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.

Brother Becomes Fed Up With Sis; Dad Tolerates No Dissension

To capture the behaviors I’m looking for, I often keep my face glued to the camera as coyotes interact. This way, I catch extended sequences, not only of a particular behavior, but of what went on preceding and following the behavior, all of which help make sense of what I see. Today I was taking a break from holding up the weighty camera — my camera is always hand-held and can get pretty heavy after a while, and of course, THAT is when I heard a yelp — the same cry a dog makes when it’s been bitten by another dog, only there were no dogs around, just coyotes. It’s a sound I hadn’t heard before from coyotes. Dusk was well on its way to darkness and I was some distance away, but I quickly focused as best I could on the two sibling coyotes who had been hunting together.

What I saw surprised me because it deviated from what I had been seeing. The male youngster, with teeth bared, was standing over the female who was on her back, breaking the established hierarchy. And I knew why: the female often is right in the others’ face — something she’s been getting away with way too often: I’ve concluded that she’s been granted special status because of being a female — the only female — in this particular family since her mother died. Dad enforces the ranking always. Dad is the leader and alpha. Daughter seems to have a dual ranking in relation to Dad: she is below him ultimately, but he allows her a certain equality and is tolerant of certain of her behaviors when it comes to personal interactions. For instance, she is allowed to put her paws on him whereas neither he nor Son ever put their paws on her or on each other. And Son, low man on the totem pole, must submit always to having Daughter put her snout around his. As I said, Dad is often around to enforce the rankings, but even when he is not, the established ranking is adhered to. Why Daughter has special status may be because a female is needed in the family — Dad doesn’t want her driven out, and there seem to be matriarchal aspects to coyote families. In this family, her special status has been ceded to her by Dad, and Son abides by Dad’s dictates.

But Dad wasn’t around today when the incident occurred. Daughter was bitten because she was too much in Son’s face. Son had found something in the ground and had been intent on keeping it for himself when Daughter came up and stuck her nose in his work, making a nuisance of herself. Angry Son reacted in a flash, biting her and putting her on her back where she was kept for a minute. She then got up, ducking out of the way and continued to watch, again, from too close. For this she was growled at again, but not nipped again.

But the squeal of pain that I heard was apparently also heard by Dad, who had been sleeping in a thicket not far off. Both youngster coyotes, with their very fine hearing, heard him and looked his way immediately when he emerged from the brush. Daughter, submissively, with ears back and a crouching, crawling gait, hurried towards him. She might as well have been saying: “Daddy, did you see what he did to me?” as she greeted him submissively. Dad charged towards the son with tail straight out and hackles up: he was not happy with the altercation. He was not going to tolerate dissension in his family! He forced Son on his back and made him stay there a few moments, enclosing Son’s snout in his.

 

Surprisingly, Daughter had to kowtow to Dad also this time. Maybe Dad is more even-handed than I thought, and maybe Daughter is, usually, simply a little quicker to submit to him. However, in front of Dad, who was now there to protect her, she grabbed her brother’s snout in hers, reconfirming her superiority to him. Soon the two were allowed up, and all three coyotes continued to hunt, but not before Daughter again lay on her back in front of Dad, letting him know that she knew her lower status next to him. In this case, I don’t think she was doing it for her brother’s sake to divert attention away from her brother as I’ve seen so often — as much as for her own!

Dispersion in Progress — with complications

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

in happier times: male youngster resting with sibling

Imagine yourself as a young coyote in a perfect world. You live in an urban park which is ideal as a habitat — ideal beyond imagination: there are forests of trees with thick undergrowth for protection, a lake and streams with fresh water, open fields for hunting the overabundance of gophers and voles, there are snails and fruit to eat, there are dogs passing through which provide you with visual entertainment — even if some of them go after you, and you are protected by a city which encourages coexistence and does not allow trapping and killing of its urban wildlife. Pretty fantastic!

It’s true that nasty rumors and myths about coyotes spring up now and then which could result in harm to you, but most are short-lived and, more and more these days, the misinformation is brushed aside by a majority of park goers who have learned about coyote behavior and know that the sensationalist stories are all hype.

Family life, too, is ideal. You live with a father who has raised you and cared for you, and you have a sister who absolutely adores you as much as you adore her. You spend hours together, grooming each other or exuberantly playing all sorts of games you’ve invented for yourselves, such as chase and catch, tug of war, wrestling, steal the meal, jump over one another, hide and seek. Life is really a blast, and it’s been this way for the entire 16 months you’ve been alive to enjoy it, except the brief interlude immediately after Mom went missing — but you were young and  that was soon forgotten because Dad was there to carry on for you. Things would have to be really, really bad for you even to consider such a thing as leaving.

in happier times: joyfully playing with sibling, and a family outing

But life is not static: we all graduate to new levels and must go on at some point.  Life is ever-changing and change is occurring now, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of who you are. You are a young male, and any territory only has room for one adult coyote male. Dad is feeling your coming-of-age and his instincts are becoming stronger, day by day, to push you out and away from his turf.

Recently, Dad has been charging at you, coming at you like a bullet to kick or nip you. You submit always and quickly, but that isn’t enough sometimes.  More and more, you’ve been staying out of his way. You don’t join him and your sister so often, and you spend your time more and more alone. However, you have strong yearnings to be with your sister, to play with her, to exchange mutual grooming and care, after all, you are a very social creature, and family life has been an integral part of your life since birth. Recently, greetings with her have changed to include sniffing and having one’s underside sniffed — something new is going on.

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

times have changed: Dad bullies his son & puts him down on his back

Sister has found herself in the middle. By loving and playing with you, her brother, she’s inadvertently hindering her father, it seems. When she sees the antagonistic behavior of her father, she does her best to keep the peace, running interference, by interjecting herself between the two males to divert Dad’s attention by grooming him (Dad) or sticking her muzzle in his — and it works.  After, or even before, taking care of Dad, she approaches you with her warm and affectionate greetings, and then she plays with you wholeheartedly, and Dad seems to accept that he must let her be this way, so you still hang in there, at least for now..

even now: sister adores brother and lets him know it

sister continues to adore brother and lets him know it

We all know how this is going to end, and it is definitely heartbreaking to watch the process. The Dad’s dispersing ritual is happening more and more frequently.

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Yesterday I saw the process again — it’s in full swing.

Dad and Sis had been out foraging, and began heading off on a trek when the yearling male — her brother and his son — appeared out of the bushes. He had kept apart and away, but was very aware of them as revealed when he tried joining them on the trek, albeit tailing them at a considerable distance, possibly so as to avoid detection by Dad. There was such a pull to be with them. But the minute Dad saw him, he, Dad, launched himself in the male youngster’s direction, charging at him, punching with his snout, nipping, kicking and turning him over on his back.  

This intense attack happened in tall grasses, which prevented me from taking clear photos. At the beginning of the encounter I heard an unusual, never heard before, short throaty snarl or gnarl. It was a warning of some sort. And I don’t know if the attacker or the defender made the noise because they were partially hidden from view. Besides the gnarly snarl,  there was flailing in the grass, running off a little and more flailing in the grass. When they emerged enough for me to see them fully, Dad was walking away from male youngster, and youngster was keeping his distance from Dad but following, not fleeing. Young male desperately wanted to join sister and dad for the family trek.

Sis, who had been standing far beyond Dad, looked back to see her brother sitting beyond Dad, and came running over to him joyfully to greet him. She brushed right past Dad, straight toward her brother and these siblings engaged in a long greeting, body contact, nose and paw touches and finally grooming. Dad looked on and did nothing. Sis wasn’t taking sides, she was just being “Sis in the middle.”

When the warm sibling greetings were over, Sis ran to catch up with Dad, looking back invitingly for her brother to come along. She loves her father as she does her brother. She approached Dad and engaged in grooming him while he looked back over his shoulder, glaringly at the younger male, his son: “do not come”. But the male youngster did come, with Sis encouraging him. Sis no doubt sensed the tremendous tension between the males in her family probably without comprehending any of it, and so, possibly in an attempt to dissipate it, she dashed off as if in hot pursuit of prey, enticing the others to join her and in the process to forget their strife. It kind of worked because they now were concentrating on other things, on hunting in the forest.

Then, sirens sounded and they all howled together — was the spat over? I don’t think so. Dad then walked on, all alone, without being joined by either of the two youngsters.  That is the last I saw of him that evening. Had he lost the skirmish? Even if he had, he won’t loose the battle — he’s a five year old mature male, and his son is just a 16 month old ingenue.

Sis went off hunting, and young male was left standing on a path looking for her. Not being able to locate her, he headed off in a direction opposite from the one his father took, looking dejected as revealed by his slow pace and lowered head. But Sis must have had her brother in mind. She picked up his scent and caught up with him. There was warm body contact, nose touches and wiggles, and Sis put her paws on his back again — was she showing who was boss? Or was this just her way of showing affection — this last is what appears to be the case. It now was dark so I had to leave. I had witnessed an episode of a dispersion process, where a parent forces out a youngster from his territory.

Young Male will eventually have to leave. But I wondered if Sis would stay on the territory with Dad, or if she would go with her brother? I wondered if Dad’s attacking the male youngster would in fact have repercussions of driving out Sis as well. I’ve already seen where both youngsters now flinch in anticipation of Dad’s antagonism: the young male from being on the receiving end and Sis from simply observing it.

This dispersion process has been going on for some time — it’s recently reached a crescendo. I’ll post if things change.

Leg Injury Impedes Interactions

2014-07-19

The little guy to the right ran circles around the gal to the left in an attempt to get her to play: they are siblings and BFFs, but she couldn’t uphold her end of the deal. She just sat there and watched him. He eventually gave up and walked on with their dad, but he turned around to look at her as he walked off.  She watched him go and, in my eyes, she looked sad.

When she got up to go — to follow them — I finally could see what the problem was. She was limping. She held her left front leg out in front of herself awkwardly as she limped. She could keep up with the two others, but she preferred lagging behind them, possibly to avoid the rough play she was accustomed to.

It was dusk and I couldn’t see much — the camera could see better than I could. When I reviewed the photos later at home, I could see that she had been holding that left front leg up in front of herself the entire time. These animals are very astute. I’m pretty sure her sibling and fellow playmate knew that she was hurt and in pain. He probably was trying to raise her spirits by inviting her to play. She could not. Hopefully it will be short-lived injury.

Togetherness, Physical Contact, Care in Yearling Siblings


As in our human families, coyotes each have unique individual personalities and they form unique relationships among themselves which are often very affectionate and caring.

Here, two yearling siblings are out exploring and hunting before meeting up with the adults of the family. I was able to watch the two for a couple of hours.

During this time, each kept visually aware of where the other was and what the other was doing. They would separate for only short periods of time and short distances as they explored and hunted, and then they would look up and run towards each other. Besides simply liking each other, they seemed oddly dependent on each other for safety and security on this particular evening.

In these grainy photos taken at twilight, the little female coyote, to the right, after yet again running towards her sibling, rubbed her head against him and then actually raised the front part of her body over his back and partially lay on him!  Togetherness and physical contact are characteristic of coyote family members. As she lay there draped over his body, she engaged in some tender grooming — looks like she was removing bugs from the back of his head — extending her contact with him and staying there for over a minute, and occasionally looking around before both slipped apart and again wandered a little ways apart from each other.

2014-04-21 (1)

sibling youngsters totally attuned to each other

Siblings Watch Out For One Another, Starting With Bugs


Coyote siblings provide companionship, affection, rivalry and . . .  health care, as seen here by these grooming activities. It’s a bad year for bugs: ticks and fleas. The coyote is pulling off ticks. The activity is mutual — sometimes one is the groomer, and sometimes the other. Shortly after I took the video, the groomer, guy to the right in this case, snapped at a bug in the air — see photo below. The bugs are on them and around them! Must be extremely annoying for them. I’ve never seen coyotes scratch this much in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s constant. When they’re not scratching themselves, they are helping a sibling! Pretty altruistic, I would say!

By the way, coyotes are also shedding their winter coats at this time of year, which adds to the irritations they feel. Scratching, in fact, helps with the shedding process.

2014-04-22

Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

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