Coyote Tail . . . Fun, Fleas, or More?

This coyote spends a lot of her time sitting and observing what’s going on, but recently she has been plagued by fleas — she’s been overwhelmed by them. Many of her behaviors reflect this: scratching them, darting away from them (as though this would help!), running in circles after her itchy tail, curling in a little ball to be able to reach the flees on her back and her tail with her snout, and discovering that she could “roll” when she did this. You can actually see the flea bites all over her face. It must be excruciatingly uncomfortable. I’ve had a couple of flea bites and it was awful. Dogs get fleas and it drives them crazy!

And why does the coyote jump up and down, bouncing a little like a pogo-stick? Coyotes do this when they get excited and when they want a better view. This coyote, judging from the direction of her gaze, has seen something on the other side of the hill which we can’t see. I would guess it’s a dog that simply caught her attention. I’ve seen this reaction to a dog in the distance many times.

A dog walker suggested that, from what she knows about dog behavior, that the coyote’s behavior in this video might be anxious behavior due to the photographer because her own dog freaks out when “a lens is shoved in her face”. I took the suggestion to Turid Rugaas, who studies wildlife to know what is *natural* behavior in order to understand stressed-out dogs. She assured me that this is not what is going on here. First of all, this is not an inbred little domestic dog, it is a wild coyote. Secondly, no lens is being shoved in this coyote’s face — this video was taken well over 100 feet away. Thirdly, this coyote has her freedom to move, and would do so in order to avoid a stressful situation, unlike a dog who feels constrained by it’s owner’s *unnatural* demands: it’s this latter which causes anxiety in dogs. Fourthly, loner coyotes without families invariably become inventive in their play to fill the time that normally would be devoted to family interactions. Coyotes are social animals, so when there are no family members to interact and play with, and because they need to expend their pent-up energy, they invent all sorts of play activities for themselves.

5/20

A One Hour Peek Through An Opening In The Bushes At A Coyote Family’s Interactions At Dusk

I peeked through an opening in the bushes into coyote family life during the hour before their active life begins in the evening at dusk. This entire family was together: mother, father, uncle and one pup. There is only one pup in the family. The pup is super-well protected and superbly indulged by the three adults in the family: the third adult is a male from a previous litter who I will call Uncle, even though that’s not exactly what he really is.

The hour was spent in constant interpersonal interactions — there was not a moment when something was not going on or when some interaction was not taking place. Coyotes are some of the most social of animals, and their social life takes place via their intense family life.

The activities during this hour included Mom grooming Dad and vice-versa, Mom grooming Pup and vice-versa, affectionate play between Mother and Pup, all four coyotes aware of me and glancing at me in the far distance, Dad dominating Uncle — this happened continuously, Pup dominating Uncle who is low man on the totem pole, Uncle standing off to the side alone with ears airplaned out submissively, Pup hopping and jumping around trying to get others to play — as any only child might. And, most interesting, a sequence where Pup jumped on Dad (oops) with unexpected consequences and confusion.

Grooming, playing, cuddling and general interacting were constant activities (below).

This sequence (below) was pretty interesting because Dad ended up disciplining Mom instead of the Pup who caused the disturbance! Pup had jumped over — or onto — his parents who were lying next to each other. Dad either got confused and disciplined Mom — she’s the one lying on her back as he stands over her — OR, Mom’s growl at the Pup may be what Dad was reacting to. Dad coyote does not tolerate any aggression in his family, even from Mom. At the first sign of any antagonism or dissent, he squelches it. Dad is the oldest and wisest in this family, and the ultimate authority. In another family I know, Mom is the ultimate authority: every family is different.

Rigid status preserves order, but sometimes it’s hard to watch. Uncle is low man on the totem pole, and he’s made aware of this constantly: what is Dad’s “order” is Uncle’s strife and oppression.  There seemed not to be a minute that went by when Uncle was not reminded of it. It happened with physical put-downs three times in this hour, and in a more subtle manner, with glances, many more times.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

Dad stretched, which meant it was time to go.

As it got darker, the time came for the family to trek on. The move was signaled by Dad’s signature stretching. Dusk had settled in and their day was beginning. And my viewing time had come to an end because as they slithered away into the night, I could no longer see them.

Profile by Joel Engardio for the San Francisco Examiner

2014-01-10 at 16-16-29

get-attachmentA COYOTE WHISPERER FOR URBAN COYOTES: For seven years, 64-year-old Janet Kessler has been voluntarily observing and photographing urban coyote behavior throughout San Francisco’s parks. She regularly logs six hours a day, taking up to 600 pictures. “People think coyotes are vermin, dangerous or the big bad wolf,” Kessler said. “But they’re wonderful animals we can live with if we treat them with respect and take the right precautions.”

Read full essay: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/woman-on-first-name-basis-with-sf-coyotes/Content?oid=2815528

Fur, Bugs

I’m seeing big fat ticks these days, and I’ve suspected that fleas also are rampant because of all the scratching and the resulting loss of fur. But, it turns out that all the scratching may have less to do with bugs than I thought!

constant scratching causes hair loss

constant scratching causes hair loss

The veterinarian suspects the loss of fur may be due not only to the pesky bugs which cause a lot of itching and therefore scratching, but also may be due to the coyote’s helping with the seasonal shed — it appears that coyotes have been using their hind paws — scratching often — in order to get all that itchy dead fur out.

it's not mange; note pattern of hair loss where hind leg can reach

it’s not mange; note pattern of hair loss where hind leg can reach

Coyotes are approaching the time of year when their coats are at their thinnest. But the fur is exceptionally sparse just where those hind legs can reach on the back at the shoulder blades and behind the ears. That is where almost all the scratching is occurring! The rest of the fur is coming off more naturally and at its own pace.

hair loss behind ears

hair loss behind ears

The scratched spots looks mangy, but I’m told that mange is systemic and would not appear just where they can reach with their hind legs. So it’s other things: ticks, fleas and seasonal shed, but no mange. That was a relief to find out!

Happy Summer Solstice! A Summer Gallery of Six Photos

I decided to post a gallery of six photos to celebrate the longest day of the year — the Summer Solstice — and the coming of Summer. No story is attached, except I like these photos taken yesterday! Click on any one to enlarge it, and then scroll through them. For more photos without stories, visit Urbanwildness.com.

Coyotes vs. Nutria, by Jen Sanford

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Nope, no birds involved, sorry.  At Ridgefield yesterday I watched a pair of coyotes try to take down a nutria and fail miserably.  I thought I was about to vomit my lunch while watching a nutria get torn in half, but nope.  He made a run for it down into the slough.  But it was still cool to watch.

From Janet: I want to point out that coyotes often hunt in pairs like this, especially when there is larger prey than a gopher involved. Also, coyotes, like the rest of us, don’t always have the same skill sets, most of which have to be learned through practice and through watching other coyotes. All the bites by the coyotes were to the nutria’s back: I wonder if they were trying to break its back to incapacitate it?  Or, might they have been trying to pick it up to carry it off, but unable to do so? It looks like the nutria endured several puncture wounds — I hope its injuries were not too severe. Nutrias were “eradicated” from California, but they still inhabit Oregon. Thanks, Jen, for sharing your posting and superb photos!

This posting and photographs were republished, with permission, from Jen’s site i used to hate birds.

Coyote Interrupted

Sirens set this coyote off, with long drawn-out howls and barking, and pauses in-between.  I’ve only included part of the recording here. During one of the last pauses you will hear, unusually, a dog’s response, which surprises the coyote who stops to carefully listen. “What the. . . . . who does he think he is?”  Anyway, the interruption seems to tick off the coyote who throws herself into the next howl with a spirited leap, howls some more, and then hurries off to a place where she might get a view of her competitor. I don’t think she saw anyone. The coyote continued to howl, but the dog did not, and the siren had long since ceased, so things quieted down fairly quickly.

‘Tis The Season

Here is a little drama during mating season. The neat thing is that I sense a lot of respect and understanding between these coyotes — a respect and understanding that comes from affection, and also from a rigidly established hierarchy. In the photos, you see the male approach the female who has been observing the world go by in a very relaxed manner. Affection is often displayed between these two — kisses and nuzzling, often with the use of a paw, as here. Here, the affection begins no differently than usual: he puts his paw on her face and caresses her, nuzzling her affectionately.

Then he shifts around and tries mounting. He gives it a try, but after a short time she breaks away from his hold, barring her teeth: the answer is “no.”  She is not receptive to his advances at the moment. To emphasize her “no”, she then lifts herself and puts both her paws on his back and keeps them there in a display of dominance. When she walks away, thinking his advances are over, he runs after her — his intentions must have been obvious to her, because she now wraps her jaws around his, and he allows this. Her statement is stronger this time, and he accepts her command. There is clear communication between them. They continue hunting for a long time. Several times he became interested in her odor, and sniffed her intently, but he never tried mounting again during this observation.

I have read that mating in coyotes actually makes them very vulnerable to dangers. The reason is that there is a “tie” which occurs which prevents them from separating for an extended period. If a predator or danger of any sort were to arise, they wouldn’t be able to do much about it. Please see the following post with a video I found on youtube which shows this.

Need More Sleep

I arrived at one of my parks earlier than I had anticipated. It was before dawn, but I didn’t want to wait in the car, so I headed into the park.  A coyote was sleeping out in an open field — a mound of fur on the ground. She was really well camouflaged — I don’t think anyone else would have detected her there. I took out my camera to videotape the stillness — the video function works wonderfully in bad lighting. The coyote casually lifted her head and looked around, and then looked at me. She hadn’t had her fill of sleep: “Need more sleep.” Okay!  She put her head back down, and I went on.

Scouting Around A Log

A coyote stops at a log to scout for a possible meal. The scrutiny was intense and thorough, but yielded nothing! I didn’t start the video until most of the exploring was already over, but you can see from the stills I took before the video that the coyote was all over the log. I didn’t see any digging, just poking and sniffing, so I assume it was scent and not sound that drew the coyote to the log.

Kickin’ High

This coyote is totally absorbed in the job at hand, totally focused. The high-strung tension is palpable as he hesitates and wavers. He holds back, preparing for his big move. He finally lets go like a wound-up coil when he thinks the time is right.  Watch those legs fly!  In spite of the effort, the vole evaded capture.

Tip Toe!

I asked a very good friend if he thought this video might be too long for viewers. This is what he said:

“It is wonderful, & beautiful — particularly the sound, and the length, which both are perfect — nature is slow… those digitalkids & iphonephreaks who believe they live in a soundbyte world, don’t — there are entire worlds out there, surrounding them and containing them and of which they are a tiny miniscule and unimportant part, which move far more slowly — Nature is one of those, Geology moves far more slowly even than that — Astral events, the stars, move both far more slowly and sometimes a whole lot faster, than they do — let the slowness here, decorated so wonderfully by that chirping-birds & airplane soundtrack, remind them of their own relativity in all of that”.

This video is long, at 5:51 minutes. The most interesting parts are the tiptoeing at 1:10, the series of pounces where she caves in the underground tunnels of her prey at 1:44, and then the furious digging and moving of ground cover at 2:17. She exposes her prey by this digging and grabs it at 3:28 and then eats it. A young female shows how adept she is at her hunting routine:

Here is a breakdown of what is occurring:

  • To begin with, patiently, she stands there, super alert, watching and listening, triangulating her ears from side to side, and nodding her head back and forth to exactly and precisely locate her prey by sound.
  • At 1:10 she tiptoes, ever so carefully so that her prey may not hear her — a little bit closer
  • Soon thereafter, at 1:44 she tenses, getting ready to leap, backs up a little bit and then springs up and down into several pounces, landing hard on her forepaws with a series of  “punches” meant to knock in her prey’s intricate tunneling system underground. This prevents the gopher from escaping through that tunnel network. This lasts until 2:05.
  • At 2:17 she begins furiously digging and digging, both deep into the ground to break through into the tunnels, and on the surface to move the ground-cover out of the way, all the while continually keeping a wary eye on her surroundings, including me and folks walking in back of me.
  • At 3:28 she catches her prey, disables it, and tosses it to the ground. Then, by looking around, she assesses how safe it is to eat right it then and there. She decides it’s not so safe, so she runs off with it.
  • At 3:36 until the end of the video, she eats her prey, tearing into several more manageable eating portions and chewing these down to swallowable sizes — it takes a while, and then she calmly walks off. Note that there is no waste — she eats every bit of her prey: entrails, muscles, fur and bones.

Lapping Up The Dew

It was fun watching this coyote cross an entire grassy soccer field with it’s head lowered to the ground as it walked, slurping up the dew that was soaking the grass. I wonder if this was something like drinking through a straw?!

Grunting More Than Huffing Here

This video, again, shows the reaction of a coyote to a hostile dog appearing on a path about 200 feet away. Coyotes seem not to be bothered by dogs that have never bothered them. So when a dog appears that causes a coyote to react this way, it is because of the dog’s previous behaviors — a coyote always remembers each dog and its behaviors, be it a blatant antagonism, or something more subtle like a “dirty look”.  I’ve seen this over and over again. By the time I got the camera set up, most of the grunting was over — it had gone on for over a minute.  The grunts are very audible in this video. Fortunately the walker and his dog veered off the path and left the area, so the grunting just petered out, as in the last video I posted. The coyote  took the opportunity to lie down right there where it was camouflaged by the tall grasses. Coyotes frequently are right there in the open, but you can’t see them!

Shortly after this grunting episode, another dog and walker — with a history of being hostile and antagonistic towards coyotes — appeared in the distance. The coyote heard them coming and stood up, waited until they were in sight, and, before being seen by them, trotted off into some bushes rather than wait for the possibility of an encounter. I’m sure if the coyote had stayed down, it would not have been seen, but it chose not to take this chance.

One might wonder why a coyote would be out when dog walkers are out. Do  rodents tend to stick their noses out more during certain times, making hunting more successful at these times? I don’t know, it’s just a guess. Also, though, coyotes seem to want to get a glimpse of what is going on in “their” territories before hunkering down for the day.

The Huffing Continued

This is actually a continuation of the last posting on “Coyote Huffing”. I should have included it in that posting. By the time I took this second video, the coyote had sat down. But you can still see the movements of her throat, huffing and puffing, during the first 13 seconds of the clip. The activity is very quiet, barely audible, if at all in the clip, but nonetheless audible in real life. In this case, after the huffing stopped, at 13 seconds into the clip, the coyote calmed down and the matter was forgotten for the time being. The coyote soon got up and continued her slow trek towards one of her snoozing spots.

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