Family Infighting Leads to Dispersal

Coyotes are fascinating family-minded social critters whose lives seem to parallel ours in many ways. I write about their family life and interactions and I can see a lot of ourselves in them. They (predominantly) mate for life, both parents (normally) raise the young, and they form intra-family relationships which very much parallel what you’d find in our own families. They each have personalities, individualisms and quirks that other family members learn to deal with . . . or not. There’s play, affection, mutual care, and rivalries. There’s teasing, mischief, one-upmanship, and competitiveness. There are alliances. There’s bullying. They communicate between themselves constantly: most communication is silent through body language and facial expressions. They use vocalizations for emphasis sometimes. Fighting is an amplified negative communication.

There comes a time when the youngsters in a family grow up and leave home. Sometimes, *when* they leave home is based on their own internal time-clocks, and they just pick up and go. At other times they are forced to leave due to growing animosity and conflict with another family member, OR another family member may actually drive them away. Coyotes appear to be programmed to live predominantly in sets of two adults, with pups and yearlings as welcome additions. Beyond this combination makes them edgy and reactive. Their leaving home is called *dispersal* and usually happens sometime between one and two years of age, though I’ve seen it as early as 9 months and as late as 3 years. In our human families, it usually happens after high school, though it could happen earlier or later, depending on the circumstances.

I was able to capture this video, above, of a two-year-old male driving out a one-year-old female from the family and territory. In this case, it was intense, brutal and painful to watch: and it was to-the-point: “LEAVE”, no *ifs* or *buts*.

One thing most people don’t realize is how hard life can be for a coyote. Once they disperse, their survival rates plummet: many are killed by cars here in San Francisco (25 last year), and others are forced to keep moving by other coyotes who own territories. Life is always safer for coyotes with territories, which may be why some youngsters desperately hold on and don’t move on, but in order to be able to stay, they must be *allowed* to stay by the others, and must accept a subservient position and never rock the boat.

BTW, most dispersing coyotes move south and out of the City of San Francisco because the limited territories within the city are already taken. The Presidio ecologists have documented this really nicely. I have found that many of the territories within the city have been owned by the same families over an extended number of years, which creates a lot of stability in the city’s population. When a vacancy does occur within the city, it’s because a territory was either abandoned by an older coyote pair whose reproductive years were over, or because a younger coyote or coyote pair were able to challenge and drive out such oldsters. A visibly weak alpha may also be displaced from his/her territory, as was the limping alpha male in West Portal at the beginning of this breeding season: his disability was obvious, and incoming coyotes took advantage of it to displace him. If anyone sees him, please let me know: I have not seen him at all since Spring began. The Presidio territory was taken over by an energetic younger coyote and the remaining older female alpha was forced to move on.

These hardships are part and parcel of coyote life which can appear idyllic at times, and exceedingly brutal at other times. We humans are their stewards: the best way to steward them is to keep away from them, not feed them, and not interact with them. That’s what they want, and that is what’s not only best for them, but best for us in terms of keeping a peaceful coexistence in place.

Four-Minute Slice of Nightlife

As the last bit of daylight flickered out, I was able to see this coyote and able to take a couple photos. The photo to the left approximates what could initially be seen in the little light there was, and that light soon faded away. After just a few shots, the camera would no longer focus automatically. It was too dark to see with one’s naked eyes — all I could really see now was that there was movement — but the camera’s amazing video setting (manually focused as best as I could) and an at-home edit which boosted the light, brought a few short moments of a mated coyote pair’s nightlife and interactions to light, as seen in the video below. Coyotes are very social and interact all the time, and the video at nightfall shows several minutes of them doing so.

Mom was chilling on a knoll of grass, obviously waiting for her mate to appear because when he finally arrives, she hurries over to be with him. The scene takes place along a roadway, and you’ll see cars passing by which don’t disturb the coyotes. I’ve learned from observing over the last 15 years that coyotes feel safer under cover of darkness — they know our human vision is not very good at that time.

HE had picked up something and was nibbling on it. Was she reacting to this, or simply greeting him? She raises herself against and over him, and nips the back of his neck. She is the *boss* and she may be emphasizing this. HE stands there and puts up with it UNTIL she gets down, at which point he makes a dash to evade her reach!

She appears to gape in disgust: “Ahhh. Men!” Then she stretches and gapes again before heading in his direction. Before reaching him she passes something smelly and decides to roll in it to absorb its fabulous odors. They both scavenge and appear to find tidbits.

In the meantime, cars pass, one after another which doesn’t affect them in the least. Both coyotes wander towards and away from each other as they find scraps of food. BOTH coyotes *gape* now and then: it looks like a big yawn, but I’ve seen it often as a sign of being upset over something.

Mom looks intently overhead at something and then comes to the edge of the road and looks around as though she’s trying to figure out what is going on. She puts her nose up in the air as she whiffs to *see* beyond the cars: they are always scanning for safety. Again she looks up at the sky and then suddenly both coyotes flee in fear. That’s when I look up and I see what’s bothering them: someone is flying a kite right overhead.

Now it’s too dark even for the video setting of the camera — amazing as it is, it can only go so far. But against the lighter sky, I’m able to capture the kite — this is the only section of the video I did not have to brighten to make it visible. The video is mostly blurry because of the lack of light, but at least you can see what is happening.

A Mated Pair in Sync

I first spotted him in the distance as a silhouette against the sky. As I got closer I saw who it was.

It’s always a joy to catch a glimpse of this pair and catch up on how they are. I don’t see them nearly as often as I used to, which over the years has been pretty much every single day. With more ailments, aches and pains as they age, I’m sure they feel more vulnerable and less inclined to risk encounters with dogs. This morning I was overjoyed to see one of them at dawn. I could only see a dark silhouette on the horizon against the lighter sky. I hurried over to be able to identify who it was: it was Dad! He was sitting on a path as the daylight slowly creeped over the horizon. When the first leashed dog walked by in the distance, he got up and sauntered away and over to a grassy knoll, where he again lay down and kept his gaze in one specific direction.

He got up, stretched, scratched, and went over to another grassy knoll where he continued his vigilant gaze

Suddenly his intense gaze softened and he got up slowly as though he were finally ready to leave. And it’s then that I noticed his mate had suddenly appeared next to him. Now his focused gazing into the distance made sense: he had been waiting for her, keeping an eye in the direction she had gone and from which she would be coming. And SHE knew he would be there waiting for her. They are a pair closely in tandem.

They greeted each other gently, warmly, knowingly — I sensed the deep intuition they had for each other — and then they began walking off together, but not before she, the female, acknowledged me from the distance with a knowing glance. I’ve known her for her whole life since she was born, but I’ve known — or I should say *observed* — him only as long as she has, as long as they have been mates over the last two years.

They loitered together for just about a minute, poking into the ground and circling each other. I think he wanted to walk on immediately, but he waited for her, while she seemed to be stalling before *heading-in* for the day together. I had the sense that her stalling was actually testing me — coyotes constantly test — watching for my minutest reactions and reading every flinch I made. I guess I passed, as I always seem to have, because she slowly turned to take the high road where she knew I could observe her (and have many times) even though dogs and people might be on this path — she may even have known that I would be asking folks to leash, as I often have — I absolutely believe she knows when this goes on — whereas he, the male, felt more comfortable taking the lower path where there was plenty of foliage to duck into if a chance encounter were to occur with a dog. So they took separate but parallel paths, based on their individual comfort levels, but still in tandem and within view of each other.

She kept looking in his direction, making sure they were keeping apace of each other.

I soon lost sight of him below the crest of the hill, but I knew he was there because she kept looking back in his direction. She followed a narrow path around the hill, then crossed over the lower path and descended into the thicket. And then, within 2 minutes, he appeared at that same spot, and he also disappeared.

First she descended and disappeared into the nearby woods (left), and he soon followed (right).

It was a real pleasure to see the harmony between these two. They communicate intuitively — and by that I mean in ways we may not be able to decipher: As I watched, I could feel that deep understanding between them. Lately, when I see them, I almost always see them together, just the two of them, without any of their offspring, though the family does come together every evening. These parents have been together for two litters now, and I’m expecting there will be another litter coming up next year.

I probably won’t see them again for a while — that’s the latest pattern — but I felt caught up!

Photo Essay: Unwelcome Greetings

Mom was napping in the brown grasses in the late afternoon which is something she routinely does before the evening rendezvous: it was peaceful and calm as the day wore down. “Ahhh, this is life” could have been a thought coming from her head just then. She held her head up every few minutes and looked around and then let it fall back down and closed her eyes. As it got darker, she slowly began to move more and more, and finally she got up and stretched and ambled ever so slowly to I don’t think it mattered where, and then she stopped short.

My camera was focused on her, so at first I didn’t see what was going on outside the area of focus, but her stopping and staring told me that something had grabbed her attention.

Two of her seven-month-old youngsters — I would not call them pups anymore since they are close to full-sized coyotes — appeared. She watched as they greeted each other according to the ranking they had established between themselves. Suddenly my expectation turned to the wiggles and squiggles and ever- so-happy greetings I’ve seen so often at these greetings.

But no. She apparently wanted at that moment to have nothing to do with them, and possibly to continue in the calm space she was in. Communication between coyotes is very definite and precise — much more so than human words which, as we all know, can be very imprecise: facial expressions and body language leave no room for misinterpretation. She was facing away from me, but I knew exactly what was going on with the little I could see: she opened her snout threateningly, wrinkled her nose, pulled back her lips and displayed her teeth: “Hey kids, leave me alone!”

And the youngsters, of course, knew exactly what she meant. They had been approaching her in low crouched positions, carefully and gingerly, showing their respect and subservience — they had obviously encountered her unwelcoming side before. Mom apparently was not in a mood to deal with them. She stood there, keeping them at bay through her snarls and body language.

They move away from her

The youngsters were nervous and turned to interacting calmly with each other: grabbing the other’s snout, falling to the ground, hugging against each other as if for self-protection, etc. They then slowly approached Mom — they felt compelled to greet her — it’s their innate etiquette to do so — even if just to allow her to grab their snouts in a show of solidarity with their respective relationships. After that, and with the continued snarling, they moved on slowly and Mom lay down again in the grasses — the rendezvous and interactions would have to wait until SHE was ready.

These stills are of that interaction, taken in bursts, and at late dusk when there was little light, which is why they are blurry. I could have taken a video, but you would have missed the nuances of what was going on, which requires stopping the action, to see, interpret, and reflect on the behaviors.

A Calm Rendezvous at Dusk: Family Life

Family members usually hang low during daylight hours, often resting and sleeping in very different locations, and then come together in the evening to begin their activity with their rendezvous which is a very social event where there is a lot of physical contact and grooming, and social interactions such as play and reaffirmation of rankings. Usually the entire family is involved — it might be the one time you are able to see the whole family together.

Alpha female and male greet each other after having spent the daylight hours apart, quietly resting

In the video, Mom, the alpha female, is already out in the open grooming herself when the alpha male joins her at a short distance in the grasses. These two had already greeted each other with nose touches and minor grooming about 200 yards away about ten minutes before this. They spend their time here grooming themselves and biting at gnats or mosquitoes.

Soon one of the youngsters arrives and flops on his back for a long and thorough grooming, mostly to his belly. Grooming serves not only to rid them of all sorts of bugs, such as ticks, but it’s a bonding mechanism as well, and also a control measure: the youngster, as far as I have seen, is required to put up with it whether he/she likes it or not. After the long period of grooming where the youngster lies perfectly still, the two other youngsters arrive. This is a family of five. These youngsters are almost six months old now. They look smaller than they really are because they are keeping low as required.

The controlling adult snarls and snout-clamps, and the pups remaining low to the ground and even crawling on their bellies are how the strong hierarchy, and therefore order, is maintained. When the youngsters start resisting this order is when it’s time for them to go.

As rendezvous go, this one is very calm. I’ve seen them where the youngsters are rearing to go and hardly able to contain themselves in anticipation of the family activity after a daytime of quiet. Parents will be leading them to new places and new adventures — all of it a learning experience for them.

The “Abandoned” Family

Old alpha female guarding her pups from atop a knoll overlooking the area, and snoozing at the same time, always with one eye open!
Here she is barking at a dog lingering too close to her denning area.

What’s happening in the family Rookie abandoned, and why might he have left?

You’ll recall from my posting that Rookie was actually an unwelcome intruder to begin with within the family he joined and then left. He had moved in on that family which had lost its long-time alpha male to old age, and he moved in right during the short breeding period. The scent of hormones called and he filled that role. But I don’t think Rookie was ever totally accepted. I continued to see the original family grooming each other ever so affectionately — in Rookie’s presence — but he himself, Rookie, appeared to be groomed less often and more out of a sense of duty than anything else.

The remaining yearling male in that family, a two-year-old who might otherwise have been encouraged to disperse, was obviously being encouraged by his mom and remaining sibling to stick around — something I could see through the family’s greetings, grooming and interactions. Well, he’s still there, and with Rookie gone, he appears to be in the process of moving into that alpha male position if he hasn’t already done so.

I get the impression that both Rookie and his abandoned family are happier and better off with the change. Rookie has been warmly and openly accepted by his new mate in a new territory, whereas I don’t think he had ever been totally integrated into the family he left — he always remained “the outsider”. This may be the reason he left. From what I’ve seen in coyote families, interpersonal dynamics and feelings run very much parallel to our own, the big difference being that they seem to move on quickly with the challenges and changes that confront them: with an attitude of, “it is what it is”. And this “abandoned” family is doing just fine — even better — without him. Several generations before this, by the way, within this same family, the family existed and thrived without an alpha male — that male had been killed by rat poison. Over time, one of that alpha’s male offspring ended up moving into that alpha position. This family is quite an inbred one.

How has the abandoned family adjusted to Rookie’s departure? The old alpha female is now the sole overseer and guardian of the family — she had been very much under the thumb of her previous old mate — the one who died of old age — she was always “second” to him in command. But that has now changed. She can be seen guarding and messaging intrusive dogs. Her vigilance keeps her more out in the open, and takes her to knolls with vistas where she perches herself for snoozes, always with one eye open. And she is raising her pups born this year. She still keeps them well hidden, and disciplines them severely for breaking her rules. A couple of days ago I heard intense angry growling, and then the response: the high-pitched complaining yelps of a pup being disciplined. I tried recording it, but did not catch enough of it to post it.

I have not seen the alpha female’s two-year old daughter lately — this is a littermate of the remaining male yearling. Remember that she also and unusually, for being in the same territory, became a mother this year. The last time I saw her she had a horrible huge (6″x 12″) raw, red, inflamed wound on her side. I got the impression it was some kind of mite. I hope she’s healing and I hope she’s still around. I’ll keep my eyes open for her. [UPDATE: Good news! I saw the two-year-old daughter one day after I posted this writeup: she was hunting alone in a field and her hotspot seems to have resolved itself!]

Two-year-old male son of the alpha female is acting as the ipso facto alpha male now. He obviously feels very relaxed at the way things are now.
Alpha mom grooms her yearling male son, creating a tighter bond and promoting him as the territorial male.

And her son grooms her in return just as affectionately.

And off this pair goes, for their evening trek together, probably very happy that Rookie left.

© 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.

Father/Son Greetings

You might think that when a coyote father comes upon his one year old son out in the field alone, he might exude joy and recognition. But the answer is a firm, nope! There is protocol which must be followed. Parents must be in charge, and youngsters must at all times accept their lower status in a family pack which resides on a territory which is exclusively theirs.

This series of photos shows a typical greeting between an almost one-year-old son and his father.

Upon first seeing each other, Dad stares hard and coldly at his son, almost challengingly: he obviously is communicating to his son what is required of him. Coyotes communicate mostly silently and visually, through eye contact, facial expressions, and body language. They can communicate and read subtleties way beyond what we humans are able to. Here, Son reads the message instantaneously and hits the ground submissively the minute he sees Dad approaching and Dad’s “look”. Dad then approaches son slowly and carefully, and with a continuing glaringly hard look. The greeting is serious business in the coyote world, where rank matters above all else. Affection and fun can only come after the stage is set or confirmed for who is boss. Notice Dad’s hackles are up most of the time during this interaction.

When Dad stops approaching, son gets up part way and crawls towards Dad, submissively, keeping as low as possible. When he reaches Dad, he circles down, with head bowed down, and Dad comes over to sniff him and stand over him. They hold their positions for a moment (six photos above).

When Dad’s focus is diverted and broken by some distraction in the distance, son takes the opportunity to slither out from under Dad, but wait a minute! Dad doesn’t appear to be ready yet to let go of his psychological hold. Keeping himself low, Son  extends his snout for approval but decides it’s best to hit the ground again. This seems to satisfy Dad, because then son hops back up, and the two go trotting off together. Son will end up enticing Dad to play, which I’ll post coming up.

Friction Between Almost Two-Year-Old Siblings

They’re looking around as a siren blasts, waiting anxiously for family members to respond to it. There is no response from anyone this time, which might have left them a little worked up.

This posting is about twenty-month-old siblings (observed two months ago): a brother and a sister. There is another brother who appears to be best friends with this sister — unlike the brother in this posting, he’s gentle and doesn’t try to dominate: see tokens of respect and generosity are proffered and acknowledged in the coyote world. Coyotes get along with some of their siblings more than others, and it appears to be based on how they are treated. Friction can either grow and lead to a coyote’s dispersal — I’ve witnessed this a number of times — or it can mellow out again.

He approaches her provokingly and dominatingly. She snarls defensively.

Sister’s interactions today were with the brother who has had a tendency/predisposition to dominate. Today he tried putting her down — standing over her — dominating.. But she didn’t like it and wouldn’t have it. Coyotes actually choose who they want to submit to — they always have the choice of leaving. So, for instance, just the previous day, Mom stood over this daughter dominatingly, as you would expect — that’s her job — and Daughter patiently and willingly accepted and tolerated it: you don’t mess with Mom unless you want to lose your good standing in the family, and that good standing counts for a lot, such as ability to remain on the territory. And besides, Daughter appears to really like Mom and wants to be agreeable towards her: peaceful families require Mom and Dad to be strong, no-nonsense leaders whose authority is not questioned. They can only know they have this control if the youngsters submit to them willingly.

She ends up lunging at him, snapping at his snout (maybe even trying to grab it) and then moving off

Brothers are different, and especially this brother. He, too, kowtows easily to his parents. But not towards either of his siblings — and they don’t expect this of him. However, he does (has) of them. He constantly puts down the other brother, and the other brother (the sister’s favorite) tolerates it probably because he doesn’t want to rock the boat: if he stood up to the brother and lost, one can imagine that he might be forced to leave both the territory and his sister, whom he obviously cares for very much as revealed in his behavior towards her.

She lies down closeby and snarls at him as he approaches again. Then she walks off and he watches her go.

Dispersal is not something a youngster takes on lightly. It is a dangerous time due to the unfamiliar territory they would have to navigate, traffic, and hostile coyote territorial owners who would drive them away, and due to simply being young and inexperienced. Dispersal means taking on the unknown. So there’s a lot at stake in these squabbles. It’s interesting to watch which way it will go: the intolerable grudges lead to dispersals, and others dissipate if the bullying stops.

After the incidents of the day — him trying to put her down, and her resisting and “telling him off” with a lunge towards his face and a toothy and vocal snarl — I didn’t see them together for a couple of weeks. When I finally did see them together, from all appearances, it looked as though this pattern of behavior had continued, because Sister was keeping her distance and avoiding any contact with that brother (see photo below).

Two weeks later they still weren’t getting close to each other, but kept an eye on each other from a distance (see photo above). Sounds a little like human behavior, doesn’t it?? AND, two weeks after this photo, they are friends again, as if nothing had ever gone wrong!!

As of this posting, at 22 months of age, these two yearlings still remain a part of the family they grew up in: they seem to have overcome their friction and are perfectly mellow towards each other at this stage. Maybe Sis taught him a thing or two about coexistence among themselves!!

I should note that the sequence of behaviors I describe in the photos of this posting began after both coyotes listened and waited for other family members to respond to very loud sirens, but no one did. The tensions resulting from this anticipation were palpable, and may have been what set off the male coyote’s actions towards his sister.

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

Playtime and Fun For a Coyote Mated Pair

At the crack of dawn (with no light, I’m surprised these photos are even readable), this mated coyote pair, which has been together for a year now,  broke out into into a giggle-wiggle play session: they chased each other, lept over and onto each other, sparred playfully, and smiled a lot. They knew how to enjoy themselves thoroughly in and in-between-the-raindrops that fell that day. This is an almost 4-year old male and an almost 3 year old female who really like each other. They may be incorporating this intense play into their current courting behavior, but truth-be-told, they’ve been playing like this for the entire year-and-a-half they’ve been together! Coyotes know how to have fun! This video along with these photos were taken a month ago, at the beginning of January.

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]

Crossing the First Divide: One Milestone at a Time

The video depicts 11 week old pups at the end of June, two months ago. It covers the week before they abandoned their denning site entirely. 

This is a time-lapse video sequence taken over a week’s time, showing coyote pup and parent behavior at the entryway to their denning area. This is not a “video” but a “time lapse” sequence.  I’ve speeded it up to 2.5x — so please remember that the action actually was occurring at less than 1/2 the speed which you are seeing here. Time lapse at original speed is excruciatingly slow to watch. All of the activity occurred in the dead of night when it was safest for them — and with only a distant dim street lamp for lighting for the video: this should explain the jerkiness and the blurriness. But the story is captured! It turned out to be a milestone in their lives, i.e., practicing and first steps for moving out of the den. 

The camera was placed at the periphery of their denning area. The “outerworld” — dangerously full of people, traffic and dogs — is past the stake to the right. Before the video even begins, there was one wise little pup who had caught onto parental departures and returns. Hmmm. So, “Where were parents going? What’s out there? Why can’t I go? Looks scary!” Coyotes, even youngsters, are curious. Sneaking past the pups started not working. Mom or Dad had to turn around, turn them back and distract them, thwart them by carrying them and then leading them back to safety.  This is how they began to learn that “out there” was not safe. Boundaries seem to be understood early on, as they later are in territorial divisions between adult coyotes: coyotes firmly understand these.

The videoed part of the adventure, then, begins with the pups going to, and hovering around, this “exit” area. You can see that they are both apprehensive and excited, as they look around hesitantly. They repeat this approaching of the boundary line in the same way for several days — both fearing the outside world and at the same time drawn to it, encouraged now at this age and stage by their parents. Finally Mom or Dad begin leading them out a little way, but one pup is afraid and opts not to go, sitting down and looking back over his shoulder at Mom and siblings beyond the exit. The two beyond the exist see their brother and also get cold feet — decide to hold back too, and they hurry back. It takes a while to get the minds and bodies of the pups all moving in the same direction at the same time! This “sticking their toes out the door” happened once a day. They were getting used to the idea and any new stimulation right there close to home. It’s probably overwhelming to begin with.

By 1:50 in the video, the pups have now finally begun venturing out as a family and this is them returning. Mom anxiously makes sure everyone is in. You can almost hear her “Whew!” She lovingly mouths one of the youngsters (2:40 in the video) over and over: “Good job, Kids!”

The sequence after that, which is the next day, shows them now returning without too much fanfare — it’s old hat by now!

The move obviously required forethought, aim, intent, and direction on the part of the parents who were on the same wavelength with each other, working together and in unison on the project. They were able to communicate this to each other and then to the pups. Their communication isn’t something humans have a handle on — it’s too complicated for us!  I know that the ultimate goal and objective had been to prepare the pups for the move — the area was vacated the very next day. It took over a week of working on this project before it was actually carried out. Coyotes think ahead, plan, retain the plan in their minds, and communicate to each other about it!

Most “denning areas” I’ve observed remain “home” for months, but not in this case. After abandoning this site, the pups were moved every few days to at least four locations until they settled down in the safest spot, where they now have remained through 4 months of age.

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. ❤🐾

Frantic Concern for an Injured Sibling

I hadn’t seen one of the youngster I’ve been documenting for a couple of days and when I did, on February 12th, he held up a dangling front leg. That explained his absence. Leg injuries are the most common I see in coyotes, many of them are caused by dogs chasing them. As here, injury often causes coyotes to become more cautious and self-protective by withdrawing from where they might be seen. With dogs wanting to chase them, it was best to remain hidden most of the time.

A couple of days later, the injured male youngster returned to one of his hangout spots, but he kept close to bushes where he could seek refuge if needed. A day later I decided to get a video of the injury to send it to my wildlife veterinarian friend. While getting that video, I also documented the frantic anxiety of a sibling female who was worried about her injured brother. The above graphic video, which I’ve captioned with explanatory text, is what I observed.

Few people realize how intensely sentient and feeling these animals are. That they are family minded animals who have caring individual relationships. They have direction and purpose in their lives. They experience joy, sorrow, and most other feelings that you and I feel, including frantic anxiety and concern for a valued sibling. These are things I’ve seen repeatedly through hours of observing them. I don’t expect most people will have the time or opportunity to see directly what I see, but that’s why I’m posting about it: for everyone to become aware of. On this subject, here is a two-minute message from Jane Goodall which, although inspired by the coronavirus, contains words of wisdom that we all need to listen to.

By February 20th, which was ten days after the injury occurred, I was still seeing no improvement in the limp. The veterinarian gave me a general assessment from the video I took. She said, “It looks like he could have a radial nerve injury from the way he is dragging the leg but flexing his elbow. It could also be a fracture in the carpus or paw, but if so, I would expect it to look more painful and for him to be holding it off the ground rather than dragging it on the ground.”

The vet and I agreed that whatever course the injury was to take, it was best to leave the coyote alone and let nature run its course. Many people feel they need to “help” an injured animal. This is rarely so unless the animal is actually immobile or incapacitated. Nature is always the best healer for wildlife, even if the animal could end up as tri-pawed: coyotes are amazingly adaptable [see story of Peg Leg]. Trapping and confining are terrorizing for the animal, even if we humans might want to believe “it is for the animal’s own good”. In addition, removing an animal from its territory and social situation can inexorably alter their lives — they can’t simply be “put back” and be expected to carry on as before. We don’t really have a handle on all the infinite facets that are involved in interfering, even if our intentions are good ones. So if nature can heal, which it can in most cases, it should be left to do so. Mange is a different story, but there’s now a way of treating this in the field with no more interference than simply medication administered in some left-out food! — I’ll be writing about this soon.

This same type of frantic anxious concern displayed by this female sibling for her brother can be seen in another example, displayed by an older female for her younger male companion: Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

I kept monitoring and assessing the youngster’s leg situation. Almost a month after that injury, on March 8, I finally saw that some mending had taken place: nature had been working its magic! The coyote was finally putting weight on that leg. He did so ever so carefully and gingerly, but he was doing it.


And by March 15th, the leg looked recuperated and the fellow is walking normally, as videoed by my friend Eric Weaver!

I hope this posting serves as an example of how great a healer nature is [see another example here]. But also it should serve to show how incredibly feeling these animals are. By the way, sister is still keeping an eye on brother over her shoulder, and he’s also watching out for her, but there’s no more urgency or anxiety involved!

keeping an eye on him over her shoulder

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