Two Coyotes, A Deceased Owl, and A Pussy Cat

Coyote stories usually involve more than just what meets the eye: background details and previous situations can contribute to filling out an understanding of the story. Then again, all stories are simply slices of time — partial stories. We tell them with a satisfying or instructive outcome or conclusion, but the story, in some form, of course, goes on. This entire observation lasted only a few minutes, but it was interesting, especially when expanded upon with a few things I know about these particular coyotes. But you’ll have to use your imagination to fill in the gaps: it’s still only a partial story.

Two coyotes were out foraging for mice in their field, when one of them came upon a find-of-the-week treasure: a dead barn owl. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, and here, an opportunity presented itself and was acted upon.

An important word, again, about RAT POISON because that’s probably what killed the owl. Rat poison, or rodenticide, has been found in every owl we’ve taken up to WildCare for a necropsy. The owl would have eaten poisoned rats and mice which killed him/her. In the necropsies we’ve had done, the rodenticide was repeatedly found laced throughout the entire critter’s body. So this is probably the condition of this found dead owl. And now, coyotes have it. The poison in one owl probably isn’t enough to kill a coyote, but it can affect them, slowing down their reaction times and dulling their nerves: this is what rodenticide does. For instance, their chances of being hit by a car become greater. Cars are primary coyote killers in urban areas. And another tidbit about scavenging coyotes: they clean up carrion (dead animals) which keeps diseases from spreading — the dead owl at this point was carrion.

To continue. The female coyote grabbed the owl and ran with it to keep it away from the 2nd coyote, with the 2nd coyote at her heels. These two coyotes tease each other with mice which they grab from each other when the other coyote is unaware, but also I’ve seen that when the female finds prey on her own, she’ll keep and bury it just for herself so the other coyote won’t be able to find it. In these ways, coyotes interact with each other and food: teasing, sharing, not sharing.

internet photo

I ran to catch up with the coyotes but missed any more shots for this story. What I saw was the coyote with the owl clenched in her mouth running away from the second coyote as they zig-zagged their way around a community garden, and then, interestingly, a large orange tabby cat, right at their tails, zig-zagging along after them. Hmmm. Another tidbit of information about these two coyotes: they are scared of cats and run from them.

I lost track of them all until the two coyotes emerged with kind-of victory grins, but no owl. Had they buried it, or had the cat claimed it by scaring the coyotes away? I tend to think the lead coyote buried the owl to hide it as I saw her do a couple of days earlier with a road-killed raccoon she had found. But who would she be hiding it from? You can be sure that the interested animals following her know exactly where she cached it.

Both coyotes then climbed the hill above where they had been zig-zagging along. The cat was gone. The second coyote, the one who had followed the one with the owl, went off to hunt a little. But the first coyote plopped herself down within view of where the owl would have been buried and kept her eye on that area — until two dogs appeared and chased her away from her lookout post. But the dogs had no idea what she had been guarding, or even that she had been guarding anything at all. Dogs simply like to pursue coyotes.

My story was going to end there, leaving readers to guess who ultimately got the prized owl, but two days later I found the smelly old owl carcass pretty much still intact, but far from where the two coyotes and cat were seen with it. The coyotes may have simply been using the carcass as a toy, teasing and playing “keep-away” from each other. I wondered why it hadn’t been eaten, and I wondered if coyotes can sense rat poison and that the bird had been ill. I don’t know the answer, but since no coyotes were around, I took the opportunity to bag the carcass and dispose of it into a trash bin, to keep our coyotes safe from the high possibility of rat poison. The time had passed when a necropsy could have been accurately performed.

Cuddling, Teasing and Play


Of course pups cuddle, tease and play with each other. And parents do the same with their pups. But in the coyote world, these inter-personal activities are prevalent throughout adulthood between mated pairs: coyotes really like each other (unless they really don’t, which is a different story). They are social, meaning they spend a lot of time together interacting with each other, be it simply through visual communication or more emphatically through physical contact. Their involvement with each other is constant and can be intense.

In this video you’ll see some of that activity between a bonded pair. You’ll see affectionate nudges and teasing, fond provocations, tender mouth clasps or little “kisses” and cuddling. This is what goes on between them when they’re left alone and not having to constantly watch over their shoulders for danger — mostly from dogs. The activity occurs throughout the year, not just during the reproductive season.

Camaraderie and “Checking-In”

Although coyotes have nabbed raccoons and often work as a team to do so, our coyotes here in San Francisco usually forage individually because of the nature of their prey: small rodents, squirrels, voles, even birds, berries, etc. Even so, they often head out to hunt in pairs. They are social animals, so being together is as much fun for them as it is for us. They often become separated as they follow their noses to areas quite distant from the other, but eventually, they come together to “check-in”. When this happens, there is a little greeting and acknowledgement which consists of eye contact, nose touches, and sometimes some play.

These photos today are of a recently bonded pair of coyotes. Their relationship as a pair is new. Their regular “checking-in” involves more overt displays of joy than most: you can just hear them thinking: “I’m so happy to see you, I’m so happy that you are here with me!” Their interactions at this time are much more similar to what happens at an evening rendezvous, when coyotes come together after having been sleeping apart most of the daylight hours. The rendezvous is a very intense time of socialization between coyotes: there are wiggles and squiggles and joyous jumping over each other, chasing, lots of body contact, body hugs and love bites. Well, this pair greet each other in this manner after they’ve been apart for only 5-10 minutes! It appears that this new match was made in heaven!

A joyous game of chase and catch-me-if-you-can

Playful jumping all over each other

Hugs and togetherness in midair

Body contact even as they run off together

A provokingly affectionate teasing nip to the leg

Contact again, with a paw on his back

Background on these two coyotes: This pair of coyotes came together only several months ago. In her birth family, the three-and-a-half years old female had been an “only child” where her parents left her by herself hours on end, so she was used to being all alone. She dispersed early and became the resident coyote in her new claimed territory which had been left vacant by a coyote hit by a car several years earlier. Here, she remained a loner, and over time, began focusing on cars, humans and dogs for entertainment: coyotes are social animals, and with no other coyotes around, she made do with what there was in sort-of the form of virtual interactions. I worked with the community to discourage interactions in order to preserve her wary and wily wildness as much as possible. Education of this sort worked because most people wanted to do what was best for her. It appears that this coyote didn’t know what she had been missing in the form of “real” interactions until the male showed up. Suddenly, she was overjoyed to finally have a real companion! She is the one who displays the most exuberance and joy when they “check-in”.

The younger newcomer male arrived after having been dispersed — driven out — from his birth family in August by his own siblings who had formed an alliance or bond between themselves: there was no room for him there as an adult. Once youngsters disperse, I usually don’t see them again, but I have been privileged to reconnect with three of them after they dispersed. Once I get to know coyotes, they become easily identifiable through their very distinct appearances and behaviors. Of interest to many people might be that there happen to be “family resemblances” in some coyote families, no different from family resemblances in human families. This male came from a family of four siblings who used to play endlessly together through a year-and-a-half of age.

The play gets more rough and tumble, but is always affectionate

Jumping all over each other with hugs

“Ha ha, gotcha!” Teasing is how they display their connectiveness

Pulling him by his fur has got to be high on the list of tolerances between bonded coyotes

Only a good friend would allow you to grab him by the scruff of the neck with your teeth!

A Newly Discarded Bike Tire Inspires A Coyote’s Inner Child

Here are fifteen slides of fun: investigating and testing yet another discovered novelty! Note the tentative approach with touching, poking, and at first, grabbing the tire only minimally by a torn tire tread, all the while with hackles up and ready to bolt if the need should arise.

This is serious business — getting to tame and know her environment — in this case a bike tire!!  :)) The best way to see these slides is to click on the first one and then scroll through them.

Novelty Spurs A Super Playtime At The Rendezvous

A while back I was told by someone with some animal behavior training, that “novelty” is something coyotes stay away from. That novelty and smelly human socks were things coyotes avoided and therefore could be used to drive coyotes away.

Actually, the opposite seems to be true. I’ve seen coyotes absolutely delight in smelly old human shoes, their socks, coats and hats: they tend to actually be attracted to these things and to anything novel, including balloons waving in the wind, and even large objects like huge dirt piles and tractors — and no matter that the size and configuration of the huge dirt piles changed daily over a five day period, that the tractors were never in the same places, that the huge log piles grew and then slowly disappeared over a five day period, the coyotes returned for their play there day after day.

The morning that I took these photos, a huge, deep hole had been dug into the very level ground. It went down as deep as the piled up dirt was high. You can’t really tell from my photo, but the pit is very deep. My fear when I saw the hole was that if I, or a coyote from the family which roams the area were to slide in, there would be no getting out without help. Luckily, everyone was sure-footed and no one fell in!

So, after the tractors had done their work in the morning, I arrived at the huge pit and dirt pile. It was rendezvous time, which is the evening get-together when coyotes meet-up for play, grooming, re-confirming their family positions and eventually trekking. At the allotted time — and I must say that I don’t know how each coyote knows to appear at about the same time because they emerge from different areas of the park — possibly they’re just waiting and watching — they raced excitedly and playfully towards each other with greetings.

Initial play and greetings before heading over to the novel items

Their greetings were full of fun, as usual, and then they headed straight over to the three huge tractors and dirt pile that hadn’t been there the day before, where they exploded in play: running around as though these things had been placed there specifically for their enjoyment! They ran and chased each other along the top ridge of the dirt, and up and down, they explored the tractors, they explored and clambered all over the high wood-pile. And they smiled at all their fun. They did not avoid anything new, and it all was new. Enjoy the fun!

Smiling and happy after an intense chase on the ridge of the dirt pile

Our Playful Neighbor, by Gina Solomon

I was walking my dog yesterday morning when I spotted movement on the hillside across the road. There, fairly close, was our local coyote in action! At first I thought she was hunting, but it soon became clear she was playing with a ball. She was clearly having a blast, tossing it up in the air, letting the ball roll down the hillside and then leaping after it. Several times the ball rolled nearly as far as the road. She was cautious, however, and always looked around for potential danger before dashing down the hill.

I sat on a rock across the road and watched her for a few minutes. This little video clip only gives a hint of the fun she was having. A few times I laughed out loud because her antics were so cute and funny, and I had to remind myself that I was watching a wild animal in her own habitat, not a dog. The happiness I felt from watching her play stayed with me all day, and I’m smiling at the memory as I write this. We are so lucky to have such intelligent, playful, and athletic creatures in our midst!

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

 

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