[Editor’s note: San Francisco resident Janet Kessler has spent seven years documenting urban wildlife in the city, particularly coyotes. Her photos have appeared in the Randall Museum, the San Francisco Main Library, and the Seed Gallery in the Presidio. This series of her photos captures local coyotes engaged in an activity that’s tough even for people – raising kids in San Francisco.]
Coyotes are among the 3-5 percent of mammal species that mate for life, and parents raise pups cooperatively. Except for loners and transients, coyotes live in nuclear families not so different from our own. Parents display lots of overt affection and playfulness – and even seem to plan ahead.
TEASING AND PLAY: In this mother/son photo, the son was playing with a dead rat. He was tossing it up in the air and catching it, while remaining lying down. Then the mother walked by and snatched the rat from under her son’s nose, instigating a game of chase, and finally a tug-of-war. (Mom is the one with the rat in her mouth.) I watched to see who would end up with the rat, but when one coyote stopped the game and let go, so did the other, and they both ran off together, leaving the rat behind.
FACILITATING LEARNING: I watched this mother coyote catch and kill a vole, and then carry it a considerable distance away — about 700 feet — to this spot, where I sometimes have seen her very young and tiny pups play. No pups were there when this occurred. She carefully made a little indentation in the earth with her snout, placed the vole in it, and then covered the prey with dirt, again using her snout. Then she walked off. The next day, she took the pups to this location, where a pup caught whiff of the vole and went for it.
DISCIPLINE: Coyotes, like humans, shape the behavior of their pups. Coyote youngsters learn quickly by imitating their elders, and by reading their communication. But sometimes this is not enough, so a parent may resort to a mild clenching of the youngster’s snout, as here, where a mother disciplines a six-month-old.
GREETINGS: When coyotes greet each other there is a lot of body and snout contact, as well as squealing and wiggling. Here you see the daughter on the left in her wiggly-squiggly mode, greeting Mom who, in the various shots I took, had to keep her eyes closed to protect them! Mom initiated the greeting by running over to the youngster from about 200 feet away. After the short greeting mother and daughter ran off together.
DADS: I’ve seen coyote dads caring for very young pups while Mom was off in the distance. Interestingly, I’ve also seen both parents away from the youngsters for long periods of time. I’ve seen Dad disciplining them, and I’ve seen him step forward when dogs appeared near his foraging pups. Coyotes appear very protective of their young family members, which is why we need to keep dogs far away from them. Dads also bring home food. When the pups are young, Dad comes home with food in his stomach, which he regurgitates for the youngsters. As the pups get older, he brings whole voles and gophers. Here a pup is checking to see if Dad has anything for her.
COMMUNICATION: Young coyotes constantly look at their parents for feedback. They also communicate through a variety of vocalizations. Just recently I became aware of a father’s several barks after a family “howling with the sirens” session, which indicated, “It’s time to hush.”
LIVING WITH COYOTES: This informational video is based on first-hand observations and photos. The video covers behaviors you can expect if you see a coyote in an urban setting, and steps you should take if you find yourself unexpectedly in the wrong circumstances with a coyote, especially if you have a dog.