Why Spooked?

This guy was wandering an area looking for scraps of food in a picnic area early one morning. He scratched the ground cover in a couple of places where he then picked up something and nibbled it up — I could not tell what it was that the coyote was finding and eating — it was still too dark to see.  The coyote then wandered over to a small building structure where he continued scrounging around. The structure had a small overhanging roof which the coyote found disturbing for some reason.

Did this small protrusion at the roof remind the coyote of something frightening? It wasn’t so frightening as to cause the coyote to run away, but the coyote did continually flinch, look up, withdraw, and reach in while keeping most of its body and weight as far back as possible from what he was after. He kept himself ready to take off and flee, and began doing so several times but stopped himself in mid-takeofff, returning to a position that was at the “ready”, “set”, . . . . but not quite “go”. Whatever caused this spooked behavior was totally in the coyote’s mind — maybe a thought or a fear based on some past experience. There was nothing going on in the roof.

I have seen coyotes repeatedly look up as they walk under trees. I’m wondering what kind of threats could come from “above” besides falling gum nuts and fruit, or maybe a large branch falling that might hit them? My dog used to spook at objects in this exact same manner — though never from something “above”. The funniest was when he noticed a life-size ceramic goose close by and reacted as if it might go after him. My dog weighed 92 pounds!

A Young Coyote Casually Observing the Rain

It has been raining lately, and it was raining heavily when I saw this coyote.  No one was around. The lone young coyote appeared bored. It sat in an open field in the rain and looked around — that way, this way, down, up: if you follow its gaze you can see that it is focusing on the movements created as raindrops landed on individual blades of grass and leaves. It also yawned and it stretched. Finally, as the rain got even heavier, the coyote ambled a short distance before it shook itself out and went into a thicket area. The yearling had been absorbed this way for about ten minutes.

Coyotes are very attuned to small grass and plant movements right at ground level. This is because one of  their primary nourishments comes from the voles and gophers whose burrows are under the ground. These small rodents often “work” on their tunnels, creating small movements in the foliage that grows right around their “doorways”.  Coyotes are always on the lookout for these movements which alert them that a meal is close at hand if they go about their hunting undetected.

A Monitoring Morning: Coyote behavior

Today a coyote was midway up a slope, sitting and watching — intently watching. From its location it could see a number of paths. It kept its attention mostly on dog groups, swiveling its head and ears and following each group. When the last group of noisy dog walkers left the park — which was the same time it started to rain — this coyote stood up, had a huge stretch and yawn, and disappeared calmly into the brush. This coyote comes out to monitor dogs on an ongoing but irregular basis: it assesses which dogs might be a threat or competition to it, and it probably is making sure that no dogs might be trying to set up living quarters in the park. Since there are only a limited number of resources in any given territory, it is for survival purposes that coyotes need to limit who else might want to live in their own territories.

Compare this coyote to the one posted right above this about the fleeing coyote. Coyotes are very individualistic in their behaviors so that generalizations are difficult to make.

Playfulness & Performing: Coyote Behavior

Today I spotted a young coyote which I have named Silver. I name some of the coyotes to be able to distinguish them. This one seemed at loose ends when I saw it, and it continued to be at loose ends the entire time I watched it! All of its activities seem to emanate from boredom! Besides entertaining itself, this coyote appeared to be doing so for my benefit. I say this, because, just like a young puppy, it would engage in playful activities, and then look up to make sure I was watching!!

I was able to watch this for about half an hour, at a considerable distance, so the photos are not great. It seemed to be hanging out in the area with nothing to do when it became aware of me. It wandered around for short periods, and then stopped to look at me, very casually. At one point it looked down over a steep ledge — it appeared to have heard something, but did not pursue this. Then it meandered casually over to a rock, looked at me, and then tugged at something in the soil, stopping to look at me sometimes as it did so. Finally it had something in its mouth — one of the photos shows a white thing, almost the shape of a rice-cake. But a rice cake would not have been found here. It was not an animal. Anyway, the coyote chewed on this, then stood up, and then chewed some more at the back of its mouth before swallowing it. Then it meandered on.

A few minutes later it curled up on another rock where I noticed it had pick up some kind of human made wrapper. The coyote held this wrapper for a while before dropping it and getting up again.

Then it wandered over again to the rock where it had eaten the “rice cake”. Here it poked its nose into the ground and then moved the dirt over with a paw, and then it looked at me. Then it began tugging hard on something — it might have been a rooted twig. The coyote put considerable effort into pulling — it looked like a puppy playing tug of war. The item did not give way, so the coyote gave up.

Then the coyote meandered around some more and disappeared. I packed up to go and was walking off, when the coyote again appeared on the hill again, sitting. It was studying my actions. Finally it must have been time for it to go, because with a little more direction in its actions it went off to a steep incline where it bounded down, seemingly joyfully, pouncing and leaping high over the growth there as it went. It was gone for the day.

Purpose, Awareness, Interaction: Coyote behavior

I was on a walk in one of the parks, when two coyotes appeared in my field of vision. They were lying down sphinx-like — this is how I first noticed them where they had not been before. I had heard someone shooing them away, so  they obviously had crossed someone’s path, or they may have appeared with the purpose of checking out an early walker’s dog. The two coyotes were a mother-daughter pair I have been aware of. The younger one got up and walked around, apparently checking out the ground for gopher movements and then headed into some bushes — the dry leaves it was trampling gave away that it was there.

The rustling leaves seemed to concern the mother, who got up quickly and hurried over in that direction, sniffing the ground to know exactly where to go. When she got to where she thought she should be, she stopped. She was totally still, half crouching, and she listened: she was trying to locate the young coyote. The young one soon emerged noisily from the bushes whereupon the two came together touching noses, and then moved off together into the further distance. Because of the movement of the camera, I was not able to tell if the mother had put her chin over the younger one’s nose, but it might have happened — I have seen this several times now: it involves affection, communication and dominance.

As they walked off, both coyotes kept their heads turned towards another brush area adjacent to where they were walking. My thought was that another coyote might be in this brush area — it was not an area from which a dog might emerge, so why else would the coyote’s attention be focused there? The mother stopped and sat down at the edge of this brush area, and then she lay down. The youngster traversed back and forth in this area with a very purposeful gait before trotting to a path and then on the path into the further distance and out of sight. I wondered from the behavior if the youngster had been “instructed” to move on by the mother — it sure seemed like it. The mother coyote remained relaxing by the brush area.

Almost immediately, the relaxing mother became alerted to something it did not like, so it bolted up and began running off. The cause became obvious: two large German Shepherds appeared ahead of the coyote, in the direction where the youngsters had gone — they were right where the coyote needed to cross to get away. The coyote carefully kept hidden behind low lying bushes, maneuvering about so it could tell where the dogs were and if they might be after it. The owner leashed the dogs who had obviously picked up the scent of the coyote, and when there was a clear opening, the coyote hurried off on its escape route. The dog walker kept walking out of sight.

Fifteen minutes later I found this same mother coyote, back where I had just previously seen her, scouting out the area again. She did so for a long ten minutes, then relaxed, intermittently looking over at another distant area I have seen her scrutinize before.

After about an hour, a leashed dog and walker could be seen on the closest path: the coyote was interested, sat up, and then followed them, even though the walker turned to shoo off the coyote several times. This dog walker was amused: “what a stinker” she said about it. The coyote followed them the entire length of a path until the walker forked off away from the area where the younger coyotes had gone — the coyote seemed to be patrolling for security reasons. I left the park at this point.

In summary, during my two hour observations on this day: I had seen a mother’s concern for her youngster. I saw the younger coyote “go home”, and I saw the parent coyote hiding and maneuvering around bushes to avoid dogs. I watched as this coyote surveyed the area and then relaxed, and finally I watched it follow a dog — probably with the intent of making sure the dog left the area.

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The next day, I was on one of the paths in this same park when suddenly a youthful coyote came out of nowhere and passed me, very close! It veered off the trail when it became aware of me. It did not flee, but rather checked out the surrounding area before moving rather purposefully down the trail. I then noticed that a second young coyote was in the distance, off the path and parallel to it. It seems to have been headed in the same direction as that of the first coyote. This second coyote then sat, its eyes focused in distance, in the direction it was headed  – it was definitely concentrating on something specific, and I think that something might have been its mother, because the mother later emerged from that area. Was there communication between the young coyote and its mother?  It would have had to have been a visual communication. Soon the two young coyotes headed in the direction they had been scrutinizing. My observations of these two lasted only a few minutes.

Then, a short time after that, the mother coyote appeared from the area into which the younger ones had disappeared. This mother watched some dog walkers pass by, then she curled up in an area with a view, getting up only for a moment when another dog passed but lying down again. After about an hour, as on the previous day, her eyes became riveted on something in the distance across the way: she sat up and intently watched for just a moment before dashing off in that direction at a run.

In summary, on this day I noticed coyotes purposefully heading in a certain direction, possible communication over a distance, surveying, relaxing, keeping a lookout for something specific in the distance, and dashing off after seeing that something. There was purpose, awareness, interaction among the coyotes; there was assessing situations, dogs and the territory.

ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs: Coyote behavior

I saw Jacob again this morning. He has a sheep-dog who is super sensitive to reading other animals. Jacob wanted to let me know of a coyote encounter he had had a few days earlier, an encounter which was closer and therefore somewhat disturbing compared to previous coyote encounters he has had. In the past, he and his dog always passed the same coyote at a distance, the canines would eye each other, and both would become alert to the other’s presence. The coyote might stand up if it had been resting — this is one of the dogs that is much too alert to be yawned at as it passed. The dog also is an enthusiastic ball retriever, which means it has spurts of high energy and activity. Alertness and high activity are clues that the coyote is in-tune with — this type of dog has pursued her in the past, even though this one specifically has not.

On this particular occasion it was foggy and quiet and there was no one else around. Jacob’s dog was ahead of him, when Jacob felt he was being followed. He turned to see one coyote following him pretty closely, maybe at 20 feet, and he noticed there was another coyote further back. As Jacob immediately called his dog to him, his dog noticed the coyote. The dog, now between Jacob and the coyote, walked towards its owner, ever so slowly and carefully, walking backwards, keeping its eyes glued on the coyote. This eye contact may have been seen as a challenge by the coyote.

At this point the coyote backed up a distance, ran up a tiny incline and began scratching the ground with its forepaws and rearing up — a display used to keep the dog away, to keep it from following through on its eye-contact challenge. The coyote’s purpose was to look intimidating — and for the most part it is effective. The other coyote disappeared into the brush. The coyote’s activity didn’t last long as Jacob walked off with his dog. The two coyotes ran off.

Coyotes have sometimes followed walkers the entire length of some park, sometimes at a further distance, sometimes at a closer distance. Curiosity, sizing the dogs up, desire for contact, maybe even a bit of challenge are all possible explanations.

It is always best to create distance when you don’t know what is going on. Jacob did this by calling his dog and then facing the coyote before moving on.

Please see posting of  December 7th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th: “Some reactions to dogs”, and December 1st: “Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked challenge”.  Also, please see the entry on “Coyote Safety” of 11/3. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” of 2/8/10. “A short back-and-forth chase: oneupmanship verging on play” of 2/4/10.