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.

Coyotes: Beyond the Howl, An Educational Exhibit by Janet Kessler

In case you might have a burning interest to know more about coyotes, visit my exhibit which is going up next Sunday at the Sausalito Library and will run for 6 weeks! It’s more of an educational exhibit than anything else, showing some of their constant interactions. The more people understand how social they are, the easier it will be to accept and even embrace them.

Coyotes are social and, except for some transients, live in families. The 28 large 24”x16” zoomed-in snapshots in this exhibit show some of their less-seen behaviors and interactions, as well as their individuality: each coyote looks different, and the differences reach deeper than their fur. Short howling and hunting video clips are included. An explanation of a few relevant survival behaviors and some simple guidelines help round out “the picture” of these neighbors who are becoming a more visible part of the urban landscape.

Janet Kessler a.k.a, “the Coyote Lady” in San Francisco, has been called a, “pioneer in the photo-documentation of the lives of urban coyotes, capturing their intimate lives”. She is a self-taught naturalist and urban coyote specialist who, daily over the past 11 years, has been documenting coyote family life, their behavior towards people and pets — and our pets’ behavior towards them — and getting information and easy coexistence guidelines out to everyone. Google her “Coyotes As Neighbors” video, and visit: Coyoteyipps.com.

Dates: January 28 to March 10, 2018

Hours:

  • Monday-Thursday 10am-9pm daily
  • Friday-Saturday 10am-5pm
  • Sunday noon-5pm

Place: Sausalito Public Library, located in the City Hall building at 420 Litho Street in Sausalito Enter parking lot from Bee Street (off Caledonia Street). From San Francisco, take a ferry ride over!

Janet will be in and out. If you have questions, just seek her out, or contact her through her blog, coyoteyipps.com

[Press Here for a printable Flyer]

On Installation Day: Our team of three had fun installing the exhibit in the very charming Sausalito Library: we had the layout mapped out beforehand, so only minor logistical adjustments to our plan were necessary. We were rewarded with “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the library staff and visitors from Connecticut, and then from the first official early-bird visitors. We finished a little after opening hours and went off for a reward meal overlooking the bay, which we suggest as something to add to your visit.

Carl Safina: A Talk at WildCare

Carl Safina is one of my great heroes, as he is many other people’s.  All my views about sentient wildlife, examples of which I see daily as I watch my coyotes, are confirmed by Carl. When he speaks, I feel as though he is taking the words right out of my mouth — every single word and thought about animals as feeling and thinking critters. The difference is that he is an academic, and to have an academic stand up for these things is an important turn of events, though late in the coming. Academics have long separated humans absolutely from all other species and they don’t tolerate anthropomorphizing which they consider unsupportable and therefore fanciful. In fact, accurate anthropomorphizing is no longer thought of as unsupportable: it’s the path that behavioral research is now taking.

I see a lot of coyote behavior for many hours each day. I have spoken a lot about coyote feelings and their intense family lives — lives which really are not so different from our own in a great many respects. I’ve had some academics pooh-pooh what I say. But Carl, as Jane Goodall, who has actually spent time watching the animals as I have, supports these same ideas. Theories and studies of focused slices of animal behavior do not cover the same ground as being in the field watching the whole picture: an animal going about its life.

It’s because an animal feels hungry that he eats, feels tired that he sleeps, feels joy that he plays, feels affection that he caresses another. It’s what they feel that actually drives their lives. Above that, their amazing family ties and lives are a wonder to watch: a microcosm of your favorite soap opera, with a cliff-hanger every day!

Carl says that our need to see ourselves as above anything else speaks volumes about our insecurities. In fact, what makes humans different is that we do things to the extreme, which animals don’t do: We are, at the same time, the most compassionate and the cruelest of the species; the most creative and the most destructive of them. This is what makes us human. Having emotions and emotional bonds are not what distinguishes us as human.

Please make sure to check out Carl’s recent book, which now can be obtained in paperback: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

I took notes at Carl’s talk, but rather than present them here, I’m linking to a video of the exact same lecture given by him elsewhere: straight from the horse’s mouth.

 

Father and Son

Coyote fathers are totally involved in the raising of their youngsters. Here, Dad and five-month-old son spend a few moments watching the goings-on around them before Dad then grooms the pup — probably removing ticks — and then son prods Dad for some food, unsuccessfully.

Pestering?

In the video, after sirens sounded, first there was a howling session, then some greeting and hierarchy interactions which included nose touches, dominance displays, body contact, submissive displays and confirmations. And then this! Pestering? Teasing? Demand for attention? Challenging? Provoking??? Or maybe he’s just simply not doing what she wants him to do?

The two coyotes *of interest* are an older mated pair with a family of yearlings and pups. I’ve seen an established routine of antagonism between the two whereby the female snarls, and grunts at *him* and he simply ignores her or turns away after, often, responding with a snarly grimace. She continues to groom him sometimes, but also they tend to walk right past each other as ships in the night without acknowledging the other’s presence. The male is a rather easy going fellow. The female appears to be older than he is — she’s the one doing the prodding. The territory is one in which the male was born and the female then joined him and they’ve been together ever since.

I know another mated pair where there seems to be more antagonism as the pair has aged. The male is much older than the female: he is 8.5 years old and she is 4.5 years old. They’ve raised two pups over the course of three seasons who they keep well hidden. Their relationship began with the male being very solicitous and careful. More recently, and maybe it’s because he’s quite old and in pain, I’ve seen him become grouchy on occasions, even throwing *her* to the ground when she pinches him by mistake while grooming him. She ducks or falls on her back, and then, when his anger is over, she continues grooming him because he apparently demands it by standing next to her: her job is a chore now though it didn’t used to appear that way.

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