Purposeful & Planned: Coyote behavior

I was thinking about how much or how little “in the moment” a coyote is. I’ve noticed that a coyote is much less so than a dog. In fact, I think there is plenty of planning and forethought that goes on in a coyote’s day.

Recently I saw a couple of coyotes ‘way across a park in the distance — they were running down a slope. Within five minutes one of them appeared in my vicinity. This coyote meandered a bit, hunting rather casually, and slowly made its way up to the top of a hill and over to the hill’s eastern edge. It remained there, sitting, checking out the area. Three walkers with calm, leashed dogs, walked by at sporadic intervals, and someone was sitting alone in the far distance, but otherwise there was not much activity in this area — the coyote watched all of this.

For a short part of the time the coyote’s ears were in a low position and out to the sides, pivoting a little but not much. I’ve seen the low-ears-out-to-the-side when a coyote was preparing to defend itself and I saw it once when a coyote was in lots of pain from a leg injury. In this case, even though all the dogs were calm and leashed, I know that one of the dogs had previously chased this coyote. This may explain the low ears, if indeed that is significant.  Up to this point, the coyote’s behavior was very casual. Then, suddenly, it was as if the coyote had something definite to do: its behavior seemed to became more purposeful and directed.

The coyote trotted directly, and quite purposefully, over to another edge of the same hill as a woman and her two children appeared on the path below — now the coyote was facing the area from which it had originally come — an area where earlier I had earlier seen two coyotes: this one and another one. Had this coyote heard something from this direction?

The coyote curled up, ignoring a woman and her two children who had appeared. At first I thought the coyote had moved to this side of the hill to keep an eye on this woman and her children. But I could see that this was not the case. When the coyote re-positioned herself, these people were totally out of the coyote’s visual field. I’ve never seen coyotes interested in people.

I waited, noting that the coyote kept looking in the direction where I had seen it earlier. It relaxed between looking. After about ten minutes, it bolted to an upright sitting position, and had its eyes glued piercingly on something in that location — a considerable distance away. It leaned into the direction of its gaze, eyes riveted, ears high and focused forwards. It remained like this, totally still, for well over a minute. The coyote definitely was looking at or listening for something, or maybe it had already spotted it. I myself could see nothing whatsoever. Whatever the coyote needed to know suddenly clicked, because it then hurried off, at a quick lope, not quite a run, towards the area where I had seen two of them earlier.

This same type of hurried and purposeful departure had occurred before, in almost the exact same manner. A lot was going on here!  There was forethought, planning ahead, assessing. There was casualness, and there was quickness when this was deemed important, there probably had been communication over the distance, there probably had been worry. There was knowledge of locations and of situations. Coyotes have keen senses. At long distances, they can hear incredibly and their eyes can see both ear positions and behavior of other coyotes  – this is how they communicate. I myself can only see this with a zoom lens.

So, the coyote hadn’t aimlessly chosen this spot to sit, and it hadn’t just whimsically decided to depart. The spot was carefully chosen, as part of a plan to keep track of family members: a place where they could be heard and seen. First the place was “scoped” and “assessed”, for what dogs might be around. Dogs are the coyote’s primary concern in our parks. And when the coyote finally departed, dashing off, it was not done whimsically, but as part of a plan. Something didn’t seem right to this coyote, so off it went to be there: maybe it felt that its dominant presence or its help was needed?

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