Havin’ A Ball!

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I’ve chosen bursts of still-shots over a video for this post — this allows time to stop and savor each moment during an activity which was moving along so quickly!

Dispersed coyotes often become transients and loners, living on the margins, fringes and interstices of other coyotes’ territories. They are alone with no family to socialize with. They often get bored and lonely — but this one is havin’ a ball!

For entertainment, and to break the boredom and loneliness of a single’s existence, coyotes often engage in innovative play, including with found objects, such as poop-bags, crackling water-bottles or boxes, sticks, or even, as here, with a found ball! In the wild, without a ball to be had, coyotes toy with their prey in this exact same manner.

Playing hones fine skills and judgements, which could come in handy at some point. Innovative play helps the mind and body develop, and may help problem solving in the future, according to behaviorists.

Might it be that she was playing up to the several people who had gathered to watch — actually performing for them? They were thrilled, and she continued, only stopping when everyone had left (it was a workday, these were people on their way to work).

Entertainment: Abandon and Fun With A Ball!

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Today I encountered a happy, lone, young male coyote. I know it is a “he” because of the way he urinated standing up (females squat). The coyote first appeared when a dog and walker came along a path — I have found this to be the case very often: dogs seem to draw coyotes out into the open. The dog walker walked on by — both coyote and dog kept their distance and ignored each other. That is how my observations for this posting began.

The coyote watched the walker disappear down the path. And then he smiled — it really is a smile! Then he stretched, scratched, yawned. He walked to the path where he took a spine out of his foot and then walked back to a grassy area where the fun began!  First he played wholeheartedly with a ball for some time — tossing it up and catching it. After a while of this, he took a break, first urinating right on the ball — maybe he was claiming ownership? and then sniffing both the air and the ground — possibly for messages from the rest of the family? Well, there appeared to be no messages, so the young, fun-loving coyote returned to more frolicking in, and chewing on, some straw. After a few minutes it must have been time to move on, because the coyote got up and walked some distance, sporadically stopping and eyeing the ground for movement. It pooped in two places, maybe 200 feet apart. Then I saw it pounce — yes — it had caught a vole which it tossed and then threw to the ground before picking it up, crushing it and swallowing it whole. This young fellow then walked to the crest of a small hill where he looked down below to where dogs might have been — but the park was pretty empty. I turned back at this point.  The slide show above is long — 71 images — how could I leave anything out? However the actual time was amazingly short: the ball play was all within one minute, as was the playing in the hay. The capturing and eating the vole took almost two minutes. And that’s it, time-wise. The little coyote obviously was having a great time. Coyotes smile when they are happy — I have seen it many times and you can see it here!


Another Dog Incident: A little later a runner told me that he had just seen a “very large” coyote — it was not the same one I had observed earlier — that one was on the other side of the park. It should be known that our coyotes are “western coyotes” and weigh only about 25 pounds. I have found that when someone describes a coyote as “very large” it has more to do with their own apprehensions and fears. Sure enough, the man asked me if the coyote might come up to him and hurt him. I had to assure him that this has never happened in this area, that these coyotes have a healthy fear of people.

We began hearing the distressed barking that a coyote engages in when it has been chased by a dog. This was the coyote the runner had just seen. Then a woman said that a coyote had chased her dog. I want it to be known that coyotes do not chase for no reason — they “chase back” after having been intruded upon first, and then they run to high ground where they engage in a barking session. The distressed barking, which lasts as long as 20 minutes, is both a complaining and a statement of being present: “I’m here and leave me alone”. Why had not the dog been leashed in this known coyote area? I had passed this same dog with its owner only half an hour earlier. The dog had barked at me viciously as I walked on the path — I do not have a dog, so the dog was barking at me and the owner could not control the dog, though she did leash it at that point. I have heard this same dog bark at coyotes various times and chase them. Barking at me or a coyote constitutes a threat — I do not like to be threatened like this. This coyote might have engaged in a self-defensive feint before retreating to the safe barking location where we now saw it. Everyone I know expects a coyote to defend itself from such a threat. The coyote has never harmed. However it has put on defensive bluffing displays which are meant to ward off dogs. If we would respect the coyotes and their space by not intruding on them, such problems would never arise in the first place.