A Protracted Territorial Feud

Coyote internal affairs are every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Their lives can be melodramatic and riddled with thrills! Here’s an example on par with the Hatflieds vs. the McCoys.

The newly-arrived one: wary and guarded in her new surroundings, especially after the non-welcome she received from our resident coyote.

Few people noticed that a new coyote was around, and no one imagined that this would change the course of the lives of our resident coyotes. What was HER story? Had she left her home of her own volition, or had it been a forced dispersal? Might she have even been driven away from the next place where she tried squatting? How long had her wanderings been? Time-wise at least a couple of months, distance-wise at least over half of the city, according to reports. She was here now, and again according to reports, had been in the area for a good number of weeks before a territorial battle took place. She needed a place to live in order to survive and was probably desperate. I’m trying to keep her point of view in mind here.

She appeared to be unscathed from the encounter, whereas the resident female had sustained wounds:  maybe this is because the newcomer had already been through this kind of thing before and was practiced, whereas we know the territorial defender — the coyote we knew and had come to love so much due to her very upbeat personality — had led an unchallenged and unperturbed life for 3 years as queen of her park. Both newcomer and the displaced residents (there was a male with her) have been lying low since that fight.

For the last couple of weeks, then, mostly out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been glimpsing the newcomer furtively passing through back alleyways, mostly scared and fleetingly. Few other neighbors have actually seen her (or for that matter, even know about her). Several people saw her when I did, but they were unable to recognize her as a different coyote — they simply saw a coyote form: most people cannot identify individual coyotes, even with markers. I’m slowly beginning to see her more and more.

Recovering from her wounds, far enough away. Photo by Adrian Parker.

The wounded coyote — the one who has been displaced — has been hiding out in a distant green space where neighbors spotted her (and also saw the male, once) trotting up the streets, foraging quietly, or even sleeping in their backyards. She was keeping away and healing.

THEN, several days ago, my friend Doug caught a glimpse of the tattered female (see photo below). No one had seen her in the three weeks before this, so we had assumed she had been driven off for good, but we were wrong. What a mess she looked! She was lacerated from head to toe: on her head, neck, and legs. Were these wounds from the fight I documented earlier, or had there been additional confrontations? Her fur might have concealed the extent of her wounds when I first saw them three weeks ago — I don’t remember them looking this bad. Would she now stay? She was seen only for a minute at this sighting, and then disappeared from view.

What a mess she looked! Photo by Doug Dunderdale

For the next two days, the only coyote we ever saw, glancingly, was the cocky newcomer gal who traversed the park looking very much at ease as she sauntered through. Human glances hurried her on her merry way and out of view fairly quickly (below).

New Arrival

Then, surprise, a day later, Miss Tattered and Torn was back, with the lacerations on her face, head, neck, and legs more obvious than ever (below). She was limping and disheartened, but apparently not giving up.

As you can see from this posting, coyote internal affairs can be every bit as involved as our own, and much more interesting than the human/coyote/dog interface which is what most people are mostly aware of due to news reports. Watching and documenting them is like watching a soap-opera with cliff-hangers!

Hope we’re not in for a long, protracted Hatfield vs. McCoys affair, which, in case you have forgotten or never knew, was a drawn-out human territorial battle way back during Civil War days. It sounds pretty similar to me.

As for the newcomer, if she remains, hopefully people won’t feed her or befriend her as they did the previous resident coyote. That coyote had been put in daily danger as she waited for food on the street, approached some people, and even chased cars from which food was tossed.


Of peripheral interest: I’ve been following these particular coyotes since their births. The displaced female had come to this territory three years ago, arriving at 9 months of age from a park several miles away where I had watched her grow up in a 3rd generation family, each generation of which I had followed — she was the 4th generation. The male who she is attached to, had arrived only several months ago from his birthplace all the way across the city. At a year and a half of age, he was harshly driven out of his home by his siblings, not by his parents. Even after his arrival here, he continued to wander for days at a time, often three-mile distances in the opposite direction from his birthplace, but this wandering had been diminishing. And then, a New Arrival, an Intruder appeared. Things can change in the blink of an eye. Let’s see how the story unfolds.

A Coyote Defends Her Turf

Territoriality is a huge component of coyote behavior: it is a prominent thread that runs through many of my postings, including my last four, and now this one.

Lickety-split down the street

The day’s observations began when I saw this coyote run down the middle of the street, away from an open space. Something important was going on for her to run off at a full speed gallop, lickety-split, like that. Coyotes may run  like this from dogs, but there were no dogs after her, and I sensed she was the one leading this charge, doing the pursuing. She disappeared down a distant street and I didn’t think I would see her again anytime soon. I decided to explore some of the surrounding streets that included little habitat niches as I took a morning walk in the pouring rain.

Soaked through and through

Within half an hour I saw what I thought was a new coyote because it did not look at all familiar — I know all the coyotes well in the various territories where I document, including this one, and this, I thought, was not one of them. As I continued to watch, this coyote’s “behavior” revealed to me that this was none other than the lickety-split runner I had observed earlier. She looked so completely different because she was absolutely water-laden: she was SOPPING like an old rag, including all the fur on her face which lay matted down and made her look different, so she was unrecognizable by her appearance alone. She climbed up a nearby slope slowly and laboriously, which also threw me for a loop at first. As she crossed the street, she attempted shaking out all that water contained in her coat a number of times, but she faltered. She was unable to do so. This is why she was so water-laden. I knew something was amiss. Might she have a neck injury?

Just then a siren sounded in the distance and she began soulful and mournful howling — it wasn’t something I’ve heard from her before. I’ve heard this type of howling before as a very upset warning sound for intruders. After howling only a short time, she again tried shaking out the water from her drenched coat, but she could not accomplish the task, possibly due to pain. Within a minute she crossed the street, and then ran when she felt she was threatened by a dog (the dog was leashed), and disappeared into a thicket. In urban areas, coyotes need thickets to get away from people and dogs.

This type of howling in the video above I’ve heard repeatedly associated with intruders

When I got home, I reviewed the photos in detail. And there it was: there was a bloody gash on the left side of her forehead. As I examined the photos, I also noted bright pink/red skin poking through her fur on the right side of her head, including her ear. I wondered if she might have been hit by a car.

Wounds

Again, thoughts swam through my head about helping this coyote. But as has happened before, my instincts told me that if she could heal, she’d do it on her own. That the worst outcome would be human intervention which would tame her even more than she’s been tamed. And if it’s her time to go, she should be allowed to do so. She was totally mobile which is my benchmark for interfering with nature.

The next day I met someone who was anxious to reveal the very unusual sight THEY had witnessed the previous morning, down the street where I had seen the coyote go: two coyotes had been battling. I was told that one was initially under a parked car (this is used often as a protective hiding place for coyotes from, say, dogs and even people) and there was blood spattered on the sidewalk and side of the car. One coyote had on a radio-collar — we don’t see this too often in the City. Radio collars are not used in San Francisco except within the small national park section of the city known as the Presidio. I know the ecologist there and contacted him to find out if any of his radio-collared coyotes had been in this area — radio telemetry would reveal that. Yes, he said there was a 2+ year old female who was roaming the area. She was not from the Presidio, but had wandered in, and so he collared her on January 3. So that was the explanation: there had been an intruder and a territorial battle.

Swollen eyes, snout, neck

Territorial battles can be brutal and disfiguring. Several days after the incident, this gal’s face looked different to me who knows her well. The skin under her chin had been strangely pulled out, and there was swelling around her eyes and snout. Hopefully that would soon go down. I’ve seen an instance of where an entire chunk of skin was bitten off during such a territorial fight. A territory is a coyote’s livelihood. For them, the outcome of such a fight could mean the difference between life and death.

What was the outcome of this territorial dispute? Who won? There is only one alpha female in any given territory — one Queen Bee — so I’m supposing there had to be a “winner”. I’ve seen both female coyotes since the incident, each on separate days (not together). Both coyotes are at least several years old: both are mature and wizened coyotes.  I wouldn’t think that the resident coyote would give up her Queenship too readily. We’ll have to wait to see how this pans out.

The intruder, too, is looking for a place to live

FULL LIVES: This might be a good place to point out that coyotes have amazingly full and intricate lives: there’s lots of depth and breadth to what is constantly going on with them. They aren’t just hanging around eating and reproducing. Once you get to know them, you learn that there’s always something happening: it’s like watching a soap opera with constant cliffhangers! They are as social as we are and they have many of the same drives that come from being social: they mate for life, both parents raise the young, they play,  there’s kindness, altruism, jealousy, competition, rivalry, fear, etc., and there are the broader concerns, including territoriality and battles with unknown coyotes, dispersal, life-cycles, etc. Getting to know them through their interactions and their individual behaviors has allowed me to piece together who they are on a variety of levels.

MY FOCUS: Most scientists and academics appear to be concerned with data: numbers, measurements, trends, repetitions. So, for instance, Stan Ghert radio-collars coyotes, counts pups, takes blood samples, weighs and measures them, and graphs or maps where the animals go. A lot of this information can be gleaned and compiled mechanically (radio-collars). Or focused slices of their lives might be examined: Chris Nagy, for instance, is an ecologist, so he’s interested in how coyotes fit into the environment; Christian Hunold examines potential political ramifications.

I’m more concerned with everyday individual lives and individual histories: i.e., with what it’s like to be a coyote. I observe with my naked eye and photo-document observable coyote behavior (though I’ve done scat studies).  I’m mostly concerned with their individual interactions, their individuality (WHO they are) and how each coyote fits into its family situation, and also the human interface within the city and how that is evolving over time. These observations are direct and first-hand and take lots of focused time, similar to the way Jane Goodall observed her chimps, only Jane actually interacted with her charges, and I make it point never to do so — I’m always on the outside looking in. My guidelines I’ve refined, based on first-hand observations of what I’ve seen works best in our parks here in San Francisco.

A Chapter Ends

An entire family left their long-time claimed territory, leaving one daughter behind. I thought the vast territory had become hers. For several months, I would find her all alone. And then one day, there were two newcomers with her — both males!

I could tell that she was apprehensive about them for the first little while after they appeared. She kept a squinted, wary eye on them as they loitered around fairly close to each other until dusk darkened the sky and enveloped the landscape. She was assessing them, and they her. Dusk is when she’d usually head off trekking alone, and soon I watched as three of them went off together, not with complete confidence in each other as one would expect in an established family, but they were figuring each other out, and figuring out their relationships, through darting eye-glances: coyotes communicate visually and everything they did sent a message and was interpreted as a message.  I watched these three for the next few weeks as they became more obviously trusting and comfortable with each other. Right from the start, though, she showed a preference for the dark-eyed fella: he was the obvious dominant of the two, and maybe this had everything to do with her choice.

After the first few days during which she showed them “her domain”, they mostly hung-out on their knolls waiting for dusk to come around, and I watched the relationship progress from her being totally “in charge” and leading the howling sessions (in this first video, you can see him ignore the siren until she reacts):

. . . to ‘her chosen fella’ taking charge and leading the chorus when sirens sounded. Note that, although she appeared to have “chosen” her fella early on, the “possessive display” continues, and you’ll see this at the end of these two howling videos.

It wasn’t long before I observed an all-out, no-holds-barred play session: they were in a sand-pit a long distance off and it was dark, but I got this photo above, showing them playing as coyotes do when they like each other: chasing, wrestling, and play-beating up one another in a teasing sort of way. And then, within only a few days of that out-and-out play, the pair was gone. They are now gone and have been for weeks. So, I guess the lady of the house’s new beau came in and swept her off her feet and they loped away into the sunset together to hopefully live happily ever after — isn’t that how these stories are supposed to go? I wonder if I’ll see them again.

Since their departure, I’ve only seen the extra-male a few times: the beautiful pale blue-eyed fellow below. But now he, too is gone. The field has been totally vacant for weeks. The family that left had been there twelve full years I’m told by a fellow observer who knew the Dad from the time he was a mere pup. That fellow observer ceased appearing because the coyotes had. So there’s a big void there right now. I suppose my assumption that the vast territory had become “hers” is incorrect. It’s a coyote no-mans land right now.

Twelve years ago, before this family claimed it as their own, there had been a territorial battle between two families here. I was told that one of the families was so vengeful that it went after and slaughtered the pups of the rival family. Then all families disappeared and only one youngster remained there. He became the owner for the next twelve years until last fall. This story came from my fellow observer who, I can verify, has been an astute and accurate observer and could even identify individual coyotes in the dark (which I still have not mastered). There is no reason not to believe the story. I’m relating it to show just how intense and brutal territorial battles can get: that the battles are fierce shows just how important the land is to coyotes for their survival.

I’m hoping someone comes back soon: it might be the old family, it might be this recently formed pair, it might be the extra-male, or it might be someone never seen before: vacant niches tend to be filled, so let’s see. Of interest to me, as noted in my very last posting, is that observable coyote activity is way down in almost all the territories I study, and may be due to the upcoming pupping season.

 

Intruder

Coyotes can find themselves in dire straits, not always caused by humans, and here is an example of this. Let’s give them a break whenever we can!

Nature is full of conflict and it can be harsh. Few people are even aware that all those birds on a spring morning aren’t simply singing beautiful songs as the sun begins to show itself and as the day comes into bloom. No, most of these sounds are territorial warnings and battle cries, and the parks are war zones. When animals aren’t fighting for, or defending their territories, they are eating each other. This, I’m afraid, is what is going on. Yes, there’s much sweetness in-between, but the point is that it isn’t all sweetness.

A resident coyote family which “owns” a territory has to protect its territory exclusively for itself — it’s a survival tactic. This ensures that the resources on that territory will be available to them alone, without competition from other coyotes. This is the reason intruders are driven off. But what about the intruder?  It’s important to see his point of view as well. The intruder is looking for a place to live. It might be a coyote who has been displaced from his own territory (usually by humans), or a younger coyote dispersing from its natal territory. New environments are hazardous for all animals because they are unknown, as are the situations on them.

Within the span of several weeks I saw one newcomer/intruder coyote welcomed into a new territory: he paired-up with a loner coyote on her territory — yes, this has been incredibly heartwarming and “sweet” to watch, as I posted just a short while ago.

During that same several weeks, in another park, an intruder coyote was viciously driven out — circumstances were different for him and decidedly not hospitable. I’ve seen enough coyotes driven off brutally from claimed territories to know that it is not a rare occurrence. The misconception that “coyotes seldom get into physical altercations with other coyotes” (a statement made by an individual who also claims that only ‘degreed individuals’ have the right to know coyote behavior) arises from a lack of field-work and first-hand observation, which are of course at the foundation of any legitimate inquiry into coyote behavior. This is what I do.

Most of the fighting I have observed has occurred when it was too dark to photo-record, but there was still a smattering of light when I captured the following series. It was late dusk and getting darker, however my camera with a 16,000 ISO captured the activity even though much of it is blurry due to the low light — nevertheless, you’ll get the idea. So here are my first-hand observations with 65 photos. (Note that these photos have been lightened so you can see the activity). [Also see Territorial Fighting Can Be Vicious]

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At this point in time [the makeup of families changes routinely as pups are born, and eventually disperse at various times during the year] the resident coyote family consisted of the mated pair, I’ll call them Mom and Dad, one Yearling female aged 2.5, and several pups, who have been kept secluded, even now at 6.5 months of age. I know them all well. On the contrary, I had not seen the intruder youngster before, so I don’t know his background. I do know that he is a male probably 1.5 years of age.

When I arrived, I immediately knew something was wrong because one of the two female coyotes, Mom, was “messaging” the intruder by approaching and gaping (slide #1). The intruder kept his distance, squeezing his eyes tightly shut at regular intervals, and then lay down, keeping his distance when the two resident females lay down. Each coyote was waiting for another to do something. I had never seen a coyote repeatedly squeezing his eyes like this before, but it was obviously a stress indicator, and reminded me of a human squeezing away the tears of pain. My wildlife behavior contact suggested that he might be trying desperately to be accepted by the group and the blinking was his way of communicating “I am not threatening”. When his eyes were open, they were wide open, glassy and scared.

After ten minutes, all three coyotes jaunted towards the interior of the park without incident — I don’t know what prompted this. The two resident females soon lay down on a knoll and watched the intruder distance himself further away (#14). The intruder then stopped and turned around to watch them, and they watched back. I noticed the intruder had a limp, and I don’t know if that was inflicted by the two females before I came, or if he had come to the area with it — it could have been a battle wound at another territory, or even from at own natal territory from which he dispersed and from which he may have been driven out. He then, too, lay down, in the distance.

I began walking in his direction, and when I was half-way there, the two females got up and came my way, at first trotting, but once they had passed me, they pursued the intruder at a run (slide #15). The intruder ran to keep away. Soon again, they all came to a standstill, where, again, the two resident females lay down and watched while the intruder kept his distance. But then the Yearling got up and began poking around (might she have been “testing” him? I don’t know) and the intruder got closer to her, not aggressively, but almost beseechingly.  The Yearling reacted with an intensely aggressive messaging display which had little effect on the intruder. She ended up walking away from him. (see slides #20-25).

And THEN, I guess this is what the females had been waiting for: DAD appeared in the distance (slide #28). I don’t think he had a clue as to what was going on. He had probably been occupied with the hidden pups. First Mom went to greet him angrily, and he reacted in kind to her mood — there sometimes has been mild sparring between these two (slide #29). Then she gaped at Dad and ultimately prodded him with her paw — an action I have seen coyotes do when they want the other to do something (slide #30). As the Yearling joined these two, Dad finally began picking up on the cues. He looked around and saw the intruder in the distance. “Oh!” Dad yawned, squinted his eyes, and headed for the intruder, first deliberately and slowly, and then charging at a run. Dad made contact with the intruder, threw him to the ground and began attacking viciously. Poor intruder! The females joined in to help towards the end but soon left the fray, and now it was between Dad and the Intruder (slides #40-50).

But first there was a standoff, with scared intruder facing Dad, both with their hackles up. The intruder again squeezed his eyes shut and I felt his anguish and desperate situation (#52). At this point, Dad kicked the dirt in anger and went after him again (#54). The intruder headed into the bushes for some protection but Dad followed him there. Finally, when the opportunity came up, the defeated intruder headed off, tail tucked under and back arched in a protective posture (#59). Dad followed him to behind a pile of wood chips. Most of the attacks now were in the heavy growth behind the wood chips where it was too dark to photograph and I dared not go, but I heard the loud rustling and crackling of dried leaves and breaking twigs, and the repeated short, intense squeals and cries of pain.

Dad then emerged and walked away. But Intruder stuck his head above the woodpile one more time, and so Dad returned to take care of him. I never saw the intruder emerge — he was being taught to not show himself here ever again. I hope he went the other way, but I don’t know how he fared. I’ve seen the wounds from territorial fights — some of them large and deep, and I’ve seen severe limping afterwards. I’ve seen these wounds mostly on older males, probably because they are more willing to standup for themselves. A younger coyote might give up before the wounds become severe? And, it’s interesting that all territorial wounds I’ve ever seen have been on males: it appears that the females are more likely to withdraw than allow themselves to become injured.

Lugubrious Howl After Picking Up An Unwelcome Scent

 

Kicking dirt after his howl (with a youngster beside him)

This lugubrious howl capped extensive and intense sniffing by the resident alpha male of his territorial area. He had been picking-up the scent and following it fervently for several days, and I wondered what was going on. Right before the howl, his nose again was to the ground as he zig-zagged intently over the area. Immediately following the howl, he “kicked” the ground: he was clearly angry, but whomever he was angry at was not present.

Nose to the ground, following the scent

The intense sniffing occurred regularly for several days.

My initial thought was that a wayward dog might be causing alarm, but seldom have I seen dogs here. HOWEVER, the day after the recording, I spotted an intruder female yearling sniffing through the area evasively. She was a coyote I knew. Recognizable facial features apart, she was encumbered with a hefty radio-collar. These are used only in only one park in San Francisco — most of our city coyotes are free of them. So I’ll take this opportunity to say a little about her.

She had been “babysitter” for her own younger siblings born this year in her park several miles away. Pups in the city are more than five-months old now and require less looking-after, so relieved of this responsibility, she is freer to explore away from her home. Might she be making tentative steps at dispersal and looking for an unfilled niche within the city? She’s a year-and-a-half old and ready to move out on her own. Her brother, apparently, dispersed out of the city, dozens of miles south. On the contrary, this gal has been making forays within the city since March, but she always returns home (per Jonathan Young).

The yearling interloper

Might the howl have been either a warning to the intruder, or at least a vocalization of discontentment — the same as when coyotes howl after having been chased by a dog? Most intruders are chased off by resident coyotes — this is what I normally see — but if it happened here, I was not there to see it.

Papa’s five-month old pups.

Whatever was going on seems to have been resolved for the time being. I say this because the very next day this papa left the area for the day, leaving three youngsters and mom there alone. He would not have done so had there been danger lurking nearby. Leaving them for day-long intervals has been a routine behavior of his over the last couple of months, so things seemed back to normal and calm again. The youngsters seemed to know how to take care of themselves by doing what youngsters do best: playing chase and wrestling with each other, and keeping (fairly) hidden.

If the sniffing and howling were indeed because of the intruder, I wonder how serious of an infraction the intrusion was? My only clues that there was a problem were the alpha male’s repeated intense sniffing and his mournful howl, and then the intruder’s appearance. She has not re-appeared and neither has the intense sniffing behavior. Whatever was going on, no longer is.

Gypsy Coyotes: One Family’s Territorial Peregrinations

Gypsy: “nomadic and itinerant; inclination to move from place to place.” This is how I can best describe one of my coyote families that has lived in a series of small parks or open spaces in the city.

The other families in the city which I know — and I’ve been following 9 of these more than a dozen families in the city — stick to their territories and the closer neighborhoods, including one loner who at the age of 3 and a half still lives happily alone on her little plot of land. They seem to all have claimed their land permanently. On these territories (except where the loner lives), pups are born yearly and disperse usually between 9 months and 2 and a half years of age, sometimes leaving of their own accord, and sometimes being driven off. When they disperse, of course, they move out and away from their territories for good, as far south of the city as Los Gatos, as discovered by Jonathan Young. Many of those dispersing coyotes get hit by cars. Each family is different in how the youngsters flow through, but what is the same in all except my gypsy family is that the breeding pair have remained on their same land for years and years, and outsider coyotes are driven off.

This is not true of the gypsy family.

This schematic diagram to the right represents a distribution of claimed coyote territories where the same families — as I’ve observed them — have lived for years (the green areas) within the mass of the city surrounding them: streets with incessant traffic, noise and activity, homes, business centers. And my one nomadic gypsy family whose movements have carried them to five different locations (the red starred areas) within the last several years. The movements appear to be associated with pupping.

 

I’ve known this gypsy family for only several years — through the births of two litters. When I first encountered them, they were new to the park, so they had been moving around before this time OR they could have been two of the lucky dispersing coyotes from other parks in the city to find an empty niche within the city: the male soon became omnipresent and readily visible in his small park (Park A) while the female remained much less conspicuous. Then, I noticed this same female on a street, heading towards another park (Park B), which surprised me greatly. I observed her enter the park and saunter through. I wondered if she would have been driven out, as others had, had she been seen by the resident coyotes who have not let any non-family coyotes into their park. I wondered what her connection to this Park B was, because surely there was one.  Again, two months later, for a period of several weeks, I found her traversing the same street route regularly at about 7 to 10 am between her original park (Park A) and this second park (Park B), AND she obviously was lactating during that time. Her mate never made these treks with or without her.

So the plot thickened and so did my questions. Why was she moving between two parks, the second of which was already occupied by another stable and entrenched coyote family? Had she had her youngsters in that park? Was it safer for pups there? Was there more food? Was she keeping the pups away from her mate? OR, were the pups actually at Park A, in which case she would have been just visiting? But why? Soon, all this park-hopping stopped: it turned out to be a temporary situation, because after lactation ceased in June, she again kept to her original park (Park A) and the youngsters, two of them, were seen there sporadically. So I didn’t pursue my questions any further.

Life became routine at that park (Park A), with Dad making his reconnaissance rounds daily, hanging out in his favorite spots between daytime napping sessions, and finally meeting Mom in the evenings as dusk fell for their rendezvous during which they romped together joyfully. The youngsters would join them afterwards for jollity and play. It was always dark by that time and one could only become aware of them with a sweep of a flashlight if they were in the right place at the right time: their reflecting eyes could be seen racing this way and that. Very few people ever saw these pups. This family, during this time, appeared no different from any of the other families I watched.

Then, at the beginning of the next breeding season, in early 2018, both parent coyotes disappeared from their park (Park A), even though their yearlings remained there. The yearlings now took over the daily rounds there during the night. Had that park (Park A) now been ceded to them, I wondered?

Soon I discovered the new whereabouts of the parents: they were in another very small open space (Park C) about two miles away. The male’s appearance here was shockingly decrepit and sad, with new and prominent scars covering his face, an extremely forlorn demeanor, and a perpetual slinking stance. Had he had to fight for his mate? I don’t know. We have one photo of another male in the area. It was still February and it was mating season. Although coyotes mate for life, I asked myself if there might have been some kind of a showdown? Our male was observed at this park (C) for only a couple of weeks before moving on — the female was seen even less — and then they disappeared from this site as well and I lost track of them for a few weeks.

The gypsy-coyote pair and a pup

The next thing I knew, the pair had settled into yet another area (#D), about a mile away, where pups were obviously born — it was obvious because Mom was lactating again. This coyote pair has remained in this area (#D) now for over four months with their growing pups. The male performs his territorial sentry/reconnaissance duty several times a day as any good guardian father would, and in the evening he meets up with his mate for lots of fun and play without the youngsters, and the youngsters join them later.

However, a month ago Dad started returning to his original park (#A) for one-day long visits, always traveling to and from there at night, and always returning to the park where he had his last litter of pups (#C) the next evening. Those visits have become regular, occurring, to begin with, every 2 weeks, and now every week or less, and they’ve grown from one-day visits to 2 and then 3 days in length. During the visit yesterday, BOTH parents traveled the streets at night to the original park (#A) where they remained all day, leaving this year’s pups at the only home they have known so far (#C), and returning to them that evening. During today’s visit, only Mom made the trip for part of the day and returned before evening — walking the streets of San Francisco during daylight.

And there’s actually a 4th park involved (Park E), where several of us watched the female attempt to stake out yet another park for almost a week before returning to park #A after her first litter had been born. This park was clearly inappropriately too small for her needs.

This is a developing story, so there’s sure to be a sequel at some point.

[I spend my time observing and documenting coyote behavior and then writing and posting about them, in order to show people what they are really like. Mine are all first-hand observations, made on my own, usually about family life, which you can’t find much about beyond a few photos of pups on the internet. I get into what is actually going on. I’m a self-taught naturalist who is in the field many hours every day. I don’t know of any academics who are doing this, so this information is not available elsewhere. Hope you enjoy it, learn from it, and then embrace coyotes for who they really are! Janet]

Four Years Later, by Charles Wood

Protector 1

About four years ago the pair of coyotes I watched for several years were supplanted by their daughter Mary when she pledged herself to an older scallywag male coyote that I named Rufous. The new couple kept different hours than the ousted Mom and Dad coyote I had been watching. Recently I saw coyotes in the same place as before. Now I am trying to get their story.

Protector 2

I suspect that the two coyotes pictured together are mother and child. I assume the mother is the one looking into the camera and I suspect she is the mother because she looks like she is showing, this being the time of year where she would be showing. The protector coyote is a male and there is no reason yet to be sure that he is the presumed mother’s mate as opposed to being her son. Likewise, the presumed mother’s stare reminds me of Mary’s, but I can’t yet be sure that it is her.

Protected

I wish Rufous would have showed up to do the protecting. But I haven’t seen him. Had he shown up I would have recognized him because he is a big handsome fellow and four years ago he looked like he had a blind left eye.

Protector 3

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but the protector coyote has a reddish coloring and Rufous was a markedly reddish coyote. I know there is a fourth coyote among these three, and there may be more than four. Also, the protector coyote has eyes that remind me of Mom coyote from 4 years ago. The showing female has a harsh stare. The protector coyote, like Mom, has something tentative in his expression. Yet despite Mom’s shyness, like today’s protector male, both get the job done in good form. The job is to make their claim to the territory known and to nudge Holtz and me away. We did leave, very slowly because Holtz is now about 15 and wobbles when he walks.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

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