The Many Faces of Dispersal

I hope this posting clarifies rather than confuses or convolutes what goes into dispersal. I think I’ve covered enough examples to enlighted, but not too many so as to confuse! I’ve included plenty of links to YouTube videos and previous postings of mine.

Dispersal is not a simple cut-and-dry process that occurs on a set schedule: it occurs at any time of the year and has a variety of causes pushing and pulling it. I’m sure we all can appreciate that it’s always safer to have a territory and remain on one than not: coyotes are familiar with existing dangers and food sources on their own territories whereas they are not outside of that area. From what I’ve seen, the majority of coyote deaths occur during dispersal, away from their territories, most of those in urban areas by cars, though of course younger and inexperienced coyotes aren’t much safer from cars within their own territories. So that’s an important factor involved in dispersal.

Video of youngsters playing

Another factor is the changing quality of play over time. Initially, coyote littermates learn by playing innocently with each other — it’s great to have a bunch of companions! They learn invaluable and nuanced social skills (how to get along and how not to!), communication skills, hierarchy assessment, etc. They learn their limits, and they learn the limits of their siblings: they learn when they’ve gone too far. Most play is on the level of horsing around, teasing, provoking, and competitive. It includes chase-me, keep-away, wrestling, tug-of-war, pouncing, stealing, grabbing, etc. Very little of it is cooperative, except that they are engaging with each other and learning the rules together and through each other, learning to apologize in order to keep a game going, etc. Even so, I’ve seen plenty of cuddling and grooming, and the growth of very special sibling bonds as seen in the two photos below. Above is a video of siblings playing, showing how rough and tumble it is.

opposite-sex youngster siblings grooming each other affectionately
Youngsters love to play, with increasing challenges as time moves along, until one day it becomes cut-throat rivalry
Sweet Face wasn’t interested in rough play

Roughhousing can escalate: if they want to play with a sibling who doesn’t like the roughness, they learn to tone it down. Those individuals who withdraw from rougher play either can’t keep up, don’t like it, or are innately less socially interactive than their siblings: innate personalities which they are born with are always a part of the equation. They may prefer sitting to the side and watching, or going off on their own. This little girl to the right remained aloof of rough play, but the little girl in the video above resigned herself to being batted around rather than be excluded.

These photos above are of brother siblings whose playing has turned more serious: more of, “Take that, and I mean it.” One youngster still wanted to get along, but the other wanted brother gone.

Unwelcome teasing, bullying, one-upmanship, all of which are involved in establishing a hierarchy or challenging it, can segue into visceral dislike and antagonism, and ultimately avoidance of a sibling. OR their internal clock begins telling them to exclude others of the same sex, especially the males. For females, growing antagonism appears to be more often on a mother-daughter level as far as I’ve seen. After all, coyotes live pretty much in long-lasting monogamous pairs, so this is ultimately what they are programmed for: reproductive rivals must be excluded. They are *nuclear family* animals as opposed to *pack* animals.

This video above shows sibling rivalry between an older sister and a younger brother: I haven’t seen as much male/female sibling rivalry, but here are two examples. 1) The young male in the video has taken on their mother’s attitude towards his sister. Mother had been regularly attacking the sister in an attempt to get her to disperse. Sister sulked but didn’t leave. The mother’s repeated negative treatment of Sister seems to have given license to this brother to ceaselessly taunt her and egg her on as in this video. Note the purposeful teasing and body slams for no other reason than to annoy her and cause a reaction. And here is more brother/sister “Friction Between Almost Two-Year-Old Siblings”. Sometimes the differences are worked out, keeping the family intact a little longer, but soon there are departures.

In the photos below, you see on the right, bowing submission to the hackles-up guy who could no longer stand his brother’s presence: the kowtowing brother was soon driven out forcefully at 1.5 years of age. He desperately wanted to stay, hanging on as long as he could — he and his mother shared a lot of affectionate interactions and grooming — but the onslaught of his domineering brother become a daily affair. Biting resulting in visible skin wounds and squeals of pain preceded his departure as seen in the photo to the left.

Most of the time, according to what I’ve seen, parents allow youngsters to work out their own interpersonal differences without interfering. But this has not always been the case as when a parent develops a special attachment to one of the youngsters, in which case the parent may discipline the aggressor or soothe the youngster they want to stick around: the aggressive sibling begins to think twice about bullying if the parent is around.

In one very convoluted and complicated case, Mom, repeatedly groomed her two-year old son, Scowl, obviously inviting him to stay on the territory and be her mate. Her long-term mate (the pair was together 9 years) had died of old age the year before, and a new alpha male intruder had come into the picture and even fathered her last litter. But no one in the family liked him as could be seen by their behavior towards him, and Mom kept paying particular attention to Scowl, to the exclusion of that fellow. Scowl was the apple of her eye, and within the new pups’ 4-month birthday, that outsider male left. Now Scowl, at three years of age, rules the roost with his mom, which is what they all wanted ever since Mom’s previous mate passed away. And they are all now apparently very happy!

Antagonism and negativity aren’t always the instigators of dispersals. At some point, some yearlings just pick up and go — negativity or not. However, others stay on, even with growing negativity and battling because there’s usually something else attracting them to the area. Such was the case with Gumnut several years ago. His dad kept attacking him, but Gumnut always submitted and slunk away, skirting the dispersal issue. He and his sister were inseparable best buddies. Mom had died, so Dad actually had his eye on his daughter as his future mate, and at two years of age, through domination, he indeed took her over. (Yes, there’s lots of inbreeding in coyote families). Gumnut stayed around until the single pup who was born to Dad and Sis turned 7 months old, braving it through repeated attacks from his father, and then, suddenly one day, at 2 1/2 years of age, after hearing a particularly painful long-lasting squeal from him which I gathered indicated he was bitten, we never saw him again. That he put up with the severe put-downs and blows handed out by his Dad for so long was amazing to me. Gumnut had been undeterred because something more important was drawing him in: his best buddy and sister. I’m sure they would have become a mated pair had Dad not intervened.

Mothers may start harsh discipline of daughters early on: I’ve speculated that it’s because of reproductive rivalry. I haven’t seen it often, but I have two video examples of it: 1) Maeve beating up her seven-month old daughter: this dominant and aggressive treatment might also ensure rank is established early on, making dispersal that much easier. Might this daughter have been exhibiting a dominance streak, or even cozying up to her dad?? Again, this is speculation. 2) Here are two brothers vying for sister’s affection: notice the second brother repeatedly inserts himself between his brother and sister. Three is a crowd, so one will eventually leave. Interestingly, in this particular case, the female ditched both related males and paired up with an outsider. 3) And here is another instance of Mom, Maya, attacking her yearling daughter Sissy. On the flip side, I’ve also seen a daughter who stayed and ended up den-sharing with her mother. As I say, there is nothing cut-and-dry about dispersal.

Mom beginning harsh discipline suddenly at 7 months of age — establishing this harsh relationship early on makes dispersal easier. This is the earliest case of this I’ve ever seen of mother/daughter harshness.

Here is more on Beating and rank issues leading to dispersal. And here is a mother roughly disciplining her son as the father watches: rank issues are kept alive right from the start which makes dispersal issues that much easier.

Hawkeye teases and frolics with his dad on this day before his dispersal at 14 months of age. There was no antagonism leading up to the even, except his own towards his sister who avoided him.

Another several examples of dispersal behavior, and behaviors leading up to dispersals can be found in THIS posting. Here, I describe three dispersals from the same family, beginning with a very friendly send-off by a Dad, Ivan, to his son, Hawkeye, who was 14 months old. I got the sad impression that both father and son were very aware of the mites and bugs infesting the son’s coat, meaning his immune system was down. Possibly they both knew son wouldn’t make it even though he would try. Again, this is simply my interpretation. After this sendoff, I never saw Son again. Another son of Ivan’s began distancing himself from the rest of the family by keeping to the fringes of the territory at a great distance from the rest of the family, and then one day he simply left — he was ready to go at 1.5 years of age. The last instance in the above posting is a father’s, Ivan’s, return to check on his daughter, Sissy, on a territory he and his mate had abandoned, possibly due to its being the end of their reproductive years, leaving daughter on that territory. Had they ceded the territory to her? He seems to be checking on her, and even saying goodby. He never came back after this visit. Ivan was the most benevolent of fathers — I never saw him attack or discipline any of his children (though he did so to intruders), rather he always parted on good terms: he was the epitome of a leader, whereas you have seen from some of these videos that that is not always the case.

That’s Sparks to the right, with the sister he originally dispersed with. She returned to her birthplace.

And my final example is of Sparks. He preferred not dealing with a brother who began trying to dominate. He initially left with his sister, the one in the video linked below, but she returned to her birthplace whereas he continued on and found a permanent place to live on the edge of another family’s territory. I have not seen him with another mate, though I’m hoping this situation might come about. His present status, at 3 years of age, is sort of an interloper with a fairly permanent and defined territory (which is a contradiction). Sparks: A Happy Springtime Update. Sparks came from a litter that had formed incredible caring bonds with each other, and here is a video showing his sister’s concern and care for him. In the video, Sparks was the coyote youngster with the injury.

Mom Tells Off Her Son, and Dad Stands By

The family was out together, all four of them: Mom, Dad, Daughter and her brother. It’s not often that we see the young daughter: she’s just not comfortable at this point being out when people look at her. The minute she feels noticed, she hurries off and disappears into the surrounding foliage.

Her brother also dislikes being watched. This makes a lot of sense: in the wild, if any animal looks at another animal, it’s probably a predator sizing it up as prey. But brother has become more tolerant of humans eyeing him than his sister. He might leave an area if he feels the focus is on him, but he inevitably returns to the same spot, especially if his parents are out there.

So after Sis left today, only Mom and Dad and Son were out. They wandered around a little, and then Dad moved further away from the others. Suddenly Mom was beating up Son: he was on his back and she was standing over him with teeth bared. Yikes! She seems to have a short temper recently.  She got annoyed at Dad recently while I was watching: I think simply because he bumped into her, maybe brushed against her or stepped on her heels. She not only snarled at him, but she then acted on her “words” and let him know who was boss by raising herself above him: it was an instance of interpersonal coyote communication and interactions showing HER emotional response to him, and HIS tolerance and total deference to her.

What happened with the youngster today? I didn’t see it, it happened very quickly, but probably the same thing. I’ve seen dogs get pretty upset when they’ve been bumped — nothing else but a clumsy bump — by another dog, and maybe something like this happened today. It’s probably disrespectful. Anyway, here are the photos of Mom letting little guy have it with snarls and growls. Dad soon arrived and seemed to take sides with Mom. He may have had to — if you know what I mean. In fact, Mom in this family is the “top dog”.

Eventually, after making sure Son got the message, the two parents walked off. And the little guy stayed behind. He looked dumbfounded, like he had no clue why that had been so intense: “What did I do?” But he knew he was not invited to follow his parents. Parents proceeded to walk around the periphery of their park together, and Son stayed right where he was, searching for gophers, alone.

Maybe this was just a temper-tantrum on Mom’s part — maybe she just wanted a little more respect from him? Then again, maybe she’s setting the stage for dispersal. The earliest dispersal I’ve seen occurred when a pup was nine-months old, which is what this pup is now. We’ll have to see what happens next..

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

 

Crossing the First Divide: One Milestone at a Time

The video depicts 11 week old pups at the end of June, two months ago. It covers the week before they abandoned their denning site entirely. 

This is a time-lapse video sequence taken over a week’s time, showing coyote pup and parent behavior at the entryway to their denning area. This is not a “video” but a “time lapse” sequence.  I’ve speeded it up to 2.5x — so please remember that the action actually was occurring at less than 1/2 the speed which you are seeing here. Time lapse at original speed is excruciatingly slow to watch. All of the activity occurred in the dead of night when it was safest for them — and with only a distant dim street lamp for lighting for the video: this should explain the jerkiness and the blurriness. But the story is captured! It turned out to be a milestone in their lives, i.e., practicing and first steps for moving out of the den. 

The camera was placed at the periphery of their denning area. The “outerworld” — dangerously full of people, traffic and dogs — is past the stake to the right. Before the video even begins, there was one wise little pup who had caught onto parental departures and returns. Hmmm. So, “Where were parents going? What’s out there? Why can’t I go? Looks scary!” Coyotes, even youngsters, are curious. Sneaking past the pups started not working. Mom or Dad had to turn around, turn them back and distract them, thwart them by carrying them and then leading them back to safety.  This is how they began to learn that “out there” was not safe. Boundaries seem to be understood early on, as they later are in territorial divisions between adult coyotes: coyotes firmly understand these.

The videoed part of the adventure, then, begins with the pups going to, and hovering around, this “exit” area. You can see that they are both apprehensive and excited, as they look around hesitantly. They repeat this approaching of the boundary line in the same way for several days — both fearing the outside world and at the same time drawn to it, encouraged now at this age and stage by their parents. Finally Mom or Dad begin leading them out a little way, but one pup is afraid and opts not to go, sitting down and looking back over his shoulder at Mom and siblings beyond the exit. The two beyond the exist see their brother and also get cold feet — decide to hold back too, and they hurry back. It takes a while to get the minds and bodies of the pups all moving in the same direction at the same time! This “sticking their toes out the door” happened once a day. They were getting used to the idea and any new stimulation right there close to home. It’s probably overwhelming to begin with.

By 1:50 in the video, the pups have now finally begun venturing out as a family and this is them returning. Mom anxiously makes sure everyone is in. You can almost hear her “Whew!” She lovingly mouths one of the youngsters (2:40 in the video) over and over: “Good job, Kids!”

The sequence after that, which is the next day, shows them now returning without too much fanfare — it’s old hat by now!

The move obviously required forethought, aim, intent, and direction on the part of the parents who were on the same wavelength with each other, working together and in unison on the project. They were able to communicate this to each other and then to the pups. Their communication isn’t something humans have a handle on — it’s too complicated for us!  I know that the ultimate goal and objective had been to prepare the pups for the move — the area was vacated the very next day. It took over a week of working on this project before it was actually carried out. Coyotes think ahead, plan, retain the plan in their minds, and communicate to each other about it!

Most “denning areas” I’ve observed remain “home” for months, but not in this case. After abandoning this site, the pups were moved every few days to at least four locations until they settled down in the safest spot, where they now have remained through 4 months of age.

Coyote Anger: Cat-like Growls or Screams

When coyotes communicate, there’s little room for misinterpretation. You already saw this in my last posting about “coyote insistence” through body language. If they are insistent towards humans and our dogs, you can be sure they are just as insistent towards each other. This short video clip, above, shows this. It was taken after a family howl session in response to a siren. The howling and yiping in response to the siren were sing-songy and upbeat as you can hear here:

The family howling then segues into the evening rendezvous, where the entire family excitedly meets and greets for the evening trekk and other family activities. But Mom is not so keen on having all that high-energy wiggly and excited youngster activity around her. Her vocalizations at this point, as seen in the above video, are of the “raspy” type I discuss in my posting on Coyote Voicings. These are anger, annoyed, and warning vocalizations directed at family members. She’s telling the rambunctious youngsters that she wants space and calm: “get away from me”. She also displays her frustration by complaining with a wide vocalized gape to Dad who happens to be standing beside her. These are sounds you may not have heard from a coyote: they are very cat-like — the kind of sounds a cat would make before swiping at something with its claws.

Remember that coyotes also “pounce” for prey in a very cat-like manner, they toy with their prey as cats do, they splay their toes as cats do, and they “warn” with that very familiar “Halloween Cat” stance which includes a hairpin arched back and often a gape and hiss. I have been asked if coyotes are cats or dogs: I can see why such a question might be asked. Of course, coyotes are neither: they are simply themselves. However, they can reproduce with dogs and have many dog-like qualities, but they also have several very cat-like behaviors which dogs don’t have.

All About Coyote Pups: A Primer

I’ve put together some information on coyote pups based predominantly on my own observations. Other information is included, including some hearsay, which I’ve stated as such. Push the underlined links I’ve provided for even more information.

Coyote pups are about two months old now here in San Francisco.

Etiquette: Please stay away from any place where you even suspect a den might be, and please especially keep your dogs away from those areas. Besides cars, dogs are coyotes’ biggest threat in urban areas. You can prevent stress and trauma to yourself, your dog, and coyote parents with new pups by leashing your dogs if you must move through such an area. Word-of-mouth from other park visitors about a den’s general whereabouts should be enough for you to voluntarily avoid those areas.

Terminology: Baby coyotes are referred to as “pups” (not cubs)!

Dates of birth: In San Francisco, pups are normally born towards the beginning of April after a gestation of 63 days. Coyotes come into heat just once a year (as opposed to dogs’  twice a year cycle) — they can only produce one litter a year which is usually born sometime in the Springtime. The courting behavior which leads to pups can be observed at the end of January.

Litter Sizes: A “litter” is the group of pups that are born and raised together in one family. Some yearlings from the previous year’s litter or before — those that didn’t disperse (leave) — may remain in the family and may even help out a little by bringing in food for the youngsters. I have seen anywhere from one to seven pups born in one litter in San Francisco: that’s quite a spread!  I have heard of larger litters, as many as 11 to 19 (not in San Francisco), but I’ve also heard (but not seen) that this very large litter size may actually be the result of “den sharing”: two females sharing the same den.

From my own observations, I’ve seen litters vary in size over several consecutive years from the same parents as follows: Maeve and Toughy 1-2;  Ma’am and Monte 2-5-1; Cai and Yote 7-2-? (haven’t had a chance to count this year’s yet); Maya and Ivan (3-4-5); Chert and Silver 1-0-0-0-4;. These are all variations of normal litter sizes. The exception was the five litters where there were sometimes no survivals: this anomaly was almost certainly related to inbreeding in this family; Chert went through the motions of having pups during those three years of no pups, but none ever appeared. Besides these normal, small fluctuations, the litter sizes I’ve seen in San Francisco have not changed over the 12 years that I’ve been studying coyotes, even though the coyote population here has grown from an initial 8 in 2002 to several score and appears to be at its saturation point, as revealed by more and more brutal territorial battles that have displaced resident coyotes.

So although I’ve heard it speculated that coyotes “regulate” their litter size: I’ve not seen an indication of this here in San Francisco. They appear to just ‘get what they get’ — like the rest of us (those who don’t take hormones). And rather than the proviso that “locations dictate litter size”,  I would think that litter size might have a genetic component. I know that natural multiple births seem to run in human families, so might litter size also have a genetic component?

Newborn pup size: Coyote pups at birth weigh between 1/2 and 1 pound. This has been measured by wildlife rehabilitation facilities which take in these newborns. Weight can vary substantially between the pups in one family which may include some “runts”. Their personalities also develop differently. Some, right from the start are adventuresome and exploratory: they are curious about everything and wander far, rather brazenly. Others have more of a built-in wariness and fear: they are on-edge and more anxious and keep closer to home. Some are more interactive and social, involved in a lot of rough-house playing and teasing, while others are more withdrawn, preferring to sit back and watch the others. Each of these has it’s benefits for survival: one is not necessarily a “better” personality type than another.

Dens and birthing: Coyote pups are born in dens which were either dug for this purpose by their parents or they were pre-existing “homes” of other animals, such as raccoons or skunks, that were broadened and enlarged by the to-be coyote parents for their purposes.  A den can also be an existing hole in the ground, cavities under tree trunks, a depression with good covering, or a nook under a ledge. I have only seen dens long after they were abandoned, I have never seen an occupied den: I keep my distance from these.

Coyote dens are used only for a short time: for birthing and nursing during the very early life of pups. Dens are outgrown, just as are birds’ nests or human cradles, after which the youngsters sleep in protected or hidden areas as do the parents. At around six weeks of age pups begin venturing beyond the den.

Here is a video of a wolf giving birth: I think we can assume that it must be pretty similar to what a coyote goes through. They emit howls as they give birth, and you hear a little of that here:

Do mothers stay in the dens for an extended period of time after giving birth? Well, if some do [this video shows pups right after, and pups’ first howls], it’s not a hard-and-fast behavior practice:  I’ve seen one mother out within a day of giving birth and I’ve seen others out in far less than a week.

Coyote pups may be left all alone for extended periods of time while the parents go off hunting. So, please don’t “save” what you think are “abandoned” pups — parents are likely simply off hunting. NO ONE can raise coyote pups as well as their own parents. You are actually hurting their chances for survival if you take their welfare into your own hands. If you truly believe they’ve been abandoned, then monitor them for several days before taking them to a wildlife center.

Nourishment: Coyote pups live on their mother’s milk alone for the first few weeks. This diet is soon supplemented with regurgitated food at about one month of age. The regurgitated food consists of whatever the parents consume, mostly rodents, but also fruit, amphibians, insects, birds and even garbage. How long do the youngsters lactate? I’ve seen mothers’ tit size shrink by the end of May, so I assume by that time the youngsters are well accustomed to semi-solid diets and on their way to whole prey soon. First, dead prey is brought to the youngsters, after which the pups are taken out to practice hunting on their own. Interestingly, I’ve seen coyotes over one year of age still being brought regurgitated food from a father: the youngsters approach Dad from below his chin, wedging their muzzles under his upper lip. This causes the regurgitation response. Dad then expels the food onto the ground, and the youngsters grab and eat it.

As the youngsters grow, Dad continues his contributions in the food department by bringing home prey to help feed the youngsters. Both coyote parents, unusually, raise the youngsters and you may find Dad at times sitting out and “minding” the offspring, giving Mom a break.

An interesting observation I’ve made is what I call “facilitating.” When the pups are learning to hunt, a mother will kill a rodent and  bury it where the pups can easily find it!

Survival rate:  Survival rate of pups is known to be low — 20-30% is what the literature says, but what I’ve seen in San Francisco is closer to about 70% from the time the pups can first be seen. However, it should be noted that I myself never know how many pups were actually born because I never intrude into their den areas: I wait to see what a litter is like until Mom brings them out or they are spotted through the bushes. Between birth and when I see them, there could have been more pups who didn’t make it.

First appearances: You might glimpse youngsters now, at two months of age, through the bushes, but it won’t be because coyotes want you to. Youngsters are highly protected as they grow up. And if a youngster sees you, he/she is bound to head straight to the bushes to hide! And parents are bound to come out to warn you to stay far, far away!

Family howl session in response to sirens. The howling family consists of Mom and Dad and four two-month old pups! Note that, although coyotes keep youngsters hidden as much as possible, they seem to have no qualms about being heard!

Here is what coyotes look like during their first year of growth:

Coyotes may leave home (dispersal) anytime after they are about 9 months of age, which is about January in SF. The earliest I’ve seen was a female who left home at 9 months of age. And the latest I’ve seen was a male who didn’t leave until he was 2.5 years of age, even though his father attempted pushing him out almost a year beforehand. The Presidio has tracked some of these dispersals to 60 miles south of the city, and I’ve been able to track some to vacated niches within the city itself. Many dispersing youngsters get killed by cars during this treacherous dispersal time in their lives. They also come across extremely hostile territorial coyotes who make it clear that they are not one bit welcome.

Coyote Mums May Be Very Scrawny Right Now

A hollow, indented abdomen

This is a particularly hard time for coyote mothers whose nutritional needs have skyrocketed. This mother, photographed here, is one who has not been able to keep up with her nutritional needs. She has to find enough food to sustain herself and to provide the milk for the five 2-month-old pups she is still suckling. The pups have begun eating regurgitated semi-solid food brought by Dad and their yearling sister, but they are still suckling from Mom who is stunningly gaunt, emaciated and skeletal looking.

The suckling period of a growing litter of pups coincides with the season for shedding fur, so many coyotes look much thinner right now (and scraggly because of fur loss), even though they in fact may not be, and even though they are not lactating. But Mums indeed ARE thinner, and some are much more so than others, and you can see it, including in their faces and jaws where the skull bones are revealed right through the skin and fur. Moms I’ve known have always gained their weight back over time once the demands of providing milk end, but until then, it’s a strain on the body.

This mum still has her winter fur on her neck which helps hide her scrawniness

You can see the round shape of the femur bone through the skin in her leg and an indented thigh (taken at dusk which makes her look even wispier)

 

Diverting Attention

The coyote had made herself very visible on the side of the hill during the early dawn hours, sitting there and watching the sparse activity on the path and street below: a few walkers, dog-walkers, workers and traffic. Whenever she spotted a perceived potential *threat*, she ran out onto the path in front of whomever she was worried about, forcing attention towards herself so that the youngster up the hill would not be noticed; or she ran onto the path in back of a dog to make sure dog was moving on. A couple of times she got too close to a dog and the dog reacted by growling and barking. But when the dog and walker moved on with a shortened leash, as I advised, that was always the end of it: this is what the coyote wanted.

I looked up and saw the youngster there watching the goings-on. When looked at directly, he moved to a bushier part of the hill and watched from behind the thicker foliage — this was a shy one.

Soon Mom headed down the street a ways while maintaining eye-contact with the youngster, and then she stood in the middle of the street, eyeing the youngster repeatedly. At this point, it became apparent that she was trying to coax the youth in her direction so that she could take him away from the open space. He was too fearful, and during her ten minute effort he did not come. So Mom returned to the hill and sat there close to the path, again drawing attention to herself apparently as a ploy to keep attention away from the kid. It worked: no one saw the kid except me while I observed.

By the next day, the youngster had still not left that space. Maybe reinforcements were needed to entice the little guy to leave, because now, there were two adult females with him. I spotted the three of them sleeping together on the incline before dawn.  The second female was much more reclusive than the first one — she made no attempt to serve as a decoy. Instead, she, too, remained as hidden as possible, similarly to the youngster, while the first female performed as she had the previous day. You would have thought that during the night there might have been a change in the situation, but there had not been.

On the third day, the lot was vacant! I guess the two adult females had accomplished their mission! The day before had been one of the few times I had seen that particular second female whose relationship to the family I have not figured out. Some coyotes are much more reclusive than others. Most likely, she would be related: either a yearling pup herself from the year before, a sister, or even a parent or aunt of the mother coyote. Coyotes are territorial, and it’s only family groups that live in any particular vicinity, keeping all other coyotes — intruders — out of the picture. This is one reason they feel territorial towards dogs.

Mary Takes a Break, by Charles Wood

Mary

Mary, a new mother given the appearance of her abdomen, was out this afternoon. Janet too has observed that mother coyotes take breaks despite that the pups’ eyes can’t even be open yet. Hallelujah!

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

Intent On Not Revealing Where She’s Going

coyote stops and turns to look at me

coyote turns and looks at me

This mother coyote tried remaining out of sight — I saw her keeping to the bushes — but she had to cross the path I was on, so, of course, eventually she knew that I saw her. She was very aware of me. After coming to the path, she trotted on over its crest, down an incline and remained out of my sight until I came to the crest of the hill. She continued trotting along this trail until she came to an intersection of paths. Here she stopped and looked back at me. Then she looked in other directions to assess the situation, and then she looked back at me again. I took her photo. She then squinted at me — she was communicating her needs to me. I stayed back, letting her know that I understood her message and would comply: I would not follow her.

She then proceeded around the bend of the trail and out of sight. I did not follow, as she had requested, but climbed a ridge from which I could see her on the trail below. She had trotted on and then come to another standstill, looking back to see if I had followed. I knew from her behavior that, if I had followed, she would have lead me down this path which was away from where she had intended to go. Instead, since I was not behind her, she turned back about 100 feet and slithered into one of her secret hidden tunnels through the brush and, most likely, on to her pups, which we’ve heard but never seen. By respecting the coyotes’ needs, by actually listening and understanding their communications, we are achieving a mutually acceptable coexistence with these urban neighbors or ours.

when she realizes no one is following, she turns back to her secret escape route

when she realizes no one is following, she turns back to her secret escape route

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.

After the Lashing

A couple of days after I had videoed a mother coyote lashing out at one of her seven-month old pups — a female, I witnessed a change in behavior between two of the pups towards their mom. These are both females, though I have no idea if gender had anything to do with what I observed.

I watched as Mom came into a large field where three of her pups were absorbed in foraging in three different spots. All pups stopped their foraging activity immediately when they saw her. Two of the pups dashed like bullets across the field in her direction.

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

Male pup greets Mom enthusiastically

One of the pups that dashed in her direction, the male, went straight up to her, as always, to greet her, tail flailing with excitement. There were the usual kisses and wiggly little excited movements that indicate all is happy and well between them. He attempted getting food from her, but she had none to offer, and it didn’t really seem to matter.

A female pup heads into the bushes -- right past her Mother who is greeting her son

A female pup heads into the bushes, right past her Mom who is greeting her son [you can see pup’s back & tail at top of photo]

Interestingly, the second pup, a female, who had also headed in Mom’s direction, went straight past Mom — who was in the process of greeting the male pup — and into the bushes! She did not stop to participate in the happy greeting which I had always seen her do before. Hmmm. Was she afraid of the mother, having seen the harsh treatment dished out to the other daughter? This would be my guess. All of these are new behaviors, beginning with the lashings of the one daughter, and I can’t help  thinking that they are all related.

The seven-month old female pup who had been  the target of lashings by Mom

The seven-month old female pup who had been the target of lashings by Mom, watching

The female pup who had received the lashing did not head towards the mother coyote.  Even though she was a long distance away from where Mom entered the field, she ran into the bushes closest to her and hung out there, hidden, for a few minutes. Eventually she came out of her hiding place, sat down, and just watched from about 400 feet away — she had no interest in approaching her mother. She looked sad to me.

The mother looked at her for a moment, and eventually moved on and out of sight. Not until then did this daughter continue her foraging before heading into the bushes for the day. There is always communication when coyotes look at one another. I wonder what information their “look” conveyed.

Youngster Makes a Quick Dashaway

The youngster in the middle here is a seven-month old male pup. He’s on good terms with both his parents. He greets both parents, and then Dad, to the left, “puts the youngster down.”

Dad has been out of commission for several days, at least during my observations, due to an injury he sustained either from an aggressive dog or possibly from a fight with a raccoon: his face and head have lacerations, and he limps on both his left legs. I’ve noticed that injured coyotes lay low for a while. Because of his recent absence, he may have a need to re-establish his position in the family hierarchy, which may be why he puts this pup down. The youngster submits easily.

Mom is to the right. She has just finished a pretty amazing harsh attack on this youngster’s female sibling.  Is this youngster fearful of the same punishment which has just been dished out to his sister?

Mother’s Harsh Treatment of Female Pup Continues

Before I started videoing the above, two coyote pups had been foraging in an open field when they spotted Dad coming. They dashed ecstatically in his direction. After only a short truncated greeting, Dad confirmed his dominance towards the male pup, who willing submitted by lying on his back immediately and not protesting.

This “status confirmation”  has become a routine where everyone knows how to behave: the pups acquiesce willingly to the submission which is demanded of them, and all relationships are confirmed as stable. The other pup, the female, also immediately turned on her back and then kept low, even though Dad was on top of the other pup. This little threesome seemed happy for the few moments they were there: everyone did the right thing, everyone smiled and tails wagged.

Then mom appeared on the scene. With everyone’s attention on the mother, the dad let go of his hold on the male pup who calmly got up and wandered in the other direction from which the mom was coming. Mom immediately headed for the female pup — the one which has been the target of Mom’s animosity and displays of dominance in the last few days. Today the treatment became more harsh. That’s Dad casually viewing the altercation from in front; he’s still limping from an injury a week ago.

Note that the female pup is not compliant and snaps back, which may be the problem — but then who wouldn’t self-protect under this onslaught?  Also note Mom’s final emphatic statement: “And take this, too!” No holds barred.

[Please see the previous two postings on this behavior: Punishment and Punishment Again]

Punishment Again

This is the second time in the same day that I observed this behavior between this particular seven-month old female pup and her mother. Please see the previous posting.

I had two thoughts that might be related to this:  the first about Great Horned Owl dispersal, and the second about canine intuition regarding the alpha quality in another canine.

I’ve seen Great Horned Owls lovingly raise their owlets for almost a full year, from the time they are born in late March, through the fledging stage when they leave their birth nest, and through months of teaching hunting and other survival skills. Then one day, towards the end of the Fall season, both parents — these are parents who have mated for life and have raised their owlets together for the last 15 years — turn viciously against their offspring forcing them to leave the area. There is room for only one mated Great Horned Owl pair in any territory due to limited resources. As time approaches for the new reproductive cycle to begin, at the end of the calendar year, any offspring born that year are driven away by their parents. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be so totally loved and cared for, and then have those who loved you suddenly attack you. This is what goes on. The young owls fly off to areas as close as the next park over, if there is room there, or as far away as across the US.

My second thought stems from how my 2-year-old female dog reacted when we brought home a new 4-month-old puppy — a male. We found the puppy — abandoned — and we couldn’t just leave him. She must have intuitively known that he would be growing much bigger than her, and that, based on his behavior and activity level and disregard for her, that he would assume the dominant status eventually. It’s only with hindsight that we came to know that this was going on right from the start. Over an extended period of time we noticed that the alpha status had segued to him, and she just accepted the inevitable. An alpha coyote in the wild, it seems, would do its best to prevent this from ever happening, especially from one of its own pups who began showing signs of any kind of dominance.

So, we’ll soon see how this situation pans out: if it settles down, or if it leads to something.

Punishment

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When “disciplining”, the alpha of a family pack gently puts her/his mouth around the snout of a coyote who is out-of-line, and maybe turns the “underdog” on its back for a few moments. This discipline could be reinforced by the alpha placing its paws on the back of the fellow who is out-of-line. The subordinate quickly shows deference and everything is back to normal within a few seconds:  the alpha status is reconfirmed and everyone knows their role in the family hierarchy. This is not what I saw today, twice.

What I saw today I’m going to call “punishment” — it is much more severe. I’ve thought about what might have lead to this kind of punishment:

The most probable reasons involve defiance of the alpha figure, in this case the mother, or possibly disobeying commands that are meant to protect the family pack and help with its survival. Hierarchy has to be rigidly maintained in a healthy coyote family.

Or, maybe the alpha needed to bring down the highest-ranking pup? Maybe it was becoming too powerful among its siblings?

Then again, this harsh discipline might just be the first steps in forcing dispersal. But then, why would the mother be targeting just the one pup, a female?

I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities. I don’t know enough at this stage to state with certainty what is going on, but I tend to think the punishment was for the youngsters own good, and not self-aggrandizement by a mean mother.  But I was totally taken aback as I observed it.

The youngster in this observation is almost seven-months old, a female. She approached her mother, belly scraping the ground, showing deference, submission and caution. This did not include the wiggly squealing happy meeting that I usually see. The pup approached and quickly turned on her back, with the aid of the mother’s legs. The mother then stood, crouched low, over the youngster for a long period of time, snarling now and then at the slightest hint of movement or protesting from the pup. At one point, as the pup lay there quietly, the mother licked the female pup’s private parts. and then the pup’s inner leg. The pup remained quiet at first. Then the pup seemed to protest and tried getting up, and even almost got up at one point. The mother snarled viciously and was able to quickly put the pup down again.  Then the pup did break away for a moment, but the mother quickly used her entire body to hold the pup down. There were then a series of hard punch-bites from the alpha-Mom.  This was all carried out in silence except for one high pitched whimper from the pup near the end of the “session”.  The pup then was able to get up and dash off for cover into some bushes about 50 feet away.

Mom then sat up and looked ahead and around, without a second glance towards the pup in the bushes. Within a few minutes she headed down the hill. The pup came out of the bushes and watched — watched longingly and sadly as the mother headed off. Were they not reconciled? Would this continue? At the bottom of the hill the mom looked back, seemingly disapprovingly, at the pup, and then continued on. The pup stayed at her spot by the bushes and looked very sad, watching the mother disappear into the distance. Many minutes later, the pup, too, headed down the hill, but in another direction.

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