Frantic Concern for an Injured Sibling

I hadn’t seen one of the youngster I’ve been documenting for a couple of days and when I did, on February 12th, he held up a dangling front leg. That explained his absence. Leg injuries are the most common I see in coyotes, many of them are caused by dogs chasing them. As here, injury often causes coyotes to become more cautious and self-protective by withdrawing from where they might be seen. With dogs wanting to chase them, it was best to remain hidden most of the time.

A couple of days later, the injured male youngster returned to one of his hangout spots, but he kept close to bushes where he could seek refuge if needed. A day later I decided to get a video of the injury to send it to my wildlife veterinarian friend. While getting that video, I also documented the frantic anxiety of a sibling female who was worried about her injured brother. The above graphic video, which I’ve captioned with explanatory text, is what I observed.

Few people realize how intensely sentient and feeling these animals are. That they are family minded animals who have caring individual relationships. They have direction and purpose in their lives. They experience joy, sorrow, and most other feelings that you and I feel, including frantic anxiety and concern for a valued sibling. These are things I’ve seen repeatedly through hours of observing them. I don’t expect most people will have the time or opportunity to see directly what I see, but that’s why I’m posting about it: for everyone to become aware of. On this subject, here is a two-minute message from Jane Goodall which, although inspired by the coronavirus, contains words of wisdom that we all need to listen to.

By February 20th, which was ten days after the injury occurred, I was still seeing no improvement in the limp. The veterinarian gave me a general assessment from the video I took. She said, “It looks like he could have a radial nerve injury from the way he is dragging the leg but flexing his elbow. It could also be a fracture in the carpus or paw, but if so, I would expect it to look more painful and for him to be holding it off the ground rather than dragging it on the ground.”

The vet and I agreed that whatever course the injury was to take, it was best to leave the coyote alone and let nature run its course. Many people feel they need to “help” an injured animal. This is rarely so unless the animal is actually immobile or incapacitated. Nature is always the best healer for wildlife, even if the animal could end up as tri-pawed: coyotes are amazingly adaptable [see story of Peg Leg]. Trapping and confining are terrorizing for the animal, even if we humans might want to believe “it is for the animal’s own good”. In addition, removing an animal from its territory and social situation can inexorably alter their lives — they can’t simply be “put back” and be expected to carry on as before. We don’t really have a handle on all the infinite facets that are involved in interfering, even if our intentions are good ones. So if nature can heal, which it can in most cases, it should be left to do so. Mange is a different story, but there’s now a way of treating this in the field with no more interference than simply medication administered in some left-out food! — I’ll be writing about this soon.

This same type of frantic anxious concern displayed by this female sibling for her brother can be seen in another example, displayed by an older female for her younger male companion: Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

I kept monitoring and assessing the youngster’s leg situation. Almost a month after that injury, on March 8, I finally saw that some mending had taken place: nature had been working its magic! The coyote was finally putting weight on that leg. He did so ever so carefully and gingerly, but he was doing it.


And by March 15th, the leg looked recuperated and the fellow is walking normally, as videoed by my friend Eric Weaver!

I hope this posting serves as an example of how great a healer nature is [see another example here]. But also it should serve to show how incredibly feeling these animals are. By the way, sister is still keeping an eye on brother over her shoulder, and he’s also watching out for her, but there’s no more urgency or anxiety involved!

keeping an eye on him over her shoulder

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.

Vying For Her

This family unit consists of a male and a female litter-mates, and a male who appears to be an older sibling. The two littermates are yearlings born in 2018, and the older sibling was probably born the year before. This older guy now is clearly dominant over the younger male, though I remember when there was more equality between them.

Both males have always catered to the female who seems to have a special position in the family apparently just because she’s a female. I’ve seen this special status given to other lone females in families. These three spend most of their time together.

Above is a video of one of their recent evening rendezvous. It begins with the younger male watching from the distance and very interested in the interactions of the other two. He clearly is apprehensive about joining them. However, even for coyotes, the heart is often stronger than the mind.

He suddenly decides to join them, running towards them. Upon reaching them, he immediately throws himself into a lower “small” submissive stance towards the other male — they appear to have worked out their ranks — but his aim appears to be to get past that male to the female in order to exchange warm greetings with her. Each male, then, makes an effort to continuously wedge himself between the other male and the female. This wedging behavior has been going on for months, as seen below in its incipient stage, when the two males were more on an equal footing: this equal footing has now changed. Now it is more obvious that there is a triangle involving jealousy, control, and ownership. You can probably guess how this will end up.


Several months ago, the play sessions between the three of them were intense: they’d romp, hop over, nuzzle, fall to the ground in a heap, lick, play chase. There was a whole lot of carefree fun. You can see that the snout-clasping was pretty evenly divided between them — there was no definite hierarchy yet between the males.

But even back then, each of the males was very tuned-into the interactions of the other with the female, and each worked on creating a wedge between his brother and sister. The female interacted less, preferring to look on, and sometimes snarled or grabbed the snouts of the others — she appeared to know what was going on. Even in humans, “friendly” play often has a competitive component (sports, board games): it can “measure” where you stand in relation to another individual. In coyotes, this play was a sort of litmus-test for for their eventual ranks in the real world.

Interestingly, I’ve seen this exact same behavior within a family consisting of a male and female sibling and their father after the alpha-mother’s disappearance left a vacancy for that family position. In this case, the father used himself as a wedge to keep brother away from sister, and it was for very selfish reasons: HE obviously wanted to possess her: Adroit At Keeping Two Mutually Attracted Coyotes Apart.

Coyote Family Playtime for a 3-Month Old Singleton Pup


This tiny family responds to sirens!

She’s an “only pup” — she has no litter mates. An “only pup” is known as a “singleton” pup. But she is not an “only child” because she has an older brother: a yearling born the year before. He was part of a litter of five, and is the only youngster from that litter to remain part of the family. That yearling plays with the pup, as do Mom and Dad, as you’ll see in the video.

Nighttime is when coyote families engage in most of their family activities: the whole family plays together on and off — when adults aren’t off hunting — during the length of the evening. And then they rest or sleep in different locations during the daytime.

The video above is a composite from one of my rarer daylight captures of family play. Note that, after the intense and fun play session above, the “adults”, trickle off, one at a time, in the end leaving the pup alone for the rest of the day. At night, too, they leave her for long extended periods of time when they go off hunting. She knows she must stay home and keep hidden.

After watching them leave, the pup wanders sadly, slowly, and unenthusiastically back — you can tell this by the lack of energy in her pace — to her hiding place. And that’s how the days go by as she is growing up.

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.

Coyote Sibling Discord

These are two siblings who, until only a few weeks ago, were buddies and pals.  SHE is the older, by a year, and HE used to love hanging out with her, copying her, and watching her. I never saw any animosity, and the rank difference must have simply been understood: all small pups begin with a low in rank: they are small and they don’t know very much, so SHE was above.

Then, Mom belted the older female which I delineate in detail in a previous posting,  Beatings: Rank Issues Leading to Dispersal. This younger brother participated in the lashing of his older sister. Ever since then, the younger male lords it over his older female sibling who remains subservient, crouched to the ground and lower than her brother, yet she lets her true feelings be known with a snap now and then. The young male often continues these bouts of provocation for several minutes and then wanders off, but sometimes, he begins anew.

I still don’t know if the battle in the previous posting was simply a hierarchical one, or if it was meant to actually drive this female out: it was ferocious. We’ll find out eventually, but for now, she’s still there.

Coyote Youngsters In San Francisco in January

Nine month old coyote pup

Nine month old coyote pup

Youngsters are approaching 10 months of age here in San Francisco. Above is a photo of one of them. They are still slightly smaller than adult coyotes, but seen alone, most folks would not be able to tell the difference.

Coyote youngster hides behind bushes

Coyote youngster hides behind bushes

If you are lucky enough to observe them in action, you will find that their behavior gives away their young age: they are more flighty, erratic, awkward, zippy and distrustful than older coyotes. They are curious but most likely will observe folks and dogs from behind a bush and at a substantial distance, as seen in this photo to the right.

Coyotes tend to play with their siblings, unless it is an “only child” — I’ve observed several one-pup families in San Francisco — in which case they play with a parent. Play is their main interest and occupation, and when they are together, they are constantly and joyfully playing roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble wrestle, chase and tug-of-war.

Youngsters are also good at entertaining themselves. I’ve seen individual youngsters play with an abandoned tennis ball for over 20 minutes, bounce themselves down a hill repeatedly, chase their tail — no different from your own pet.  They can also be seen practicing their hunting skills alone, though with substantially less aplomb than an adult.

Even if you don’t see a parent around, a parent is very likely to be close by keeping an eye on things, just in case a dog might try chasing. A parent will run in to its pups’ rescue if it feels the youngsters are being at all threatened. Youngsters normally take cues for their own behavior from the parent who is nearby.

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