Novelty Spurs A Super Playtime At The Rendezvous

A while back I was told by someone with some animal behavior training, that “novelty” is something coyotes stay away from. That novelty and smelly human socks were things coyotes avoided and therefore could be used to drive coyotes away.

Actually, the opposite seems to be true. I’ve seen coyotes absolutely delight in smelly old human shoes, their socks, coats and hats: they tend to actually be attracted to these things and to anything novel, including balloons waving in the wind, and even large objects like huge dirt piles and tractors — and no matter that the size and configuration of the huge dirt piles changed daily over a five day period, that the tractors were never in the same places, that the huge log piles grew and then slowly disappeared over a five day period, the coyotes returned for their play there day after day.

The morning that I took these photos, a huge, deep hole had been dug into the very level ground. It went down as deep as the piled up dirt was high. You can’t really tell from my photo, but the pit is very deep. My fear when I saw the hole was that if I, or a coyote from the family which roams the area were to slide in, there would be no getting out without help. Luckily, everyone was sure-footed and no one fell in!

So, after the tractors had done their work in the morning, I arrived at the huge pit and dirt pile. It was rendezvous time, which is the evening get-together when coyotes meet-up for play, grooming, re-confirming their family positions and eventually trekking. At the allotted time — and I must say that I don’t know how each coyote knows to appear at about the same time because they emerge from different areas of the park — possibly they’re just waiting and watching — they raced excitedly and playfully towards each other with greetings.

Initial play and greetings before heading over to the novel items

Their greetings were full of fun, as usual, and then they headed straight over to the three huge tractors and dirt pile that hadn’t been there the day before, where they exploded in play: running around as though these things had been placed there specifically for their enjoyment! They ran and chased each other along the top ridge of the dirt, and up and down, they explored the tractors, they explored and clambered all over the high wood-pile. And they smiled at all their fun. They did not avoid anything new, and it all was new. Enjoy the fun!

Smiling and happy after an intense chase on the ridge of the dirt pile

Pups

I literally stumbled upon a family greeting/meeting during my evening walk a couple of days ago. I had been photographing a 1 to 2 year old female who was mozeying along a trail, minding her own business, pouncing for gophers of which she caught several which she wolfed down, and then she diverted into a pathless forested area.

I remained on the path but peeked over a hedge in her direction, only to find an adult who may have been Mom (or possibly a babysitter yearling), and a pup — pups here in San Francisco are about 6 weeks old now — who had emerged to greet the approaching yearling female. The female approaching did so in a crouched position, which messaged a non-threatening subordinate status. I took a couple of quick photos (which revealed the pup to be a male), and immediately began retracing my steps out of the area. These coyotes withdrew into the bushes due to my presence in order not to reveal any of their additional *secrets*.

As I was distancing myself, Dad appeared, and he wasn’t too happy about what he knew to be the discovery of his family’s hiding place. Dads spend much of their time protecting their den areas and scaring off trespassers. They hope that their mere presence will serve as a deterrent, and indeed, that should be enough. I continued distancing myself, keeping my eye on Dad. Dad messaged me his concern with a few grunts, in addition to his presence, as he watched me leave.

The gophers caught by the yearling might have been for the pup. Yearlings are older siblings to the new pups — they are from the previous, and even previous to that, year’s litter, so they are either one or two years old. They are the “aunties” and help provide for the new litter. Only one or two yearlings, if any, normally stick around like this, the rest of the youngsters from those previous litters “disperse” out of the area to make their own way in the world. A number of San Francisco’s dispersed youngsters last year were tracked as far south as Los Gatos — that’s 60 miles south — all of these were eventually killed by cars. Cars are the primary killers of dispersing coyotes: these coyotes are young and have had very little experience with the extreme dangers of automobiles.


Now might be a good time to review etiquette for coyote encounters, especially during pupping season:

The Golden Standard, and the safest and most effective option, especially when walking your dog, is simple and complete avoidance. Whether you see a coyote in the distance, at mid-distance, approaching you, or if you are surprised by the sudden appearance of one at close-range, shorten your leash and walk away from it to minimize any potential dog/coyote confrontation or engagement — and continue walking away. IF you make a personal decision to shoo it away, please follow the guidelines in the video, How to Shoo Off A Coyote”, but know that this is engagement. What’s safest is simple and complete avoidance.

Coyotes are territorial. Coyotes are possessive. This is no different from you in your home: you don’t allow outsiders to come wandering through, and if you see someone suspicious in the neighborhood you may follow that someone to make sure he/she leaves. This is what coyotes do in the only effective way they can: they repulse with their scary “Halloween cat like stance”, they may follow an intruder out of their area, or or they may nip the haunches of the dog they want to move on and away. They want you to leave, so why not do it?! For more information, see How To Handle A Coyote Encounter: A Primer.

This is how pint-size coyote pups look right now, mid-May, at 4 to 6 weeks of age.

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.

Excluded and Banished To The Fringes

The female yearling who was all alone

This evening’s observation pulled at my heartstrings.  At first, I could only locate one coyote of a family I’ve been observing — the yearling female who recently is being bashed on a daily basis by her mother. She was alone and, unusually, she kept her eye on me and kept looking into the distance past me. I distanced myself but kept her in sight. After about an hour, she stopped poking around and looking around aimlessly, and lay down on the lawn, sphinx-style.

Right about then, I noticed that all the other coyotes of her family, four of them, had appeared together in the distance. She, of course, would have noticed them too, her eyes being that much better than any human’s. And now she looked in their direction. But she stayed where she was, lying down, instead of running happily with tail waving behind her to go say hello for their evening rendezvous.

the family in the distance

Female yearling sitting off in the distance all alone

I decided to walk towards the rest of the family — they were probably about 800 yards or so away. As I walked, I looked back. The yearling female had not budged. I continued on towards the family. They had greeted each other and now Mom was pacing back and forth probably looking for the female; Dad was relaxing on a knoll; and the two other youngsters were playing: wresting, chase, tug of war — all normal and happy evening rendezvous activities — except the yearling female was not included. After a minute of watching, I turned around and marched back. The yearling female had not moved. She was watching her family have a grand time, and she was not part of it.

Two youngsters play animatedly — sister is not included in the play — she’s far off, watching [blurry photos are because of the lack of light]

I had now returned to within 70 feet of the yearling female. Sirens then sounded and she sat up. In the distance, the entire family could be heard yipping and howling along with the sirens — but not this one. She kept quiet. She remained seated, watched and listened from the distance. And then she lay down again, focusing on where the yipping sounds had come from. It was totally dark now and my camera just couldn’t cope with no light, so I decided to leave. It’s the holiday season: it made me think of “they never let poor Rudolph, join in any reindeer games.” To be sure, there’s been affection between twin brother and this gal and even dad and her. I’ll post some photos of these soon.

This is the video I (tried) taking in the dark. It’s more a recording of the family yipping in the background than anything else, but you can see the lone, excluded female for a split second now and then as the camera attempts to focus with no light. When I zoomed out, at 43rd second of the video, the aperture opened up a little (offering more light and a stronger focus) so you can see the coyote a little further back, listening as the others sing. Coyotes love being part of  family howling, but she’s not part of that ceremony.  :((

As I walked away, I noticed, finally, that the family, beginning their nightly trekking, had come in her direction, and she had headed towards them. She had moved about 50 feet from where she had been. Dad is her perennial comforter, and with him there, she must have felt safe enough to approach him. As I walked down the hill and away, these two were right on the horizon against the almost black sky, which provided just enough light for a couple of silhouette photos — enough for me to see her crouched down submissively (in case Mom should approach), and Dad standing over her and grooming her affectionately. It made me smile and heave a sigh of relief: she’s still accepted and loved by her father and even her twin brother. HOWEVER, I wonder if this relationship might be fueling some of Mom’s behavior toward this daughter — not unlike a triangle??

So yearling daughter is being forced to keep her distance during the daytime, and only feels secure enough to approach if Dad is there, or if Mom is not there. Let’s see where this leads. Stay tuned. The thing to keep in mind is that this is a normal coyote behavior and it’s done for a reason — it has its good side — it did for Rudolph! We all eventually leave home to make lives of our own, and Mom’s treatment of her is helping the process.

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.

Previous Older Entries