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.

Hi Dad, Wanna Play?

The pup has received a strict and heavy-handed (and probably not-expected) retort and rejection to his enthusiastic, happy invitation to play. He responds, expressing his feelings through tucked chin, ears swiveled back, squinting eyes, tight jaw — not so different from our own painful grimacing to such a retort. The flopping over is rather melodramatic, but I know human kids who might have done that!  :)) I’ve seen coyote pups react this way many times — usually when they are conflicted: it’s as though all synapses fired at once without a clear outcome!

More Fleeing From Father

During a calm early morning walk I spotted a coyote running at top speed, bounding in long leaps, through some brush in the distance. Within seconds I could see that this coyote was chasing another coyote who was running lickety-split from his pursuer. Soon the larger, faster, and older coyote caught up and threw the youngster on his back and pummeled him with his snout, delivering a few emphasizing nips in the process.

There was intense rustling of the brush and squeals of pain — the same squeals of pain a young domestic puppy might make if it were hurt. Soon, Dad, because that’s who the disciplinarian was, and discipline is what was going on, descended from that clump of brush where the beatings had occurred, walked on a few paces, and then stopped to look back, to glare back. He remained in this location, turning his attention to sniffing and looking around, and then headed back into the brush where the youngster was. Dad was checking to see if he had gotten his message across. He re-emerged again, glared back again, and then sniffed around some more.  He repeated this about four times, and then finally wandered away from the area through the dense foliage.

Soon, within minutes, Mom appeared from out of nowhere. I don’t know if she had witnessed what went on, or if she just happened by at this time. She looked around and slowly headed to where the youngster was. She found him, greeted him, and offered consolation in the form of grooming and affection.  Several minutes later, they both emerged to where I could better see them. Mom spent time carefully grooming the kid who stood still and lovingly absorbed all the attention directed at him, and he returned the favor, a little. Soon she stopped, and both coyotes directed their attention towards where I was, but it wasn’t me they were watching. Dad suddenly appeared at my lookout point, a point with a good view of where the other coyotes were. Dad was keeping an eye on them. He spent a few minutes staring at them, and they at him.

I had left my crutches (I had twisted my knee several weeks earlier) at the base of the steep and craggy slope with dry grasses which I had inched my way up for a better view, scooting myself upwards on the seat of my pants. I was now 30 feet from the crutches at the base of the hill. The coyote stopped to look at the crutches and then went over to a piece of trash, sniffed it and marked it. I was sure he was going to mark my crutches, which had my scent on them. But no, instead he looked at me respectfully and went on his way without leaving me any messages! He disappeared from view.

Youngster and Mom were sitting perfectly still. Their eyes followed Dad’s trajectory until he was out of sight. Then they continued their activity of grooming and being groomed. I wondered if Youngster had actually been wounded by Dad, because, although I couldn’t see any damage to him from the distance,  Mom’s actions suggested to me that she might be licking small wounds on his haunches. Pinch/bites are messages that dominant coyotes give other coyotes, and dogs, to message them to leave.

After the Youngster had regained his composure following Dad’s treatment, and with the help of Mom’s grooming, affection, attention and solace, Youngster began feeling playful. He jumped over Mom, which must have been a signal or invitation to play. She acquiesced — parent coyotes love playing with their youngsters. After a few minutes of playful wrestling, she led him on a long extended chase up and around and through the bushes and back, over and over again. More grooming ensued and then these two, as Dad had, disappeared from view.

Had Dad been disciplining Youngster for failing to be submissive? Or was there a lesson in boundaries and territoriality, or possibly an issue about the youngster’s safety at the center of Dad’s tough discipline? Dad’s intense bullying is disciplinary now. This pup is 7 months old and there is a lot to learn. Mom’s affection and solace seem to compensate for Dad’s harsher attempts to discipline and teach. Both parents teach and discipline, but it always appears to be the alpha — and the alpha can be either the male or female parent — who is the harshest. The alpha is the coyote who maintains an overall overview of the situation in his/her territory, keeping an eye out for everyone’s safety.

Fleeing From Father

I’m trying to get a handle on a family where the youngster is never present. The parents’ daytime resting time is almost always in close proximity to each other, either in an open field or under cover of some forest edge habitat. Even when I can’t see them, I can tell they are fairly close together because when a siren whizzes by, they respond by yipping which reveals their proximate locations.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the youngster — and with the parental relationship with him — because I seldom see the youngster. Until today. Today I watched this youngster out in the unhidden open. What a rare treat! He did not immediately flee to the underbrush the minute he saw a person (me), but rather allowed me to spend time observing. He just sat there and looked around from his safe-zone in the far distance where I know he stays, but this time he wasn’t concealed behind bushes and thickets.

Soon he got up to go: he stretched and yawned, and obviously was at ease, even though a person was observing him. He looked at me, but basically went about his business. He casually walked off, and then started descending a hill when suddenly he stopped cold, did a quick about-face, and headed up the hill in a hurry, lickety-split. He stopped to look back once and then disappeared over the crest of the hill. I looked down the hill to find out what he might be running from and was surprised to see his father staring at him. Hmmm. Instead of running towards each other for a happy greeting, the youngster was running away with trepidation!

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Had there been an altercation earlier? Might one of these coyotes have secretly taken and reburied a food cash that belonged to the other? Might there have been an issue with insubordination? Might lessons about territoriality and not crossing boundaries have been involved, or even safety issues about remaining away from dogs? Might the firm establishment of a hierarchical order be involved? Or, highly unlikely, might this have been the beginnings of an early dispersal process? I’ve never seen a coyote dispersed under one year of age here in San Francisco, but I’ve heard it alluded to. The bullying that precedes dispersal may go on for months before the youngster decides to take off for a better life elsewhere. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to see coyote family behaviors from this distant fella. We’ll see what happens.

Dad Checks To See If It’s Clear — It Isn’t

This observation occurred way back on June 19th, but I never got around to posting it until now. Dad was doing his duty when he came out at late dusk to check things out for safety. The pups themselves were still too young to be brought out into the open — they were still only two months old. He must have been making sure the area would be safe for Mom.  Mom coyote was still lactating, and her survival was necessary for the survival of the youngsters. Coyote family members watch out for each other.

Dad came to the crest of a hill and looked in all directions. Mom stayed at the bottom of the hill assessing the situation for herself and looking towards Dad for any signal of danger he might give her. Dad indeed had heard some voices and saw SOMEthing, and Mom knew how to read his body language. She hurried back to the safety of the bushes and he followed soon afterwards.

I went looking for what the disturbance might have been. I only had to walk a few paces to where, because of the darkness, I could barely make out two fella humans sitting on the ground by some rocks next to the path the coyotes would have taken. They were talking in barely audible soft, hushed voices. I don’t know if Dad coyote had heard them, smelled them, or seen them. I myself had not heard them or seen them (or smelled them!) in the quiet of the evening, and would never have known they were there if it were not for the revealing coyote behavior — the same behavior that Mom coyote could read about Dad.

A One Hour Peek Through An Opening In The Bushes At A Coyote Family’s Interactions At Dusk

I peeked through an opening in the bushes into coyote family life during the hour before their active life begins in the evening at dusk. This entire family was together: mother, father, uncle and one pup. There is only one pup in the family. The pup is super-well protected and superbly indulged by the three adults in the family: the third adult is a male from a previous litter who I will call Uncle, even though that’s not exactly what he really is.

The hour was spent in constant interpersonal interactions — there was not a moment when something was not going on or when some interaction was not taking place. Coyotes are some of the most social of animals, and their social life takes place via their intense family life.

The activities during this hour included Mom grooming Dad and vice-versa, Mom grooming Pup and vice-versa, affectionate play between Mother and Pup, all four coyotes aware of me and glancing at me in the far distance, Dad dominating Uncle — this happened continuously, Pup dominating Uncle who is low man on the totem pole, Uncle standing off to the side alone with ears airplaned out submissively, Pup hopping and jumping around trying to get others to play — as any only child might. And, most interesting, a sequence where Pup jumped on Dad (oops) with unexpected consequences and confusion.

Grooming, playing, cuddling and general interacting were constant activities (below).

This sequence (below) was pretty interesting because Dad ended up disciplining Mom instead of the Pup who caused the disturbance! Pup had jumped over — or onto — his parents who were lying next to each other. Dad either got confused and disciplined Mom — she’s the one lying on her back as he stands over her — OR, Mom’s growl at the Pup may be what Dad was reacting to. Dad coyote does not tolerate any aggression in his family, even from Mom. At the first sign of any antagonism or dissent, he squelches it. Dad is the oldest and wisest in this family, and the ultimate authority. In another family I know, Mom is the ultimate authority: every family is different.

Rigid status preserves order, but sometimes it’s hard to watch. Uncle is low man on the totem pole, and he’s made aware of this constantly: what is Dad’s “order” is Uncle’s strife and oppression.  There seemed not to be a minute that went by when Uncle was not reminded of it. It happened with physical put-downs three times in this hour, and in a more subtle manner, with glances, many more times.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

As it got darker, the time came for the family to trek on. The move was signaled by Dad’s signature stretching. Dusk had settled in and their day was beginning. And my viewing time had come to an end because as they slithered away into the night, I could no longer see them.

Pupping Season: “Scary” Does Not Translate Into “Dangerous”, but Heed The Message!

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Hi Janet —

I had a very scary interaction with two coyotes in the heart of a park where the trail runs parallel to a dense brushy area. My dog Ginger and I were by ourselves, surrounded by two coyotes that would not go away. I jumped up and down, waving my arms allover the place and yelling and they didn’t budge. Finally one went into the bush but just stayed there and then the other on the trail started towards us.

I did the jumping yelling thing and the one backed away but turned around, started walking towards us again. Like 15 feet away.  Finally I just pulled Ginger’s leash tight to me and ran. I know you’re not supposed to  do that, but nothing else was working. We ran up to a knoll and were not followed there. It was getting dark, past 8pm, a bit scary indeed!

I wish that man was not doing that thing with his dog, challenging the coyote, corralling his dog to go after the coyotes. I have a feeling that sort of human behavior is a bad influence and perhaps contributed to this situation I had.

Scott


Hi Scott —

I’m sorry about your negative experience with the coyotes — and especially that it happened to you, a coyote sympathizer, even though it is best that it happened to you and not someone else with no feeling for the coyotes. In fact, you were being messaged to keep away from a den area.

Coyote messaging can be very, very scary — it’s got to be to be effective, otherwise dogs and people would just ignore the message. The coyotes  you encountered were not pursuing you and they were not out to hurt you or Ginger — they were keeping you from getting closer to something important. You were simply being told not to get any closer — to move away: “Go Away!”  But next time don’t run! Sometimes running will incite them to chase after you!

If and when a coyote doesn’t back up, it’s almost always because of a den, and it’s always best to shorten your leash and leave right away. If coyotes don’t move after one or two attempts to get them to move, this should be the protocol: leave the area. You don’t want to engage with a den-defending coyote because they will nip at a dog who cannot read their “standing guard” message — we already know that this is what they do, and by not listening to their simple message, you would actually be provoking an incident.

It’s an instinct, and really has nothing to do with the idiot who was attempting to force his dog on the coyotes. That is a totally unrelated issue which needs to be addressed.

Encountering a den-defending coyote always creates a lot of fear in people, and I understand why — it’s meant to.  People need to know about it, why it happens, and how to deal with it. It’s a situation which should always be walked away from, no different from what you would do if you saw a skunk with its tail raised, a dog warning you off, or a swarm of bees. We know how to read the messages from these animals, and we usually abide by the messages to keep the peace and not get stung or sprayed or bitten. We can do the same with coyotes. A defensive or protective coyote is only doing his job — such an encounter in no way means the animal is aggressive.

Janet

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