Sibling Rupture

[The smaller photos can be enlarged and scrolled through by clicking on any of them]

Fighting between a two-year old older brother and his one year old sister.

I found the 2 year-old male coyote with his nose to the ground, sniffing the area. I walked away and over to the perimeter, but this fella came towards me in a circuitous way to check me out. He projected to me that he was simply wandering around this area, but he was actually getting closer and closer and had his eyes on me. As he wandered over, he slurped up the morning dew from the grass. Then he picked up a dead gopher and tossed it up and caught it several times and then left it, watching me all the time as if to see if I might come and grab it. He must have wondered why I wasn’t interested in it, so then he began coming straight in my direction with squinting eyes. He might have been attempting to intimidate me, or maybe test me. Although I don’t see this family often, he is well aware that my focus has frequently been on him or the other coyotes. Suspicions run exceptionally high during pupping season, which we are smack dab into right now. I was about 100 feet away and squatting against the wheel of a parked truck. Since I diverted my focus and didn’t react in any way, I guess I passed his test because he soon walked away and began to ignore me. He wanted to make sure I didn’t want anything to do with him. Of course I did — I was going to be observing — but I apparently succeeded in hiding that.

Older Brother patrols the fenceline, eyes me with squinty eye, and then slurps up morning dew.

He then hurried over to the fenceline at the other end of the lawn and sniffed along that. I thought he was assessing which dogs had been there earlier — he seemed unhappy with whomever he was detecting through his nose. There were no dogs there now, but he kept looking around as if looking for one as he walked away. This two-year-old male had remained with his birth family, whereas all his littermates — of which there had been two — had dispersed long ago: the age difference conferred a hierarchical advantage over his one-year-old siblings born last year.

Just then one of the one-year-old brothers appeared at the other end of the lawn. This younger fellow lay down and remained there, keeping his eyes on what Older Brother was up to — he seemed not to want to be involved physically but was very absorbed in watching it.

Younger brother watches intently from the distance. In the middle is Li’l Girl eyeing her tormentor. To the right she has jumped up to perform *zoomies* to help dispel the tension.

This is when I noticed the third coyote approaching the fenceline where Older Brother had been searching earlier. Older Brother probably had been looking for this, his one year old sister. When she spotted him, she sat down close to the fence and watched him. I sensed tension between them: Older Brother was prowling around and sniffing, with occasional glances towards her, and the two younger coyotes remained distant without moving or making signs of wanting to approach or interact. They normally would have run enthusiastically towards each other to play and interact, but they were obviously in some kind of a standoff. So something was going on from the first moment when I spotted them this morning.

Li’l Girl is tiny compared to her brothers — a good 1/3 smaller — and not at all demonstrative or assertive. I think because of these *small and mellow* qualities, she has remained in the park rather than venture out — it was the safest place for her, whereas her more robust — more robust in size and personality — brothers were out exploring beyond this place long ago: coyotes mature at different rates. This is where her parents had brought her and her siblings when they were just two months old and she has never left. In recent months, we have been detecting her alone in the area, long after her brothers were on their forays to discover the world, so the area, in a certain way, had become hers.

Li’l Girl was nervous at times this morning as she sat and then lay at the end of the lawn. Every once in a while she got up and raced wildly around in circles, almost uncontrollably, picking up a frisbie and then dropping it and then returning to her previous sitting or lying down position and watching her brother: she appeared to be releasing tension as she performed what in the dog-world are known as *zoomies*. She did this several times, always returning quickly to her lying down or sitting position, and staring at her brother in the distance. His presence was undeniably causing her distress.

As she sat there, scrub jays harassed her. She could have easily caught one if she had wanted to since they walked on the ground only inches from her, but she had other things on her mind. She continued to watch Older Brother and ignored the birds, foregoing a gleeful pursuit if only for the fun of it.

Older Brother continued sniffing the ground, seemingly nonchalantly, slurping up the morning dew and now moving slowly and zig-zaggedly in his little sister’s direction 200 feet away, the way he had towards me earlier. He did not head straight in her direction, but headed there circuitously.

Not until this observation had I noticed negative interactions between these two. It’s true that all her brothers tended to teasingly pick on her — they pulled and poked at her — and she let them without retaliating, and maybe that’s why they continued to do it. I also think that the interacting allowed her to be part of the group — it was better than being left out. She had been one of six pups in the litter — all the rest were boys — and Older Brother remained from last year’s litter. It has been a big family.

Older Brother approaches Li’l Girl directly when he is within 40 feet of her.

So, Bigger Brother wandered casually in Li’l Girl’s direction. I watched as he got half-way there, and then he was 3/4ths of the way there. Finally he stopped and stared at her and then headed in her direction directly with long strides and hackles up and squinty eyes, wrinkling his nose and raising his lips enough to show his teeth. When he reached her, he sniffed her, and stood over her stiffly and threateningly. He was daring her to submit or react.

When he reached her, he snarled his displeasure at her with bared teeth. She used her arm to keep him away and stayed low and on her back, offering no resistance beyond returning a snarl of displeasure.

SHE responded defensively by curling up tightly and keeping down, but she also gaped and bared her teeth with lips pulled back over a clenched jaw, and she thrust nips at him every so often. At times she extended a paw towards him to keep him an arm’s length away. Older Brother’s attacks came in brief spurts: bursts of actual body slams and nips between longer periods of dominant intimidation and then spells where he would walk off. But the pressure of Older Brother’s presence was palpable continually even as he walked away from her. I sat in the distance taking it all in and mesmerized by it all. Occasionally she would run off with her tail tucked under, her back arched protectively and keeping low to the ground. She never went far before lying down again: she seemed to be holding her ground. Another self-protective stance of hers as she was poked at, was to put her head down under herself with her backside up which often resulted in her toppling over in a sort of somersault — she was protecting her face at the expense of her rear.

Here she resists and defensively bites back after he intensified his attack with body slams and bites.

And this interaction repeated itself aver and over again, with Older Brother walking away some distance after each interaction, and Little Sister also moving off some distance and then lying down again, and then Big Brother approaching again. The activity continued for about an hour. She was taunted and bullied like this repeatedly. But she didn’t run off, she just moved out of his range of contact, so the activity continued.

She slinks away, keeping low, with an arched back and ears back.

After an hour, Younger Brother, who had remained in the distance watching, now came forward and joined the interaction. He approached Li’l Girl several times caringly, as if to offer solace. But he also seemed to be conflicted about where he stood in this situation. One moment he stood by her gently consoling her, yet at the same time, he seemed wary that Older Brother might dish out the same treatment to him, and I could see that he was being pulled into Older Brother’s camp. His hackles also went up and he ended up poking Li’l Girl a couple of times — I would say more playfully, but possibly also showing solidarity with Older Brother — this would be for his own self-protection from Big Brother. I’ve seen this *imitate and join* behavior in other coyotes as they either go after another family member to disperse them, or against a predator when they hunt. She, again, got up and ran off a litte distance and then lay down in her low, curled up position. 

More interaction, with Older Brother dominating her space, jumping on or over her. She does her somersault roll, keeping her face out of his reach.

Shortly thereafter, I suppose she had had enough, because she grabbed her chance when both males were at enough of a distance to give her a lead, and she ran off. Both brothers followed her. I was not able to keep up. However, I was informed by another observer that Li’l Girl was seen running back into the area within only a few minutes, followed by the others. She continued through and out of the area, while the two brothers stopped there and remained there. The next day, the two males were seen there, but not Li’l Girl, and we have not seen her there since.

Above you’ll see Younger Brother’s attempt to console her, and below he might have thought of interference, but he seems to have thought better of it and then moved away.

Li’l Girl has not been a threat to either brother, so why was this happening? Did Older Brother not like her claiming the area as hers — if in fact she was doing so? Had she started exhibiting territorial behavior towards him which might have caused him to react? If she had, I never saw it. Then again, I have found that coyotes tend to pick on the weaker individuals in their families (just like they pick on weaker prey), simply because they can get away with it without reprisals.

On the left she tries calming Older Brother, but he won’t have it; in the middle photo he tries mounting her (a domination behavior); whereupon she bares her teeth and moves away from him (right photo above).

I don’t recall another instance of a little girl coyote picked on like this by a brother. The little girl coyotes that I’ve seen seem to become their littermates’ best friends and protectors, and are usually sought after for easy companionship when other brothers might be roughhousing too intensely. It’s usually same-sex littermates who become rivals as far as I have seen. Then again, I have found exceptions to every generality I’ve made or heard about regarding coyotes. They truly are individuals and march to their own individual tunes.

Note the stare of intimidation in the upper left photo. Upper right she hurries away with lowered head. Lower left he bites her leg and then in the center photo stands over her dominantly. She retaliates in the lower right photo as he body slams her.

Growing animosity between siblings often leads to dispersal. Was Older Brother meanly trying to push her out? Then again, it occurs to me that Big Brother’s bullying her may be exactly what she needs to get her exploring the larger world. The worry is that her slow maturing may mean she’s not ready. Anyway, these are some of the images I captured during that hour.

She sits with clenched jaw, not backing down. But then Older Brother comes at her like a bullet (center photo), and she decides it’s time to split, at which point she runs out of the field with brothers at her heels.

The Many Faces of Dispersal

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

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

Video of youngsters playing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mom Brings in the Grub and Helps Eat It

Many species regurgitate food for their youngsters, including wolves, wild-dogs, gulls, bats and apes.

For coyotes, regurgitated food is a kind of pablum or baby food which is fed to them as the milk-weaning period ends at about 6 weeks of age. And regurgitated food usually ends as the parents begin bringing in more and more whole prey, and as the youngsters become proficient at hunting for themselves.

In this video, Mom rushes in to feed her brood and they know what’s coming: two of her three four-month-old pups dance with excitement around her, barely able to contain themselves, one emitting little vocalizations of anticipation. As the youngsters close-in excitedly towards Mom’s mouth, she has to weave herself through them to find space where she is able to regurgitate the large quantity of food which she has brought to them in her belly. Before it’s even all out, they dig in. . . . and she partakes in the banquet! Soon the third pup appears. There is sibling competitiveness, and in the end Mom begins to groom one of the pups.

It’s really cool that this occurred right in front of my field camera!

Two Youngsters Take A Tentative Step Towards Dispersal

[Note: This posting has been revised! After revisiting my photos, I realized I had mistaken a coyote’s identity. This is so easy to do among siblings who very often look very much alike, and whose facial bone structures continue to grow and therefore alter their appearance, even if ever so slightly, even after a year of age. The change is that Sparks did NOT return home with his sister, which is what I had written, but continued his dispersing “walkabout” to the north of the city. I have edited this post to reflect this].

These two siblings — a brother and a sister — left home together in March when they were just about a year old. I assumed they were leaving for good — dispersing. A couple of months into their absence, I was thrilled to recognize the male when he showed up in another park about two miles away: I’m always exhilarated when I find dispersing youngsters who I’ve watched grow up because most, of course, I never see again after they leave. This male comes from an exceptionally large litter, most of whom I was seeing very irregularly and sporadically recently, so now I had to figure out which sibling was accompanying him, or was it someone he had met and hooked up with from a different family?

That second one remained too distant and seldom appeared in daylight; it was always at the darker end of twilight when I saw them, and this one always seemed to be moving away from me, so it took me a while longer to figure out which individual it was: I have to see their faces to know who each one is. To help me (though it didn’t help) I put out a trap camera on a narrow path close to one of the entrances to the park where I had seen them, not really expecting anything to show up on it.

Apparently I placed the camera well, because I caught these few seconds which, although they didn’t help me identify the second coyote, they did tell me how much fun these guys were having in their newfound freedom! In the video below you’ll see the two youngster coyotes who had been running along a narrow, sandy path. They’ve just jumped over a bush where the camera is hidden, and this is where the short video starts.. They stop to communicate their joy through eye contacting, touching and joyful jumping before continuing on. It’s only a few seconds long, but long enough to tell this part of their story.

People noticed them and told me about them: not only were they spotted in the fragmented parks of the area and on the streets in-between, but they were also seen in several backyards, where they were seen successfully hunting, once even with prey — a white cat — in their mouths.  They seem to have learned to navigate this new area well. Finally I was able to see her — the second coyote’s –face: these photos below have been substantially lightened to make the individuals visible —  they were essentially taken in the dark. Even so, the coyotes are very identifiable.

Far and away from home (above)

I pondered if these two would move on or become entrenched in this newfound location. The area has served as a sort of temporary “stopping off place” for several coyotes I’ve kept track of as they traversed the city, so would it be the same for these, or would it become a more permanent home — even though highly fragmented — since available territories within the city have been dwindling. I checked up on them only a few times as I continued to hear reports of them, and then, one day, suddenly, they no longer were being spotted. Where had they gone?

WELL, as of mid-July, the female, at 16-months of age, was back at her birthplace, after four months of absence! I guess she wasn’t quite ready to disperse lock-stock-and-barrel yet, even though she seemed to have a lot of fun and excitement during her AWOL adventure. And certainly the two of them escaped family tensions during that time “abroad” due to coming-of-age relationships which were beginning to show strain among the brothers.

Rivalry between siblings escalates over time, especially between brothers, and that seems to be kicking in and growing between these two stay-at-home brothers.One is more dominant and he’s displaying a lot of bullying these days. “Underling” brother kowtows towards him, and it’s precisely this kind of behavior that may have driven out Sparks, the dispersed brother this posting is about.

Back to family politics: the two remaining brothers vie for the affection of their sister

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

PostSript: The information in this article was gained by simple recognition of individual coyotes and from a vast knowledge about them gained through first-hand direct observation — without the use of radio-collars or identifying tags which are intrusive and harmful. My direct observations engender a much deeper and more expansive knowledge and understanding of coyotes than can be provided by simply mechanically tracking their movements.  “Look, Ma, no hands”. Try it! My “hard” facts include both photos and DNA from scat.

Dad Exercises His Control

I had been watching a 10-month-old coyote youngster — I’ll call him “Sibling” here — behave rather hesitantly — maybe apprehensively. Instead of venturing forth to hunt, as was his habit, he was sitting and simply watching — in fact, watching one spot in the distance — as if waiting for something to emerge or appear. The evening rendezvous would soon begin, but why the apprehension? The rendezvous is the evening meetup where, after sleeping usually in somewhat separate locations, the coyotes come together to meet and greet and interact, usually joyfully with wiggles, body hugs, reaffirmations of statuses and squeals of excitement.

I turned away to speak to someone, and when I turned back, there was Brother, lying over him. ‘On top’ is usually dominance in the coyote world. I missed seeing their initial greeting, but I sensed that the first hint of rivalry might be creeping into their interactions — even if ever so mildly at this point. These eventually lead to discord. Dad, of course, can sense these things in their subtlest form and way before I’m able to pick up on them. He will interfere to control it: Dad is the apha when it comes to his offspring. The video captures this.

I’ve incorporated some of this posting as captions into this video clip to explain what is going on.

Sibling takes Brother’s rough and overpowering behavior  in stride — he nuzzles his Brother. All is well between them.

In the next scene, Brother has found a dead mole lying around and subtlelly provokes Sibling to react: “Haha, look what I have.” Sibling is not so sure he wants to enter into this rivalrous game. He hesitates and looks away at first, but then rises to the bait and some fun begins. They chase and then this turns into a tug-of-war.

Just then Dad rushes in — he knows his youngsters well and Brother has been more uppitty than usual lately. Dad needs to keep the nascent rivalry in check. He has to be firmly in control always, and use physical power when his youngsters don’t readily submit to him.

Brother immediately hits the ground submissively when he sees Dad, which causes him to let go of the mole. Sibling slithers away with the mole. Dad is surprised to see him slither away like that, as you can see in the video. He stands over Brother for a moment, but soon Brother also is able to escape his Dad’s grasp. As far as the youngsters are concerned, Dad’s behavior is standard and pro-forma — they don’t appear to be much concerned about it.

But Dad didn’t get the submission he wanted — especially from Brother. Dad immediately heads for Brother and puts him down and keeps him down this time. [If you are quick enough to notice, you’ll see that as Sibling runs away from Dad and Brother, he picks up the mole that had been taken back by Brother during the split second when the camera was not focused on him]. After what seems like an interminable time, Brother again slips away from Dad again, but within a minute, Dad is again standing over him.

Notice that Sibling uses the occasion of his brother’s being restrained to repeatedly flip his mole into the air tauntingly — he knows Brother can’t do anything to get the mole back because he’s under Dad’s thumb. This time, when Dad leaves, Brother remains lying down. This, apparently, satisfies Dad’s requirement. But that’s the end of the mole game.

Finally 10-month-old sister joins the group. Dad demands her submissiveness, but he treats her in a much milder way than her brothers. After she respectfully stoops to his bidding, the family runs off for their evening trekking.

Sibling Rivalry and Aggressiveness Are Calmed by Siblings in Dad’s Absence

As coyote pups develop and grow, their personalities become more obvious and more firm. My first glimpses of distinct personalities appears during play — some personality traits may be innate inborn tendencies and some influenced by nurture/environment. Each is affected by the other distinct sibling personalities in the litter, by their parents, AND by the environment and the prevalence or shortage of resources.

Some youngsters never seem to want to grow up — they live an extended charmed and carefree puppyhood, playing and teasing boisterously and incessantly, and grooming each other repeatedly. The easier-going ones may form pairs and tight-bonded friendships with those of similar temperament and energy levels: they are friends, buddies, BFF, and comrades. The shyer ones might withdraw during rough play and become more watchful, while the extreme rough-housers may be avoided by the others. Playing and interacting for these youngsters may wane earlier than for the others, and rivalry, flared tempers and one-upmanship may come into play. . . and negative run-ins.

Coyote sibling rivalry I would imagine is not so different from human sibling rivalry. In humans, in some cases it can be deep-rooted and visceral, and at its core, it may never be outgrown. You can search the internet and find young humans who have, for instance, actually killed a brother over such things as a WiFi password, a cheeseburger, aspirin, or any other argument — it’s about much more than the surface argument and more related to a gut reflexive reaction having to do with competition, rivalry, top-dog, and survival.

Relationships with parents are, of course and of necessity, on a different plane — these are very respectful and submissive. At 7 months of age, youngsters were still learning a tremendous amount through parental example and discipline which in this photo to the left involves parental discipline: first a growl, then a show of teeth, and then maybe a snout-grab by the parent. Also note in the photo that the youngster is making himself small by crouching down and pulling himself in, letting Dad know that he’s still a baby at heart — willing to obey and not a threat!

I don’t know exactly when sibling rivalry started in this family, but from November 17th on, we were hearing more and more fighting and growling between them. This posting describes such a confrontation and how other siblings reacted.

It begins with a brother putting down and then attacking another brother. Another sibling with some help from yet another sibling calms the situation. Although hierarchies of course are constantly being established, intense aggressive bullying is not tolerated by parents, and apparently not even by siblings. I don’t know if the reaction of the peacekeeping siblings is due to their innate instincts to maintain order, of if  they have just been quick to imitate how their parents maintain order. The attacker repeats his attacks several times, and the peacekeepers respond accordingly.

I began taking still photos of the altercation, but I soon turned to video which more clearly shows the intensity of the action. I’ve included some of the initial stills and then the video which follows in order to show that it went on and on. I’ve explained what’s happening on the video timeline (by minutes and seconds), below: I hope this is clear.

Note not just their actions, but also their body language and facial expressions: the individual who was initially attacked shows his dislike for the attacker in his facial expression in #3 of the series of six photos above. These six photos summarize what went on initially, before I began to video. After the last photo above, the aggressor slips away from the stronghold of his peacekeeper brother and goes after the “victim” again. In fact I don’t know what caused the attacker to attack. He may have had good reason, one of which, I’ve noted, might be that he was possessive of the one female sibling in the family and dominated play with her, basically excluding the attacker.

Here’s the video: One brother [the aggressor] angrily again attacks a brother [the victim]. At :09 two “peacekeeper brothers” approach the aggressor, and one, ever so calmly, systematically and in-control, pushes the aggressor down and sits on him to calm him down. But the aggressor is able to slip away. This entire sequence is repeated several times. At :35 the victim hurries away from the scene as the peacekeeper deals with the aggressor in the bushes. At :47 the peacekeeper and aggressor emerge from the bushes (peacekeeper on the left). At 1:11 the aggressor reacts antagonistically to the peacekeepers who then circle around him. Notice that the victim has been lying down close by (on the right) watching the goings-on. When the aggressor emerges, the victim runs off, but is again approached by the aggressor at 1:36 and is forced to the ground. Through 2:13 the peacekeeper puts down the aggressor or intimidates him through his upright proximity, but at 2:20 the aggressor again intimidates the victim, and then engages in a full blown attack at 2:32 into the bushes where we can’t see what is going on. The victim is able to slip away, so it’s the peacekeeper who is now engaging in the bushes with the aggressor. The second peacekeeper is watching at 2:42. The victim had extracted himself from the fray and now is sitting off to the side with a sibling who doesn’t want to get involved — they are waiting to see what happens and one gives a stressful yawn. At 3:42 we see the aggressor move out of the shrubbery and away from the peacekeeper. At 4:28 the aggressor moves towards the two lying down — one of those two [the victim] finds this intimidating and moves away. Peacekeeper approaches aggressor again and again makes him hit the ground. But then at 4:44 the victim lies belly up willingly and allows the aggressor to sniff him submissively. At that point, the altercation seems to be over. It’s because this video was taken at dusk that it blurs out at the end.

Disruptive behavior of this sort isn’t tolerated for long in coyote families, and if it continues, it leads to a forced dispersal.

I noticed that, for a time after this “fight”, the attacker and attacked avoided each other: when they saw each other, each went the other way without reacting at all: like ships passing in the night. I then noticed that they hung out at opposite ends of the family territory. This worked for the next little while. I now see neither of these two siblings — they’ve left the area: dispersed. And another male has dispersed to a nearby location about 1/2 mile away in a fragment of the family’s territory. This will serve as a stepping stone or halfway point before the youngster moves on. Meanwhile, he is safe from sibling rivalry . . . at least for a while.

These are the dramatic moments in an otherwise amazingly uneventful family life this year.

 

Pestering and Taunting: Sibling Rivalry


Sibling rivalry and discord are part-and-parcel of coyote families, just as are the formation of tight and everlasting bonds and friendships.

Here a younger sibling continues to harasses his sister (see Yearling Taunts) through body blows/bangs/punches or smacks. He seems to have a need to egg-her-on, whereas she just wants to be left alone atop the mound. This younger brother followed her there explicitly to taunt her and dives into his activity the minute she tries lying down. This is now an established behavior between these two.

No other coyote in this family engages in the type of body blows he performs at the beginning of this video except his mother. Mom is an expert at this, and this 8-month old pup watched and learned from her, and now uses his sister as his punching bag to practice his technique. Coyotes are keen observers: they learn by watching and copying. It’s fascinating to watch.

After the body bangs, the younger sibling continues to be “in his sister’s face” by yanking up dried sticks disruptively right next to her. He’s purposefully making himself into an utter nuisance and is probably hoping for a rise from her.

Eventually, a third older sibling comes to check out the activity, but he soon leaves because the disruptive behavior is not enough to warrant interference. This older sibling is very mild, peace-loving, and generally aloof from the first two, but he has occasionally been a disciplinarian when their behavior became too disruptive, and he also has approached the female to comfort her after some of the youngster’s harassment sessions, which lately are growing in number and intensity.

Coyote families are orderly, so growing disruptive behavior is not tolerated for long. This behavior will eventually lead to someone’s dispersal.

Yearling Taunts Older Sister As He Practices Body Blows

This video depicts a yearling male taunting his two-year-old sister with an unusual technique he picked up from his mother. Coyotes learn by observing and imitating, which is definitely what went on here. The only coyote I know who regularly uses this body-blow method for discipline or fighting, is these coyotes’ mother who has used it at various times towards her daughter, this same two-year-old sister. The yearling male obviously picked it up from her by watching and imitating her, and in this video he bangs his sister tauntingly and mercilessly with this new-found skill. He is doing it simply to bully and harass her.

What led to this is that older sister for a while attempted dominating younger brother and got rather aggressive in doing so. This may be because younger brother had the habit of following big sister around and imitating her, and as he did so, he would get in her way. So Sister reacted. Soon, Mom interfered and forbade daughter from any aggression towards her younger brother. If Sister showed any aggression towards younger brother, Mom would interfere with an aggressive put-down towards the daughter. The result was that younger brother became more and more taunting, and the daughter had no recourse except to put up with it, which she is doing here, as he practices and perfects his body-blow technique on her.

Interestingly, he’s the one who ended up dispersing, of his own volition, at a year-and-a-half of age, whereas she is still part of her birth family.

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