Fraternizing with the Raccoons?

A dog walker approached me in the dark, before dawn, to ask me about a strange sound he heard: hissing and a breathy growling. He told me he decided not to enter the park with his two small dogs because he wasn’t sure of the sound; he asked if it might have been a coyote. I told him that it could have been a coyote, however, the local neighborhood coyote is not one who reacts to dogs and walkers this way: she’s an accepting gal who keeps away from dogs unless she has been chased, and even then she comes back only to make sure the dog has gone away.

many sets of eyes in the dark – there were actually 5 sets

I finally approached the area where the sound was heard, and I heard it: a loud, raspy, breathy growl that came across as an intense explicative.  I shined my flashlight on the spot, only to find five set of eyes huddled together. Yikes!  Then I saw with my flashlight that one set of eyes belonged to a coyote. No one was moving — they were just sitting still, all five of them together, eyeing my flashlight. I gasped, knowing that this coyote, a loner, didn’t have a family — so I wondered if she had invited another family of coyotes into her area. It was something I had never witnessed.

One set of eyes belonged to a coyote

Ahhh! Soon I was able to see that each set of eyes belonged to a masked and stripe-tailed raccoon! It was a mother and three youngsters, in addition to the one coyote. The youngsters kept to the bushes. Mom and coyote appeared to know each other. They  walked around, inches from each other, totally ignoring one another. There was no aggression between them: probably a truce had been achieved long ago. The coyote wasn’t going to mess with Mom Raccoon and Mom Raccoon wasn’t going to mess with the coyote.

However, the coyote was pawing at the bushes where the youngsters (almost full-sized) were hanging out, provoking and testing what their responses might be, hoping for some kind of reaction.  Mom every now and then discharged a raspy, growly exhalation in warning. BTW coyotes make this same warning sound towards each other, but not as loudly. The coyote backed up a little but did not leave. This state of affairs continued, unchanging, for about half-an-hour. Finally, the coyote went off into the distance, where she sat down and waited patiently for something to happen: treed raccoons were not much fun!

Dawn now was slowly creeping in and more people were arriving at the park. Maybe the coyote knew the raccoons would make a run for it at some point? With her gone, the raccoons indeed soon edged their way through the bushes down to the street and then ran across — three and then the fourth — with the coyote now at their heels once they were out in the open, running with them.

Raccoons are tough customers for coyotes, and although I have seen coyotes eat raccoon, most encounters I’ve seen end up in a standoff. It’s the juveniles and enfeebled raccoons who are most vulnerable to coyote predation, as well as those who might find themselves unexpectedly separated from their families when confronted by several coyotes. This particular coyote seemed more into entertainment, and maybe even company, than anything else — fraternizing?! I’m sure this coyote could have grabbed one of the youngsters had she wanted to, but she seemed more interested in simply testing their mettle. When they got to the other side of the street, the raccoons scrambled up a tree, and the coyote was left down below, all alone. NOTE that this indeed is an unusual coyote: she flees from cats at the slightest provocation and has even tried gingerly interacting with them — or maybe she was testing their responses.