Individuality: Coyote Faces and Personalities: WHO are they?

Among other things that I’ve focused on in documenting and investigating coyote behavior and family life, is coyote individuality. This little summary actually is from my  February Sausalito exhibit: “Coyotes, Beyond The Howl”, which appeared in the above 5 foot panel.

Coyote Faces and Personalities: WHO are they?

As I wrote in an article in 2011 for WildCare Magazine, “Your average little coyote — only 30 pounds concealed under all that fluffy fur — is intelligent, curious, playful, protective, adventurous, cunning, independent, self-reliant, has family values, a frontier spirit and strong individuality. Hey, aren’t these the same rugged frontier characteristics in which we ourselves take pride? They also exhibit some “softer” characteristics, such as affection, care, happiness, patience, timidity and dejection.”

But beyond these generalizable characteristics, what are individual coyotes really like and how are they identifiable as unique individuals? What their behavior has shown me is that they indeed are very individualistic — they are individuals and should be looked at as such. We should be asking, WHO are they?

Using fur and markings to identify coyotes is not very effective. For one thing, different lighting conditions can alter our perceptions. But also, fur changes over time: every year it is shed and along with that shedding, the markings become muted until a new coat grows back. However, each coyote has a very different face and can thereby be distinguished this way. And the distinctions go much deeper than their looks: each coyote has his/her discrete personality, a unique history and their own social situation — each is an individual, and this is what I see. This is one of the reasons they are so fascinating to study and document.

What characteristics might make one coyote different from the next? First, family situation is very important, with many behaviors stemming from family roles and interactions: Mom, Dad, pups — or the lack thereof for recently dispersed loners. And each of these roles is carried out a little differently depending on the individuals involved.

Personality characteristics also define each coyote: Some are tricksters or teasers, some are more adventuresome, curious, intrepid, shy, bold, bossy, wary, patient, persistent, easy going, tense, care-giving, more or less social or playful. Some are domineering by nature, some are more submissive, and so forth. Some of the traits appear to be ones individual coyotes are born with. Others seem to arise or develop over time, possibly as a reaction to siblings and parents, to repeat situations and environments.

Personalities are a matter of degree: by comparing and contrasting various coyotes, you can see very palpable differences. Here are some very short snippets about seven of the more than 30 coyotes and their family situations I have come to know and see regularly or have known (some of these have moved on):

Maeve, age 6, is a single mom, acutely aware of her surroundings and totally in-charge of her family — a true alpha — in spite of her very tiny size. She knows every single regular walker and dog in her park and knows which may go after her or her pups — she goes into high-alert when these are around, and keeps her eyes on them. She exhibits double the personality and fun of other coyotes. She’s always out doing things during daylight hours and she wears her feelings on her sleeve, which is why it’s so rewarding to watch her. I tend to think she has a sense of humor about herself. She teases her pups good-naturedly.

Silver, age 9, is an incredibly devoted male. He follows his mate around everywhere and wants to be with her, always solicitous and displaying a huge amount of affection. He’s a father who is a harsh disciplinarian with his pups — he’s had six litters so far. He’s the one who is always on the lookout for threats to his den, and on the slightest suspicion of danger, he moves them. As he has aged, he displays less bravado, preferring to hide out — unless his mate is threatened! He’s an alpha by default and often uses brawn to lead.

Gum Nut, aged 2, was the guy who always ended up at the bottom in a vie-for-superiority pileup with siblings. He loved to play and get along, had not an ounce of bad will or competitiveness, spent all his time with his sister and would have become her mate if Dad hadn’t kicked him out. He endured being at the bottom of the totem pole in the hopes of staying with Sis. Daily bullying and harassment by Dad (this was the father role at work) finally got to him.  One day he was no longer there. He existed for the love of his sister, and for their exuberant play, wrestling, grooming, nuzzles. After he left, I found him in another park where he lived for a while as a transient. I no longer know his whereabout.

Chert, age 5, was always the most fearless and adventuresome of her litter. I would find her exploring far afield way before the others did. She’s still very independent, to the point of being aloof, and enjoys going off on her own. She’s affectionate towards her mate, but submissive him, the dominant one. In the past was not a good mother — she fussed minimally over her brood and seemed just to *put up* with motherhood, but Dad filled in for her! This year is different. She’s been minding her brood, possibly because, for the first time, there’s more than just one pup in her litter.

Scout, age 3 1/2, was an *only child* though more infant pups may simply not have survived. Suddenly one day, Dad turned on her and forced her to leave. She had a mind of her own and was somewhat of an upstart, which may be the reason she was kicked out fairly early — at 9 months vs. some who don’t leave home until as late as 3 years of age. She found herself an open space where she has survived for over 2 years as a “loner” coyote. After neighbors’ initial alarm and fear of the newcomer, they took a liking to her — too much so — and fed and befriended her. Tossed food from cars and on the side of the road, this little coyote’s life now is in constant danger from cars.  Please don’t feed or befriend a coyote — it hurts them! She is spunky and full of fun, but much too uppety — approaching some dogs testingly even when they bark at her ferociously. She loves to play with toys, be they sticks, balls, old shoes or jackets, or even bushes, and she seems to appreciate an audience, judging by her eyeing hers repeatedly to see their response and then continuing.

Sonny, aged 1.5, is particularly unique. His twin sister is his opposite: out in front, investigating new situations, not fearful,  and imposes dominance on a younger sibling . Sonny, on the other hand always keeps back. He assesses everything visually from afar, and is quick to flee. But if there is trouble, say from a dog, he’s there to help defend. He is peacekeeper among his siblings: if one taunts or threatens another, he steps in and disciplines with a threatening snarl and snout clamp. He does not like dissension. I saw a Ted Talks video recently which emphasized that these are the markers of a true alpha. Bravado, by the way, is not one of the markers. Also, he consoles any of the others who have been heavy handedly disciplined by Mom. Interestingly, he’s buddies with his Dad.

Ivan, aged 12, is the oldest living coyote I know. He’s also the largest and the gentlest. He’s the alpha of his family, though his mate often attempts wresting control. This fellow just watches it happen, doesn’t respond, and picks up where he left off. Dispersion for his last son of last year was such a joy to watch. There was always respect and encouragement, never any bullying as I’ve seen in other coyote families. Shortly before this last son took off, I saw Ivan encouraging this youngster to play as an equal with him, his dad. The youngster was overjoyed and so was the dad. It was their last play session together before the youngster left. I’ll always see that session as an encouragement by Ivan, and their mutual acceptance that the next step was departure. This easy-going and caring family ruler, however, is a toughie when it comes to intruder dogs who he would message ferociously — no holds barred!

(To be continued)

[Note: What I say here is entirely drawn from my own extensive and long-term, first-hand observations of coyote interactions within their families]

 

Coyotes: Beyond the Howl, An Educational Exhibit by Janet Kessler

In case you might have a burning interest to know more about coyotes, visit my exhibit which is going up next Sunday at the Sausalito Library and will run for 6 weeks! It’s more of an educational exhibit than anything else, showing some of their constant interactions. The more people understand how social they are, the easier it will be to accept and even embrace them.

Coyotes are social and, except for some transients, live in families. The 28 large 24”x16” zoomed-in snapshots in this exhibit show some of their less-seen behaviors and interactions, as well as their individuality: each coyote looks different, and the differences reach deeper than their fur. Short howling and hunting video clips are included. An explanation of a few relevant survival behaviors and some simple guidelines help round out “the picture” of these neighbors who are becoming a more visible part of the urban landscape.

Janet Kessler a.k.a, “the Coyote Lady” in San Francisco, has been called a, “pioneer in the photo-documentation of the lives of urban coyotes, capturing their intimate lives”. She is a self-taught naturalist and urban coyote specialist who, daily over the past 11 years, has been documenting coyote family life, their behavior towards people and pets — and our pets’ behavior towards them — and getting information and easy coexistence guidelines out to everyone. Google her “Coyotes As Neighbors” video, and visit: Coyoteyipps.com.

Dates: January 28 to March 10, 2018

Hours:

  • Monday-Thursday 10am-9pm daily
  • Friday-Saturday 10am-5pm
  • Sunday noon-5pm

Place: Sausalito Public Library, located in the City Hall building at 420 Litho Street in Sausalito Enter parking lot from Bee Street (off Caledonia Street). From San Francisco, take a ferry ride over!

Janet will be in and out. If you have questions, just seek her out, or contact her through her blog, coyoteyipps.com

[Press Here for a printable Flyer]

On Installation Day: Our team of three had fun installing the exhibit in the very charming Sausalito Library: we had the layout mapped out beforehand, so only minor logistical adjustments to our plan were necessary. We were rewarded with “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the library staff and visitors from Connecticut, and then from the first official early-bird visitors. We finished a little after opening hours and went off for a reward meal overlooking the bay, which we suggest as something to add to your visit.

Hmmm. Not So Sure About the ‘Closeness’ Here

2015-10-21

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.

Siblings: Diametric Opposites

“Careful and Dependent” spends her time waiting and watching

Today a coyote youngster was in an open area. This coyote can be characterized as “careful and and dependent”. She’s wary and not willing to take chances, unlike her siblings. Today she had planted herself in a safe location near some bushes — she could escape to the bushes if necessary from any harm. From here she watched her surroundings, and she waited. She seemed to be waiting for a family member — someone familiar —  to appear on the scene.

Soon a sibling did appear on a hilltop, a sibling who has a dramatically different personality type from the one just described. I’ve observed their different personality types right from the start, nothing has changed from day one: just like humans, there is a lot which is innate and unique about each coyote. This one, in contrast to the previous one, could be characterized as “adventuresome and independent”.

The adventurer saw her sibling in the field below and ran down to greet her, happily, caringly, affectionately, and the shy coyote ran to greet her: there was joy and camaraderie.  Both coyotes then wandered around for a short time, and then the adventuresome one headed off to forage, hunt and explore the area beyond view. She was more interested in her explorations than in the other coyote, whereas the shyer coyote kept her eye on the more adventuresome one until she was out of sight.

When the shy one sees the adventuresome one (left),  she runs to be with her (middle), but I’m in the way, so she turns back to her safety spot and remains there (right).

The shy coyote lay down to watch and wait again once her more adventuresome sibling was out of view. The adventuresome coyote seems to serve as a protector and role model for this shy one.

When the adventurer eventually re-appeared in the distance, the shy coyote jumped up and ran full speed to be with her. But  the adventurer had not been aware that the timid coyote was running towards her. The adventurer turned back and away again as the timid one struggled to catch up. That’s when she saw she had come too close to me and would have to pass me to get to where she was going.  She stopped. Apparently it was not worth the risk for her to follow her sibling. Instead she returned to her protected area where she waited again for awhile and then turned in for the day.

Meanwhile, the adventurer spent the entire morning not too far away, discovering new places to dig up gophers, and spreading her wings a little bit more.

Personalities Emerge Early

rough and tumble and playful

rough and tumble — they’re playful

There’s an array of trait possibilities which form our personalities and make each of us unique. This is as true for animals as it is for humans. Pet owners will tell you that dogs from the same litter can differ tremendously: each pup brings its own unique combination of characteristics into the world.

And coyotes, too, are unique individuals.  I’ve seen this particular litter three times now and I’m seeing behavioral differences which distinguish each pup.

The top photo shows pups who are rough and tumble and full of play. They like to run pell mell after each other — tumbling over each other and getting all tangled up is part of the fun.

reserved and careful and even a little bit dainty

Diametrically opposed is a very little reserved and careful pup. This one sat back and watched as the others roughhouse and play fearlessly. When she noticed me, she hid behind a tree. She? Of course I don’t know, but that would be my guess based on her comparative smallness and daintiness. I wonder if she is a runt.

the adventurer

the adventurer

And then, there’s the adventurer who is curious and explores far-off distances alone — probably unbeknownst to his parents who are still trying to keep the pups’ existence a secret.

I’ve caught him — he stands out as being larger and stronger than the others — on my field camera not anywhere near where I’ve seen the others: exploring and examining the territory, totally on his own.

I’ve also spotted this one sleeping on his own out in the open, which is something his parents do, but not his siblings. This one seems to be exceptionally bright, inquisitive, and self-sufficient — at least comparatively. Just hope he doesn’t get himself into trouble early on by wandering so far off from the rest of them in this litter.

Mystery Foxes, by Charles Wood

Dad 2010

I took the 2010 picture of Dad in early June. He walked out of his hiding place in the brush and boldly strutted by Holtz and me. Dad stopped not far away and seemed pleased with himself as I photographed him.

Thursday Dad ran at my two dogs and me, stopped, and watched as I made them stop their barking and lie down. Dad was in his field on the other side of a fence and my dogs and I were up on the river bank. Instead of walking my usual southbound route I had come up to their field from the south. My plan was to catch my coyotes unawares. I didn’t.

Both photographs show the prominent scar on Dad’s nose. Mom’s droopy ear and Dad’s nose uniquely identify them. Mom and Dad are a solid core for their pack, their children. I know Mom and Dad when I see them and I can count on seeing them. The children seem as a furry blur in comparison and are harder to distinguish and monitor.

Dad 2012

Two days ago a jogger spoke to me as he went by on the river bank. He yelled out that he had just seen a fox. I was surprised to hear that since I haven’t seen a fox on the river in at least ten years. I walked to where he had pointed and I didn’t see anything. I can’t imagine that someone would confuse Dad or Mom with a fox. I can imagine that someone would confuse a coyote puppy with a fox. In the first week of June last year a park ranger said he had seen two foxes in the field. It is a bit of a mystery that fox sightings occur at about the time I expect coyote puppies to be out and about.

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.

Spectacular Ordinary Sand!

Wow, this post is totally off topic, but I thought everyone might want to see the beauty which photography can reveal. Who would have known??

“Viewed at a magnification of over 250 times real life, tiny grains of sand are shown to be delicate, colorful structures as unique as snowflakes. When seen well beyond the limits of human eyesight, the miniature particles are exposed as fragments of crystals, spiral fragments of shells and crumbs of volcanic rock.”

Note that they are as individualistic and as interesting as people or coyotes if you’re willing to look hard enough!!

Please see the full article in the Daily Mail, or Dr. Gary Greenberg’s Microphotography site: sandgrains.com 

(posted with Dr. Gary Greenberg’s permission)

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