Pestering?

In the video, after sirens sounded, first there was a howling session, then some greeting and hierarchy interactions which included nose touches, dominance displays, body contact, submissive displays and confirmations. And then this! Pestering? Teasing? Demand for attention? Challenging? Provoking??? Or maybe he’s just simply not doing what she wants him to do?

The two coyotes *of interest* are an older mated pair with a family of yearlings and pups. I’ve seen an established routine of antagonism between the two whereby the female snarls, and grunts at *him* and he simply ignores her or turns away after, often, responding with a snarly grimace. She continues to groom him sometimes, but also they tend to walk right past each other as ships in the night without acknowledging the other’s presence. The male is a rather easy going fellow. The female appears to be older than he is — she’s the one doing the prodding. The territory is one in which the male was born and the female then joined him and they’ve been together ever since.

I know another mated pair where there seems to be more antagonism as the pair has aged. The male is much older than the female: he is 8.5 years old and she is 4.5 years old. They’ve raised two pups over the course of three seasons who they keep well hidden. Their relationship began with the male being very solicitous and careful. More recently, and maybe it’s because he’s quite old and in pain, I’ve seen him become grouchy on occasions, even throwing *her* to the ground when she pinches him by mistake while grooming him. She ducks or falls on her back, and then, when his anger is over, she continues grooming him because he apparently demands it by standing next to her: her job is a chore now though it didn’t used to appear that way.

More Teasing and Bantering at Their Dusk Rendezvous

*Passing under and lifting* are standard in their *teasing and playing* repertoire.

All smiles and happy after the rendezvous play session!

I’ve inserted words that we humans might use in this situation. Yes, the use of words is anthropomorphizing, but look at the photos: the sentiments expressed non-verbally by these coyotes as they banter back and forth are exactly the same, aren’t they? One human might tease another in exactly this same fashion: first one taunts/teases the other, then the other taunts/teases back, and back and forth.

This is a mated pair with a brood of pups. Nevertheless, they still participate in this type of bonding play and teasing in spite of their family responsibilities to which they both contribute. The four-month-old pups are still being secretly sequestered for their own protection.

Coyote Family Life: Bantering, then Grooming

Bantering and play are a big part of life for coyotes

Teasing and provoking by pulling on your friend’s leg or neck, ducking and evading, a swing to the left and another to the right, baring your teeth and lowering your head — all the while keeping your ears in a low, non-aggressive position. This is how coyotes play, and they usually do so at their *rendezvous*: after spending daylight hours sleeping and apart, they come together for their social activities around dusk time.

Afterwards, there is a grooming session, where they accept the grooming caresses from each other as they calm down.

happily worn out from the exuberant play, it’s time to calm down for a few moments

This play can involve a mated pair, it can involve a parent and a pup as long as the pup shows proper obeisance, and it can involve adult siblings who actually live apart but continue their childhood relationship for a while.

grooming each other is another way to interact

Affection and Confirmation of Hierarchy at Rendezvous

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmm. Not So Sure About the ‘Closeness’ Here

2015-10-21

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

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

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

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

More Rendezvous Behavior: Fussing Over His Pups, Grooming & Intimacy

Charles Wood and I both have written a number of postings on coyote rendezvous behavior.  Coyotes are social animals who, except for transients and loners, live in nuclear families. They mate for life — coyotes are one of only 3-5% of mammalian species that do so — and the family is what centers their lives. Hey, not so different from us!

I recently wrote about a coyote mated pair — one with a den full of infant pups — who took off to rendezvous at dusk — like a couple on their way to a tryst in the dark.  Mated pairs are special buddies, and you can see it in that posting. I’ve also assembled a photo essay for Bay Nature on “Raising Kids in the City” to let people know about how social and family-minded coyotes are.

Today’s rendezvous was a family one. Mom and two kids were out lolling around on the hidden side of a hillside, waiting for dusk to get a little heavier.

Dad gets up & stretches

Dad gets up & stretches

After seeing them, I kept walking and found Dad sleeping in a little ball, about 400 feet away from where the others were. I settled down to wait for some activity. Suddenly Dad sat up, as if he knew that the others were waiting for him. What was his cue? He hadn’t seen the others — they were within his line of sight, but he had not looked in their direction. I’m sure he hadn’t heard them or smelled them. Maybe it was a cue in his circadian rhythms, much like our own, built in and influenced by daylight hours, or possibly by the movement of the moon?

He allowed himself a long stretch, and then scouted the length of a path before walking slowly into a clump of bushes which were in the direction of the place where the other family members were hanging out.

rendezvous begins

Rendezvous begins with Dad’s arrival

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Mom relaxes a few feet away

Since I could no longer see Dad after he disappeared into the bushes, I headed back to the hillside where I had first spotted the 3 other coyote family members. By the time I got to the spot where I could see them again, Dad was there. His arrival had sparked great excitement. Tails were wagging furiously. All coyotes, except Mom, were falling all over each other and doing their little wiggle-squiggle thing that they do when they greet one another.  Mom hadn’t moved from her sphynx-like pose, arms extended and crossed,  a few feet away. Now three pups were visible, but the shyest scurried behind a bush when she saw me.

Dad fusses over the first pup, stopping only to watch an owl pass overhead

As the excitement of the greeting calmed down, Dad approached the two remaining pups, one at a time. The first one he nudged in the snout, and then he poked his own snout into its fur, over and over again, twisting his head this way and that, in a grooming sort of way. The young pup closed its eyes and let itself enjoy the affectionate massage which went along with the grooming.  After about four minutes Dad moved over to the second pup. The first pup got up to follow and stuck its snout under Dad to smell his private parts. Dad did not like this and must have given a sign, because the pup turned away quickly and moved off.

Then Dad groomed the second pup: repeatedly nudging the pup’s head, licking and cleaning it. He then moved to the pup’s rear area and seemed to do the same, though I was on the other side so I could not see exactly where the licking was occurring.

Dad fusses over the second pup, spending lots of time licking and grooming the head and end of this 6-month old pup

Then my Canadian friend walked up, and I explained to her what was going on. We heard a siren in the distance. All coyote activity ceased and there was silence. I suggested to my friend that we might be in for a great family howling session, and I set my camera into “record” mode in preparation. Sure enough, the howling and squealing began, with the entire family joining in, AND was there another pup in the far distance adding its voice to the fabulous chorus!? Then all sounds ceased, after about 2 minutes. All the coyotes ran off, with happy flailing tails, in a single file, into the darkness and out of sight. There was no longer enough light for my camera to focus. My friend and I departed, too, delighted by how magical this had been. Here is the recording:

Rendezvous At Late Dusk

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[14 slides taken in the dark]

Few people know how extremely social coyotes are and that they have intense family lives. This is because coyotes avoid people and people areas as much as possible, and because most of their social activity occurs when it is dark, when we can’t see them. Their social interactions occur within a family unit. Coyotes, unlike wolves and feral dogs, do not form what we know of as traditional “packs” which are groups of individuals that are not related. If you do hear of  “a pack of coyotes”, the “pack” is always a family of related individuals.

New to most folks might be the incredible bonds, devotion, affection and care for each other that coyotes possess and display towards each other — wild coyotes have strong family-lives, not so different from our own! Usually, if a coyote is spotted by someone, all they see is its exterior shell — and most people are thrilled to have seen that — a real coyote!  But within that shell there is an entire complex life, an individual and unique personality, and social bonds and structure that few people ever see or are even aware of.  Coyotes are one of only 3-5% of mammalian species that mate for life, and both parents cooperatively raise the young.

One of the social activities that coyote family members look forward to and enjoy is their daily rendezvous. I was able to observe this behavior again only a few days ago. Unfortunately the photos are almost illegible because it was dark — but since this is how I saw it, this is how I’m going to present it: dark and blurry!

The rendezvous began when the two coyotes, a mated pair, came out from their daytime resting spots within a few minutes of each other. It’s interesting that in the families I have seen, Mom and Dad and pups often rest in three separate locations and these are not necessarily in close proximity to each other. On this particular evening, first she appeared, and she ran excitedly down a hill in anticipation of her active day. Within a short time, he appeared. He ran up to where she had been, and soon caught her scent and followed that.

When each caught sight of the other, they joyfully ran toward the other, they sniffed each other all over, and then there were the kisses and hugs and rubbing against one another that I’ve seen them do often when they greet each other. There were no squeals of delight this time, but sometimes squealing accompanies the greeting. Then they started chasing each other and tumbling over each other — they would frolic and play before going trekking. This continued for about five minutes before they both, still chasing each other, headed off to collect the rest of the young family. The whole family would be going “a-trekking” once it was pitch black outside: it would be a time for hunting, learning, playing, communicating, and interacting as a family.