A Territorial Issue

Most of the coyote territories I know have been pretty stable over long stretches of time — years and years: the same owners have occupied the same areas for a while and there have been no indications of change. I’ve seen some territories occupied over a span of 13 years by successive generations of the same family: when an older mate passed away, the remaining mate paired with a new mate — sometimes their own offspring — and continued on the land.

I’ve also seen sequential families, one after another on various territories: either the previous owners left of their own accord — I get the impression this happens when their reproductive years are over — or the weaker older pair (and sometimes only one is left) is driven off by a younger, stronger pair. Still, what remains on any one territory has always been one alpha pair with youngsters who are born there and eventually leave. Intruders don’t remain, and interlopers have been few — I counted only one last year.

The long-time resident pair who are not happy with the situation on THEIR territory.

However, I’ve been watching an exception this season. Interestingly, it seems that every generality about coyotes has exceptions. I’ve been seeing recent newcomers in one of the territories who now have passed through repeatedly and regularly. One is an older, scraggly fellow. Will he be allowed to stay as an interloper because he is old and unattached and therefore not a reproductive threat to the residents? I have seen very few interlopers to date here in San Francisco. We’ll have to wait to see.

In addition, there has been a new pair of coyotes that has been passing through that same territory regularly over the last month. The resident pair appears not too happy about this, marking and kicking up the ground angrily when they detect the odors of these intruders.

The long-time resident pair on this territory has two yearlings, and a number of 9-month-old pups born this year remain who all occupy that space. I’ve never seen coyote pairs share their territories — it’s unlikely to continue for long. In the end, only one pair will claim and remain in the area to raise their pups, and I would assume it will be the long-time resident pair, but of course I don’t know this — they’ll be living out their own stories and I hope to witness them to tell the tales.

These recent observations have been made entirely through field cameras which I put out only at night. I have not recorded what has gone on in this area during daylight hours, but I’m pretty sure the same thing, even if less frequently, as at night. Identifying individuals with infrared light, which is what the field cameras use, is very different from identifying them under natural light, but I’ve learned how to do so, and I can definitely identify all of these coyotes in this video. I put the field cameras out because in-person sightings have become more and more rare for me. I was hoping the cameras would at least let me know who was around, and they’ve done a little bit more than that!

The video consists of a number of the very short field-camera captures. You’ll see the older scraggly fella who is always alone, the intruder pair who look perfectly benign to me, but hey, they ARE intruding, and the angry resident pair revealing their wrath/disgust at the situation by sniffing, marking and kicking up the ground angrily — “How dare they come into our home!” Note that the resident coyotes have had these reactions in the past, but very irregularly, which I’ve attributed to the dogs who come through regularly during daylight hours. In other field cameras that I leave out all day, I’ve seen this reaction always to dogs who are also considered intruders by the coyotes. In this case, the reactions always occurred shortly after the newcomers had passed through.

A Territorial Changeover

Although I know territories which have been in the same coyote families for over 12 years, I also know territories with coyote ownership turnover. One dynasty ends, usually because the tenants can no longer defend their turf in the face of aggressive or continued intruders, be it due to old age, death of a mate, or even dispersal of youngsters who might have helped defend the area: youngsters can be forced out by parents who want room for their next litters, or they move on due to their own inner drives. Or maybe the territory just no longer has the resources necessary to support a coyote family.

Although I’ve seen coyotes move on to greener pastures and thrive after leaving a long-term territorial occupation, here is a case where the move did not bode well for the coyotes who left: within two months, we saw the departed pair wandering around the fringes of a shopping center, looking ragged, thin, angry and snarly. Their health had plummeted and and we feared their lives were coming to an abrupt end. We haven’t seen them again.

What happened to the territory of this departed pair? In this case, a female daughter and her younger brother were left behind — I’ve written about them before. After several months of seeing no one else there, two new males arrived and befriended the almost-3 year old female. It appeared that the female and stronger male might be bonding: both went off together for several months and we thought their life-long partnership was sealed. We saw younger brother a few times while she was gone but then he, too, left.

Female daughter before heading off with her beau

But then the female daughter returned, looking anxious and desperate, with constant darting glances of fear — her behavior was very different from what it had been previously. The two new male coyotes were with her, but it certainly didn’t look anymore like she was part of a “pair”. And then one day after a number of weeks, this female appeared no more.

The two males remain here and so, now, does their shy sister. These three are related — either two younger and one older sibling, or even a father and his two offspring: the two younger ones always move out of the way for the older one who seems to be a bit of a tyrant — from a territory only about half a mile away. I had been struck by the strong family resemblance between them and coyotes I had seen on the next territory over. Yes, family resemblances are amazing in some coyote families and have been the first “link” in leading me to further identify where certain coyotes came from and family connections! Reviewing my photos from that territory, I found these coyotes to be one and the same as those. I haven’t been back to their old territory to find out what’s going on there. These three would have abandoned their territory for the same reasons I listed above.

That they all came over together from one place is interesting. So they are still all “family” members, it’s just that there is no mated pair among them. Let’s see how their story develops over time!

© 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.

 

%d bloggers like this: