A Rendezvous Ritual

Coyotes spend a good deal of their day sleeping. Members of a pack or family may sleep within close proximity of each other, or they may sleep much further apart, but probably within the same couple of acres of each other. They have amazing built-in time clocks, but they also are influenced by circumstances of the moment. My own dog could tell the time and knew what was to be done at that time. For example, I always set off, with my dog, at exactly 2:40 to pick up one of my kids at school. But one day I fell asleep — I would not have made it on time except that my dog began poking me with her muzzle at exactly 2:40. Needless to say, I was amazed. The same is true for coyotes — they seem to know when it is time to meet up, but if people or dogs are around, they will delay.

Most coyotes I know like to go trekking alone. After all, their staple diet consists of voles and gophers — animals that really can’t be divvied up very well. Might as well hunt alone. But some coyotes do enjoy trekking together, usually in pairs. When they hunt in pairs, there is usually a rendezvous beforehand.

Rendezvous locations can remain the same for a while, or they can change drastically from day to day, but coyotes seem to have various favorite meeting spots which they alternate between for a while, before changing these altogether .  This is where they congregate to then move together for their foraging.

In this case here, the older female had spent her day sleeping in the sun quite some distance from where the young male had been also sleeping in the sun. The female was the first to move around — she disappeared into some bushes. In the meantime, I watched the male who moved from where he had been sleeping to a new location where he curled up and then dozed a while longer. Finally, he got up, stretched, scratched, and began to forage. I watched him catch a vole and toy with it. He continued searching for voles and then looked up ahead. He must have seen the female approaching, because he sat down and watched intently. She trotted over, and arrived on the scene.

The ritual began with hugs and kisses. They are hidden in the grass in these photos, but you can see what is going on. It was intense, but lasted only about a minute. That was the first phase of the meeting. Then there was a pause where all activity ceased. I think the male was waiting for something, but since nothing happened he turned around and backed into her — it looked like a request. He did it again and then looked over his shoulder: “well?”. The older female was obliging. She began grooming the young fellow, pulling off burrs and bugs. He accepted this, repeatedly laying his ears back against his head — he seemed to melt with the attention. There was care, affection, and intensity here which few animals that I have seen show each other. The next phase of the meeting involved trotting off together. From what I have seen in the past — though I did not follow them this time — they will spend their time together trekking, marking their territory, hunting, playing, exploring and maybe even meeting up briefly with a couple of lone coyotes who live adjacent to this territory, before again returning to separate localities to rest.

I’m Pretty Sure There’s A Coyote Den In My Backyard! An Email Exchange

Hi Janet — Late this morning, I am positive that I heard 2-3 coyote pups signing to each other behind our yard and the neighbors. Either way, this feels a little bit too close for comfort. They sounded maybe 50 or 75 yards away. It was definitely not the sound of average puppies… the only way I could describe it was like warbly singing, with crying yips.

Also, when I took my dog out back earlier this morning, I found fresh dog urine right next to the house — I was perplexed at the time because our yard isn’t accessible from the street, only from the back of the hill. But now after hearing the puppies, I think that one of them was in our yard.

I appreciate the majesty of coyotes, but I wonder if it’s safe to be outside with a den so close. And I worry about my dog, too, even though he is never ever unattended in the yard. My dog is large and old, but he’s still quite fiesty with other big dogs. I’m not sure how aggressive things might get with coyotes around.

I also have a large vegetable garden that goes straight up toward where I heard the pups. The garden is watered at night and morning — is it safe for me to be out there during puppy season? The top of our garden is really only about 15 yards away from where I heard them.

Sorry for the long note, but wildlife is not my expertise. My boyfriend chuckles because I run away when the trio of raccoons comes into the yard. I’m starting to feel a little trapped in the house…

Do you have any advice on safety? I would be grateful if you do…
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Hi  —

I don’t think there is a den there. I know the coyotes that roam that area and they did not have pups. Coyotes, when they greet each other, have a very high pitched, puppy-sounding squeal — what you describe as “warbly singing with crying yips” — which often is mistaken for puppies. Please listen to recordings #2 and #5 on the Urbanwildness.com site: http://www.urbanwildness.com/urbanwildness.com/Coyote_Howling.html. There are more recordings on CoyoteYipps.com.

Please know that you are totally safe — coyotes do not care to deal with humans: you are bigger and smarter than they are, and they know it. Dogs are sometimes another story: coyotes are very territorial towards dogs, the same as they are with non-resident, interloper coyotes. If your dog is always attended out of doors, there should be no problem. If you, for any reason, need to scare a coyote away, make noise and throw a threatening caniption to let the coyote know that you really don’t want him around. If you want hands-on help to show you how to feel safe around coyotes, let me know. And feel free to contact me about any coyote issues which you are worried about. Please let me know if this has been at all helpful. Sincerely, Janet

PS: If it does happen to be a den area, I would be very surprised. It would mean that coyotes are there within another coyote’s territory. There is a female I’ve been following — an interloper — but I have not seen her with a male companion — she seems to be a loner. Whenever she is detected by the area’s resident coyotes, they drive her out. And, if there indeed is a den, you would be seeing come coyote activity regularly right there — probably every night. Please keep me posted! Janet
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Thanks, Janet! Your letter makes me feel better already. So helpful!

I was on your site for hours after I wrote you. Your photography is incredibly special. One of my housemates also heard the ‘song’ this morning and so together we listened to your amazing sound clips! We agreed that what we heard was a little different, so we found a clip on youtube that sounded most like what we had in the back yard, but our visitors sounded a little bit slower and more like they were calling to each other yard-to-yard. Here it is: http://youtu.be/xsQRNBm4_z4.

Really it was an amazing experience hearing that this morning, and if I wasn’t such a nervous-nellie then I probably would’ve thought to get my iphone memo recorder out (Next time I will record it, if there is a next time. . .)

Just thinking of it now — but there have been a couple nights in the last two weeks when it sounded like the raccoons might be fighting with a dog outside — there was that wet-snarly sound, growling, and a lot of screeching on the part of the raccoons. I wonder if that’s your area’s interloper?

I have to say, I have such respect for the wild life up here…to me, all dogs are angels on this earth, including and especially our native coyote friends. I will definitely write to you again if I hear or see anything. I’ll keep a journal, too. My desk faces the steep slope of our yard and I’ve got a great view on both sides — if I see anything you will be the first to know.

Very best!  Jo

PS: About your breath-taking video of Myca trying to play with your dog…you raised the most patient, loving, and well behaved dog that ever walked the earth. What a special day that must have been!

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Hi Jo —

Thank you for this wonderful email! Glad you liked the sites, but I’m especially happy that you are thrilled about your visitors!!

The coyotes may be in the area in hopes of snagging one of the young raccoons that you’ve been seeing. The growling you heard may have been a coyote confronting the mom raccoon — that may be why the coyotes are hanging around. It’s part of nature, even if it results in heartbreak. Yes, please keep a journal!  Janet

PS: On the you-tube video, those are not puppies, they are adults — that is what they sound like. Janet

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They just came back to sing! It’s a kind of quiet recording because my volume was a little low, I will try to do better next time. I can’t believe they are here again!!! Same spot, too!  High pitched greeting could be mistaken for puppies

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Hi Jo —

Yep, that’s the greeting! Very exciting!! Thank you so much for sending this to me!  Their behavior is quite different lately and I’m trying to figure out why. Also, if you do get a photo, let me know. I’ll probably be able to identify them if you get a face-on shot — their faces are as different as humans once you get to know them. If you want, I can give you a brief biography of them!

I would love it if you could keep me posted on your “coyote adventure”. And, would it be all right if I posted this on the blog? Let me know! And I look forward to hearing more!  Janet

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Janet,

I am SO sorry to bombard you with emails today, but I realize the audio recording I sent you earlier was from another email account and I didn’t even sign my name. I am just so excited to have heard the coyotes again that I’m bumbling on simple social graces.

I am re-attaching the audio so I can be sure you receive it, and also attaching  a photo of the garden with notations of where the coyotes seemed to be when they sang.

I am feeling a little protective over them now, just thinking that there might be a den — I hope the neighbors choose to leave them be, as I am. They are one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever heard in my life! Thank you for writing to me earlier, and for sharing your experiences on your website. I feel so much more at ease about my new ‘neighbors’. Because of you, Janet, I am officially in AWE of these animals! I will keep a journal of their howling schedule for your reference, too.  Thank you for sharing this amazing experience with me. Maybe we will have a chance to meet sometime depending on whether I continue to hear them singing! I think you might have some new coyotes in this area to photograph!

Jo

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Hi Jo —

You are not bombarding me, I’m thrilled about this, too! Please don’t get exciting about pups — I don’t think there are any. Coyotes would never den in a garden where you work. I think they’re there because they’ve found the raccoon. That is my hunch. But let’s see how it plays out. And yes, if it does turn out to be a den, I would not tell anyone — that’s the safest thing to do, and I will keep your secret! And, yes, hope to meet you sometime!  Janet

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Hi Janet, The coyote experience has been incredible today! Young and old…they are magnificent. I hope it continues! You’re wonderful, Janet,

Jo

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Hi Jo —

If I post your stuff I would not specify where it is — best to keep location vague. Notice that none of my postings specify place. The point is the story: that you were a little apprehensive, that you thought it might be pups and finally that you were thrilled and even got a recording. Thanks, Jo!  Janet

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The strangest thing happened yesterday…our wildlife ‘regulars’ returned to the yard. I realize I didn’t tell you that many of them had been m.i.a for a week, including the three raccoons. I truly thought my beloved Scrub Jays had been eaten by the raccoons. The Jays had been nesting in our yard, and since last week, I saw only one just hopping from high-spot to high-spot looking for the others. One day it even flew directly into my window! This is extremely bizarre behavior for our Jays, and I was totally horrified to see it distressed. BUT…late yesterday afternoon, the Jays came back AND in broad daylight one of the raccoons wandered through the yard…also very unusual. The raccoon might have been limping, but hard to tell. I do worry about the other two raccoons now…they were thick as thieves. I also hate to think of any creature alone in the world.

I bet you were right to say that it has been hunting (not a den) that brought the coyotes here.

Meantime, I’ve still got my audio recorder on the desk, just in case….

Jo

“I Like You, Bunches”

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This show of affection — almost cuddling — lasted one-and-a-half minutes. These coyotes touched noses over and over, they rubbed heads and rubbed their bodies against each other over and over, one clambored over the other, one held the other’s snout within its own — to confirm social rank, no doubt. There was communication with tip-of-the-tongue movements and display of emotion with ears down or back. There was a paw on the back and head rub along that same back. There was intense eye to eye contact. And I couldn’t  even see what their snouts were precisely doing part of the time because they were facing away from me — all I could tell was that their snouts were together in this affectionate greeting.

It began when I came upon one coyote grazing in an open field. Soon the other appeared in the distance. They became aware of each other but didn’t move towards each other at first. Then, they trotted in towards each other, and this sequence of photos is what resulted. Afterwards they continued to graze. A runner came by close enough to cause one of the coyotes to quickly bolt away several hundred feet towards some bushes. They both watched the runner go by, and then the second coyote kept its eyes on the first, as if to make sure it was okay and calm before proceeding with its grazing. These two watch out for each other. They are best friends.

Low Key Rendezvous, by Charles Wood

Sunday I videoed my Los Angeles area coyotes as they met up for the evening.  In the video, Dad and Mom stand in the back while Tom wanders and Mister sits.  About a minute into the video Mister appears to ask Mom for a kiss.  I believe there was a fifth coyote hidden in the brush.  It may be the one that ran to catch up with the other four.

It was nice to see Dad and the others practically indifferent to Holtz and me.  Their stares were low key and they were relaxed enough to instead be attentive to each other.  Mister didn’t feel he had to prove something to everybody, even stopped staring.  Only Mom felt strongly enough about us to mark.  Their tails said to me they were ready to explode in joy except for the man and dog.  Sunday the five arrived at approximately the same time, greeted and then moved along to where they go most evenings.  They had a place to be off to and each knew it as they met.

Mom Sentry

At times one or two show up ahead of the others.  Mom did a few days ago while teenage boys were spray painting under the bridge.  She sat on higher ground and watched the boys while watching for her pack to gather.  When I arrived there I pointed her out to their amazement.  You just never know who is watching you tag.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

More Coyote Kisses!

Again, I came across coyotes ecstatically greeting each other. The greeting went on for a full minute. Most of the activity occurred behind bushes and grasses, but I was able to glimpse a little of it! Notice that the alpha coyote is always standing up, whereas the submissive coyote kisses from a lowered position, almost all the way to the ground. The greetings I’ve seen always involve lots of wiggly ecstatic affection, but greetings may also solidify social hierarchy within a group — these photos would suggest that.

ecstatic greeting with kisses

Adoration On A Foggy Day

There is no other term — just look at the photos: adoration. I’ve known these particular coyotes for a while now. They have a very close relationship: a mother and her two-and-a-half year old son. The jumping for joy, touching, wiggling and squiggling, hugs and kisses were absolutely overwhelming displays of affection — it lasted about 25 seconds. This greeting was an intensely demonstrative one, though there were no accompanying squeals and whining which often go along with greetings.

Almost all of the affectionate display came from the younger male. Mom seemed just as happy to see the son — after all, she is the one that came up to him; he had been standing there and eating — but hers was less demonstrative and much more of a solid and dependable Rock-of-Gibraltar affection. This is how I saw it, based on many hours of previous observations of their behaviors.

After this intense “greeting”, they both ran off  together, and out of sight. It appeared to me that Mom had come to “fetch” the younger one — and he seemed ready to go with her, though, until she appeared, he seemed in no hurry to go anywhere. He had spent the previous hour hunting and eating a number of gophers. They both then headed for a denser growth area in order to “turn in” for the day. I did not see them again.

Ritual Greeting?

Ritual greetings are used in coyote packs to confirm the social order. Here a young coyote approaches the Alpha, who is his mother, to greet her with kisses and muzzle rubs. Note that his ears are always back.  She seems to only accept it and to put up with it — she does not return the behavior in any way. In fact, the young one did not approach with his usual wiggly joyfulness — maybe because that had already happened an hour earlier?

Family Greeting Sequence: Smothering Mom Who Then Needs To Get Away

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Here is a display of strong family affection — affection for Mom from two of her full-grown pups aged 18 months at the time. Joy from the juveniles can be seen in their body movements and facial expressions as they approach her. They approach her with lowered heads in deference to her Alpha status — so the greeting is both one of love and a confirmation of their respect for her. Mom is the coyote on the far right in these photos. Mom appears to “allow” them to display this affection — but I have seldom seen her return it.

In this sequence, Mom soon tires of it all. After the first initial greeting with just one of the pups she moves off and lies down. At this point the other youth appears and both this time approached her with kisses and hugs (close body contact). She then gets annoyed at the pile up, reacting with a gaping snarl (#13) and then moves off. The younger ones follow and Mom snarls again (#17) but they offer apologetic kisses and then they all settle down now with plenty of space between each other.  This entire sequence lasted over three minutes. These photos were actually taken at the beginning of October when these displays were still going strong: the displays are not nearly as lengthy or nor as intense recently.

More Squiggling, Kisses and Falling Over Each Other

So, at the risk of being repetitive, I watched again as a mother came to “collect” her family to take them off to a safe place. I had passed two young coyotes earlier, full of beans and play and maybe some mischief, chasing each other and joyfully running up a path. They stopped to watch a dog walker. I sat down to talk to my dog walking friend. Soon, we realized, that we were being investigated — not us so much as the dog. That is always the case.

And shortly, as might have been expected, the mother came running up and so did a sibling. At first our investigating coyote did not notice them, but eyesight, smell and hearing are keen in coyotes, and this one soon turned its eyes in their direction. Immediately he headed for them. Here are photos of the happy and affectionate greeting that I have come to know is a constant occurrence among members of a coyote family. The mother then, with the displays of affection continuing, led the pack off.

I have noticed that the only truly wary coyote of this group is the mother. The younger ones on their own would linger and investigate right in the open if it were not for the mother appearing to lead them away. On many days they do linger and I worry that they haven’t learned what they need to in order to survive in an urban area. I’m wondering how they might learn this. Coyotes who have grown up in an urban park have few dangers presented to them: they’ve learned to avoid dogs. But they need to keep more hidden.

Pounds of Love and Affection

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I was watching two yearling coyotes when their mother appeared trotting down the path in their direction. The yearlings had been casually hunting but were now sitting on a bare spot. I wondered if they were waiting for their mother? They saw the mother first. They waited just a moment before running at her, delightedly and joyfully. They couldn’t seem to get enough of her. I have now seen this “greeting” lots of times. It is an indication of the extremely strong family ties which include lots of love, care and concern for each other.

The young coyote body movements alone communicated lots of happiness and affection: leaping, piling up, jumping right over a sibling.  In addition, there were the facial expressions and movements: kisses, mouths agape, ears back, head rubs, pint-size nips, smiles, squinting, reaching for the tip of the snout with a snout, a snout around the mothers, paw on mother’s back. Note that these actions are carried out by the young coyotes towards their mother.

The mother made her way, with all this activity, up to a safer place off the trail. She was the recipient of all the affection. Her expressions were different from theirs. I did not see her outright kiss either one of them. Her reactions included licking her lips, tip of the tongue out, tongue extended further out, squinting, ears back, and . . . .  ducking the onslaught!!

This greeting lasted just under three minutes. Beforehand the two younger coyotes had been hunting together. Now the three of them went off together, led by the mother. I have seen where she “gathers” them together to lead them off. And I have seen them engage in a play session after such a gathering. Very often, as far as I have seen, this morning meeting will signal a time for them to “go in” for the day.

Adoration, Kisses and Muzzle Rubs

There is intense muzzle rubbing and kissing when coyote family members greet each other. Often this is accompanied by enthusiastic jumps and lots of body contact. At my last observation I was in a position to watch one coyote’s purely adoring gaze as the other one approached before the muzzle rubs and kisses: that is the first photo above. The affection and ties within a coyote family are incredible.

Bouncing Greeting

Jumping up high several times from the hind legs — or bouncing — is used by coyotes as a greeting for a few SELECT dogs. My dog and I were greeted this way on various occasions several years ago when we came across a coyote for a period of several months. There was no mistaking the friendly intent: “Hi there, I’m so glad to see you”. Could it have had a sexual component?

Since that time, I have come across another walker who reminded me of this behavior. The walker let me know that a coyote, not the same one that I used to see, had just seen him and his dog at not too great a distance and began this jumping. I asked him if the encounter was a surprise one that might have made the coyote defensive. The walker said absolutely not, he wanted to make it clear to me that it was a greeting, and that it actually occurred fairly regularly. It didn’t happen every time he came across this coyote, he said, but often enough so that he knew how to read it. I recalled my own experience when I had a dog, and I knew he was right.

The dogs involved in both of these cases were large males who never went after the coyote and pretty much ignored it. The only reaction these dogs had was a playful bark which made the coyote move back a little — this was probably the intent of the bark. There seemed to be a mutual respect for personal space and a mutual respect for “differences” that both types of canines were aware of and lived up to. The coyote, after the greeting, often followed for a few minutes or lay down to watch, carefully observing all the moves of the dog it had just greeted. Coyotes are able to read every detail of a dog’s character and intentions from its eye contacts, body movements and energy. From observing, the coyote can confirm for itself the friendly — or at least not unfriendly — nature of the dog and whether or not the coyote should expect any adverse behavior.

I have seen other dogs, those which have chased the coyote, approached in a totally different manner by a coyote. The approach was extremely brief, only a few seconds long, but it involved a kind of oneupmanship and testing from both the coyote and the dog: a sequence of short coming-in close and retreating. This is totally different from the behavior I have described as a bouncing greeting.

By the way, I have never seen a coyote greet another coyote in a bouncing manner. Coyotes greet each other by coming in close to each other, face to face, and they often caress — at least those within the same family. If a coyote does come up to a dog, it tends to do so towards the rear end of the dog.

I have not been able to get a still photo of this, but three years ago I did get a video, with my Canon point and shoot camera, of the “bounce” which I have put up on YouTube:

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