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.

Keeping Pups Fed Can Be Demanding

Coyote pups were born during the first week of April here throughout San Francisco, and now they are three months old — the pupping season is progressing! As of the latter part of June, pups became completely weaned from their mother’s milk. They continue to be fed pablum which is being supplemented with small prey brought to them by the parents. Parents are working extra hard to keep up with the growing nutritional needs of their broods, sneaking in and out of their mostly hidden denning sites: it takes both parents to keep them nourished. While parents go off to hunt, youngsters are left alone for many hours at a time.

Lactating mom

Moms, of course, right from the start, need extra nourishment to insure the development of their pups before birth, and then for the six weeks afterwards to produce enough milk for them. But this is hardly the end of it.

Even before the youngsters are completely weaned in June, both parents introduce “pablum” to the youngsters’ diets: this consists of prey and other food that they’ve chewed up and ingested — and partly digested. They carry this food home in their bellies and regurgitate it for the youngsters. The following is a time-lapse video giving a glimpse into the time-consuming and often hectic task.

In the video you’ll see Mom hurries into the area — hurries so as not to be seen but also maybe to keep herself from digesting the food she carries in her belly — and quickly summons the youngsters who, of course, hurry after her until she expels the food onto the ground. The youngsters then lap this up voraciously. When she’s satisfied that they’ve cleaned most of it up, she’s off again for more, again hurrying through the gateway between her hidden den and the outer world. This process goes on multiple times a day.

Now, in July, whole foods are being introduced. The ending scene of this clip was captured only a week after the first clip, Mom is bringing in a small whole food — in this case a gopher. Both pablum and small whole food will be brought to coyote pups for the next little while as they learn to hunt for themselves, and as their digestive systems learn to handle the harder-to-digest foods.

It should be noted that every coyote parent is different. What you see here are two dedicated parents whose pups are foremost on their minds. But I have seen some parents who are not quite like this, specifically some mothers who were much more laid back, and whose mates seemed to take on the lion’s share of the feeding after the pups were weaned.

‘Till Death Do Us Part?

Introduction: That “coyotes are known to mate for life” is something most of us have heard. In fact, I think it’s the only reality I’d ever seen in 13 years. However, as events in one of my families unfolded in early February of this year, I had to question this. My own perception of the turn of events came in bits and pieces and in fits and starts as revealed through a field camera which was out only at night, and not always then. My own desire for this pair-bond to be everlasting caused me to latch onto any details to support my belief, and herein lies a sort of soap opera aspect to the story which I weave into the ending. My ‘hopeful speculations’, along with background history have grown this posting into an unusually long one — a mini-tome! Yikes! 

Please know that every single one of these photos, as all the photos on this blog, were taken as photo-documentation at the time these events occurred. I don’t substitute a photo from another time or place that might simply “do”. What you see, and what you read, are authentic and concurring.

Background.  The years immediately leading up to this story serve as an important point of reference for what comes later, so I’ll sum those up here.

More

Lugubrious Howl After Picking Up An Unwelcome Scent

 

Kicking dirt after his howl (with a youngster beside him)

This lugubrious howl capped extensive and intense sniffing by the resident alpha male of his territorial area. He had been picking-up the scent and following it fervently for several days, and I wondered what was going on. Right before the howl, his nose again was to the ground as he zig-zagged intently over the area. Immediately following the howl, he “kicked” the ground: he was clearly angry, but whomever he was angry at was not present.

Nose to the ground, following the scent

The intense sniffing occurred regularly for several days.

My initial thought was that a wayward dog might be causing alarm, but seldom have I seen dogs here. HOWEVER, the day after the recording, I spotted an intruder female yearling sniffing through the area evasively. She was a coyote I knew. Recognizable facial features apart, she was encumbered with a hefty radio-collar. These are used only in only one park in San Francisco — most of our city coyotes are free of them. So I’ll take this opportunity to say a little about her.

She had been “babysitter” for her own younger siblings born this year in her park several miles away. Pups in the city are more than five-months old now and require less looking-after, so relieved of this responsibility, she is freer to explore away from her home. Might she be making tentative steps at dispersal and looking for an unfilled niche within the city? She’s a year-and-a-half old and ready to move out on her own. Her brother, apparently, dispersed out of the city, dozens of miles south. On the contrary, this gal has been making forays within the city since March, but she always returns home (per Jonathan Young).

The yearling interloper

Might the howl have been either a warning to the intruder, or at least a vocalization of discontentment — the same as when coyotes howl after having been chased by a dog? Most intruders are chased off by resident coyotes — this is what I normally see — but if it happened here, I was not there to see it.

Papa’s five-month old pups.

Whatever was going on seems to have been resolved for the time being. I say this because the very next day this papa left the area for the day, leaving three youngsters and mom there alone. He would not have done so had there been danger lurking nearby. Leaving them for day-long intervals has been a routine behavior of his over the last couple of months, so things seemed back to normal and calm again. The youngsters seemed to know how to take care of themselves by doing what youngsters do best: playing chase and wrestling with each other, and keeping (fairly) hidden.

If the sniffing and howling were indeed because of the intruder, I wonder how serious of an infraction the intrusion was? My only clues that there was a problem were the alpha male’s repeated intense sniffing and his mournful howl, and then the intruder’s appearance. She has not re-appeared and neither has the intense sniffing behavior. Whatever was going on, no longer is.

Pups Are Left While Parents Rendezvous and Play

“Catch me if you can!” You can see the fun and happiness in their faces.

Dancing around her and inciting her with his twists and turns

Affectionate poking and grabbing while running together

Full grown coyote family members tend to sleep and rest during the day, usually not all together as might be expected, but apart — and usually within the distance of a football field — from each other. They rendezvous after their day-long rest. The get together is the most exciting part of the day for them: it includes greetings with squealing, wiggles and hugs; playing all kinds of games such a chase, wrestling, play attacks, etc.; there are confirmations of ranks, and there is mutual grooming, and finally they all head off trekking together further afield, which is when they hunt and mark their territories, and also explore and investigate. As pups mature and become more secure, they, too, will gradually join in this important daily event.

But while pups are very young during their first several months, they stick close to “home” because it’s familiar and they feel safest here. Of course, the whole family plays together in this area: there’s chasing and wrestling, tumbling and bumbling, play attacking and jumping on each other, and lots of grooming from parents. But afterwards the adults of the family head off for more adult, rougher and farther-ranging fun, and the youngsters are tucked away in a safe spot, or sometimes not so safe spot, as I’ve discovered.

So here are photos of a  rendezvous: they are all blurry because they were taken as daylight faded (remember that photography is about light — the better the lighting, the better the photo), but I wanted to give you a glimpse into coyote life that you might not otherwise see. I’ve attempted to tease out some of the distinct elements/activities involved in the play and name them for you. These two coyotes are seasoned parents, having produced at least two previous litters, yet they themselves are so puppy-like in their all-out, exuberant and trusting play. The adoration between these two is particularly heart-warming among the coyotes I know — it melts my heart every time I see it. Their rendezvous seldom seems to include the greetings, grooming, or rank confirmations — it’s as though their bond is above needing these rituals — and concentrates almost exclusively on the play I show here.

At their rendezvous, from their first eye-to-eye contact, you can actually see their *guard* let down as the happiness envelops them and they start running and jumping all over each other — it’s no different now than it was two years ago: they didn’t grow up out of this. What normally happens first is that they excitedly and joyfully race towards each other to be together. They engage in chase, catch-me, tease-shoving, tease leg biting: all joyful fun showing how bonded this pair is. This same scenario without the offspring, with variations in play methods and without quite this degree of affection, occurs in every family I know.

Meantime, what about the pups who are supposed to be tucked away safely? The pups are three-months old and recently I found them not so safely tucked away, but out in the open, exploring on their own, while parents were having their own fun in an open field hundreds of yards away and totally absorbed in each other. These pups didn’t even see me until I had been watching for several minutes.

The pups were close to some bushes which could provide an escape route from the dangers of dogs, raccoons, and even humans. They ran off after spending a few moment examining me from the distance, so their self-protective instincts are there, though not necessarily keen. I’m sure that if a quick dog had wanted to grab one of them, it could have. Dogs frequent the area.

Pups are absorbed in their own investigations

That parents devote this daily time strengthening and confirming their devotion to and affection for each other, over and above their “duties” as parents, is revealing of just how strong and important that bond is, and also attests to their amazing fun-loving natures.


Know that concern for youngsters is indeed there: these are very responsible parents, and leaving them for periods of time is what all coyote parents do. A few days later, a piercing explosion nearby showed how quick these coyotes’ reactions were to possible danger to their pups. I surmised this explosion might have been a remainder firework from the 4th of July only a few days before. The sound provoked the immediate appearance and investigation by both parents who approached from different directions, one right after the other, close to the pup area. Obviously, neither parent had been with their pups when the noise sounded.

But it also showed, again, how important the paired parent relationship is. First, Dad appeared. The direction of his gaze revealed that his concern alternated between two different points: where the hidden pups were, and away from them. It became apparent within a minute that his gaze away from them was in the direction of his all-important mate. This fellow is always watching out for her which always makes me think of some human catch-phrases: “She’s the love of his life”, and “She’s his raison d’etre”.  When she appeared, he relaxed. She looked around and assessed the situation, and then went to check on the kids. He soon followed

 

These Yearlings: Still Being Brought Food By Dad

Dad expels food for yearling youngsters — Dad is to the left in all these photos

Coyote pups were born at the end of March and the beginning of April this year here in San Francisco, so they are now four to six weeks old. To begin with, all pups are fed with their mother’s milk. Depending on the mother coyote and her age, this is either obvious or not so much so, as you can see in these photos.

Lactating mothers

As the pups grow, soft food is introduced into the youngsters’ diet. Regurgitated food is what young coyotes are fed as they are weaned off of their early milk diet. Eventually more solid forms of food are introduced: first, parts of and then whole dead rodents, then incapacitated prey, and finally live prey is brought home for the youngsters to learn to deal with and eat.

The youngsters depicted in these photos here were born last year. They appear to still be enjoying an extended puppyhood, even as their mother has gone off to give birth to a new litter. Uninhibited play and fun are still the order of the day for them. Interestingly, they are still receiving presents in the way of food from Dad.

A yearling youngster elicits the regurgitation reflex in his father before a sibling joins him as Dad watches

Upon seeing Dad, the most exuberant and active youngster of the litter runs to greet Dad and thrusts his snout into Dad’s mouth which elicits a regurgitation response. I don’t know if the regurgitation is actually voluntary or an involuntary response. This sort of feeding and being fed keeps everyone in their same states of dependence (for the youngsters) or leadership (for Dad), and is a strong solidifier of bonds and affection.

This particular family was a large one, with seven youngsters being born last year. This is the largest litter I have ever seen here in the city, with most litters being one, two, or three youngsters. But this litter is now down to four. One youngster was killed by a car, and two more were found dead. Although I haven’t found out what those two died of, I can pretty safely assume it was rat-poison or less likely, a natural disease. Coyote pup survival rate is only 20-30%, which, by the way, is actually higher than some human infant survival rates in Africa today where infant mortality is 92% in some villages.

A little about this family: of the four youngsters who survive, there are three rough-and-tumble youngsters — a female and two males — who throw themselves fully into their interactions and play. One of the males is the outstanding activist in the family. Then there is a smaller gal, a loner, who doesn’t appear to like the rough play of the others, nor the competition. And I’ve noticed that she doesn’t hurry over to partake in the regurgitated food her father proffers. In fact, that might be why she is comparatively smaller than the others. Coyotes have innate and very individual personalities which, just like with us humans, are further developed through each coyote’s individual place in the family and the feedback they constantly receive.

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.

Beatings: Rank Issues Leading To Dispersal

Summary: I describe a beating and associated behaviors that appear to be leading to dispersal, and I speculate about the role of hormones in this process.

The evening of observations began uneventfully: three coyotes sitting in various locations, within view of one another, but several hundred feet apart. Then a siren sounded. Mom got up and after a moment of bobbing her head up and down emitting a few barely audible grunts — a sign that she was thinking of howling but hadn’t quite arrived there yet — she began to howl. Interestingly, the normally enthusiastic female yearling did not join in, and the 6-month old male pup only produced one long clear note and then stopped. These are the three coyote players in my posting today. “Okay”, I thought, “something’s going on.”

The next thing I know, Mom walks over to Yearling Daughter who, upon seeing her mother coming towards her, crouches low and remains motionless with a fearful expression on her face. Mom walks stiffly and stands over Daughter threateningly, with hackles up, stiff and erect tail, teeth bared, lips curled back, and narrow-slit eyes. With only minor repositioning of themselves, they remain this way for over a minute,  though it seems like forever. During a millisecond of Mom’s inattention — though Mom may have allowed this — Daughter slithers out from under Mom, crouching low and keeping her rear-end tucked in. Looking at these photos later, I could see that before I had arrived in the park, there had been a battle: Daughter had a bleeding mouth and a bleeding tear under her chin.

Six-month old male pup then walks over to his older sister inquisitively but leaves it at that, and then all three coyotes walk away from one another and lie down again in separate areas. Eventually, Daughter rises and heads over to join her younger brother, possibly for the greeting which hadn’t taken place a few minutes before.  As she does so, Mom immediately gets up and jolts over to them, and as she does, both offspring descend into the sand pit and I’m cut off from seeing them for a few seconds. Immediately, I hear a squeal of pain, and growling and shuffling in the sand pit. I run over and take this intense video:

Not only is Mom beating up on Daughter, brutally shoving her with the side of her body, hovering over her, punching and biting her, but her 6 month old son — normally a buddy of Daughter’s — has followed Mom’s lead and is doing the same thing, just as fiercely. The scene is intense.

As seen in the video, finally Daughter extracts herself and runs off, but Mom races after her and slams her down one more time, in a way that suggests, “You better just watch yourself”. Daughter sits still, appearing to shrink into herself for protection and maybe to make herself look smaller, and finally she is left alone. She then runs off, distancing herself from her mother and lies down to rest. Now I’m able to see her numerous fresh wounds, and I can see that she’s utterly dejected. She puts her head down and closes her eyes several times.

Meanwhile, Mom heads back to sniff the areas where the altercation took place, and then walks intimidatingly past the daughter who remains prone and still, hugging the ground, so as not to further raise her mother’s ire. 6-month-old pup keeps his distance from both coyotes. Sirens sound again, and this time Mom and 6-month old pup hop up and howl, but the normally spirited little Yearling Daughter does not join in at all. I don’t know if this was of her own accord, or if she had been *told* not to participate.

After a time, Mom and son head off on their evening trek. Daughter watches them go and remains where she is as the two of them disappear into the distance. She then gets up and goes the other way, limping, and ends up in some tall grasses, where her yearling twin brother comes by and touch noses with her. The 6 month old pup reappears and, true to form, follows the older brother’s lead in touching noses with her. Is the 6-month old simply conforming to the behavior of his elders?


Associated Observations and Speculations about the role of hormones in this process:

Coyote yearlings are maturing into adults with increasingly independent drives which appear to be upsetting the established social order in their families. Coyotes live in highly structured families on exclusive family-owned territories. They have a rigid hierarchy for maintaining social order and for maintaining territories with low population densities. Here are some of my additional observations of behaviors that appear to be associated with the beatings, along with some of my speculations.

1. Yearling Daughter appears to have become too independent and too much of a leader. She has been out in the forefront often, leading the others. For instance, it’s this daughter who has figured out where scraps of food can be found, and she always gets there first and eats first, and she’s the one who leads the others there. Could this type of upstart leadership be a threat to Mom, and might Mom sense this as a threat to the whole family?  Aside from the leadership question, might Mom consider that particular location dangerous (having dangerous dogs or people) and therefore warrant putting an end to going there? One of the recent *beatings* took place at this location. The result: Daughter does not venture over there anymore.

2. Youngsters are disciplined in order to maintain social order.  The discipline is often severe: tough action speaks louder than tough words! In the video, Mom’s harsh lashings could be aimed at squelching an intensifying hierarchy dispute between the stronger yearling and her 6-month old sibling.  Younger son’s participation may simply be *getting back at* his sister for previous incidents against him. However, the picture actually looks much bigger than this one incident.

3. Deference towards Mom by Daughter has been sliding recently. Kowtowing and submission is now being forced by Mom instead of being a willing component of the daughter’s behavior.  Interestingly, mom no longer grooms Daughter, even as she continues to groom all her other offspring, be they yearlings or this year’s pups. Is the mother distancing herself from this offspring? Mom’s “beatings” as seen in the video have served to demote the female to lowest man on the totem pole — even below the much younger 6-month old son. Ever after I took the above video, Mom, if she’s there, puts Daughter down for pulling rank on ANY of the other family members. The 6-month old pup has taken advantage of the situation to actually prod and poke his sister — literally. The 6-month old pup isn’t smart enough or strong enough to dominate his sister yet, but with Mom’s presence preventing Daughter’s reaction to the prods, he seems to have climbed above her in rank. So, Mom has knocked the female yearling down a few notches in her relationship to all others.

6-month-old brother, in the middle, has just prodded his yearling sister by poking her with his paw.

4. And, ever since the beating in the video, Daughter takes off running whenever she sees Mom coming from the distance, and most of the time sits on a little knoll far from the rest of the family when the rest of them congregate. Mom’s (and 6-month-old son’s) persistent antagonism is leading to Daughter’s increased isolation and exclusion from family events, though she still joins when Dad around.

5. The hierarchy issue appears big, but the ultimate result might be dispersal of the yearling, unless things change. Driving youngsters out is called dispersion, and it’s necessary, not only to keep the population numbers low enough to insure there are enough resources (resources are always scarce) for everyone who remains in the territory, but also to insure the smooth functioning of the family unit. There is no room for upstarts or two alphas.

6. Reproductive competition may be one of the biggest factors in the beatings and then dispersal. I’ve seen this same antagonistic behavior in another family between a mom and her daughter, and in a family between the father and his son. In all cases, the *upstart* yearlings were demoted to the very bottom of the established family hierarchy. I’ve observed that it’s mostly the mothers who drive the female yearlings out, and the fathers who drive out the males, though I remember seeing one  father drive a daughter out. It makes sense: the dads do not want reproductive competition from a son, and the females do not want reproductive competition from a daughter.

SPECULATIONS, in the yellow box below, for those who might be interested in the hormone (or pheromones, as in urine) question:

7. SPECULATION ABOUT THE ROLE OF HORMONES: It has occurred to me that the *beatings* and *intimidations* may go on for another reason which falls short of actual expulsion of the youngster female from the family. We’ve all heard that, in any coyote family, only the *alphas* reproduce, yet yearlings often are allowed to stay in the family. Why don’t they reproduce? The *reign of terror* as you can see from the above video, is pretty strong. Although this would have to be explored by an endocrinologist, I do know that fear causes cortisol to rise in animals, and heightened cortisol, in turn, inhibits the production of reproductive hormones. Could this be causing the beta adult females in any family to become temporarily sterile? In this case, the *reign of terror* by the mother would be geared to insure that only she, the mother, the alpha female, will be reproducing within that family. Food for thought.

8. FURTHER SPECULATION: Could Mom’s behavior be triggered by her sensing a competitive hormonal state in her daughter? I’m throwing this out there as a possibility because, in this and in another family where I observed the same beatings, the mom was particularly interested in smelling the reproductive areas of her female daughter. It would be interesting to investigate this if it hasn’t already been.

If it is possible for menstrual cycles to align themselves when all-females cohabitate (all-girl dorms and nuns), it might not be so far-fetched to think that some form of hormonal communication could be occurring between female coyotes, and could be a factor in adult beta females remaining *behaviorally sterile* within coyote families. For instance, could one female’s strong hormones act to inhibit those of another proximate female? An alpha with strong hormones would be able to retain the status quo, but what might happen if a youngster’s hormone levels surged in response to Mom’s weakening hormone production as she ages? Would a mother’s *reign of terror* raise cortisol enough to scare a youngster’s endocrine system from producing?

There’s one more interesting factor here associated with hormones, I think. Females go into estrus and reproduce only once a year. The odd thing is that males, too, only produce sperm — spermatogenesis — at that one time of year. What triggers their overlapping schedules? More food for thought.

9. For the purpose of this posting, I’m not going to get into the different personalities and histories of each coyote in the family except to mention that *Dad* in this family has a fondness for all his pups and indulges each and every one of them: he grooms them, nuzzles them and shows them affection. The same affection is not conferred on Mom — he appears to have chilled towards his mate who he sometimes prevents from grooming him and who he never grooms: her advances for purposes of grooming/affection and even rank confirmation/testing seem to be rejected. In addition there frequently are growls and teeth baring between these two, including at his initial interactions with the yearling daughter. Simultaneously, Dad seems to soothe and comfort Yearling Daughter after Mom’s attacks sometimes.  Might all of these little behaviors cause Mom to feel competition from Daughter? It seems to me that this could be a contributing factor in the alpha female’s need to drive Daughter to the lowest rungs of the group and maybe off.

10. The phenomenon of territoriality keeps the population density down. The territory in the case of this family is a golf course. You might think that golf-courses are large enough to be home to many coyotes and that they are ideal habitat, but they are not. In this particular golf course in the past, there was desperate internecine warfare between two coyote families. I’m told that the puppies of one family were killed off: this shows how severe the battles can be. There is room for only one family and the other family was forced to leave.

Golf courses are kept for golfers, not for coyotes, so overgrown foliage areas where rodents might live are cleared out regularly. The lawn/turf areas are not much better than plastic astroturf or concrete in terms of the foods they supply: they are cleared of gophers on a regular basis with one-way traps which break the gophers’ necks: not a pleasant death, but the point is that gophers are eliminated, and gophers happen to be one of the coyote’s staple foods here in San Francisco. So a golf-course serves mostly as a home base, not as a food gathering area. Coyotes trek further afield for most of their sustenance, into neighborhoods and other open spaces and parks. Coyotes actually trek further than their claimed territories, be they parks, golf-courses, or open spaces, no matter how dense the resources are. I’m simply suggesting that golf-courses are not sustainable food areas for coyotes.

Territories (home bases) and surrounding ranging lands only support so many coyotes: the population is kept low through the phenomenon of territoriality, as far as I’ve seen. In any one territory, grown coyote pups eventually disperse, or leave the territory between the age of one and two years usually, and those that don’t leave are betas who do not reproduce.  Dispersal is necessary to keep the population numbers low enough to insure there are enough resources for everyone who remains.

12. What’s fascinating about this video is that the 6 month old pup has joined his mother in beating up his elder yearling sister just as vehemently as is the mother is. He’s always been a buddy to his older sister, following her, copying her, the two of them grooming each other, and she coming to his rescue/defense whenever she felt he was in danger. Now, suddenly, he has taken on his mother’s behavior and ganged up on his older sister. His survival, of course, depends on his aligning himself with Mom. And it is through copying that coyote pups learn. So, the sister gets beaten up. The sister is clearly traumatized both physically (see wounds I’ve circled in the photo), and emotionally. Puppy also suffered collateral damage, but only physically.

11. After the beating, the Yearling Daughter wanders off to be far away and acts dejected. Do coyotes have feelings? I myself have no doubt. You can figure out how they feel by the way you might feel under certain similar circumstances (see some of Carl Safina’s videos). This is not anthropomorphizing in the sense that purely human characteristics are placed on animals. These animals actually have these feelings which are best described by the language we use to describe our own emotions. However, it is anthropocentric for humans to believe that they are the only ones who feel things. Finding similarities is what helps people relate to wildlife — we need more of it, and less of a divide than what some academics have clung to. The new models are Jane Goodall’s and Carl Safina’s. More and more scientists are seeing animals as sentient beings who share many of our own, or very similar to our own, feelings and emotions.

The young female coyote has gone off to be alone, far away from further parental and sibling torment. The normally perky and energetic youngster here puts her head down, as though defeated. She stays off to herself. She doesn’t joint the next howling session. She doesn’t join the family for their rendezvous and trekking session. In fact, she trots in the opposite direction: she’s been excluded from participation in the family — shunned. Remember that family life is what they live for.

So she can’t join the fun and games: you can tell she wants to by the way she lurches forward just a little sometimes and then restrains herself. She behaves exactly like my dog when he’s been told to sit/stay, yet he wants to join the rest of us.

As I left the park this day, I heard loud squawking and branches rustling strongly in the branches way above. I looked up to see a red-shouldered hawk fighting with another red-shouldered hawk, and I wondered if dispersal was in the air. Nature is not always as kind or sweet as many of us might want to believe: it has its heartaches as well as its joys.

Looks Like A Pup, But It’s A Mother Coyote!

Here is a mother coyote that people have been mistaking for a pup. At this time of year, after the entire coat of fur has been shed, coyotes indeed can look very small and thin, with very large ears that seem too big for their heads — just the way a coyote pup might look. This particular coyote is on the smaller side to begin with — probably under 25 pounds which may contribute to people’s thinking that she’s a pup.

Please keep away from all coyotes, be they pups or adults.

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

Pups!!! And How The Divide Suddenly Doesn’t Feel So Vast, by Ella Dine

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I spent several hours observing the family yesterday, mostly because I wanted to catch a glimpse of the pups. I thought there were two, and based on my observations, I have no reason to suspect more. It was well worth the wait. The pups bounded out of the den area toward mom looking very much like similarly-aged, wiggly, exuberant canine pups. When asked what word comes to mind when folks think of coyotes, most are probably not inclined to say adorable, but I am convinced this is because we don’t often get the chance to watch these creatures interact with each other. These pups were utterly Adorable. They showed appropriate deference to mama, and when she nudged them back into hiding, they complied obediently. They appeared so energetic that I wondered what they do all day–how are those energetic little bodies confined to what appears to be a small den area? This is purely speculative, but I imagine they do sleep a fair amount, at least during the hottest part of day. I also began to wonder about the parents–what having a litter would be like, for instance, for the first time? How startling would it be that suddenly this mix of instinct and responsibility becomes your single overarching biological imperative? How stressful would it be to try to protect your babies in the wild?

I realized that part of the fascination in observing this family is watching instinct in action, animals with no agenda other than pure survival and all the attending struggles and challenges inherent in it. It’s quite beautiful.

Surrounding the area, people passed leisurely, most looking down at phones. I had a million gadgets myself– a phone in my pocket, a clunky camera around my neck. It brought to mind the most obvious thought: of course we sometimes harbor an irrational fear of wildlife. We know next to nothing about what their experience is really like. We are so removed from our own inner-wild (conditioned as we are to tame and master our own, uglier impulses) that witnessing that shadow side–that latent part so familiar to our most distant ancestors (and the very thing coyotes depend upon to thrive) can be spooky, but also exhilarating. Anyway, we certainly have more in common than not–all it took to convince me of that was to watch a mama with her two adorable babies.

You can see by this pic how well the pups blend in!

You can see by this pic how well the pups blend in!

 

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.

Fleeing From Father

I’m trying to get a handle on a family where the youngster is never present. The parents’ daytime resting time is almost always in close proximity to each other, either in an open field or under cover of some forest edge habitat. Even when I can’t see them, I can tell they are fairly close together because when a siren whizzes by, they respond by yipping which reveals their proximate locations.

It’s hard to tell what’s going on with the youngster — and with the parental relationship with him — because I seldom see the youngster. Until today. Today I watched this youngster out in the unhidden open. What a rare treat! He did not immediately flee to the underbrush the minute he saw a person (me), but rather allowed me to spend time observing. He just sat there and looked around from his safe-zone in the far distance where I know he stays, but this time he wasn’t concealed behind bushes and thickets.

Soon he got up to go: he stretched and yawned, and obviously was at ease, even though a person was observing him. He looked at me, but basically went about his business. He casually walked off, and then started descending a hill when suddenly he stopped cold, did a quick about-face, and headed up the hill in a hurry, lickety-split. He stopped to look back once and then disappeared over the crest of the hill. I looked down the hill to find out what he might be running from and was surprised to see his father staring at him. Hmmm. Instead of running towards each other for a happy greeting, the youngster was running away with trepidation!

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Father glaring over his shoulder, up the hill, at his youngster. Youngster hurries away.

Had there been an altercation earlier? Might one of these coyotes have secretly taken and reburied a food cash that belonged to the other? Might there have been an issue with insubordination? Might lessons about territoriality and not crossing boundaries have been involved, or even safety issues about remaining away from dogs? Might the firm establishment of a hierarchical order be involved? Or, highly unlikely, might this have been the beginnings of an early dispersal process? I’ve never seen a coyote dispersed under one year of age here in San Francisco, but I’ve heard it alluded to. The bullying that precedes dispersal may go on for months before the youngster decides to take off for a better life elsewhere. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to see coyote family behaviors from this distant fella. We’ll see what happens.

These Parents Spend Bulk of Their Day Together and Far From Their Youngster

In one of my coyote families, the parents have been spending all dusk, dawn and daytime hours far removed and distant from their one single pup. He’s been an “only” pup since he was very small, so maybe it was a single birth.

In the other families I’ve observed, these daytime hours, when the coyotes are visible to me, have included a good deal of “family time”, where parents can be seen engaging with youngsters: playing, sharing, grooming, resting within view of each other.

Not so in this particular family. Although I’ve seen the parents take food to their youngster and groom him — indicating that the family is still intact and functional, I’m seeing these types of behaviors only very sporadically — almost never — and they occur in the most secluded parts of their park. I wonder why more of these quieter daytime hours aren’t being spent with the youngster?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but the possibility occurred to me that the parents might be trying to entice the youngster out of his hiding places — to join them where they are. The parents have been hanging around in a field, at about the distance of several football fields away, but within view of him for the most part. Then again, as opposed to enticing the youngster out of his seclusion, maybe it is the parents who have prompted him to stay there — forbidding him to leave that safe zone? Teaching him about territoriality?  Or, it could simply be that all the interactions always, without fail, take place only during the darkest hours of the night when I am not around to see them.

The youngster is extremely shy and wary — more so than most youngsters. Each coyote, like each human, is an individual and different from the next. I’ve seen this one duck under cover if a person even looks at him from the far distance across a meadow. He ducks into the forest and can only be glimpsed now and then from between the bushes and trees. Maybe he’s just shy, but now I’m also wondering if he might not fit in?

A couple of years ago, in a larger family, I observed that one of the youngsters was shyer and more wary than the rest of his litter. He also seldom ventured into the areas of his park where there are people and pets, even though his siblings did when park patrons were few and the light was still, or had become, murky and dim. He didn’t interact well with his siblings: they played catch and chase and had wrestling matches, whereas this one would sit off to the side and watch, almost afraid to enter the fray, and then try to calm the exuberance between the others as though they were fighting and not playing — he did this by being aggressive. When they tried to include him in their play, he did the same thing. So the siblings just moved off a ways and continued their play. He was a loner who didn’t fit well into family life. He was dispersed soon after his first birthday. Is this is what is going to happen in this family with an “only child”?

A One Hour Peek Through An Opening In The Bushes At A Coyote Family’s Interactions At Dusk

I peeked through an opening in the bushes into coyote family life during the hour before their active life begins in the evening at dusk. This entire family was together: mother, father, uncle and one pup. There is only one pup in the family. The pup is super-well protected and superbly indulged by the three adults in the family: the third adult is a male from a previous litter who I will call Uncle, even though that’s not exactly what he really is.

The hour was spent in constant interpersonal interactions — there was not a moment when something was not going on or when some interaction was not taking place. Coyotes are some of the most social of animals, and their social life takes place via their intense family life.

The activities during this hour included Mom grooming Dad and vice-versa, Mom grooming Pup and vice-versa, affectionate play between Mother and Pup, all four coyotes aware of me and glancing at me in the far distance, Dad dominating Uncle — this happened continuously, Pup dominating Uncle who is low man on the totem pole, Uncle standing off to the side alone with ears airplaned out submissively, Pup hopping and jumping around trying to get others to play — as any only child might. And, most interesting, a sequence where Pup jumped on Dad (oops) with unexpected consequences and confusion.

Grooming, playing, cuddling and general interacting were constant activities (below).

This sequence (below) was pretty interesting because Dad ended up disciplining Mom instead of the Pup who caused the disturbance! Pup had jumped over — or onto — his parents who were lying next to each other. Dad either got confused and disciplined Mom — she’s the one lying on her back as he stands over her — OR, Mom’s growl at the Pup may be what Dad was reacting to. Dad coyote does not tolerate any aggression in his family, even from Mom. At the first sign of any antagonism or dissent, he squelches it. Dad is the oldest and wisest in this family, and the ultimate authority. In another family I know, Mom is the ultimate authority: every family is different.

Rigid status preserves order, but sometimes it’s hard to watch. Uncle is low man on the totem pole, and he’s made aware of this constantly: what is Dad’s “order” is Uncle’s strife and oppression.  There seemed not to be a minute that went by when Uncle was not reminded of it. It happened with physical put-downs three times in this hour, and in a more subtle manner, with glances, many more times.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

As it got darker, the time came for the family to trek on. The move was signaled by Dad’s signature stretching. Dusk had settled in and their day was beginning. And my viewing time had come to an end because as they slithered away into the night, I could no longer see them.

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