Intruder

Coyotes can find themselves in dire straits, not always caused by humans, and here is an example of this. Let’s give them a break whenever we can!

Nature is full of conflict and it can be harsh. Few people are even aware that all those birds on a spring morning aren’t simply singing beautiful songs as the sun begins to show itself and as the day comes into bloom. No, most of these sounds are territorial warnings and battle cries, and the parks are war zones. When animals aren’t fighting for, or defending their territories, they are eating each other. This, I’m afraid, is what is going on. Yes, there’s much sweetness in-between, but the point is that it isn’t all sweetness.

A resident coyote family which “owns” a territory has to protect its territory exclusively for itself — it’s a survival tactic. This ensures that the resources on that territory will be available to them alone, without competition from other coyotes. This is the reason intruders are driven off. But what about the intruder?  It’s important to see his point of view as well. The intruder is looking for a place to live. It might be a coyote who has been displaced from his own territory (usually by humans), or a younger coyote dispersing from its natal territory. New environments are hazardous for all animals because they are unknown, as are the situations on them.

Within the span of several weeks I saw one newcomer/intruder coyote welcomed into a new territory: he paired-up with a loner coyote on her territory — yes, this has been incredibly heartwarming and “sweet” to watch, as I posted just a short while ago.

During that same several weeks, in another park, an intruder coyote was viciously driven out — circumstances were different for him and decidedly not hospitable. I’ve seen enough coyotes driven off brutally from claimed territories to know that it is not a rare occurrence. The misconception that “coyotes seldom get into physical altercations with other coyotes” (a statement made by an individual who also claims that only ‘degreed individuals’ have the right to know coyote behavior) arises from a lack of field-work and first-hand observation, which are of course at the foundation of any legitimate inquiry into coyote behavior. This is what I do.

Most of the fighting I have observed has occurred when it was too dark to photo-record, but there was still a smattering of light when I captured the following series. It was late dusk and getting darker, however my camera with a 16,000 ISO captured the activity even though much of it is blurry due to the low light — nevertheless, you’ll get the idea. So here are my first-hand observations with 65 photos. (Note that these photos have been lightened so you can see the activity). [Also see Territorial Fighting Can Be Vicious]

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At this point in time [the makeup of families changes routinely as pups are born, and eventually disperse at various times during the year] the resident coyote family consisted of the mated pair, I’ll call them Mom and Dad, one Yearling female aged 2.5, and several pups, who have been kept secluded, even now at 6.5 months of age. I know them all well. On the contrary, I had not seen the intruder youngster before, so I don’t know his background. I do know that he is a male probably 1.5 years of age.

When I arrived, I immediately knew something was wrong because one of the two female coyotes, Mom, was “messaging” the intruder by approaching and gaping (slide #1). The intruder kept his distance, squeezing his eyes tightly shut at regular intervals, and then lay down, keeping his distance when the two resident females lay down. Each coyote was waiting for another to do something. I had never seen a coyote repeatedly squeezing his eyes like this before, but it was obviously a stress indicator, and reminded me of a human squeezing away the tears of pain. My wildlife behavior contact suggested that he might be trying desperately to be accepted by the group and the blinking was his way of communicating “I am not threatening”. When his eyes were open, they were wide open, glassy and scared.

After ten minutes, all three coyotes jaunted towards the interior of the park without incident — I don’t know what prompted this. The two resident females soon lay down on a knoll and watched the intruder distance himself further away (#14). The intruder then stopped and turned around to watch them, and they watched back. I noticed the intruder had a limp, and I don’t know if that was inflicted by the two females before I came, or if he had come to the area with it — it could have been a battle wound at another territory, or even from at own natal territory from which he dispersed and from which he may have been driven out. He then, too, lay down, in the distance.

I began walking in his direction, and when I was half-way there, the two females got up and came my way, at first trotting, but once they had passed me, they pursued the intruder at a run (slide #15). The intruder ran to keep away. Soon again, they all came to a standstill, where, again, the two resident females lay down and watched while the intruder kept his distance. But then the Yearling got up and began poking around (might she have been “testing” him? I don’t know) and the intruder got closer to her, not aggressively, but almost beseechingly.  The Yearling reacted with an intensely aggressive messaging display which had little effect on the intruder. She ended up walking away from him. (see slides #20-25).

And THEN, I guess this is what the females had been waiting for: DAD appeared in the distance (slide #28). I don’t think he had a clue as to what was going on. He had probably been occupied with the hidden pups. First Mom went to greet him angrily, and he reacted in kind to her mood — there sometimes has been mild sparring between these two (slide #29). Then she gaped at Dad and ultimately prodded him with her paw — an action I have seen coyotes do when they want the other to do something (slide #30). As the Yearling joined these two, Dad finally began picking up on the cues. He looked around and saw the intruder in the distance. “Oh!” Dad yawned, squinted his eyes, and headed for the intruder, first deliberately and slowly, and then charging at a run. Dad made contact with the intruder, threw him to the ground and began attacking viciously. Poor intruder! The females joined in to help towards the end but soon left the fray, and now it was between Dad and the Intruder (slides #40-50).

But first there was a standoff, with scared intruder facing Dad, both with their hackles up. The intruder again squeezed his eyes shut and I felt his anguish and desperate situation (#52). At this point, Dad kicked the dirt in anger and went after him again (#54). The intruder headed into the bushes for some protection but Dad followed him there. Finally, when the opportunity came up, the defeated intruder headed off, tail tucked under and back arched in a protective posture (#59). Dad followed him to behind a pile of wood chips. Most of the attacks now were in the heavy growth behind the wood chips where it was too dark to photograph and I dared not go, but I heard the loud rustling and crackling of dried leaves and breaking twigs, and the repeated short, intense squeals and cries of pain.

Dad then emerged and walked away. But Intruder stuck his head above the woodpile one more time, and so Dad returned to take care of him. I never saw the intruder emerge — he was being taught to not show himself here ever again. I hope he went the other way, but I don’t know how he fared. I’ve seen the wounds from territorial fights — some of them large and deep, and I’ve seen severe limping afterwards. I’ve seen these wounds mostly on older males, probably because they are more willing to standup for themselves. A younger coyote might give up before the wounds become severe? And, it’s interesting that all territorial wounds I’ve ever seen have been on males: it appears that the females are more likely to withdraw than allow themselves to become injured.