Sibling Best Friends Become Arch Enemies

I missed capturing the first skirmish in this battle, and when I finally turned on the video camera, the three coyotes were in a standoff — standing absolutely still, facing each other, tense, waiting, daring an interaction, prepared for the other’s next move. There was no physical activity during this time; the activity was all psychological and internal. They held this stance for many minutes. I cut out that long section from the video, but know that for several minutes before this video begins, that was going on. The video actually begins right before a snarl that leads to more fighting.

On reflection and with hindsight, all the activity of that early morning was headed in the direction of this showdown. Instead of their normally exuberant playing, exploring and hunting, the two coyotes I was observing in the video remained fairly immobile, with their eyes fixated on a far-off object which I could not see. That they remained this way for more than 15 minutes, with just slight movements, should have been a dead giveaway as to what was going on. These two were waiting for any false move or “moving in” from the coyote they were watching. And that coyote, no doubt, was watching them just as intently, assessing what his own next moves would be, and what theirs would be, possibly daring the situation into a showdown.

Finally the two rushed up apparently to head off the third coyote who decided to enter this area, and that’s when the first skirmish occurred.

The fighting here includes snarling, teeth displays, raised hackles, intense biting and punching, jumping on, charging and slamming against, and brutal tail-pulling by two siblings, a brother and a sister who joins him, against a third brother who cries out in pain (about :44) and fights back, but who ends up running off after the showdown. The sister’s behavior is interesting and I’ve seen this before: a subordinate coyote joins in the fray led by an aggressor in ferociously attacking a third. In a couple of cases it made sense because there had been a bit of antagonism between the two subordinates, but I’m not sure this is always the case. Maybe the sister was primed instinctually to team up with the would-be-winner as a population control mechanism? I’m speculating because I don’t totally understand this why a third would join in.

This fighting is not a simple family spat to resolve who gets what or who sits where: those issues are worked out by hierarchical behavior which is less intense. This fighting here, in its consequences, will decide fates and destinies that will be monumental for the lives involved. It will decide who gets to live a privileged continuance of patterns and routines he has known all his life and within a territory which he knows every inch of, and who will be put at risk for hardship, survival and even death by traveling away from the familiar and into the unknown through hostile territory (with unfamiliar routes, cars, other territorial coyotes, people), where food and water also will be scarce and hard to find.

That’s the physical side of what’s going on, but there’s also an emotional side: that of finding oneself all alone and self-dependent after a life of intense family interactions, companionship, and mutual care. Dispersal can be a trying time, and it is often initiated like in this video. This rivalry here hasn’t been going on for too long — these fellas were still buddies less than a month ago. The rivalry has reached a crescendo now. Hopefully the underdog is resilient and lucky and will survive and become a stronger individual through his uncharted trials.

Already the siblings in this family are down to three from seven. One was killed by a car when under a year old. Two were found dehydrated and beyond help (I’m told by ACC), probably poisoned by some human element — possibly car coolant left out in the open. A fourth female recently picked up and left amicably of her own accord. She was the one who had always held back and was not totally a part of the fun of the others.

And now it appears that this brother has to go: there’s no room in one territory for the two males, and the remaining sister has taken sides. Eventually these last two siblings will also leave, and I wonder if they will go off as a pair: I’ve seen that inbreeding is not so uncommon in coyotes. Because of dispersion, we are not overpopulated with coyotes. At this point, these particular yearlings are 16 months old.

Affection and Confirmation of Hierarchy at Rendezvous

HE was out looking for her, and then I lost sight of him. Then I caught sign of her, keeping hidden, but obviously looking for him. They found each other and came together for their rendezvous and greeting.

Their snouts touch and their eyes meet, and she gives him a kiss with her tongue — you can see her tongue in the first photo below where she gently caresses and nuzzles him.

The *touching* proceeds with her putting both paws on his back — claiming and confirming her higher rank — he allows it and even invites it: it’s a sign of affection and harmony in this little family.

Off they go for their evening together after having spent daylight hours apart.

After that, they head off for their adventures of the evening, after having dozed the daylight hours away in separate locations.

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.

Hmmm. Not So Sure About the ‘Closeness’ Here

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Coyote pairs are becoming cozy again. It’s that time of year. They are spending more time together than in the last few months. Most of the time, both partners appear to be mutually involved — mutually attracted. But I wonder if this is always true?

I watched as the male (right) of this mated pair came out of the bushes and approached the female who was lying in the grass. Rather than joyful greetings when she saw him coming, she put her head down in a manner of *resignation* and waited. The greeting ritual here involved dominance on his part, and some kind of trepidation on her part. It was not the “ever so happy to see you” excitement that I’ve come to expect from other coyote pair greetings, even though those, too, involved a degree of hierarchical activity.

I wondered how often coyotes are in relationships that aren’t mutually desired?

This female seems to like her independence. She spends time alone on a hill where she hunts or rests curled up in a little ball. He, on the other hand, keeps himself less visible by spending time in the bushes during daytime hours. Whereas she always takes off to walk and explore on her own, he has a need to shadow her or wait for her, and when he looses her, say because of dogs or people approaching, he’ll look for her for a short time and then head back to his bushes at a slow and listless pace with head slumped down — one can’t help but read this as disappointment and dejection. Of course, they’ll meet up later in the evening, but he obviously wants to go trekking with her. She doesn’t seem to really care, and makes no effort to locate him after they get separated.

Enough Is Enough!

An exasperated coyote determinedly puts an end to the howling of another coyote: “Cool It!” They were responding to a siren. Notice that the victim actually has the last word, though it’s not very loud, before they both settle down to groom themselves!

Dispersion in Progress — with complications

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

Imagine yourself as a young coyote in a perfect world. You live in an urban park which is ideal as a habitat — ideal beyond imagination: there are forests of trees with thick undergrowth for protection, a lake and streams with fresh water, open fields for hunting the overabundance of gophers and voles, there are snails and fruit to eat, there are dogs passing through which provide you with visual entertainment — even if some of them go after you, and you are protected by a city which encourages coexistence and does not allow trapping and killing of its urban wildlife. Pretty fantastic!

It’s true that nasty rumors and myths about coyotes spring up now and then which could result in harm to you, but most are short-lived and, more and more these days, the misinformation is brushed aside by a majority of park goers who have learned about coyote behavior and know that the sensationalist stories are all hype.

Family life, too, is ideal. You live with a father who has raised you and cared for you, and you have a sister who absolutely adores you as much as you adore her. You spend hours together, grooming each other or exuberantly playing all sorts of games you’ve invented for yourselves, such as chase and catch, tug of war, wrestling, steal the meal, jump over one another, hide and seek. Life is really a blast, and it’s been this way for the entire 16 months you’ve been alive to enjoy it, except the brief interlude immediately after Mom went missing — but you were young and  that was soon forgotten because Dad was there to carry on for you. Things would have to be really, really bad for you even to consider such a thing as leaving.

in happier times: joyfully playing with sibling, and a family outing

But life is not static: we all graduate to new levels and must go on at some point.  Life is ever-changing and change is occurring now, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of who you are. You are a young male, and any territory only has room for one adult coyote male. Dad is feeling your coming-of-age and his instincts are becoming stronger, day by day, to push you out and away from his turf.

Recently, Dad has been charging at you, coming at you like a bullet to kick or nip you. You submit always and quickly, but that isn’t enough sometimes.  More and more, you’ve been staying out of his way. You don’t join him and your sister so often, and you spend your time more and more alone. However, you have strong yearnings to be with your sister, to play with her, to exchange mutual grooming and care, after all, you are a very social creature, and family life has been an integral part of your life since birth. Recently, greetings with her have changed to include sniffing and having one’s underside sniffed — something new is going on.

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

Sister has found herself in the middle. By loving and playing with you, her brother, she’s inadvertently hindering her father, it seems. When she sees the antagonistic behavior of her father, she does her best to keep the peace, running interference, by interjecting herself between the two males to divert Dad’s attention by grooming him (Dad) or sticking her muzzle in his — and it works.  After, or even before, taking care of Dad, she approaches you with her warm and affectionate greetings, and then she plays with you wholeheartedly, and Dad seems to accept that he must let her be this way, so you still hang in there, at least for now..

even now: sister adores brother and lets him know it

sister continues to adore brother and lets him know it

We all know how this is going to end, and it is definitely heartbreaking to watch the process. The Dad’s dispersing ritual is happening more and more frequently.

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Yesterday I saw the process again — it’s in full swing.

Dad and Sis had been out foraging, and began heading off on a trek when the yearling male — her brother and his son — appeared out of the bushes. He had kept apart and away, but was very aware of them as revealed when he tried joining them on the trek, albeit tailing them at a considerable distance, possibly so as to avoid detection by Dad. There was such a pull to be with them. But the minute Dad saw him, he, Dad, launched himself in the male youngster’s direction, charging at him, punching with his snout, nipping, kicking and turning him over on his back.  

This intense attack happened in tall grasses, which prevented me from taking clear photos. At the beginning of the encounter I heard an unusual, never heard before, short throaty snarl or gnarl. It was a warning of some sort. And I don’t know if the attacker or the defender made the noise because they were partially hidden from view. Besides the gnarly snarl,  there was flailing in the grass, running off a little and more flailing in the grass. When they emerged enough for me to see them fully, Dad was walking away from male youngster, and youngster was keeping his distance from Dad but following, not fleeing. Young male desperately wanted to join sister and dad for the family trek.

Sis, who had been standing far beyond Dad, looked back to see her brother sitting beyond Dad, and came running over to him joyfully to greet him. She brushed right past Dad, straight toward her brother and these siblings engaged in a long greeting, body contact, nose and paw touches and finally grooming. Dad looked on and did nothing. Sis wasn’t taking sides, she was just being “Sis in the middle.”

When the warm sibling greetings were over, Sis ran to catch up with Dad, looking back invitingly for her brother to come along. She loves her father as she does her brother. She approached Dad and engaged in grooming him while he looked back over his shoulder, glaringly at the younger male, his son: “do not come”. But the male youngster did come, with Sis encouraging him. Sis no doubt sensed the tremendous tension between the males in her family probably without comprehending any of it, and so, possibly in an attempt to dissipate it, she dashed off as if in hot pursuit of prey, enticing the others to join her and in the process to forget their strife. It kind of worked because they now were concentrating on other things, on hunting in the forest.

Then, sirens sounded and they all howled together — was the spat over? I don’t think so. Dad then walked on, all alone, without being joined by either of the two youngsters.  That is the last I saw of him that evening. Had he lost the skirmish? Even if he had, he won’t loose the battle — he’s a five year old mature male, and his son is just a 16 month old ingenue.

Sis went off hunting, and young male was left standing on a path looking for her. Not being able to locate her, he headed off in a direction opposite from the one his father took, looking dejected as revealed by his slow pace and lowered head. But Sis must have had her brother in mind. She picked up his scent and caught up with him. There was warm body contact, nose touches and wiggles, and Sis put her paws on his back again — was she showing who was boss? Or was this just her way of showing affection — this last is what appears to be the case. It now was dark so I had to leave. I had witnessed an episode of a dispersion process, where a parent forces out a youngster from his territory.

Young Male will eventually have to leave. But I wondered if Sis would stay on the territory with Dad, or if she would go with her brother? I wondered if Dad’s attacking the male youngster would in fact have repercussions of driving out Sis as well. I’ve already seen where both youngsters now flinch in anticipation of Dad’s antagonism: the young male from being on the receiving end and Sis from simply observing it.

This dispersion process has been going on for some time — it’s recently reached a crescendo. I’ll post if things change.

Male Yearling Accepts Submissive Role In Order To Stay With Family Pack

Father to the left, daughter in the middle facing us, submitting son to the right, down.

Father to the left, daughter in the middle facing us, submitting son to the right, down.

In a previous posting I described an observation involving a father coyote and his daughter running to an area where another of the pups from the same litter was being messaged to “leave”. This seems logical since any male would be competition for the father in this territory. However, another male youngster from the same litter has been allowed to remain. The explanations I can think of are, 1) this male and the female pup have always been best friends, and 2) this male submits readily, always, when asked to. He is not a threat and won’t be unless and until he rebels against always having to submit.

Here are two incidents I observed recently. In the sequence above the male youngsters moves away from a possible “disagreement”, but he is made to buckle under anyway. Below three coyotes consisting of a dad, a daughter and a son, are interested in the same thing on the ground. Daughter considers the son, her brother, in the way and grabs his snout. Dad supports her with a growl and signs to the son to hit the ground. Son hits the ground obediently.

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