Rendezvous, Mid-January

The Rendezvous is a recurring nightly coming-together of coyote family members. It usually happens at about dusk, right before taking off together or separately on their treks to mark their territories and hunt and otherwise be together. It’s a highly social event with interactions occurring between each individual: there are greetings following rank protocols, and there’s usually play and teasing between the different individuals.

These rendezvous are always interesting to me — great for learning about individual and family dynamics. Each rendezvous is different, with different seasons revealing different priorities and seasonal stages. Their individual personalities pop open when they’re together, as well as their stages of development — things you don’t always see when you see individuals alone, or see them only very occasionally, or without knowing who each individual is, including teasing, affection, disciplinary level, etc. Because they aren’t just hurrying away or hunting, certain things become more obvious: statuses, injuries, courting behavior, changes in relationships such as burgeoning rivalry between brothers, who is missing (because of death or dispersal). If dogs interfere, then their reaction comes into view.

Rendezvous usually occur at dusk, so the waning light makes observing, and even more so, “capturing” the observation, more difficult. Towards the end of this session, I was literally guessing where the coyotes were as my camera captured the blackness, which I was then able to edit into readable, even if extremely substandard images. So here are a few sequences that had meaning for me. I’m sure there was a lot I missed in-between these, but these will give you an idea of how full those get-togethers are. I believe you all can see more through still images, rather than a video where you might actually miss what is going on. But also, videos take up a lot of space and, for me, are harder to edit down. Nevertheless, I have included two short video sequences here and inserted them where they fit in chronologically.

1 & 2 pup cowers as dad approaches; 3 & 4 pup reaches up to dad with snout and paw

This rendezvous, from when the first coyotes appeared, until they departed the area, lasted exactly half an hour. As I said, by the time it ended, I could not see anything clearly. It began with a youngster appearing and looking around. He soon cowered submissively asa snarly Dad approached him. After cowering acceptably to Dad’s satisfaction, the youngster — 9 months old at this point — still keeping himself low to the ground, stretched up his snout and then his paw in a submissively accepting gesture to Dad. But the status routine apparently wasn’t settled yet, because the youngster, see second group of photos below, attempted following Dad, and was repelled by Dad’s snarly glare — communication is very clear to every coyote. The youngster again cowered and went the other way. Within a few minutes after this, Dad was happy with the respect shown him, and allowed the youngster to relax close by (last of the 8 first photos).

5, 6 & 7 pup follows dad but is repulsed by dad’s expression; 8 finally the two relax proximately to each other [each galleries can be clicked for a larger view, and then scrolled through]

Most observers aren’t able to break apart these different interactions as they observe. More is going on here than mere greetings, statuses and interactions. It’s pre-mating season, so mating time is going to commence soon, if it hasn’t already.

Then, Mom arrives. Mom arrives and vocalizes, and the rest of the family joins in as she hurries over to them (video below)

Above video: Mom arrives and vocalizes, and the two other family members join in.

Above, 1) Mom arrives and begins howling. #2 Dad responds as does the one youngster there. #3 Mom hurries over to them and sniffs around. #4 Mom urinates. #5 Her urine is full of hormones at this time of year and Dad, you can see, is keenly interested in their levels. #6 Dad lets youngster know he’s in the way with a snarl: pup pulls his mouth back in a grimace and sits back to allow Dad plenty of room

#1) Second pup arrived on the scene and Dad gave him the same treatment his brother got. #2) Brother takes in that family interaction — they all can and do read minute nuances in each other’s interactions and know the meaning of it all. #3) Dad is heading the youngsters away from Mom who you see to the right. I don’t know what her intent here is, but you’ll see her later reaching out to say hello to this male pup of hers. #4 Mom heads away from them and eats grass: she’s nervous, while #5) Dad dozes nearby. At this point, #6 it’s the youngster who heads towards Mom, possibly indicating that he’s ready to get going.

Two other family youngsters were not present. One yearling may have dispersed, but the other youngster is probably still around. Not all family members are always present for these rendezvous. After the last photo above, all family members got up and interacted as you see here in the video below.

Video shows a few moments of the interactions: Dad wove himself between his mate and the youngsters — he didn’t want to give them the opportunity to become interested in her other than as a mom. Mating season is about to begin, so he has to keep this kind of order.

#1) Mom stretches and then leads the family pack out, but then she waits for them all to catch up and she #2) brings up the rear. #3) Note that her interest is first and foremost Dad: they touch noses as she reaches them, with the youngsters knowing to wait their turn. #4) Mom seems to be intent on saying hello to the youngster she was unable to greet earlier (because of Dad’s interference). The last two photos #5) and #6) show them four of them just before they disappeared, with Dad reaching out to touch one of the youngsters at the end there. I’ve included a small photo here showing how dark it actually was out there for these last images. Photo editing is amazing these days: that is the same unedited photo as #6 above.

Surviving Pup is Excluded

This was an eye-opening, unexpected observation. I arrived at dawn on October 30th to fog so dense that I could barely make out the outline of anything ahead of me. I was at a dog play pen and noticed what I thought were three German Shepherds meandering around. I climbed up the trail parallel to the enclosure looking for the owner of the three dogs. That’s when I encountered Ana, with her dog barking ferociously as she approached me on the trail and I wondered why. I asked her if she had seen the coyotes this morning, and she pointed to within the enclosure. The dogs in the fog had sure fooled me — they were the resident coyotes!

Most of my observations lately have involved single individuals, so I was happy to see several coyotes together for a change and hoped to record some interactions. Coyotes are highly social, so that was bound to happen. The fog and bad lighting were a problem — the “auto” focus was giving me a lot of blurr, but I managed to capture some telling activity.

I began taking still photos. The ones here show Dad, Step-mom and the single remaining pup. The pup’s sister had been killed by a car only a few weeks before. If you know coyote youngsters, you’ll know that they play with each other incessantly: they are always on top of each other, chasing, tackling, poking, teasing — life for them is one of perpetual motion. There were two pups that survived in this family until a couple of weeks ago when Sister was hit by a car and killed. So this remaining pup must feel exceptionally lonely. You would think that Mom and Dad might fill in the void, but that is not what happened as I watched. In fact, the youngster was excluded from the mated pairs fun and games.

Above you see Mom and Dad together, horsing around and teasing each other. Six-month old pup is off to the side.

Here above is the pup, reaching in their direction but not part of the play.

And here, above, he is looking on as his parents play.

The youngster attempted several times to join the fun, but they never invited him in. Instead, the parents were into their own courting play: pair-bonds are being formed and/or strengthened at this time of the year, so that’s where the focus and energy were going. In the last series of photos above, the adults end up turning on the pup angrily, snarling at him and grabbing his snout. In the last photo he snarled back at his step-mom. Below is a video of the group’s interactions immediately after the above stills were taken.

A Rendezvous (with changing sibling dynamics)

One of the most exciting parts of a coyote’s day is the nightly rendezvous. Here, family members who have been resting and sleeping during the daylight hours in spread-out parts of their park, come together to socialize and reconfirm their bonds and statuses before going off on their hunting treks. Each rendezvous can be quite different, some involving the whole family, some involving just parts of the family, some all wiggly and happy with play and games, and some not so. As the pups and yearlings grow, their relationships to each other develop in a gamut of directions. Here is one such rendezvous. Unless you know the individuals and can tell them apart, and know what is going on, these interactions and their nuances can be easily missed. They often occur within a split second, so a camera helps firm up what’s happening. The portion of the rendezvous that I saw and wrote about here lasted a little over an hour. I use a lot of photos to explain the abundance of interactions and activity.

The picture galleries can be clicked on to scroll through them at a higher resolution.

It was hot when I arrived at the park about half an hour before sunset. Mom was napping only about 50 feet from the path — unusually close to the path for her — while one of her yearling sons had begun some early exploring and hunting before the family rendezvous. The few humans, some with dogs, who passed by were a quiet bunch. Many did not even notice the coyotes. The sleeping coyote raised her head off and on to watch some of the passers-by, especially if their unleashed, active dogs caught her attention, and the yearling wandered over to a secluded spot in the field where he sprawled out in the growing shade to cool off. It appeared that not much was going to happen with the coyotes socially until the evening wore on a little more — everyone was waiting.

Yearling brother #1 wandering around aimlessly waiting

But then a second male sibling appeared. He looked around, assessed that nothing was going on and found a spot where he, too could bide his time until the evening meetup.

Brother #2

And that’s when both brothers set eyes on each other, and things were not calm from then on. These two brothers used to be best buddies, but over time this devolved to where now Brother #1 can’t stand the presence of Brother #2. So, Brother #1 came charging towards brother #2 who knew exactly what to expect because the behavior had become routine by now. In response, Brother #2 crouched, drew into himself, and fell to the ground on his back while Brother #1 stood over him with hackles up and snarling menacingly. When Brother #2 found an opportunity, he made a dash to get away as Brother #1 watched him almost disdainfully (see photos immediately below).

Brother #2 continued heading away from his tormentor towards Mom who was still lying on her side in the grasses not far away. Brother #1 followed him. As they approached her, they hugged the ground and crouched, respectfully acknowledging her alpha status. When this ranking is no longer respected, if it comes to that, the youngster will be pushed out of the territory.

Approaching Mom requires a show of submission

But the two brothers were dealing also with their own interpersonal dynamic. In the first row of three photos below, Brother #1 makes an effort to divert Brother #2 away from Mom by getting between them. This is a coyote tactic I’ve seen before for keeping a rival away from another coyote. But Brother #2 still had his eyes on Mom, and was not giving up on reaching her as seen in photo #4. By photo #5 Mom snarls at what she knows is going on. She doesn’t normally care if they fight, but she doesn’t want it happening right next to her, so she squelches the activity by grooming the yearling closest to her. Grooming is often used to keep an underling coyote still and force submission — the youngster has to put up with it.

But the very minute Mom stopped grooming her yearling son in order to scratch herself, Brother #1 took the opportunity to attack his sibling again.

Above are a VIDEO and a few photos of the short but telling fight. When the fight subsided, Brother #2 walked away, but both brothers obviously retained stress from the event: Brother #1 started pulling up dry grasses and chewing on them nervously, whereas Brother #2 lay down closer to Mom and did the same thing. I wonder how much of Brother #1’s behavior is built in: this antagonism with siblings seems to be one of the factors that leads to dispersal. These siblings are 18 months old — the right age for dispersal.

Shortly after this, and as they were calming down, Dad sauntered into view.

Dad

Brother #1 seemed to have moved out of the area by this time — I did not see him again before I left. Brother #2 (below) greeted his approaching Dad appropriately by crouching low and reaching up to lick his muzzle, and then Dad hurried off to greet Mom, with Brother #2 at his side.

Mom and Dad with yearling between them.

When they caught up with Mom they exchanged nose touches, with youngster Brother #2 in-between, remaining in a crouched, close-to-the-ground position. The youngster appeared anxious to make contact with Mom — maybe this is what drove Dad again to make sure the youngster knew his place in the family scheme. The youngster obliged by flopping to the ground on his back.

And here is another VIDEO showing more of the above. The video actually consists of three clips from this rendezvous. 1) Mom, Dad, and Brother #2, showing how reactive Mom got when her son touched her — yikes! Family life is not all warm and cuddly as many people might think. 2) As it gets later and darker, a third brother arrives and is greeted by brother #2 and Dad; 3) People are still out walking at this time, and Dad diverts them away from the rest of the family.

Everything then calmed down and three of them — Dad, Brother #1 and Brother #3 — spaced themselves at comfortable non-interacting distances, yet together, ready to go when the cue would be given by Dad for the evening hunting trek.

There’s plenty of space between them now

My camera caught a few more interactions, such as the teasing and playing below, and then it was too dark, so I left.

Calm bantering continues on and off until I can no longer see in the dark.
Last shot of Brother #2 as I leave. The camera, amazingly, captured this and adjusted the light.

Scout Fall Update

Scout’s story continues, but without the obvious adventures she had in her early life, or maybe they are continuing in a more subtle way, below most human’s radars. I see her only periodically where she had her pups this year, and just as periodically in her old hangouts where I used to see her almost single day. Instead, she’s become a stealthy shadow which my field camera occasionally picks up on, and who I see in person only a couple of times a month, if that. But I know from other people who know her that she has been moving deeper into her new territory which has/does belong to another coyote family. Will this be a territorial takeover? We’ll see. Remember that she had a baptism by fire in territorial battles and takeovers when she was younger, so she’s well seasoned if this is the direction she’s taking.

Over the last month she has appeared a couple of times during daylight hours at her old, original territory. During one of those appearances, she spewed her anger and displeasure to the one dog on her nemesis list. I wasn’t there to see or hear it, but I was told about it and sent a video. I guess she’ll never give that battle up. Interestingly, her two-year-old son who serves as the mainstay of the old fort, has taken on doing the exact same thing to the exact same dog, most likely in imitation of his mother. Coyotes do pass things along to their offspring in an almost “cultural” sort of way.

On her second daylight appearance, I found her and this same two-year-old son curled up in balls where they used to hangout regularly over a year ago on their old territory. She slept — with one eye open — right through my arrival there, not budging at all, but HE slipped off warily into the bushes where he remained hidden from view.

Two-year-old slithers into a quieter space, while Mom keep her eyes closed.

Meanwhile she went back to sleep. It was before most dog walkers were out and about — she knew she had nothing to worry about until they started arriving.

BUT, soon the dogs arrived. These three photos above shows her lifting her head, and then slowly spiraling her way to a standing position and finally “messaging” an approaching dog to leave her alone. She really didn’t want to move, but with the dog slowly approaching, and her son on the other side of her, she put in the effort to look scary. The dog walker got the message if the dog didn’t and complied by going the other way, and Scout went back to snoozing for about 20 more minutes. That’s when sirens sounded.

Interestingly, these coyotes have never vocalized a whole lot during daytime here in a response to sirens — these have more often kept their vocalizations to night and twilight hours. I wonder if daytime vocalizing is reserved for strongly established territories that the coyotes are able to defend? For many years, Scout was a loner here and she rarely howled during the day, even to sirens, unless she was chased by dogs, particularly her nemesis I mentioned above.

Left: stretching in all directions; Middle: looking over at her son and subtly communicating with him; Right, she begins to howl.

Anyway, a siren sounded when I was there, and Scout got up, taking her time about it. She stretched backwards and forwards and upwards. She stood there a moment as though debating whether or not to howl, and then looked over to where she knew her son was hiding, possibly signaling him to join her, and she began howling in response to that siren.

After she began howling, he then joined her from the distance: you can hear him in the video. After a minute, she walked in the direction of his howls and met up with him. By that time the howling from both of them had ended, and they both walker off together.

Scout walks with her son to keep him company as he leaves. Her son is the bigger coyote to the left.

She then returned alone, and, as seen below, stretched again in all directions and again looked over her shoulder to where her son was, assuring herself that he was happy and safe, and then she fell asleep again — with one eye again partially open. I waited a little while for something to happen, but nothing did, so I left..

A couple of days later I found her and her mate at their new territory at dusk, or maybe it’s their territory’s extension. I saw them as silhouettes, but the camera sometimes does better than my eyes and captured the images below. She’s with her mate in the first photo. They’ve always worked together intuitively and in tandem, almost as one. I love watching them work together, communicate, and even look at each other. He looks so much bigger than her when they are next to each other.

And below she’s doing what mothers do: grooming the one yearling youngster that went with her to the new territory (or extension of her old one). I see her two pups very seldom which is a good thing. Pups throughout the city this year are running the gamut from casual acceptance of their surroundings which include people, to continued careful wariness of them. I don’t know where Scout’s pups this year fit into the continuum, but I think it’s a good thing that I haven’t seen them.

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.

 

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