Family Communication Howls

This five minute video is of a family interacting vocally in the late afternoon. It’s actually two interactions within about an hour of each other, starting at about 6:30 p.m., with napping in-between.The wind noise during the first minute and a half is really off-putting and painful to listen to. You can turn the volume down during this section or jump ahead. I wish I knew how to take out the wind — I’m sure there’s a way.

The video starts out with Mom calling out to her family — no sirens were involved. At :40 seconds into the video [the numbers below refer to the progression of the video], the rest of the family responds, and Mom then intensifies her own calls as she replies to them — you can see and hear this uptic in sound. At 1:15, satisfied with their responses, she heads off to another location nearby but does not join them. Some people have speculated that this type howling is a “roll-call”, but it isn’t, since repeatedly I have seen some family members absolutely ignore the sounds and continue with what they were doing.

By 1:23 the rest of the family is sleeping on a hillside without Mom. If you didn’t know they were there, you would not have seen them — they pretty much blended into the hillside and looked like part of the landscape. Dad looks up briefly at 1:53. Of course, I didn’t stick around to video them sleeping (!) but the minute I heard them again, I returned.

By 2:05 the family is howling again, this time in response to sirens. If you listen carefully you can hear that each coyote sounds different, and you can hear Mom’s deeper voice in the background. Howling is often set off by sirens, but just as often it’s initiated without them. Possibly they are simply confirming their family unity and their family separateness from any neighboring coyote families. If sirens occur late in the afternoon, as in this case, the coyotes may use it as their signal to meet up at the rendezvous — a nightly event — which begins their activity together through the evening. Coyotes sleep mostly during the daylight hours in urban settings as an adaptation to avoid people, even though they are not at all nocturnal. They are as diurnal as we are.

By about 4:07 the howling has stopped. They interact minimally, and then they head off to meet Mom for their rendezvous.

At 4:36 you may have to turn the volume up to hear their squeaky voices during their meeting: this part is hidden from view because they are deep in the bushes.

Within a few minutes of hearing these high-pitched voices from the bushes — it was dusk by this time and difficult to see them — I saw three of them headed out together with purpose and direction to their steps — they were on their way to patrol and hunt and mark their territory in order to keep non-family coyotes out. One of the youngsters, the female, seems never to come with them during these treks. I’ve seen this stay-home behavior in a number of younger females. I don’t know if they remain home due to not feeling secure away from home, or if there is some other reason.

Plumping Up The Bed

This coyote headed up a hill and began digging and pawing the ground. It looked like any other hunting session, only there was a little more “pulling” than usual. When it finally looked perfect, the coyote circled around and then curled up comfortably. It had not been hunting at all — it had been digging a little hollow and moving the grass around into a comfortable place to rest!

Rainy Day Stretch and Shakeout

Coyotes are not put out by the rain at all. This one stayed out in the rain for over two hours before slowly and casually walking on.

Sleeping In A Fallen Tree

This looks like a perfect resting spot — a few moments of shut-eye before heading in for the day. The huge trunk on which the coyote rested was about six feet off of the ground below.

Observing, Responding, and Rest — Hinge On The Human Factor

This story hinges on human conduct, which is always the cause behind coyote “incidents”, and also the route through which misinformation is turned into nasty rumors.  The only way we can control coyote behavior is through our own behavior. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone.

So, the day began peacefully, as usual. Very often, when coyotes are out early resting on a hillside, a group of unleashed dogs will aggressively run up to their remote location and chase them. It is always the same group of dogs with the same set of owners who have never taken responsibility for keeping their dogs away from the coyotes — this group is one of the few who are not fond of having coyotes around. Ninety-nine percent of dog owners, however, are respectful and want to do what they can for the urban coyotes. They are totally responsible, keeping their dogs leashed or under voice control when coyotes are out. Repeated “incidents” always occur with the same few dogs. Fortunately, today the coyotes were not out when these dogs went by.

However, not long after they passed, a coyote did appear up on a hilltop, observing her surroundings. We know it was the mother coyote because of the behavior which followed. Several groups of walkers stopped to admire her presence in the park as she sat so calmly looking around: this was magical urban wildness. It was all so peaceful. Then the coyote jolted to a sitting up high position: her attention became riveted into the distance. She ignored the walkers below her. And then, as suddenly as she had sat up, she darted off like a bullet at full speed with hackles raised.

I’ve seen her do this before, so I knew what it was about. She sped to the spot which she had been so keenly observing. On the way she encountered one of her full-grown pups — but this is not the one she was worried about. She had the aim of heading-off a dog which was pursuing her other year-old pup. I didn’t even have to be there to know this. We then began hearing this mother coyote’s distressed and upset barking — barking she only engages in if she or one of her pups have been pursued by a dog. The barking is an indication of her distress, but also imparts a message: “Keep your distance.”

A few of us who just a few moments earlier had been watching her peacefulness, headed off to where the distressed barking sound was coming from. On the way we passed the angry owner of the dog which had chased the coyote — she now had her dog leashed. This huge dog continually chases the coyotes — it is a game for the dog who is about four times larger than any coyote. The owner wouldn’t even look at us: for her, the incident was the coyote’s fault for being there — not hers for not having leashed her dog.

We walked a little further until we spotted the mother coyote: she was rearing up on her hind legs and barking. The young coyote which had been pursued had taken cover in the bushes, but the second young coyote sat on the hillside nearby watching as its mother continued her barking for about 20 minutes.

The reactions to this incident were various: these are the reactions which get reported to our Animal Control Department.  Some people were furious that a dog walker had allowed her dog to chase a coyote again — and that dogs are not kept leashed in this “leash-law” area. Some were just fascinated by the barking, and fascinated that a mother coyote would run such a long distance to defend one of her year-old pups from a dog. Some twisted the information to fit their own image of coyotes, saying the coyote had not been chased at all, that she was aggressive and bold and a danger to humanity. And finally there was the individual who points to observers or photographers so as not to have to address his own reasons for not leashing his dog.

It was nice having the witnesses who saw the young coyote chased by the German Shepherd. More and more people are willing to give their names to defend the coyotes and I want to thank them all. When a coyote defends itself or its pack members, it is not an act of aggression or an attack. In fact everyone needs to become more aware of  nuances in terminology so that they may be able to describe what they see more accurately. Lynsey White and Stanley Gehrt of Ohio State University point out that the phrase “coyote attack” is sensationalistic and fear-mongering. We need a better choice of words and consistency to better understand how coyotes actually interact with humans. People often conflate words like “aggressive”, “assertive”, “bold”, “curious”, “defensive” and “investigating”. Details of the behavior of people, dogs and coyotes prior to and during any coyote incident are needed to really understand what is going on.

Our mother coyote finally calmed down. I watched her slowly head down a hill and into the bushes and finally up to one of her remote lookout posts, where she gave one last glance around to make sure the German Shepherd was gone. Then she lay down and napped. A couple of hours later I returned to the park to find her still in that same spot resting. Coyotes just want to be left alone. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. Please keep your dogs leashed around coyotes.

Sleeping and Resting Right In The Open

Several times I have watched a coyote settle down in a spot, look around, and finally curl up for some sleep, right in the open. It is not exactly in plain view since the coyote is so well camouflaged — it would be very hard to detect that a coyote were there if you had not seen it go there in the first place. However, a few days ago I actually discovered this coyote sprawled out asleep in the wide open. By zooming in with my lens, I could see that the coyote opened one eye and was aware of me from quite a distance, but it did not raise its head. It did not move at all! I’ve put three zooms in here to show how absolutely hidden the coyote is — but the coyote is there!!

Hunkering Down For Rest

Where do coyotes hunker down for their rest? It appears it is right under the open sky in plein air, and not necessarily in the bushes!! I followed a coyote for about ten minutes as it hunted, it moved on a little, it sat and watched, and then it moved on some more, repeating this sequence. I moved on, too, behind it. Then it sat down and glared at me a couple of times: “yea, what do you want.”  I was getting ready to abandon the coyote when it moved one more time, so again, I peeked over at it. At this time of year the grasses are very tall and I could not see through them very well. However, I could barely discern that the coyote had stopped where another coyote was already lying down — I could just barely make out the ears. This second coyote did not get up. Instead, the first coyote lay down right beside the first!! My own wanderings and observations had obviously ended for that day!

I’ve heard that coyotes actually only use their dens for the first five weeks or so of life, and that slowly they move further and further off from the den area for resting. My thought is that, by varying resting and sleeping locations, the coyotes are actually keeping fleas from building up in an area. These coyotes do have fleas because I’ve consistently seen them scratch themselves.

All In An Hour: Snippets of Coyote Behavior

I was able to see some interesting behavior today — all within about an hour! Each of these observations coincides with one row of three photos above.

I saw a shy, yearling coyote join its mother on a lookout rock above a trail. But the young one didn’t stay long: its self-protective instincts are strong. A dog walker and his leashed dog came in their direction. The walkers did not see the coyotes, and even if they had, they were 50 feet below the ledge where the coyotes were and could not have reached the coyotes. The minute the young coyote saw them, it took off, lickity-split, and I did not see it again. I’ve seen this coyote flee quickly when it thinks it has been seen!

The other coyote stayed relaxed and calm, watching the occasional walker go by below. This coyote was actually on the edge of another, higher, less used path. Today, someone came walking along this path. The coyote bolted into the shadows only 5 feet away, but it did not run off. The walker walked on without ever seeing the coyote. The coyote watched the walker leave, and then it went back to its previous resting spot.

I noticed tongues today — tongues sticking out. I have noticed this before in conjunction with both dogs and coyotes who were concentrating intently on each other as they tested each other face to face. I wonder if there is a correlation with concentration and possibly even making a split-second decision? The coyote in the 3rd photo appears to be just “licking its chops”, I think.

Coyotes are extremely attuned to the dogs and walkers that have confronted them. Coyotes have the same anger and fears that humans have. Few humans are willing to recognize this, but one only has to observe to see it. So when a woman and her unruly, unleashed dog walked by on the path below, this coyote became very agitated. This dog has chased the coyote, and the woman throws stones at it. First the coyote stood up to watch the two approach. When they were directly below, the coyote began grunting its displeasure and almost began a barking session. The coyote was preparing itself for the habitual antagonistic behavior from the dog and walker. The woman and dog walked on without going after the coyote, so the coyote calmed down and remained in this spot a little bit longer before moving on.

I then followed this coyote a short distance as it poked its nose into the ground now and then. While it was doing so, I noticed two squirrels playing at the base of a tree. Just as I was wondering why the coyote had not seen them, the coyote did notice them and ran to the trunk of the tree. It sat there a few minutes, but obviously could not climb straight up a trunk, as the squirrels had.

Maybe this had inspired this coyote, because then I watched it climb a tree! This was not a totally vertical tree. Rather, it had grown at an angle such that a coyote could walk up it and search for squirrels. There were none. The coyote in the tree was about ten feet off the ground.

Pesky Gnats

These photos show gnats surrounding this coyote who is attempting to relax. The coyote observed them a few times, and batted some away with its snout, but otherwise put up with them.

Morning Rest with One Eye Open

Here is a typical coyote morning for a coyote who likes to stay out in the open. For the most part, coyotes retreat under cover once dawn has broken. But some, including this one, enjoy the open. Mornings can be a time of rest after some pre-dawn hunting, but if resting takes place in the open, one eye has to be kept open!

So, I came upon this coyote watching a group of dogs and walkers go by — they were on a path far below as the coyote watched from a perch high above them. I do not know if the walkers saw the coyote. As dogs and walkers moved out of sight, the coyote disappeared from its perch, and then soon reappeared on another hill on the other side of the path, where it could see the dogs and walkers exit the area. Once the group was out of sight, the coyote felt safe enough to settle down for a couple hours of rest, as seen here in the photos.

Occasionally this coyote eyed dog walkers in the very far distance — you can see this by where the coyote is looking — it was a calm observation because of the distance. But when two large dogs in the mid-distance began growling and running at each other — they seemed preparing for a fight — this coyote sat right up at full attention and watched intently until the altercation settled down. Coyotes don’t like commotion, I’ve noticed. When the dogs left the area, the coyote resumed its rest before shaking itself out and heading over for one last lookout from a rock. Then the coyote was gone. Few people, if any, noticed the coyote and not one dog was aware of it way up on the hill.

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