (Mom) Janet (daughter and 2nd mom) and Big Brother (yearling) all thrive. They indeed, moved the pups from the rocky cliffs to the open Oak Savannah ecosystem. Incredibly, all 9 pups have still been accounted for. Originally 11, it’s still a big group of pups.

One adult is almost always with or near pups. They have had several moves and it seemed Slim Jim initiated every move. The family discussions about why Slim Jim moves them so much are awesome to hear. Was it because the local cougar made fresh marks nearby? Was it because soon a salmon run will deliver salmon to a riverbank where Slim Jim gathers the expired fish? Is it because the wolves come around and scout? One ranch youngster has an observation. “Bigger Grasshoppers and more Voles” he says. “Slim Jim took the pups where the grasshoppers are already big and the voles are everywhere there”.

It’s true-the pups are already foraging and catching rodents and grasshoppers. It is very important for pups to forage and feed themselves ASAP. 

It’s likely a culmination of all these and more. Slim Jim is an old coyote who knows all these areas. And the food sources. He has literally moved his pack where this summer, rodents, insects, wild plum groves, and expired salmon all will be. Slim Jim also has a unique skill which he’s shared with Big Brother his son. A few miles away a ribbon of country road unfortunately delivers deer being hit and killed, or running off to die. Slim Jim takes full advantage of such road killed deer. And delivers huge meals of venison. It is very rare for pups to eat so well. Big Brother and Dad have hugely impacted pup nutritional provisions.

Other note: All the adults are super lean and seem exhausted at times. They seem to take turns pup sitting. Big Brother the most. Pups are weaned it appears. Of the 9 pups, one with kinked tail sleeps with adults rather then littermates. Kinky Tail seems a favorite. It is groomed more than any pup.

Turkey Vultures make the pups duck or hide, indicating the local golden eagle may be why 2 pups are gone. 

Pups also seem to hunt then bolt at times.  Its suspected snakes are instinctively avoided at least by pups. Many rattlers here. So snake aversion is good. 

The Patriarch of Ranch family has studied “his” coyote over 60 years. He is house bound usually. But still listens to coyote news and gives his thoughts. 4 generations of family discussing coyote packs is very special.

His thoughts: “That’s a really big litter. By summer’s end the adults will be tired and ready to stop providing. The pups will develop extra fast and really scatter about. And Big Brother will be a great dad after raising all those pups. Janet the Daughter will get a new hubby. Old Slim Jim…well, let’s hope best.”

Big Litter, lots of food, and tired but skilled adults here. A structured but unusual pack going fwd. And a Ranch family sharing it all from 10 years to Great Great Grandpa.

Take Care Janet, 

Lou 🐾

[All photo credits are from the author, Walkaboutlou]

The Dilemma of Denning, by Walkaboutlou

Hi Janet. 

The continued scouting of the 2 mom pack carries on and is really amazing.

So the situation was Chica Alpha Mom, and Janet the Yearling Daughter (possible) denned together to combine 11 pup litter. The Alpha male is Slim Jim, old but more than capable. Yearling male, Big Brother, rounds out adult pack. 

Mom and Daughter early in denning were fed regularly by the males. Deer scavenging, and Bison afterbirth proved to be fortuitous finds for males. About 3 weeks into denning, both females suddenly went back to foraging and hunting. Big Brother was relegated to #1 pup sitter which he seems made for. He alternatly is playful, guardian, and cleans pups for hours. At night he is relieved, it seems, to forage and water for himself.  

Last year the pack denned in hilly country, surrounded by thousands of field rodents, etc. This year, they moved their early dens to a rocky series of cliffs-like terrain miles from the hills. This is very likely the regular passing area of foraging wolves. Also…this year is far drier. There are less rodents.

The cliffs are perfect for tiny pups to start. But they aren’t ideal to raise a older litter. We suspect the calorie and water needs for large litter, will mean a move soon to a late spring/summer rendezvous area. It also will mean pups can start foraging for rodents and grasshoppers themselves. This is pivotal. I think especially of Slim Jim and Chica weighing denning safety vs feeding family. Its really a process. The cliffs mean some safety. The hills mean pup development and food. And the hills hold danger in every way. 

It has been a great start for the den but not perfect. The pups went from 11 to 9. A golden eagle who regularly soars over is suspected. For 2 days the pups seemed to stay in den. And Big Brother snarled up into the passing sky silhouette. We dont think this a coincidence. 

Also, Old Slim Jim showed us how seriously he takes denning. Coyotes are vocal. Notoriously vocal. Big Brother was yipping and howling and was even joined by several pups. It seemed he was literally leading a puppy chorus when Slim Jim came racing up to the den and literally slammed Big Brother down and gave him a very big round of discipline. Big Brother slunk to a nearby rock, chastised and mournful.

The watcher (the family members are taking turns in observations) was pretty stunned at Slim Jims ferocity. He is actually a very laid back guy (and really tired and slow) But then we discussed-how many times have they vocalized at this den? Well…until that incident, no one has heard vocalizations. It would appear, Slim Jim, Chica, and Janet have been mute here for some weeks.

We think we know why. Trail cams reveal passing wolves just miles away every few evenings. As they trot through, they no doubt are hard at work raising their litters too. But wolves are very hard on coyote dens. They will not hesitate to raid and dig out denned pups. We believe Slim Jim knows too well, the risks of denning with wolves about. And he has perfected ghost like habits this year. Big Brother learned a big lesson.

So…Slim Jim, Chica, Janet and Big Brother all are working hard and 9 of 11 pups still thrive. They likely are on the cusp of moving their litters to the hills and spring/summer areas. BTW-every night Chica and Janet clean the pups and attend them. Big Brother leaves. And when pups go down, Slim Jim hops a tall rock to do the night’s sleep sentinel post. Chica often approaches him. She grooms and nibbles his face and sparse coat. He seems to greatly relish this short time. His old tired white face relaxed and strong. 

I am very moved at this pack. And old Slim Jim’s efforts to raise his latest family. 

1) rocky cliffs; 2) This area of vast foothill ranges will be likely where this year’s pups will be taken for summer rendezvous. It is much more dangerous but this is where the pups will need to be. It’s here they will learn to be Coyote survivalist. 

Why Fathers Have Pups — in 58 photos!

Musings: I imagine that raising a family is as much fun and rewarding for coyotes as it is for us, in spite of the work involved. To begin with, for coyotes as well as us, there must be feelings of anticipation and excitement even before the event: knowing that something big is about to happen in their lives that will require preparation, forethought, and effort.

Thinking about it, procreation in the animal world is less of a conscious decision than a subconscious one, directed by cyclical hormones and drives — it’s a programmed activity, as is the job of rearing the pups once they arrive. For us humans, we have more say in the matter than do coyotes, though for us, too, the process is directed by the same hormonal drives and biological factors. But I think coyote parents, as well as us, bring their own unique experiences and characters into the equation, and of course each pup has her/his own individual temperament and unique relationship with each littermate, resulting in variations on a theme. A lot of work and dedication as well as fun are involved in all cases. The different capacities we are born with, the situations we are born into, and what we do with the agency/choices we have, define who we are as individuals: we all fit into the generalities of the species, with specific variations for each individual and family, be it coyote or human. We should be looking for the commonalities we can relate to! What we are able to relate to, we are more willing to embrace. So, what might parenthood involve for coyotes?

Pup Rearing: Early on, well before pups are born, the coyote pair becomes vigilant and alert: they patrol the periphery of their areas daily so as to KNOW everything that is happening in “their” established areas: it is their job to do so, and it’s part of what is required for what comes next. After digging a den, birthing, and lactation carried out by Mom, Dad, in addition to guarding and patrolling the area, joins in with a “progressive” program of feeding his pups: from regurgitated food through dead prey, to eventually live prey, and finally instruction on hunting and feeding themselves.

Education figures big in coyote lives, no less than in ours! Pups must learn about different types of prey: which are the easiest and which the hardest to capture, which are the safest and which are the most dangerous — and about other foods such as fruit, nuts and bugs, and where those foods are found. Over time, they learn to refine their hunting techniques and skills: many of these are taught by example. Learning through imitation and example avoids some of the pitfalls of a trial-and-error approach, such as a bitten nose, loss of an eye, or worse, though hit-and-miss and experimentation can’t be avoided during growing up, as even we humans know.

Coyotes also teach their youngsters how to be safe and navigate the urban landscape. They teach the youngsters all about territoriality and boundaries, about the hard-and-fast laws of nature generally, and about their species’ specific tendencies which they must respect and abide by to survive well.

Coyotes are extremely social. They mate for life, the youngsters stick together normally for 1 to 2 years, and Dad helps raise the young: in a truncated form, it sounds like us, doesn’t it? Their early social interactions take place predominantly within their own families where, of course, it is safer and more hospitable and forgiving than out in the wider world. It’s a good place to learn.

One of the most important things coyote parents do, I think, is to help shape their pups’ social interactions among themselves: this involves how to get along and the importance of hierarchy. These are passed on through example, discipline, and again, learned through trial-and-error. But also, life is simply “absorbed” collaterally by living in a family. Some coyotes are born more gregarious and outgoing — maybe sometimes a little too “overbearing” for the others — so they have to be damped a bit, while others are much more careful and withdrawn and may have to be encouraged more. Positive or negative reactions from siblings and parents teach pups what is acceptable or not: bite too hard or be too rough, and a sibling will move out of their reach and they won’t be able to play. Lesson learned. Those coyotes who don’t learn to fit in tend to disperse earlier than the others.

Learning through Play: And why am I writing about all this learning when the title of this posting is, “Why do Dads have pups?” What might make it worthwhile? I’m guessing that playtime figures large! During play everyone appears to be enjoying themselves the most, including Dad.

A lot of learning takes place through play. For example, hierarchy and personal boundaries are taught and maintained during play. Hierarchy is necessary for the smooth functioning of coyote families: and you can see it being taught and incorporated during play. There’s no question as to who the authority figure is. Boundaries and hierarchies of different degrees are also worked out among the littermates. At the same time, most of the time, the parents aren’t behaving like dominating dictators or leading the family with bravado, rather, they stand back, letting things happen, and make sure everyone is okay and included. For parents, as for youngsters, family life is fun, it’s rewarding and it’s entertaining, above and beyond the effort it entails.

Dad and Son Play: So a month ago, this is what I saw: a dad engaging in play, almost, but not quite as an equal — always with that “ultimate” control over his son. They were absorbed in their fun and play which included learning and teaching. These photos are from ONE play session: you can see the changing light as the sun comes up. Enjoy the photos! I’ve posted photos instead of a video because photos (unlike video which passes by in a whirlwind) stop the action and you can actually see, moment by moment, what is going on. In addition to the perpetual motion, every second there is something important happening which has meaning for the coyotes: in their eye-contact and facial expressions as well as their body language. There are a lot of photos here, 58 of them, so they are better reviewed in small doses. :))

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Immediately upon approaching each other, son hits the ground to show his respect and accept his lesser rank next to Dad. Here Dad is standing over him — all you can see of him are his ears (above). All captions refer to the photos above them. A photo can be clicked on to enlarge it, and then you can scroll through that particular series).

Right after the greeting, one-year-old son, on the right, invites Dad to play: first visually, and then with his body language (first row), which then turns into more forceful yet playful (of course) body slamming. Dad responds but with enough force to, again, let son know who is boss. Son retracts (bottom row) and hits the ground to let Dad know he’s on-board with who is boss.

They engage for play again, always instigated by the son here. Note eye contact and eye expressions. But then again, son hits the ground — he may have gone too far in a subtle way that’s below our radar to detect.

Now they face each other. First Dad squints. . . . and son reflects back the look!

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Son, with ears back (apprehensive and even fearful), gets the upper hand and pushes Dad down: Yikes! has he gone too far? Dad gives him a nip on the snout and then Son falls over almost apologetically: he wants the play to continue.

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And then they go running off together — i.e., no physical contact for the moment.

As they run, Son is full of himself, feeling his beans, and leans down to nip the heels of Dad. He must have either thought better of it and not actually made contact, or maybe nipped very gently, because they keep running after that as you can see above.

Another bout of play wrestling ensues, with son eventually ducking away, and running off with his tail side tucked under, indicating his state of mind: unsure and maybe somewhat fearful.

The play-snarling (but partly for real), and fine visual communication between them continues — mostly in the eyes, ears and face. They read all of these subtleties.

A break, more play wrestling, more visual sparring with Son’s ears flattened, and then they walk on.

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Rest time off to the side and alone for a minute.

Again, Son eyes Dad in a challenge, and Dad responds with a nip to the ear.

Son waits for Dad to pass, and then charges at him, attack fashion, but then changes his mind and runs past him. Maybe a direct charge is not such a good idea!

And now one last bit of sparring, feign-attacking, body shoves, snarly approaches, one-upmanship (above).

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And off they go — that’s enough for the day, and the end of that play session.


Addendum: When I see a coyote, I don’t simply “see a coyote”. I see “Peter” and his whole situation: his age, who his siblings are, who his parents are, the area he ranges, how he deals with people and dogs, how he deals with each parent and each of his siblings, what injuries he has sustained, his general personality. There is always more going on than first meets the eye when they “play” — you can see this by focusing in and “reading between the lines”.

© 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.

Responding

Most coyote activity usually begins after dark, but sometimes some family members are ready to begin their evening activities well before then. Yesterday, by late afternoon I found this young, almost-two-year-old female lying down in a field in the shadow of some bushes. She was very well concealed, but visible if you actually knew what you were looking for. She kept her eye on the passers-by in the distance, keeping her focus mostly on unleashed active dogs running energetically all over the place, but none came in her direction. Soon, grooming herself became her focus of activity –the bugs were bugging her!

She began getting up to better reach some of the irritating rascals on her body, then she lay back down. After several of these getting-up and then lying-down again cycles, she sat up, stretched, and slowly began to wander off.

She probably had been waiting there for the rest of her family. It’s a place they have met up frequently before heading out together in the evening, but today she was probably tired of waiting and decided to jump-start her activities. Even coyotes can get bored!

leaping after a sound she heard, but coming up empty handed

She walked calmly along, following the line of the bushes, and stopped sporadically at whatever movements caught her eye. A couple of times she bounced fast and high over tall grasses, a little like a jackrabbit, towards something that caught her interest, but the prospective meal never panned out. So she continued on.

She stops to listen

Everything seemed quiet when she suddenly stopped, turned around, and looked into the distance. She listened intently, and then she began calling out. In between her calling out, during the silences, far, far into the distance, I could barely hear two other coyotes calling out (you will also hear a couple of domestic dogs barking). Our young female was responding. This video covers her responding. Her sporadic vocalizations went on for a couple of minutes (this video is the entirety of it) even after the others had ceased their end of the communication. When she was through, she trotted off in their direction. They would meet and greet, as I’ve seen them so often do, and then head out together on their evening trekking expedition, sticking together for a while as a family, splitting apart at time, and then coming together throughout the evening and until dawn.

Each coyote’s voice and pattern of sounds is identifiable and distinguishable by the other coyotes — not dissimilar to the way you recognize voices over the telephone. I myself am able to identify some of the coyotes by their vocalizations. 

Update: This Gypsy/Divorced Coyote Has Found Himself YET Another Home!

This posting covers the end of territory #4, territory #5 and the beginning of Territory #6. Most coyotes I’ve known retain their locations for years and years — but not this guy!

Here he is, only a few days ago, in his new home.

I last wrote about this fella, who I will call Monte here (I always use pronounceable names instead of numbers — they are easier to remember and don’t dehumanize them), after things had settled down a bit from the tumultuous events of a year ago: mating-for-life might be the norm in the coyote world, but it’s not hard-and-fast: see  Till Death Do Us Part? 

To sum up briefly, his mate had left him for another guy. Coyotes generally guard their mates during mating season, keeping all other suitors at bay. BUT, this fella was more interested in the food he was being offered daily than in guarding his mate. This required him to be away from his mate as he traveled the distance and then hung around for hours-on-end where he was being fed. He simply was not around her when the other guy came by and claimed her. In other words, he managed to neglected her entirely. Just like in the human world, coyote females (and males) respond to kindness, time, and attention: read Walkaboutlou’s courtship story about Slim Jim and Chica.

His ex (Maam) and her new mate (Blue) retained that old far-off territory (#4) — it was at the other end of the city — whereas HE moved back to a previously owned territory of his (#5), following in the wake of a son, Cape, who could not stay in that territory with Blue’s takeover. Cape had remained with his parents ever since his birth and over the previous two years, and now he was displaced from that territorial home (#4). He returned to the only other home he had ever known, and Monte followed several weeks later. At about the same time that they moved back, a 9-month old dispersing female, Vida, from another family joined them on that previously owned territory (#5) — this happened almost exactly a year ago. The threesome formed their own unique “family” and they all could be seen chasing and playing with each other happily and regularly, hunting, trekking together, and howling at the sirens and sometimes at dogs that upset them. This family continued this way on this territory for about eight months.

Some photos of him and his family in his previous life in 2020

And here, human feeding popped up again as a driving factor in this story. There was a hand-feeder who actually interacted regularly with this coyote on this territory #5. Our coyote, Monte, had learned to wait for and expect food from this person as part of his daily routine, as he had in his previous territory, but in this case, over several years and even before Monte left for territory #5, there had developed an eye-popping bond between feeder and coyote which I have never witnessed before, and I’ll be writing about it in another posting soon. I’ve already written profusely about the detrimental effects of feeding coyotes, and this coyote was a victim of that. See: Abused, and the linked articles therein.

As fate would have it, in October, that prolific hand-feeder died of cancer, and right after her ashes were spread (as she had requested), interestingly, Monte left. I don’t think he left solely because the feeder was gone, but I think the feeder’s disappearance was a major factor. It was also time to start looking for a mate: he had been without one for 8 months.  Upon his departure, the territory he had returned to and was living on with Vida and Cape reverted to — or was ceded to — those two younger coyotes: his son and also to the little female who had joined them.

And so our fellow Monte moved on to a new park where he wandered for awhile as an interloper until he found a niche and settled down there. He has lived here now for the past three months, with . . .  his new girl!! He had fallen off of my radar for a couple of months, so you can imagine my thrill when I finally found him with the help of some photos and sightings from other people. I’m sure only Monte and I carry his fascinating and convoluted story with us as a first-hand memory. To everyone else who doesn’t know him, he’s just another coyote, unless you’ve read about him here on my blog.

Here he is with his new mate, and as you can see in the lower photo, he (and she) are very interested in all those hormones which are soaring right now: he sniffs and licks, and she’s happy to let him do so. Mating season is about to begin, so I guess he’ll have another family.

Note that my work is accomplished visually and without the use of tags or radio-collars. I identify each coyote by their unique faces.  I use DNA analysis from scat (which will be analyzed by Monica Serrano at Dr. Benjamin Sacks’ lab at UC Davis) to confirm what I see. Although I haven’t been able to pick up Monte’s scat from every location, I have collected enough in most places, and then photos elsewhere, as hard-evidence of what I’ve found. See my most recent presentation.

© 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.

Mom Tells Off Her Son, and Dad Stands By

The family was out together, all four of them: Mom, Dad, Daughter and her brother. It’s not often that we see the young daughter: she’s just not comfortable at this point being out when people look at her. The minute she feels noticed, she hurries off and disappears into the surrounding foliage.

Her brother also dislikes being watched. This makes a lot of sense: in the wild, if any animal looks at another animal, it’s probably a predator sizing it up as prey. But brother has become more tolerant of humans eyeing him than his sister. He might leave an area if he feels the focus is on him, but he inevitably returns to the same spot, especially if his parents are out there.

So after Sis left today, only Mom and Dad and Son were out. They wandered around a little, and then Dad moved further away from the others. Suddenly Mom was beating up Son: he was on his back and she was standing over him with teeth bared. Yikes! She seems to have a short temper recently.  She got annoyed at Dad recently while I was watching: I think simply because he bumped into her, maybe brushed against her or stepped on her heels. She not only snarled at him, but she then acted on her “words” and let him know who was boss by raising herself above him: it was an instance of interpersonal coyote communication and interactions showing HER emotional response to him, and HIS tolerance and total deference to her.

What happened with the youngster today? I didn’t see it, it happened very quickly, but probably the same thing. I’ve seen dogs get pretty upset when they’ve been bumped — nothing else but a clumsy bump — by another dog, and maybe something like this happened today. It’s probably disrespectful. Anyway, here are the photos of Mom letting little guy have it with snarls and growls. Dad soon arrived and seemed to take sides with Mom. He may have had to — if you know what I mean. In fact, Mom in this family is the “top dog”.

Eventually, after making sure Son got the message, the two parents walked off. And the little guy stayed behind. He looked dumbfounded, like he had no clue why that had been so intense: “What did I do?” But he knew he was not invited to follow his parents. Parents proceeded to walk around the periphery of their park together, and Son stayed right where he was, searching for gophers, alone.

Maybe this was just a temper-tantrum on Mom’s part — maybe she just wanted a little more respect from him? Then again, maybe she’s setting the stage for dispersal. The earliest dispersal I’ve seen occurred when a pup was nine-months old, which is what this pup is now. We’ll have to see what happens next..

© 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.

 

Family Interrupted: Update

Last October I wrote about a “family interrupted”. A coyote mom, Bonnie, suddenly disappeared from her family (I’ll call this family #3), leaving three five-month-old pups and a very shy dad, Clyde. Territories are best defended by an alpha pair, but there was no longer a pair here to work as a defending team. Within a few short weeks, intruders (family #4) came and took over the territory. It’s actually a very complicated story: nothing is as cut-and-dry as it seems in the coyote world, and unless you are actually there to catch the nuances, you might miss the essence of what is going on.

The intruder males from what has been family #4 — consisting of an alpha male, Blue, an alpha female, Maam, and the male’s younger brother, Buff — were actually related to the disappeared mom, Bonnie, and had lived on this territory with her for over a year (as family #2) during the previous year, having migrated over from a nearby territory which they had occupied long-term until that point and still visited fairly regularly. I’m not sure what sparked their move from that other territory, but it could have been that the old alphas passed away or simply left — I’ve seen the abandoning of territories by older alphas a number of times (due either to a territorial battle, or even without such provocation). What remained of that family #2 — three siblings consisting of two males and a female — were able to move here from that nearby territory when the long-term previous alphas on this territory left. (I hope I haven’t lost you yet). That was family #1 on this territory. The dad, Ivan, had been here at least 12 years — the alpha female, Maya, was a more recent arrival. They appeared to have ceded the land to their two-year old daughter, who, even with repeated beatings and body slams by her mother, would not leave/disperse. So they (the alphas, Ivan and Maya) left.

This daughter, Sissy, attempted wooing one of the newcomer males (the dominant male from family #2), but this didn’t work out — yes, even coyotes are fickle and choosy in picking their lifelong mates. This male eventually and somehow became hostile towards Sissy. Sissy became scared, nervous and flighty, and then one day she was gone for good: the family of the fella she was trying to woo, took over (this is family #2). We had only ever seen the two males, Blue and Buff here, but now, with no females around, their sister, Bonnie, joined them.

At the end of about a year, the two brothers left, leaving Bonnie and her new mate, Clyde to claim the territory and raise their litter of three. The departed older brother, Blue, found a mate, Maam, and another territory, and younger brother, Buff, stayed with them. I don’t know which happened first: that Bonnie found Clyde and then the brothers left, or the other way around. At any rate, as Bonnie raised her litter, only her nuclear family (family #3) lived here.

But then Bonnie suddenly disappeared, as I stated above. The vacancy (semi-vacancy of the territory) caused by her absence apparently attracted the intruders.

Anyway, even if you can’t keep track of all that — and I must say, even I hardly can — what we have here now on this territory is a reconfigured family which includes one of Bonnie’s pups.

I was fascinated to watch one of Bonnie’s pups, Bolder, begging to be included in this family. I saw it happen. I can only guess that the youngster knew she had a greater chance of survival by joining the intruders.

So now we have this unusual family. It consists of a mom, Maam, a dad, Blue, and dad’s younger brother, Buff, and one of Bonnie’s offspring who is now 9 months old, a female I call Bolder. I have not seen Maam and Blue’s pups, though I know they had them because I saw Maam lactating in April and May. And up through today, I’ve not seen any of their youngsters trekking with their parents, which is normal as far as I have seen for almost all pups at this stage. In the few cases where I have seen the pups venture further with their parents — and yes, there are such individuals — I think it is due to a less wary personality, along with picking up behavioral fearlessness towards humans from their mostly fed parents.

This reconfigured family #5, then, has a hierarchy which runs from alpha Maam who is top dog, to the alpha Blue who is her mate, then her mate’s younger brother, Buff who is very submissive towards his older brother, but rather bold in other respects, and finally the little squirt, Bolder, who, although she keeps out of the way a lot of the time, she nevertheless travels with them sometimes. There seems to be a kind of push-pull in her relationship with the rest of family #5, and I get the impression from the others in that family that she’s considered a nuisance by them, though allowed to stay and hang on. I see her with them, but also I see her run from them in fear.

Very sporadically — but enough so that I know they are still around — I see Bolder’s dad, Clyde, and a brother of Bolder’s, Shier, so I’m still trying to figure out this territorial situation and these families.

And here are a couple of recent photos of that reconfigured family.

younger brother, older brother and alpha male, Bonnie’s female pup, alpha female [photo: Janti Sommer]

From left to right: alpha male older brother, pup, younger brother, alpha female [photo: Janti Sommer]

Canine Interchange, by Walkaboutlou

Dogs and coyotes normally don’t like each other, and certainly don’t mingle, but this particular dog had enough “wild” in him to actually almost become a coyote for many years.

Hi Janet,

I recently touched base about a dog I knew. He was very unique in multiple ways. And worth noting…because he is father of many coyote.

Fuzz was husky x malamute x Australian shep x wolf mix. He lived on an enormous ranch. Very early on…Fuzz showed himself different. He could actually drive and work cattle with the other ranch dogs….but as he matured, he grew bored of cattle. He kept apart from the other dogs..and was allowed to roam as his family owned thousands of acres.The owner realized Fuzz wasn’t a worker and sold him. Fuzz went to a very good home.  And ditched his new owner asap on a hiking trip.

He traveled 200 miles back in 3 weeks, a little dirty and tired. But calm and looked at original owner like “oh hi”.

He was allowed to stay. He remained aloof and roamed his vast range. When he was around 3 years old, different family members [humans] kept seeing Fuzz…with coyotes.

This happened for weeks during the late winter…then it was just Fuzz, and a small female.

The owner realized…Fuzz was likely..courting this female. He had dispersed other male coyote. He was seen interacting with various coyote…and was part of that scene. A pattern developed. Fuzz stayed at ranch and slept at barn with cats often. But at evening..he left. Trail cameras showed him traveling with same female. Also mouse hunting. Fuzz also showed the female how to utilize LGD feeding stations, and interacted with LGD while she fed. One pic showed her eating cautiously and obviously lactating.

That Fall, Fuzz was seen with 5 very unique looking young coyote. One had a blue eye. And little Mom Coyote leading them all.

For at least 4 years, Fuzz and this coyote called Little Mom seemed to have litters together. There are many “big” coyote in the region [his offspring]. Unlike other coyote, they seem to fight ranch and hunting dogs hard. They are coyote..but with more “oomph” and boldness.

I was both bothered and intrigued by Fuzz consorting with coyote, and actually taking a mate. The genetic exchange has happened many times in east. And wild coyote genes absorb the influence smoothly.

But..obviously, locally..it affects the genetics of coyote. Behaviorally too. I do believe the Pups of Fuzz learned some boldness and craft from dad. They associated with him off and on years into adulthood. Trail cams show them traveling together. Eating road killed deer. And showing up in dispersal for years in other places.

I wish I could truly know…how the genetics of a husky malamute Australian shepherd wolf play out after 4 years and 4 litters. How long will those genetics persist? How far will they spread? And will they create “better” or “worse” coyote?

Ironically….Fuzz disappeared when wolves started traveling through the area. Little Mom seemed to disappear too. There were at least 4 wolves in area for several months. It would seem..Fuzz might have met his fate among them. But we’ll never know. He could have been shot far away, roaming. Or met a bear or cougar. Or an LGD he didn’t know. These free ranging dogs are mysterious sometimes.

What we do know…is that Fuzz was part of the coyote community 4 or 5 years. He bonded with a female. There were years of pups and strange dispersing. It’s not common. But it happens…more than we realize.

His owner says “sometimes family member’s go crazy and run away to join a carnival. You gotta let um be.”

I don’t think Fuzz was crazy. But he truly created some carnival canine coyote. I wonder at their futures. And at the convergence of canine genetics.

Always amazed….

Lou

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]

More

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.

FOR UPDATE, see: https://coyoteyipps.com/2021/01/03/update-on-sparks/. Sparks moved to and has been living at the Presidio for several months now.

© 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.