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!

Pups!!! And How The Divide Suddenly Doesn’t Feel So Vast, by Ella Dine

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I spent several hours observing the family yesterday, mostly because I wanted to catch a glimpse of the pups. I thought there were two, and based on my observations, I have no reason to suspect more. It was well worth the wait. The pups bounded out of the den area toward mom looking very much like similarly-aged, wiggly, exuberant canine pups. When asked what word comes to mind when folks think of coyotes, most are probably not inclined to say adorable, but I am convinced this is because we don’t often get the chance to watch these creatures interact with each other. These pups were utterly Adorable. They showed appropriate deference to mama, and when she nudged them back into hiding, they complied obediently. They appeared so energetic that I wondered what they do all day–how are those energetic little bodies confined to what appears to be a small den area? This is purely speculative, but I imagine they do sleep a fair amount, at least during the hottest part of day. I also began to wonder about the parents–what having a litter would be like, for instance, for the first time? How startling would it be that suddenly this mix of instinct and responsibility becomes your single overarching biological imperative? How stressful would it be to try to protect your babies in the wild?

I realized that part of the fascination in observing this family is watching instinct in action, animals with no agenda other than pure survival and all the attending struggles and challenges inherent in it. It’s quite beautiful.

Surrounding the area, people passed leisurely, most looking down at phones. I had a million gadgets myself– a phone in my pocket, a clunky camera around my neck. It brought to mind the most obvious thought: of course we sometimes harbor an irrational fear of wildlife. We know next to nothing about what their experience is really like. We are so removed from our own inner-wild (conditioned as we are to tame and master our own, uglier impulses) that witnessing that shadow side–that latent part so familiar to our most distant ancestors (and the very thing coyotes depend upon to thrive) can be spooky, but also exhilarating. Anyway, we certainly have more in common than not–all it took to convince me of that was to watch a mama with her two adorable babies.

You can see by this pic how well the pups blend in!

You can see by this pic how well the pups blend in!

 

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.

A One Hour Peek Through An Opening In The Bushes At A Coyote Family’s Interactions At Dusk

I peeked through an opening in the bushes into coyote family life during the hour before their active life begins in the evening at dusk. This entire family was together: mother, father, uncle and one pup. There is only one pup in the family. The pup is super-well protected and superbly indulged by the three adults in the family: the third adult is a male from a previous litter who I will call Uncle, even though that’s not exactly what he really is.

The hour was spent in constant interpersonal interactions — there was not a moment when something was not going on or when some interaction was not taking place. Coyotes are some of the most social of animals, and their social life takes place via their intense family life.

The activities during this hour included Mom grooming Dad and vice-versa, Mom grooming Pup and vice-versa, affectionate play between Mother and Pup, all four coyotes aware of me and glancing at me in the far distance, Dad dominating Uncle — this happened continuously, Pup dominating Uncle who is low man on the totem pole, Uncle standing off to the side alone with ears airplaned out submissively, Pup hopping and jumping around trying to get others to play — as any only child might. And, most interesting, a sequence where Pup jumped on Dad (oops) with unexpected consequences and confusion.

Grooming, playing, cuddling and general interacting were constant activities (below).

This sequence (below) was pretty interesting because Dad ended up disciplining Mom instead of the Pup who caused the disturbance! Pup had jumped over — or onto — his parents who were lying next to each other. Dad either got confused and disciplined Mom — she’s the one lying on her back as he stands over her — OR, Mom’s growl at the Pup may be what Dad was reacting to. Dad coyote does not tolerate any aggression in his family, even from Mom. At the first sign of any antagonism or dissent, he squelches it. Dad is the oldest and wisest in this family, and the ultimate authority. In another family I know, Mom is the ultimate authority: every family is different.

Rigid status preserves order, but sometimes it’s hard to watch. Uncle is low man on the totem pole, and he’s made aware of this constantly: what is Dad’s “order” is Uncle’s strife and oppression.  There seemed not to be a minute that went by when Uncle was not reminded of it. It happened with physical put-downs three times in this hour, and in a more subtle manner, with glances, many more times.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

As it got darker, the time came for the family to trek on. The move was signaled by Dad’s signature stretching. Dusk had settled in and their day was beginning. And my viewing time had come to an end because as they slithered away into the night, I could no longer see them.

Vittles For the Family: Over River and Dale With Grub In His Mouth

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He caught this vole, killed it, and headed home. At one point, his grasp wasn’t right, so he put down his prey in order to carry it more securely, or, perhaps, more comfortably.

Then the long trek home began — it would be about 1/2 mile over stream & dale, field & forest, meadow and sports field. When he saw a runner, he hurried off the path until the runner had gone by. When he saw a dog pack and their owners — all dogs were unleashed, he ducked behind some bushes and was not detected. He waited there for what seemed like an interminable amount of time, though it actually was probably only a few minutes. Finally he re-emerged to continue on his way, trotting, climbing, hurrying to where he wanted to go.

He went fast — I couldn’t keep up, but I could watch him in the distance using the zoom lens of my camera, still carrying his prey in his mouth as he trotted homeward.

He had to get by one last walker, but this was close to a secret passageway where he knew he couldn’t be followed. So he made a dash for it, right across the pathway of the walker who, I’m not surprised to say, didn’t even see him! People are often preoccupied with their own lives and forget to look around.

The coyote continued up a cliff and down again into his secret alcove, where he would deposit the vole in front of a hungry little pup, or in front of the pup’s mom, who then herself would offer the prey to one of her pups. The coyote’s outing had lasted an hour, and his trek back with food in his mouth had lasted almost 20 minutes minutes. This is what coyote family life is about.

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hunting

trekking along with grub in his mouth

Pupping Season: “Scary” Does Not Translate Into “Dangerous”, but Heed The Message!

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Hi Janet —

I had a very scary interaction with two coyotes in the heart of a park where the trail runs parallel to a dense brushy area. My dog Ginger and I were by ourselves, surrounded by two coyotes that would not go away. I jumped up and down, waving my arms allover the place and yelling and they didn’t budge. Finally one went into the bush but just stayed there and then the other on the trail started towards us.

I did the jumping yelling thing and the one backed away but turned around, started walking towards us again. Like 15 feet away.  Finally I just pulled Ginger’s leash tight to me and ran. I know you’re not supposed to  do that, but nothing else was working. We ran up to a knoll and were not followed there. It was getting dark, past 8pm, a bit scary indeed!

I wish that man was not doing that thing with his dog, challenging the coyote, corralling his dog to go after the coyotes. I have a feeling that sort of human behavior is a bad influence and perhaps contributed to this situation I had.

Scott


Hi Scott —

I’m sorry about your negative experience with the coyotes — and especially that it happened to you, a coyote sympathizer, even though it is best that it happened to you and not someone else with no feeling for the coyotes. In fact, you were being messaged to keep away from a den area.

Coyote messaging can be very, very scary — it’s got to be to be effective, otherwise dogs and people would just ignore the message. The coyotes  you encountered were not pursuing you and they were not out to hurt you or Ginger — they were keeping you from getting closer to something important. You were simply being told not to get any closer — to move away: “Go Away!”  But next time don’t run! Sometimes running will incite them to chase after you!

If and when a coyote doesn’t back up, it’s almost always because of a den, and it’s always best to shorten your leash and leave right away. If coyotes don’t move after one or two attempts to get them to move, this should be the protocol: leave the area. You don’t want to engage with a den-defending coyote because they will nip at a dog who cannot read their “standing guard” message — we already know that this is what they do, and by not listening to their simple message, you would actually be provoking an incident.

It’s an instinct, and really has nothing to do with the idiot who was attempting to force his dog on the coyotes. That is a totally unrelated issue which needs to be addressed.

Encountering a den-defending coyote always creates a lot of fear in people, and I understand why — it’s meant to.  People need to know about it, why it happens, and how to deal with it. It’s a situation which should always be walked away from, no different from what you would do if you saw a skunk with its tail raised, a dog warning you off, or a swarm of bees. We know how to read the messages from these animals, and we usually abide by the messages to keep the peace and not get stung or sprayed or bitten. We can do the same with coyotes. A defensive or protective coyote is only doing his job — such an encounter in no way means the animal is aggressive.

Janet

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!

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