Coyote Family Playtime for a 3-Month Old Singleton Pup


This tiny family responds to sirens!

She’s an “only pup” — she has no litter mates. An “only pup” is known as a “singleton” pup. But she is not an “only child” because she has an older brother: a yearling born the year before. He was part of a litter of five, and is the only youngster from that litter to remain part of the family. That yearling plays with the pup, as do Mom and Dad, as you’ll see in the video.

Nighttime is when coyote families engage in most of their family activities: the whole family plays together on and off — when adults aren’t off hunting — during the length of the evening. And then they rest or sleep in different locations during the daytime.

The video above is a composite from one of my rarer daylight captures of family play. Note that, after the intense and fun play session above, the “adults”, trickle off, one at a time, in the end leaving the pup alone for the rest of the day. At night, too, they leave her for long extended periods of time when they go off hunting. She knows she must stay home and keep hidden.

After watching them leave, the pup wanders sadly, slowly, and unenthusiastically back — you can tell this by the lack of energy in her pace — to her hiding place. And that’s how the days go by as she is growing up.

Cuddling, Teasing and Play


Of course pups cuddle, tease and play with each other. And parents do the same with their pups. But in the coyote world, these inter-personal activities are prevalent throughout adulthood between mated pairs: coyotes really like each other (unless they really don’t, which is a different story). They are social, meaning they spend a lot of time together interacting with each other, be it simply through visual communication or more emphatically through physical contact. Their involvement with each other is constant and can be intense.

In this video you’ll see some of that activity between a bonded pair. You’ll see affectionate nudges and teasing, fond provocations, tender mouth clasps or little “kisses” and cuddling. This is what goes on between them when they’re left alone and not having to constantly watch over their shoulders for danger — mostly from dogs. The activity occurs throughout the year, not just during the reproductive season.

Pestering and Taunting: Sibling Rivalry


Sibling rivalry and discord are part-and-parcel of coyote families, just as are the formation of tight and everlasting bonds and friendships.

Here a younger sibling continues to harasses his sister (see Yearling Taunts) through body blows/bangs/punches or smacks. He seems to have a need to egg-her-on, whereas she just wants to be left alone atop the mound. This younger brother followed her there explicitly to taunt her and dives into his activity the minute she tries lying down. This is now an established behavior between these two.

No other coyote in this family engages in the type of body blows he performs at the beginning of this video except his mother. Mom is an expert at this, and this 8-month old pup watched and learned from her, and now uses his sister as his punching bag to practice his technique. Coyotes are keen observers: they learn by watching and copying. It’s fascinating to watch.

After the body bangs, the younger sibling continues to be “in his sister’s face” by yanking up dried sticks disruptively right next to her. He’s purposefully making himself into an utter nuisance and is probably hoping for a rise from her.

Eventually, a third older sibling comes to check out the activity, but he soon leaves because the disruptive behavior is not enough to warrant interference. This older sibling is very mild, peace-loving, and generally aloof from the first two, but he has occasionally been a disciplinarian when their behavior became too disruptive, and he also has approached the female to comfort her after some of the youngster’s harassment sessions, which lately are growing in number and intensity.

Coyote families are orderly, so growing disruptive behavior is not tolerated for long. This behavior will eventually lead to someone’s dispersal.

Sibling Best Friends Become Arch Enemies

I missed capturing the first skirmish in this battle, and when I finally turned on the video camera, the three coyotes were in a standoff — standing absolutely still, facing each other, tense, waiting, daring an interaction, prepared for the other’s next move. There was no physical activity during this time; the activity was all psychological and internal. They held this stance for many minutes. I cut out that long section from the video, but know that for several minutes before this video begins, that was going on. The video actually begins right before a snarl that leads to more fighting.

On reflection and with hindsight, all the activity of that early morning was headed in the direction of this showdown. Instead of their normally exuberant playing, exploring and hunting, the two coyotes I was observing in the video remained fairly immobile, with their eyes fixated on a far-off object which I could not see. That they remained this way for more than 15 minutes, with just slight movements, should have been a dead giveaway as to what was going on. These two were waiting for any false move or “moving in” from the coyote they were watching. And that coyote, no doubt, was watching them just as intently, assessing what his own next moves would be, and what theirs would be, possibly daring the situation into a showdown.

Finally the two rushed up apparently to head off the third coyote who decided to enter this area, and that’s when the first skirmish occurred.

The fighting here includes snarling, teeth displays, raised hackles, intense biting and punching, jumping on, charging and slamming against, and brutal tail-pulling by two siblings, a brother and a sister who joins him, against a third brother who cries out in pain (about :44) and fights back, but who ends up running off after the showdown. The sister’s behavior is interesting and I’ve seen this before: a subordinate coyote joins in the fray led by an aggressor in ferociously attacking a third. In a couple of cases it made sense because there had been a bit of antagonism between the two subordinates, but I’m not sure this is always the case. Maybe the sister was primed instinctually to team up with the would-be-winner as a population control mechanism? I’m speculating because I don’t totally understand this why a third would join in.

This fighting is not a simple family spat to resolve who gets what or who sits where: those issues are worked out by hierarchical behavior which is less intense. This fighting here, in its consequences, will decide fates and destinies that will be monumental for the lives involved. It will decide who gets to live a privileged continuance of patterns and routines he has known all his life and within a territory which he knows every inch of, and who will be put at risk for hardship, survival and even death by traveling away from the familiar and into the unknown through hostile territory (with unfamiliar routes, cars, other territorial coyotes, people), where food and water also will be scarce and hard to find.

That’s the physical side of what’s going on, but there’s also an emotional side: that of finding oneself all alone and self-dependent after a life of intense family interactions, companionship, and mutual care. Dispersal can be a trying time, and it is often initiated like in this video. This rivalry here hasn’t been going on for too long — these fellas were still buddies less than a month ago. The rivalry has reached a crescendo now. Hopefully the underdog is resilient and lucky and will survive and become a stronger individual through his uncharted trials.

Already the siblings in this family are down to three from seven. One was killed by a car when under a year old. Two were found dehydrated and beyond help (I’m told by ACC), probably poisoned by some human element — possibly car coolant left out in the open. A fourth female recently picked up and left amicably of her own accord. She was the one who had always held back and was not totally a part of the fun of the others.

And now it appears that this brother has to go: there’s no room in one territory for the two males, and the remaining sister has taken sides. Eventually these last two siblings will also leave, and I wonder if they will go off as a pair: I’ve seen that inbreeding is not so uncommon in coyotes. Because of dispersion, we are not overpopulated with coyotes. At this point, these particular yearlings are 16 months old.

Coyote Dominance Is Not About Brawn

I’m reposting a video I took several years ago showing dominance behavior between two coyote family members. What happens in the video is that the underdog did not like being bumped by the dominant coyote and reacts — he’s annoyed. But the dominant one does not allow him to get away with his disrespectful reaction, and she literally puts him in his place. This is how ranks are confirmed in the animal world. You’ll see there is a slight struggle here, but that it is minimal is the point.

The underdog struggles a little, but the dominant one is much more adept, smarter and wiser. The physical hold is finally let go when the underdog calms down. But not until the underdog reveals that he accepts his place does the top dog actually let go of the psychological hold over the underdog. When the less dominant coyote bows, keeping his head low, and stays that way for a few seconds, he has shown his submissiveness and the little display is over. The ending includes a little playful skip on the part of the dominant coyote. Both then continue grooming themselves and hunting, best friends as ever before.

This particular female was much smaller than the fellow trying to gain the upper hand: dominance is about personality and intelligence, not brawn. This coyote’s control always made me smile. There is literal truth to the phrase “top dog”.  These coyotes get along really well, but it is obvious that the existing hierarchy needed reconfirmation now and then. [see the original posting: Dominance Display]

There is a lot of *order* out there in the animal kingdom — and it’s all there to prevent fighting that could get out of hand — even though that too exists: no different from in our human world, in spite of our systems of order. However, they work for the most part..


I’m including below some interesting dominance observations from Kathy Lally who is in charge of the coyotes at St. Augustine Wildlife Reserve. These coyotes are where they are because they can no longer survive on their own in the wild. These coyotes are no longer truly wild, but their behaviors, of course, are the same as coyotes anywhere:

Sundance

“Janet, your email made me laugh last night.  Sundance, our friendliest female coyote, flipped her mate Yosemite on his back a few weeks ago.  She then stood on him.  His yelping could be heard everywhere.  I was at the next enclosure when it happened so was able to see her standing on him.  She will normally chase him into a den box when she’s had enough of him – this was quite impressive stuff!  Attached a picture of Sundance.  You will notice a large piece of plywood in back of her.  We’ve had to do that to keep the pairs from fighting with their next door neighbors.”[NOTE: Why would they fight? Since coyotes are territorial, they are compelled by their innate territoriality to keep other coyotes out of and away from their territories.]

Yosemite

“Janet, again I was thinking of you and your observations of dominance with your urban coyotes.Of the 3 pairs of coyotes (male/female pairings) which I look after,  two of the females are definitely in charge.  They are friendlier & will put the males in their place in a heart beat. I stuck around a few minutes when I was delivering diets to the coyotes yesterday morning. Sundance, the little rascal, displayed some amusing behavior: After I put the meals down, she immediately went over, sniffed both of them, peed on one, and took meat from the other. Poor Yosemite [her mate].  He just waited until she was out of the way & went over & grabbed what he wanted.”

Pups Are Left While Parents Rendezvous and Play

“Catch me if you can!” You can see the fun and happiness in their faces.

Dancing around her and inciting her with his twists and turns

Affectionate poking and grabbing while running together

Full grown coyote family members tend to sleep and rest during the day, usually not all together as might be expected, but apart — and usually within the distance of a football field — from each other. They rendezvous after their day-long rest. The get together is the most exciting part of the day for them: it includes greetings with squealing, wiggles and hugs; playing all kinds of games such a chase, wrestling, play attacks, etc.; there are confirmations of ranks, and there is mutual grooming, and finally they all head off trekking together further afield, which is when they hunt and mark their territories, and also explore and investigate. As pups mature and become more secure, they, too, will gradually join in this important daily event.

But while pups are very young during their first several months, they stick close to “home” because it’s familiar and they feel safest here. Of course, the whole family plays together in this area: there’s chasing and wrestling, tumbling and bumbling, play attacking and jumping on each other, and lots of grooming from parents. But afterwards the adults of the family head off for more adult, rougher and farther-ranging fun, and the youngsters are tucked away in a safe spot, or sometimes not so safe spot, as I’ve discovered.

So here are photos of a  rendezvous: they are all blurry because they were taken as daylight faded (remember that photography is about light — the better the lighting, the better the photo), but I wanted to give you a glimpse into coyote life that you might not otherwise see. I’ve attempted to tease out some of the distinct elements/activities involved in the play and name them for you. These two coyotes are seasoned parents, having produced at least two previous litters, yet they themselves are so puppy-like in their all-out, exuberant and trusting play. The adoration between these two is particularly heart-warming among the coyotes I know — it melts my heart every time I see it. Their rendezvous seldom seems to include the greetings, grooming, or rank confirmations — it’s as though their bond is above needing these rituals — and concentrates almost exclusively on the play I show here.

At their rendezvous, from their first eye-to-eye contact, you can actually see their *guard* let down as the happiness envelops them and they start running and jumping all over each other — it’s no different now than it was two years ago: they didn’t grow up out of this. What normally happens first is that they excitedly and joyfully race towards each other to be together. They engage in chase, catch-me, tease-shoving, tease leg biting: all joyful fun showing how bonded this pair is. This same scenario without the offspring, with variations in play methods and without quite this degree of affection, occurs in every family I know.

Meantime, what about the pups who are supposed to be tucked away safely? The pups are three-months old and recently I found them not so safely tucked away, but out in the open, exploring on their own, while parents were having their own fun in an open field hundreds of yards away and totally absorbed in each other. These pups didn’t even see me until I had been watching for several minutes.

The pups were close to some bushes which could provide an escape route from the dangers of dogs, raccoons, and even humans. They ran off after spending a few moment examining me from the distance, so their self-protective instincts are there, though not necessarily keen. I’m sure that if a quick dog had wanted to grab one of them, it could have. Dogs frequent the area.

Pups are absorbed in their own investigations

That parents devote this daily time strengthening and confirming their devotion to and affection for each other, over and above their “duties” as parents, is revealing of just how strong and important that bond is, and also attests to their amazing fun-loving natures.


Know that concern for youngsters is indeed there: these are very responsible parents, and leaving them for periods of time is what all coyote parents do. A few days later, a piercing explosion nearby showed how quick these coyotes’ reactions were to possible danger to their pups. I surmised this explosion might have been a remainder firework from the 4th of July only a few days before. The sound provoked the immediate appearance and investigation by both parents who approached from different directions, one right after the other, close to the pup area. Obviously, neither parent had been with their pups when the noise sounded.

But it also showed, again, how important the paired parent relationship is. First, Dad appeared. The direction of his gaze revealed that his concern alternated between two different points: where the hidden pups were, and away from them. It became apparent within a minute that his gaze away from them was in the direction of his all-important mate. This fellow is always watching out for her which always makes me think of some human catch-phrases: “She’s the love of his life”, and “She’s his raison d’etre”.  When she appeared, he relaxed. She looked around and assessed the situation, and then went to check on the kids. He soon followed

 

These Yearlings: Still Being Brought Food By Dad

Dad expels food for yearling youngsters — Dad is to the left in all these photos

Coyote pups were born at the end of March and the beginning of April this year here in San Francisco, so they are now four to six weeks old. To begin with, all pups are fed with their mother’s milk. Depending on the mother coyote and her age, this is either obvious or not so much so, as you can see in these photos.

Lactating mothers

As the pups grow, soft food is introduced into the youngsters’ diet. Regurgitated food is what young coyotes are fed as they are weaned off of their early milk diet. Eventually more solid forms of food are introduced: first, parts of and then whole dead rodents, then incapacitated prey, and finally live prey is brought home for the youngsters to learn to deal with and eat.

The youngsters depicted in these photos here were born last year. They appear to still be enjoying an extended puppyhood, even as their mother has gone off to give birth to a new litter. Uninhibited play and fun are still the order of the day for them. Interestingly, they are still receiving presents in the way of food from Dad.

A yearling youngster elicits the regurgitation reflex in his father before a sibling joins him as Dad watches

Upon seeing Dad, the most exuberant and active youngster of the litter runs to greet Dad and thrusts his snout into Dad’s mouth which elicits a regurgitation response. I don’t know if the regurgitation is actually voluntary or an involuntary response. This sort of feeding and being fed keeps everyone in their same states of dependence (for the youngsters) or leadership (for Dad), and is a strong solidifier of bonds and affection.

This particular family was a large one, with seven youngsters being born last year. This is the largest litter I have ever seen here in the city, with most litters being one, two, or three youngsters. But this litter is now down to four. One youngster was killed by a car, and two more were found dead. Although I haven’t found out what those two died of, I can pretty safely assume it was rat-poison or less likely, a natural disease. Coyote pup survival rate is only 20-30%, which, by the way, is actually higher than some human infant survival rates in Africa today where infant mortality is 92% in some villages.

A little about this family: of the four youngsters who survive, there are three rough-and-tumble youngsters — a female and two males — who throw themselves fully into their interactions and play. One of the males is the outstanding activist in the family. Then there is a smaller gal, a loner, who doesn’t appear to like the rough play of the others, nor the competition. And I’ve noticed that she doesn’t hurry over to partake in the regurgitated food her father proffers. In fact, that might be why she is comparatively smaller than the others. Coyotes have innate and very individual personalities which, just like with us humans, are further developed through each coyote’s individual place in the family and the feedback they constantly receive.

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