Adoption? [updated]

I’ve had to revise this posting a little because one of the coyotes I talk about, who I was told and accepted as “the female” of a pair, turns out not to be a female at all, but a solid male, and the younger one turns out to be a female!

After a year of absence, this Dad (above right) returned to his former territory which was being kept by two coyotes who I believed to be his two-year-old offspring — youngsters born the year before last. The Dad’s family situation is a very interesting one, and I’ll be writing about it soon, but here I want to concentrate on what Dad came back to: he returned to this, his previous territory, and to the two younger coyotes. I had only been seeing one of these youngsters sporadically fleetingly until very recently, but two were there now. The youngsters welcomed Dad back, and now the three began hanging out together.

But the situation isn’t what I thought it was. I’ve slowly come to realize that one of the youngsters, although he looked familiar somehow, was not one of Dad’s surviving four youngsters born in 2018. Initially, I thought time might have caused some appearance changes which were preventing me from seeing “who” this was of the four, but I wasn’t making any headway in trying to identify him (I identify by their facial features), and he really didn’t have the signature family look of the others in the litter: I have noted that there are striking family resemblances within some coyote families, and this had been one such family. Then, over the last week it became obvious that this coyote was actually a year younger than the two-year old. There’s a difference in general demeanor and behavior that become obvious when you contrast and compare the different ages.

Suddenly familiarity rang a bell. I went back into my earlier photos of another family in a far off territory — this is where the coyote came from. This youngster is from an entirely different birth family, and born last year.* She had distanced herself from the rougher tumble of her brothers (dispersed) of which there were three. For a while she lived alone in an isolated open space which is where I photographed her most recently, but I hadn’t checked on her since then. She’s only a year old. She’s too young to be forming a family of her own (I haven’t seen females form families of their own until they are at least two years of age). Instead, I found she had joined another young male (two-year-old) on that male’s birth territory — maybe they would become mates when the time was right

I’ve seen this kind of arrangement several times now: a dispersing youngster seems to take cover under the wing of an older coyote (even though not much older) with a territory: the territory owning coyote lets the other in. In one instance in the past, a youngster male moved on after five months. His mentor female a year later appeared to be harboring yet another young male — that fellow has now become her mate — and maybe that was their plan all along.

So, these two have been companions for each other, which makes sense in such a social species: one apparently a mentor and caregiver and the other a youngster who needed a little more time to mature: it’s kind of an “adoption” or “halfway station situation”. This is the situation — two immature youngsters — to which “Dad” returned.

I wonder how prevalent this kind of arrangement is between ‘stabler coyotes with territories’ and ‘dispersing ones’. The older territorial-owning coyotes seem to become very protective of their younger proteges, a behavior you might expect from a parent. The important thing to note is that this little group of three coyotes in this park is a “family”, all of whom are not related individuals, whereas most families consist of a mated pair and their own offspring.

See these related postings on two other youngsters, males in this situation: Happiness is Having Someone to Watch Out For, and Camaraderie and “Checking In”,  and Anxious and Scared for His Safety.

*[Professor Ben Sacks at UCDavis will confirm this with DNA from scat which will reveal our coyotes’ relationships. In fact, he’s working on a “pedigree” of all of our San Francisco coyotes, who, it turns out, all descended from just FOUR original founding members]

© All information and photos in my postings come from my original and first-hand documentation work which is copyrighted and may only be re-used with proper credit.

It’s A Small World After All

A couple of days ago I visited the Presidio of San Francisco. I haven’t been going there regularly because the ecologist there is already monitoring those coyotes, but I went this time to check on the coyote I’ve labeled “Wired” — she had been radio-collared over a year ago. I heard she had moved in there and kicked out the previous family. This coyote indeed is a “toughy”. She is of special interest to me:  I had watched her wreak havoc on another coyote (who I’ve been documenting since her birth in 2015) and then pursue that coyote throughout the city for 6 months.

Second pair of coyotes in the Park

Initially I did not find the coyote I was looking for. Instead I found another pair of coyotes who looked surprisingly familiar. I’m trying to “place” their relationship among the coyotes I know. I generally can do so by watching visually for nuclear family similarities which I then hope to confirm with DNA analysis results.

I have been collecting DNA extracted from scat samples since 2008, to (among other things) help confirm my observations about relationships and movements throughout the city. The DNA analysis (Ben Sacks, Monica Serrano, et. al., UC Davis, 2020) has already shown that our present SF coyote population of 60 to 100 coyotes all came from just FOUR founding coyotes originating in Mendocino County: It appears that our SF coyote population is indeed inbred as I’ve noted and has not been augmented from the South.

Wired ran by — she’s radio-collared

When he looked at me I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was this Puff?

A couple of days later I returned to the Presidio and this time was rewarded with the appearance of Wired and her new mate! Wired hurried by with the male following close behind — she is obviously the leader of the pair. And then her mate turned around and looked at me. When you come across an old friend you haven’t seen in ages, in an odd place, your response might be, “Wow, it really is a small world!” This has happened to me with coyotes, and it just happened again! I could hardly believe my eyes! This appears to be the coyote I had labeled “Puff”. The label is based on his appearance and is used to differentiate him from his siblings when I write about them.

He was born in the spring of 2017 in a park that is not far off [I don’t state exact locations on this blog]. I’m including several photos of him (above) taken before he dispersed from his birthplace, along with photos of his mother and father on their territory there. I have DNA from these coyotes — I collect it right after it is expelled in most instances, so I know which coyote belongs to which sample. These will be used to confirm my visual/photographed observations. Puff has proved himself to be as much of a toughy as is Wired, having joined a brother to forcefully and viciously drive out a third brother from their birthplace in August of 2018, something I was able to observe. That’s how dispersal works.

It’s great to see Puff now paired up with a like-minded female (two toughies) and they appear to be the reigning alphas of their territory. It’s exciting to see these coyotes’ lives develop beyond their dispersal, something I’ve been able to do with only a handful of them so far. I don’t yet know what their relationship is with the other resident pair. They use some of the same territorial pathways, which I’m sure has significance for determining what the relationship is.

These two pairs may in fact be closely related. I say this, because otherwise, I believe, Wired and Puff would have driven out that second pair, but they have not. The previous Presidio pair along with their offspring were driven out. My continuing DNA study will confirm what their relationship is if I don’t figure it out beforehand.

So far, none of the coyotes I’ve been able to follow after their dispersal from their birthplaces has produced any offspring. Maybe Wired and Puff will produce the first 3rd generation that I’ll be able to keep tabs on! And there’s the possibility for a next generation in one other dispersed female I keep tabs on. We’ll just have to wait and see. Although I’ve watched yet another family through four generation (parents of parents of parents), there, the breeding pairs, one after the other, have remained stable and on their original territory the entire time — in fact for 13 years so far.

More recent movements within the city:

Among the four youngsters I’ve watched grow-up and then been pleasantly-surprised to see in other parks, are two that I’ve already written about, though I may not have used these labels: Scout and Hunter.

In addition to these dispersals, I’ve also seen family members travel large distances within the city to “pay a visit” or “check on” their dispersed youngsters (Maeve, Yote). I’ll soon be writing about a Dad who was just kicked out of his most recent territory and returned to where his youngsters were living. This male and his mate had dispersed from that territory (where the two youngsters remained), rather than the offspring (who did not leave/disperse) — it’s an interesting twist in things. Some family connections seem to be maintained over a great many years and over long distances.

By the way, Wired was in Puff’s birth-territory for awhile when he was still there. I don’t know if she is related to him, but there has been a long-standing association. I’ve also seen two other Presidio coyotes at Puff’s birth-territory. I wonder what the special tie is between these two family groups.

Endnotes: It’s very satisfying to have one’s visual observations confirmed by hard data (DNA). “Science” tends to accept only hard data, not visual data, though I have my photographs which indeed show connections. Incidentally, I do not use gadgets such as radio-collars or tags, which I think are harmful. I recognize coyote facially and can follow them that way, using sequences of photos to study any details. Except in a few instances, the coyotes I document are all labeled based on their appearance so I can readily know who they are.

©  All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share with permission and with properly displayed credit.

My SF Coyote DNA Study Continues

Monica Serrano in Dr. Benjamin Sacks’ lab (MECU) at U.C. Davis has analyzed the scats that I’ve been collecting and here is her fabulous summary poster! The first samples which I started collecting in 2008 were analyzed and reported in a previous poster by Dr. Ben Sacks’ lab in 2018.

I have been collecting these samples mostly from individuals as I saw them defecate, so I knew which samples belonged to which coyote, and those I didn’t see I knew what family group they were from. And having observed these coyotes over many years — I recognize and can identify each by their face — I knew each individual’s relationships within their families, their birthdates, and their sex (I did not include any of the vast information I have on their individual personalities and interactions). I delivered these, along with my questions, to Dr. Ben Sacks whose lab then did all this work. My questions had been about the population’s genetic relationships beyond their nuclear families which might reveal the alphas’/parents’ original birth-territories (though I also wanted to see what the DNA would confirm about their relationships within their families — which is what I had found out by direct observation), and I wanted to establish what percentage of the population in San Francisco originated from the original Mendocino County coyotes that were found here in 2002, versus any that might have migrated in from the south of the city. It appears none have migrated into the city from the south.

This new DNA analysis is not only interesting for confirming the family units and inbreeding I’ve been seeing (the analyses indicate there were as few as four founding coyotes to the present coyote population of 60 to 100), but also for its potential in further research to determine coyote movements without radio collars, which are extremely invasive. It’s a win-win for our coyote population! [You might be interested in reading about Detrimental Effects of Radio Collars].