Why Fathers Have Pups — in 58 photos!

Musings: I imagine that raising a family is as much fun and rewarding for coyotes as it is for us, in spite of the work involved. To begin with, for coyotes as well as us, there must be feelings of anticipation and excitement even before the event: knowing that something big is about to happen in their lives that will require preparation, forethought, and effort.

Thinking about it, procreation in the animal world is less of a conscious decision than a subconscious one, directed by cyclical hormones and drives — it’s a programmed activity, as is the job of rearing the pups once they arrive. For us humans, we have more say in the matter than do coyotes, though for us, too, the process is directed by the same hormonal drives and biological factors. But I think coyote parents, as well as us, bring their own unique experiences and characters into the equation, and of course each pup has her/his own individual temperament and unique relationship with each littermate, resulting in variations on a theme. A lot of work and dedication as well as fun are involved in all cases. The different capacities we are born with, the situations we are born into, and what we do with the agency/choices we have, define who we are as individuals: we all fit into the generalities of the species, with specific variations for each individual and family, be it coyote or human. We should be looking for the commonalities we can relate to! What we are able to relate to, we are more willing to embrace. So, what might parenthood involve for coyotes?

Pup Rearing: Early on, well before pups are born, the coyote pair becomes vigilant and alert: they patrol the periphery of their areas daily so as to KNOW everything that is happening in “their” established areas: it is their job to do so, and it’s part of what is required for what comes next. After digging a den, birthing, and lactation carried out by Mom, Dad, in addition to guarding and patrolling the area, joins in with a “progressive” program of feeding his pups: from regurgitated food through dead prey, to eventually live prey, and finally instruction on hunting and feeding themselves.

Education figures big in coyote lives, no less than in ours! Pups must learn about different types of prey: which are the easiest and which the hardest to capture, which are the safest and which are the most dangerous — and about other foods such as fruit, nuts and bugs, and where those foods are found. Over time, they learn to refine their hunting techniques and skills: many of these are taught by example. Learning through imitation and example avoids some of the pitfalls of a trial-and-error approach, such as a bitten nose, loss of an eye, or worse, though hit-and-miss and experimentation can’t be avoided during growing up, as even we humans know.

Coyotes also teach their youngsters how to be safe and navigate the urban landscape. They teach the youngsters all about territoriality and boundaries, about the hard-and-fast laws of nature generally, and about their species’ specific tendencies which they must respect and abide by to survive well.

Coyotes are extremely social. They mate for life, the youngsters stick together normally for 1 to 2 years, and Dad helps raise the young: in a truncated form, it sounds like us, doesn’t it? Their early social interactions take place predominantly within their own families where, of course, it is safer and more hospitable and forgiving than out in the wider world. It’s a good place to learn.

One of the most important things coyote parents do, I think, is to help shape their pups’ social interactions among themselves: this involves how to get along and the importance of hierarchy. These are passed on through example, discipline, and again, learned through trial-and-error. But also, life is simply “absorbed” collaterally by living in a family. Some coyotes are born more gregarious and outgoing — maybe sometimes a little too “overbearing” for the others — so they have to be damped a bit, while others are much more careful and withdrawn and may have to be encouraged more. Positive or negative reactions from siblings and parents teach pups what is acceptable or not: bite too hard or be too rough, and a sibling will move out of their reach and they won’t be able to play. Lesson learned. Those coyotes who don’t learn to fit in tend to disperse earlier than the others.

Learning through Play: And why am I writing about all this learning when the title of this posting is, “Why do Dads have pups?” What might make it worthwhile? I’m guessing that playtime figures large! During play everyone appears to be enjoying themselves the most, including Dad.

A lot of learning takes place through play. For example, hierarchy and personal boundaries are taught and maintained during play. Hierarchy is necessary for the smooth functioning of coyote families: and you can see it being taught and incorporated during play. There’s no question as to who the authority figure is. Boundaries and hierarchies of different degrees are also worked out among the littermates. At the same time, most of the time, the parents aren’t behaving like dominating dictators or leading the family with bravado, rather, they stand back, letting things happen, and make sure everyone is okay and included. For parents, as for youngsters, family life is fun, it’s rewarding and it’s entertaining, above and beyond the effort it entails.

Dad and Son Play: So a month ago, this is what I saw: a dad engaging in play, almost, but not quite as an equal — always with that “ultimate” control over his son. They were absorbed in their fun and play which included learning and teaching. These photos are from ONE play session: you can see the changing light as the sun comes up. Enjoy the photos! I’ve posted photos instead of a video because photos (unlike video which passes by in a whirlwind) stop the action and you can actually see, moment by moment, what is going on. In addition to the perpetual motion, every second there is something important happening which has meaning for the coyotes: in their eye-contact and facial expressions as well as their body language. There are a lot of photos here, 58 of them, so they are better reviewed in small doses. :))

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Immediately upon approaching each other, son hits the ground to show his respect and accept his lesser rank next to Dad. Here Dad is standing over him — all you can see of him are his ears (above). All captions refer to the photos above them. A photo can be clicked on to enlarge it, and then you can scroll through that particular series).

Right after the greeting, one-year-old son, on the right, invites Dad to play: first visually, and then with his body language (first row), which then turns into more forceful yet playful (of course) body slamming. Dad responds but with enough force to, again, let son know who is boss. Son retracts (bottom row) and hits the ground to let Dad know he’s on-board with who is boss.

They engage for play again, always instigated by the son here. Note eye contact and eye expressions. But then again, son hits the ground — he may have gone too far in a subtle way that’s below our radar to detect.

Now they face each other. First Dad squints. . . . and son reflects back the look!

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Son, with ears back (apprehensive and even fearful), gets the upper hand and pushes Dad down: Yikes! has he gone too far? Dad gives him a nip on the snout and then Son falls over almost apologetically: he wants the play to continue.

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And then they go running off together — i.e., no physical contact for the moment.

As they run, Son is full of himself, feeling his beans, and leans down to nip the heels of Dad. He must have either thought better of it and not actually made contact, or maybe nipped very gently, because they keep running after that as you can see above.

Another bout of play wrestling ensues, with son eventually ducking away, and running off with his tail side tucked under, indicating his state of mind: unsure and maybe somewhat fearful.

The play-snarling (but partly for real), and fine visual communication between them continues — mostly in the eyes, ears and face. They read all of these subtleties.

A break, more play wrestling, more visual sparring with Son’s ears flattened, and then they walk on.

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Rest time off to the side and alone for a minute.

Again, Son eyes Dad in a challenge, and Dad responds with a nip to the ear.

Son waits for Dad to pass, and then charges at him, attack fashion, but then changes his mind and runs past him. Maybe a direct charge is not such a good idea!

And now one last bit of sparring, feign-attacking, body shoves, snarly approaches, one-upmanship (above).

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And off they go — that’s enough for the day, and the end of that play session.


Addendum: When I see a coyote, I don’t simply “see a coyote”. I see “Peter” and his whole situation: his age, who his siblings are, who his parents are, the area he ranges, how he deals with people and dogs, how he deals with each parent and each of his siblings, what injuries he has sustained, his general personality. There is always more going on than first meets the eye when they “play” — you can see this by focusing in and “reading between the lines”.

© 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.

Crossing the First Divide: One Milestone at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

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Pensive Dad

This Dad is meticulously assessing and re-evaluating the safety of his denning area’s periphery. It’s something he does on a continuing and regular basis, and now even more so during pupping season. You’ll see him slowly walking and looking around, sniffing for WHO might have been here, and he listens to the voices close by: he can tell he is off people’s radar and so is unconcerned about them.

This hidden tunnelway sees skunks, raccoons, squirrels, red tail hawks, sharp shins, stellar jays, rats and mice . . . and an occasional unleashed dog who’s gotten whiff of a coyote and decided to pursue it. He is able to “see” all of this through his nose.

You might wonder what exactly is going through this father’s mind as he carries out his job: your guess is as good as mine, but you can be sure he, as a father, has the same concerns and worries that a human father might have: I think it’s important to see these commonalities.

Afterwards, he takes a drink of water from a watering hole to the left and then “marks” the area before moving on. He spent seven full minutes reflecting and thinking as he looked around this one spot. This is his seventh year as a dad: he knows the ropes and what he has to do to keep his family safe.

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

Trap Cameras: Dad Patrols / Pup Explores

Today, I’m posting a video sequence of a coyote on his patrolling rounds, and of a youngster investigating the area, captured remotely on a trap camera. Pups are 3 months old now and their curiosity is insatiable, of course! But this posting is more about trap cameras which aren’t as benign as most people think.


Use of trap cams and what I’ve seen. I’ve used them extremely sparingly in the past. Out of respect for what coyotes want and so as to observe natural rather than fearful or protective behavior, I stay away from denning areas: rather, I’ve used field cameras to count pups after they start exploring well away from their dens. And I’ve used them more recently for tracking an interloper coyote who was driven from her territory by another coyote.

There IS a difference between trap-cameras and human hand-held cameras, but not necessarily in the way people imagine: I’m referring to the intrusiveness factor. In some ways they may be less interfering than human presence, but in many ways they are more so.

Some of the reactions of coyotes to my and other trap cameras as seen in images from those cameras led to my doing a mini-study on trap-cameras. The outcome: I found that these devices are surprisingly intrusive from the animals’ point of view as seen by the images of their reactions to them. On the other hand, although my motives have been “tested” a couple of times by coyotes (I’ve always walked away when this happens), this is rare. Although they’ve watched me, they effectively have not reacted to me, a human photographing them: this is why I’m able to document their natural family lives. We have plenty of other humans passing through the parks in San Francisco so I just blend in with the rest of them. If these had been non-urban coyotes not used to having humans around, I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do.

Conversely, coyotes DO routinely react to trap cameras, often adversely, and they are as aware of them as they are of any human in their area.

For the coyote, I think it boils down to an “understandable known” which is a human taking photos (and I’m talking about doing so respectfully and from a respectable distance), versus an “incomprehensible unknown” which are the clicks and whirrs and flashes of a contraption without a human presence yet “triggered” and focused on them when they appear: that’s when the lights and the noises go on. I’ve even seen several coyotes test this: they stand in the distance waiting for the IR lamp to turn off or the noises to begin, and then they make a slight movement that confirms THEY are the triggers.

So how are these field cameras intrusive? Coyotes often become startled by them, stopping dead in their tracks. The cameras elicit stares and investigative or wary reactions, especially as the coyote gets closer to them. The cameras all make sounds, and coyotes can hear even the faintest of noises, even if you can’t. So even if these cameras are missed visually by coyotes, they still know they are there — this must make them even more disturbing. Even the “black glow” cameras, where the IR flash is invisible to humans, are very visible to coyotes. I’ve actually seen coyotes interact with these cameras by angrily defecating in front of them, kicking dirt in anger at them, and even taking them down when they can [see photos and video below]. Wow! 

When the field cameras are up high and unreachable, they appear to be ignored or not to be seen, or so I thought, until I looked closer. When I set them on high ledges where they could be accessed by animals — they were.  So it’s a fallacy that trap cameras are not intrusive: coyotes know these are human instruments and likely malevolent in some way. Coyotes may even know you are spying on them.

“In the name of science” is often accepted as a good excuse for using them. Scientists want their “facts”, but people should know that they do impact the animals on deeper levels than they might be aware of. 

Having said all this, I have used trap cameras, as I stated above. Recently, my cameras were left up overtime when I neglected to pick them up for several days because I was too busy to go get them, and I discovered that the cameras caught some behaviors worth posting, always sprinkled with the reactions I’ve just described.

Some of what the cameras caught include: Dad bringing back prey to his pups, a mom regurgitating her food for her only pup, a youngster waiting around impatiently for his parents to return from hunting, older sibling playing with a younger pup,  a mom playing with her youngsters as though she were one of them, parents trying to shoo their youngster into hiding in the bushes but youngster doesn’t heed them, a dad pacing and standing very still as he listens carefully for a possible intruder he’s heard! I’ll post some of these in the coming weeks. The video today shows a pup exploring with insatiable curiosity, and Dad patrolling before that.

Some images and a video of coyotes encountering trap cameras.  Here are examples of how coyotes reacted with suspicion & investigation, kicking dirt in anger, defecating in anger and as a message, and knocking down the camera [Press one of the images to scroll through the gallery].

Another example: https://www.ktvq.com/entertainment/trending/video-extra-we-said-no-cameras

All About Coyote Pups: A Primer

I’ve put together some information on coyote pups based predominantly on my own observations. Other information is included, including some hearsay, which I’ve stated as such. Push the underlined links I’ve provided for even more information.

Coyote pups are about two months old now here in San Francisco.

Etiquette: Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please especially keep your dogs away from those areas. Besides cars, dogs are coyotes’ biggest threat in urban areas. You can prevent stress and trauma to yourself, your dog, and coyote parents with new pups by leashing your dogs if you must move through such an area. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about a den’s general whereabouts should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas.

Terminology: Baby coyotes are referred to as “pups” (not cubs)!

Dates of birth: In San Francisco, pups are normally born towards the beginning of April after a gestation of 63 days. Coyotes come into heat just once a year (as opposed to dogs’  twice a year cycle) — they can only produce one litter a year which is usually born sometime in the Springtime. The courting behavior which leads to pups can be observed at the end of January.

Litter Sizes: A “litter” is the group of pups that are born and raised together in one family. Some yearlings from the previous year’s litter or before — those that didn’t disperse (leave) — may remain in the family and may even help out a little by bringing in food for the youngsters. I have seen anywhere from one to seven pups born in one litter in San Francisco: that’s quite a spread!  I have heard of larger litters, as many as 11 to 19 (not in San Francisco), but I’ve also heard (but not seen) that this very large litter size may actually be the result of “den sharing”: two females sharing the same den.

From my own observations, I’ve seen litters vary in size over several consecutive years from the same parents as follows: Maeve and Toughy 1-2;  Ma’am and Monte 2-5-1; Cai and Yote 7-2-? (haven’t had a chance to count this year’s yet); Maya and Ivan (3-4-5); Chert and Silver 1-0-0-0-4;. These are all variations of normal litter sizes. The exception was the five litters where there were sometimes no survivals: this anomaly was almost certainly related to inbreeding in this family; Chert went through the motions of having pups during those three years of no pups, but none ever appeared. Besides these normal, small fluctuations, the litter sizes I’ve seen in San Francisco have not changed over the 12 years that I’ve been studying coyotes, even though the coyote population here has grown from an initial 8 in 2002 to several score and appears to be at its saturation point, as revealed by more and more brutal territorial battles that have displaced resident coyotes.

So although I’ve heard it speculated that coyotes “regulate” their litter size: I’ve not seen an indication of this here in San Francisco. They appear to just ‘get what they get’ — like the rest of us (those who don’t take hormones). And rather than the proviso that “locations dictate litter size”,  I would think that litter size might have a genetic component. I know that natural multiple births seem to run in human families, so might litter size also have a genetic component?

Newborn pup size: Coyote pups at birth weigh between 1/2 and 1 pound. This has been measured by wildlife rehabilitation facilities which take in these newborns. Weight can vary substantially between the pups in one family which may include some “runts”. Their personalities also develop differently. Some, right from the start are adventuresome and exploratory: they are curious about everything and wander far, rather brazenly. Others have more of a built-in wariness and fear: they are on-edge and more anxious and keep closer to home. Some are more interactive and social, involved in a lot of rough-house playing and teasing, while others are more withdrawn, preferring to sit back and watch the others. Each of these has it’s benefits for survival: one is not necessarily a “better” personality type than another.

Dens and birthing: Coyote pups are born in dens which were either dug for this purpose by their parents or they were pre-existing “homes” of other animals, such as raccoons or skunks, that were broadened and enlarged by the to-be coyote parents for their purposes.  A den can also be an existing hole in the ground, cavities under tree trunks, a depression with good covering, or a nook under a ledge. I have only seen dens long after they were abandoned, I have never seen an occupied den: I keep my distance from these.

Coyote dens are used only for a short time: for birthing and nursing during the very early life of pups. Dens are outgrown, just as are birds’ nests or human cradles, after which the youngsters sleep in protected or hidden areas as do the parents. At around six weeks of age pups begin venturing beyond the den.

Here is a video of a wolf giving birth: I think we can assume that it must be pretty similar to what a coyote goes through. They emit howls as they give birth, and you hear a little of that here:

Do mothers stay in the dens for an extended period of time after giving birth? Well, if some do [this video shows pups right after, and pups’ first howls], it’s not a hard-and-fast behavior practice:  I’ve seen one mother out within a day of giving birth and I’ve seen others out in far less than a week.

Coyote pups may be left all alone for extended periods of time while the parents go off hunting. So, please don’t “save” what you think are “abandoned” pups — parents are likely simply off hunting. NO ONE can raise coyote pups as well as their own parents. You are actually hurting their chances for survival if you take their welfare into your own hands. If you truly believe they’ve been abandoned, then monitor them for several days before taking them to a wildlife center.

Nourishment: Coyote pups live on their mother’s milk alone for the first few weeks. This diet is soon supplemented with regurgitated food at about one month of age. The regurgitated food consists of whatever the parents consume, mostly rodents, but also fruit, amphibians, insects, birds and even garbage. How long do the youngsters lactate? I’ve seen mothers’ tit size shrink by the end of May, so I assume by that time the youngsters are well accustomed to semi-solid diets and on their way to whole prey soon. First, dead prey is brought to the youngsters, after which the pups are taken out to practice hunting on their own. Interestingly, I’ve seen coyotes over one year of age still being brought regurgitated food from a father: the youngsters approach Dad from below his chin, wedging their muzzles under his upper lip. This causes the regurgitation response. Dad then expels the food onto the ground, and the youngsters grab and eat it.

As the youngsters grow, Dad continues his contributions in the food department by bringing home prey to help feed the youngsters. Both coyote parents, unusually, raise the youngsters and you may find Dad at times sitting out and “minding” the offspring, giving Mom a break.

An interesting observation I’ve made is what I call “facilitating.” When the pups are learning to hunt, a mother will kill a rodent and  bury it where the pups can easily find it!

Survival rate:  Survival rate of pups is known to be low — 20-30% is what the literature says, but what I’ve seen in San Francisco is closer to about 70% from the time the pups can first be seen. However, it should be noted that I myself never know how many pups were actually born because I never intrude into their den areas: I wait to see what a litter is like until Mom brings them out or they are spotted through the bushes. Between birth and when I see them, there could have been more pups who didn’t make it.

First appearances: You might glimpse youngsters now, at two months of age, through the bushes, but it won’t be because coyotes want you to. Youngsters are highly protected as they grow up. And if a youngster sees you, he/she is bound to head straight to the bushes to hide! And parents are bound to come out to warn you to stay far, far away!

Family howl session in response to sirens. The howling family consists of Mom and Dad and four two-month old pups! Note that, although coyotes keep youngsters hidden as much as possible, they seem to have no qualms about being heard!

Here is what coyotes look like during their first year of growth:

Coyotes may leave home (dispersal) anytime after they are about 9 months of age, which is about January in SF. The earliest I’ve seen was a female who left home at 9 months of age. And the latest I’ve seen was a male who didn’t leave until he was 2.5 years of age, even though his father attempted pushing him out almost a year beforehand. The Presidio has tracked some of these dispersals to 60 miles south of the city, and I’ve been able to track some to vacated niches within the city itself. Many dispersing youngsters get killed by cars during this treacherous dispersal time in their lives. They also come across extremely hostile territorial coyotes who make it clear that they are not one bit welcome.

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 apparently is a yearling male babysitter), 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.

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.

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