Camaraderie and “Checking-In”

Although coyotes have nabbed raccoons and often work as a team to do so, our coyotes here in San Francisco usually forage individually because of the nature of their prey: small rodents, squirrels, voles, even birds, berries, etc. Even so, they often head out to hunt in pairs. They are social animals, so being together is as much fun for them as it is for us. They often become separated as they follow their noses to areas quite distant from the other, but eventually, they come together to “check-in”. When this happens, there is a little greeting and acknowledgement which consists of eye contact, nose touches, and sometimes some play.

These photos today are of a recently bonded pair of coyotes. Their relationship as a pair is new. Their regular “checking-in” involves more overt displays of joy than most: you can just hear them thinking: “I’m so happy to see you, I’m so happy that you are here with me!” Their interactions at this time are much more similar to what happens at an evening rendezvous, when coyotes come together after having been sleeping apart most of the daylight hours. The rendezvous is a very intense time of socialization between coyotes: there are wiggles and squiggles and joyous jumping over each other, chasing, lots of body contact, body hugs and love bites. Well, this pair greet each other in this manner after they’ve been apart for only 5-10 minutes! It appears that this new match was made in heaven!

A joyous game of chase and catch-me-if-you-can

Playful jumping all over each other

Hugs and togetherness in midair

Body contact even as they run off together

A provokingly affectionate teasing nip to the leg

Contact again, with a paw on his back

Background on these two coyotes: This pair of coyotes came together only several months ago. In her birth family, the three-and-a-half years old female had been an “only child” where her parents left her by herself hours on end, so she was used to being all alone. She dispersed early and became the resident coyote in her new claimed territory which had been left vacant by a coyote hit by a car several years earlier. Here, she remained a loner, and over time, began focusing on cars, humans and dogs for entertainment: coyotes are social animals, and with no other coyotes around, she made do with what there was in sort-of the form of virtual interactions. I worked with the community to discourage interactions in order to preserve her wary and wily wildness as much as possible. Education of this sort worked because most people wanted to do what was best for her. It appears that this coyote didn’t know what she had been missing in the form of “real” interactions until the male showed up. Suddenly, she was overjoyed to finally have a real companion! She is the one who displays the most exuberance and joy when they “check-in”.

The younger newcomer male arrived after having been dispersed — driven out — from his birth family in August by his own siblings who had formed an alliance or bond between themselves: there was no room for him there as an adult. Once youngsters disperse, I usually don’t see them again, but I have been privileged to reconnect with three of them after they dispersed. Once I get to know coyotes, they become easily identifiable through their very distinct appearances and behaviors. Of interest to many people might be that there happen to be “family resemblances” in some coyote families, no different from family resemblances in human families. This male came from a family of four siblings who used to play endlessly together through a year-and-a-half of age.

The play gets more rough and tumble, but is always affectionate

Jumping all over each other with hugs

“Ha ha, gotcha!” Teasing is how they display their connectiveness

Pulling him by his fur has got to be high on the list of tolerances between bonded coyotes

Only a good friend would allow you to grab him by the scruff of the neck with your teeth!

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.

Father and Son

Coyote fathers are totally involved in the raising of their youngsters. Here, Dad and five-month-old son spend a few moments watching the goings-on around them before Dad then grooms the pup — probably removing ticks — and then son prods Dad for some food, unsuccessfully.

Pestering?

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

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

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

Hi Dad, Wanna Play?

The pup has received a strict and heavy-handed (and probably not-expected) retort and rejection to his enthusiastic, happy invitation to play. He responds, expressing his feelings through tucked chin, ears swiveled back, squinting eyes, tight jaw — not so different from our own painful grimacing to such a retort. The flopping over is rather melodramatic, but I know human kids who might have done that!  :)) I’ve seen coyote pups react this way many times — usually when they are conflicted: it’s as though all synapses fired at once without a clear outcome!

Playfulness of Coyotes


Being the social and family oriented animals that they are, coyotes who are “loners” — without families — often get . . . lonely!

Most coyotes eventually find a mate and live in families, but there is a time after dispersal– when they leave “home” — when they may be on their own, alone, and when they may miss the companionship they had growing up with their parents and siblings. Coyotes are often forced out of their birth families and territories by other family members. This usually happens between one and three years of age for various reasons, for example, when the smooth-running of the family is interfered with, because of growing competitiveness due to a domineering parent or sibling, because of new pups, or because of limited resources in an area. So the coyote moves out and on. Each coyote needs about a square mile of territory to provide for itself. When they find a vacant niche, they’ll fill it.

As seen in the video, this little coyote very definitely wants to engage with other canids — he’s running back and forth in an engaging sort of way, with his head bobbing up and down like an excited pony, and he even poses with his rump up and paws out front in the classical “lets play” stance which dogs use. But he’s also testing and assessing — notice that he does not fully approach the dogs who are facing him and close to their owners. He appears both excited and a bit anxious about initiating the interaction — there’s a push-pull of desire and fear.  I have seen short romps shared by dogs and coyotes, and then, the coyote is off — but the coyote may return day after day for this same type of  contact. Please beware that even a playful coyote such as this one in the video may suddenly nip at a dog which has been allowed to play with it: this just happened in one of the other parks where the coyote began to feel threatened or harassed and ended up biting the dog’s leg. We need to remember that wildness will always be part of who the coyotes are. At the same time, the coyote’s good will and good intentions can be clearly recognized.

The first coyote which appeared in the City outside of the Presidio (where they first re-appeared in the City in 2002) actually appeared on Bernal Hill in about 2003.http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Coyotes-usually-seen-in-West-spotted-in-2633779.php, and this coyote, too, was reported to have romped with one of the dogs.

Respecting the coyote’s wildness means keeping our distance and not allowing our dogs to engage with them. When a coyote eventually does find a mate, he may feel very protective of his chosen mate, of himself, and of his territorial claim from all potential threats, be they real or perceived. He’ll do so with “warning messages” in the form of body language. Sometimes this “messaging” is conveyed assertively, as with a nip. Think about it: how else might coyotes clearly get their message across? Know what is going on, and please respect him by keeping your distance. And know how to shoo the coyote away if he comes too close to your dog.

At the same time, be thrilled and filled with awe and wonder at this wildlife returned to the City! Coyotes are fascinatingly social and interact with each other in the gamut of ways we humans interact with each other, including through playing, through a full array of family interactions which show that they share many of our emotions, and through protecting personal and home spaces from dogs who  they consider potential threats.

Coyotes have been moving into all urban areas — into what we consider “human areas”. It’s interesting because we humans have excluded, persecuted and wantonly killed this species for so long. Our presence helps keep away other top predators which is why they may feel safer living among us.

Thank you everyone for trying to understand coyote behavior and for accepting them as a neighbors! To become more aware of coyote behaviors, watch the video presentation,  “Coyotes As Neighbors”. And, stay tuned! In a new posting which will be appearing here and on Bernalwoods.com within the next few days, I’ve addressed some of the issues and hype that have been appearing on some recent social media sites.

More Fleeing From Father

During a calm early morning walk I spotted a coyote running at top speed, bounding in long leaps, through some brush in the distance. Within seconds I could see that this coyote was chasing another coyote who was running lickety-split from his pursuer. Soon the larger, faster, and older coyote caught up and threw the youngster on his back and pummeled him with his snout, delivering a few emphasizing nips in the process.

There was intense rustling of the brush and squeals of pain — the same squeals of pain a young domestic puppy might make if it were hurt. Soon, Dad, because that’s who the disciplinarian was, and discipline is what was going on, descended from that clump of brush where the beatings had occurred, walked on a few paces, and then stopped to look back, to glare back. He remained in this location, turning his attention to sniffing and looking around, and then headed back into the brush where the youngster was. Dad was checking to see if he had gotten his message across. He re-emerged again, glared back again, and then sniffed around some more.  He repeated this about four times, and then finally wandered away from the area through the dense foliage.

Soon, within minutes, Mom appeared from out of nowhere. I don’t know if she had witnessed what went on, or if she just happened by at this time. She looked around and slowly headed to where the youngster was. She found him, greeted him, and offered consolation in the form of grooming and affection.  Several minutes later, they both emerged to where I could better see them. Mom spent time carefully grooming the kid who stood still and lovingly absorbed all the attention directed at him, and he returned the favor, a little. Soon she stopped, and both coyotes directed their attention towards where I was, but it wasn’t me they were watching. Dad suddenly appeared at my lookout point, a point with a good view of where the other coyotes were. Dad was keeping an eye on them. He spent a few minutes staring at them, and they at him.

I had left my crutches (I had twisted my knee several weeks earlier) at the base of the steep and craggy slope with dry grasses which I had inched my way up for a better view, scooting myself upwards on the seat of my pants. I was now 30 feet from the crutches at the base of the hill. The coyote stopped to look at the crutches and then went over to a piece of trash, sniffed it and marked it. I was sure he was going to mark my crutches, which had my scent on them. But no, instead he looked at me respectfully and went on his way without leaving me any messages! He disappeared from view.

Youngster and Mom were sitting perfectly still. Their eyes followed Dad’s trajectory until he was out of sight. Then they continued their activity of grooming and being groomed. I wondered if Youngster had actually been wounded by Dad, because, although I couldn’t see any damage to him from the distance,  Mom’s actions suggested to me that she might be licking small wounds on his haunches. Pinch/bites are messages that dominant coyotes give other coyotes, and dogs, to message them to leave.

After the Youngster had regained his composure following Dad’s treatment, and with the help of Mom’s grooming, affection, attention and solace, Youngster began feeling playful. He jumped over Mom, which must have been a signal or invitation to play. She acquiesced — parent coyotes love playing with their youngsters. After a few minutes of playful wrestling, she led him on a long extended chase up and around and through the bushes and back, over and over again. More grooming ensued and then these two, as Dad had, disappeared from view.

Had Dad been disciplining Youngster for failing to be submissive? Or was there a lesson in boundaries and territoriality, or possibly an issue about the youngster’s safety at the center of Dad’s tough discipline? Dad’s intense bullying is disciplinary now. This pup is 7 months old and there is a lot to learn. Mom’s affection and solace seem to compensate for Dad’s harsher attempts to discipline and teach. Both parents teach and discipline, but it always appears to be the alpha — and the alpha can be either the male or female parent — who is the harshest. The alpha is the coyote who maintains an overall overview of the situation in his/her territory, keeping an eye out for everyone’s safety.

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