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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