A Chapter Ends

An entire family left their long-time claimed territory, leaving one daughter behind. I thought the vast territory had become hers. For several months, I would find her all alone. And then one day, there were two newcomers with her — both males!

I could tell that she was apprehensive about them for the first little while after they appeared. She kept a squinted, wary eye on them as they loitered around fairly close to each other until dusk darkened the sky and enveloped the landscape. She was assessing them, and they her. Dusk is when she’d usually head off trekking alone, and soon I watched as three of them went off together, not with complete confidence in each other as one would expect in an established family, but they were figuring each other out, and figuring out their relationships, through darting eye-glances: coyotes communicate visually and everything they did sent a message and was interpreted as a message.  I watched these three for the next few weeks as they became more obviously trusting and comfortable with each other. Right from the start, though, she showed a preference for the dark-eyed fella: he was the obvious dominant of the two, and maybe this had everything to do with her choice.

After the first few days during which she showed them “her domain”, they mostly hung-out on their knolls waiting for dusk to come around, and I watched the relationship progress from her being totally “in charge” and leading the howling sessions (in this first video, you can see him ignore the siren until she reacts):

. . . to ‘her chosen fella’ taking charge and leading the chorus when sirens sounded. Note that, although she appeared to have “chosen” her fella early on, the “possessive display” continues, and you’ll see this at the end of these two howling videos.

It wasn’t long before I observed an all-out, no-holds-barred play session: they were in a sand-pit a long distance off and it was dark, but I got this photo above, showing them playing as coyotes do when they like each other: chasing, wrestling, and play-beating up one another in a teasing sort of way. And then, within only a few days of that out-and-out play, the pair was gone. They are now gone and have been for weeks. So, I guess the lady of the house’s new beau came in and swept her off her feet and they loped away into the sunset together to hopefully live happily ever after — isn’t that how these stories are supposed to go? I wonder if I’ll see them again.

Since their departure, I’ve only seen the extra-male a few times: the beautiful pale blue-eyed fellow below. But now he, too is gone. The field has been totally vacant for weeks. The family that left had been there twelve full years I’m told by a fellow observer who knew the Dad from the time he was a mere pup. That fellow observer ceased appearing because the coyotes had. So there’s a big void there right now. I suppose my assumption that the vast territory had become “hers” is incorrect. It’s a coyote no-mans land right now.

Twelve years ago, before this family claimed it as their own, there had been a territorial battle between two families here. I was told that one of the families was so vengeful that it went after and slaughtered the pups of the rival family. Then all families disappeared and only one youngster remained there. He became the owner for the next twelve years until last fall. This story came from my fellow observer who, I can verify, has been an astute and accurate observer and could even identify individual coyotes in the dark (which I still have not mastered). There is no reason not to believe the story. I’m relating it to show just how intense and brutal territorial battles can get: that the battles are fierce shows just how important the land is to coyotes for their survival.

I’m hoping someone comes back soon: it might be the old family, it might be this recently formed pair, it might be the extra-male, or it might be someone never seen before: vacant niches tend to be filled, so let’s see. Of interest to me, as noted in my very last posting, is that observable coyote activity is way down in almost all the territories I study, and may be due to the upcoming pupping season.

 

Newcomers

Magic indeed happens, even for coyotes, and it happened here just a few weeks ago. My observations on this particular evening was in a territory from which the entire family had departed several months ago except one 2-1/2 year old female. During the year previous to their departure, this yearling daughter had been excluded from family life mostly by her mother, and she was incessantly harassed by a younger brother, so she lived apart from them, on the fringes of the territory. She was determined to stay.

Over that past year, the family slowly dwindled in size, which is normal as youngsters disperse: the remaining youngsters from three consecutive litters left one by one, and then, to my surprise, Mom and Dad left. Dad returned periodically every week or two, but those visits ceased. I don’t know why Dad and his mate left: Dad had been on this territory for 12 years — he had been born there and won the territory in a dispute we think with his brother. Anyway, 2-1/2 year old yearling now was all alone there. I found her frequently lying down on top of a knoll, or I would hear her howl all alone in the distance when sirens sounded. And then one day a several weeks ago . . . something began to happen!

I reached the top of a hillock to find this yearling running towards me excitedly and maybe even a bit nervously. I was happy to see her energetic stride. And not far behind, surprise!, there came someone else . . . AND then someone else! These were two newcomers who looked strangely familiar, yet I didn’t know them. And then it struck me: I knew where they came from because of their uncanny resemblance to a coyote family in a nearby territory I visit occasionally. I have noted this before: there can be remarkable resemblances within some coyote family groups: in this case, blue eyes was one of the tell-tale signs. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that these two were males. Very exciting!

Showing the newcomers around

The female appeared to be showing-off as well as showing them around. First of all, she showed off her knowledge of what was not dangerous by whizzing right by me. I watched the others follow her lead — to me they looked impressed. They kept a larger distance from me. She proceeded to convey her intimate knowledge of the territory to them by leading them through secret fence passageways and to the backs of houses, and they explored various well-known-to-her brush areas. They criss-crossed an entire section of the territory, marking and exploring and watching each other, and then as night fell they headed out into the streets of San Francisco. I turned back at this point: I was overjoyed for the little female.

Three coyotes where there used to be one.

The next day, I saw the interaction in this video. She seems to be hooked on one of the new fellas and was not afraid to let him know. Note that SHE is the one making all the moves while he seems almost to be putting up with her if not downright annoyed with her. Actually, simply allowing her to do this is his way of accepting her. Anyway, it looks like a relationship is in the making here!