I’ve written before about the javelinas and Mearns coyotes on our southern Cochise County property, their interspecies communications that include open war (set battles), raids (coyotes targeting baby javelinas), and tense standoffs over food compatible with both species. Today’s photo op, however, demanded another post.
The sun was low in the sky but still blazing away when I went out to drop our culinary discards.
We do our best to avoid feeding the javelinas; although we find the bristly little collared peccaries to be fascinating creatures in their own right, we’d prefer they stayed the heck away from the Border Fort. Unfortunately, once a collared peccary realizes there’s a possibility of food of any sort falling from the sky, its capacity to zero in on snacks will immediately manifest as nothing short of a super power. For years, feeding in broad daylight meant making the ravens and canyon towhees fat, but not today.
Today, the coyote pack of three individuals slipped out of the brush and began snacking before I made it back to the house. Seeing our Canis latrans mearnsi out and about at that hour is a rare and precious event; I put the hood of a pickup truck between me and the shy animals, adjusted the zoom lens on my trusty Canon PowerShot, and began clicking.
Perhaps ten minutes later, a lone javelina joined the party. Fortunately, I’d suspected the Tayassu tajacu would be sniffing around, so the scraps were separated widely, just a few wee tidbits making a tiny pile at each drop.
The idea was to keep things spread out enough to give the coyotes a chance if they and the pigs both showed up. Prior observation had made it clear that this pack is not interested in tackling even one fully adult javelina; the canine predators will yield to the pig every time…at least if it’s the aggressive boar we call Bob Pig. Bob was not there today, though, nor were the two yearling javelinas or the mother sow with two brand new piglets. Only one sow, the one we call Brassy. How this day’s interspecies contest for limited rations would go was anybody’s guess.
With that in mind, I slipped over to the water tower, climbed the ladder, put the green 300 gallon water tank between me and the critters, and started a whole new round of picture taking. Photo journalism, you might say.
Which brings us to the introductions. First up: Brassy, the javelina sow. My wife suspects Brassy is pregnant. If so, we may eventually get a chance at more piglet portraits.
Brassy is a most interesting character in this stage play. Of her herd, she’s the least afraid of humans. She’s most likely to show up alone, equally unafraid of predators (which could mean the end of her if a mountain lion ever meanders out this way), and listens to Pam when Pam talks. My wife told me tonight, “If I tell Brassy to do something, she does it.” We’re not talking about circus tricks, but if the peccary comes by the house to steal carrots from the cottontail bunnies (which she was prone to do until I built half a dozen javelina-proof rabbit feeders) and Pam says, “You need to not come any closer, Brassy,” then Brassy will stop and look at her, awaiting further instructions. If Pam tells her, “It’s okay for you to eat those carrots by that bush over there,” then that’s what the remarkable beastie does.
I don’t call my redhead a Critter Whisperer without reason.
Let’s move on; it’s time to introduce the coyotes. First, Daddy of the pack, whom we call Singer II. Though his picture is on the cover of my new book, Tam the Tall Tale Teller, we haven’t seen the original Singer in years. For that matter, Singer II doesn’t really look that much like his namesake when you get right down to it, but at first I thought he did, so he’s stuck with the name.
We’re not quite sure just when Singer II arrived on the scene, but we do know that our beloved Angel coyote, the first one to “adopt” us when she was a lone yearling, lost her first mate (most likely a death-by-human), went through a period of deep depression, and later acquired Singer II as her second mate.
That brings us to Angel. She didn’t have a great photo session today, sticking to one small snack pile behind a mesquite tree as she did, but hey. Gotta watch out for those paparazzi!
The daughter, Baby coyote–yeah, really original, we get it–has given us more excellent poses this year than either of her parents.
Okay, those are the characters in our little tale of interspecies communications. Now to the action. At first, the three coyotes all stayed with the far-end snack piles for two reasons: It gave them the maximum possible distance from that pesky guy with the camera–never mind that he’s also the one who drops the snacks–and it’s the least confrontational tactical position when one or more javelinas arrive on the scene.
Coyotes are crafty critters.
When Brassy showed up alone, she first chose the snack pile nearest the house…and some remarkable photos resulted. There may be other photographers who’ve captured images of javelinas and Mearns coyotes more or less tolerating each other at relatively close range, but there can’t be many.
But before we get to the javelina-coyote action, a bonus photo. A Cooper’s hawk just had to do a flyover on its way to snag some unfortunate songbird.
And now, interspecies détente…of a sort.
Détente did not last long. Brassy eventually decided “her” little scrap piles weren’t enough. Time to face down the cowardly coyotes. At least, that seemed to be her plan. She began a slow walk, approaching the position currently held by Angel and either Singer II or Baby, depending on the moment. (Angel had been focusing on finishing one batch of goodies, but the other two coyotes would grab a bite and roam, grab a bite and roam, their naturally nervous nature on full display.)
It was face-off time.
This initial confrontation lasted for some time, at least two or three minutes.
Brassy continued to act like an MMA fighter at a weigh-in, but this time the coyotes weren’t backing away. The javelina wasn’t yet close enough to worry Angel, young Baby appeared to possess the willingness to tangle that’s so often associated with young warriors, and Singer II (not in the photos) was roaming around the fringes, seeking to slip down closer to the house to see if the porker had left anything edible behind. Brassy is Brassy, but she’s not Bob Pig. Watching from the water tower, I began to wonder if the coyotes might not actually win this round.
Finally, the tension breaks…and Brassy retreats. The javelina turns her back on the coyotes and, instead of pushing straight forward into them, loops around through the brush to pick up the trail of tiny snack piles in a flanking move.
That’s pretty cool, right? Hey, I spread those tidbits out–and believe me, they weren’t much–so that everybody got a snackie-poo. But wait. Brassy may not qualify as a pig according to the so called experts, but she’s a pig in our book. Her position in that last photo (above) places her at the fourth tiny snack pile. Baby is nibbling at pile #5 while Angel is finishing off pile #6 with determination. Singer II got a bit of that last one, too, so there can’t be much left. Which means that our not so dainty little javelina (possibly pregnant and eating for three) is now wiping our her fourth pile. She’s cleaning up two thirds of the whole shebang while all three coyotes are still working on one third.
And sure enough, she Hoovers pile #4, then moves out to confront Baby once again. By this time, Angel has departed the premises; I saw her moving down toward the Mexican border, most likely to hunt up something a little more filling to serve as her real supper. Singer II has returned to Angel’s pile #6, but when Baby gives ground to the determined oinker and retreats for the day, so does her Dad.
Pigs will be pigs.
Baby, more than either of the older coyotes in her nuclear pack, can’t resist hanging around to watch the schoolyard bully eat her lunch. Of course, she’ll return the favor if at all possible when Brassy has babies. Infant piglet, yum-m-m! If she can snag one, of course; javelina herds do their best to protect their babies from predators of all stripes.
With moderate success; online sources list javelina mortality rate at 55% by one year of age.
And with that, We the Cast of Border Fort Productions in southern Cochise County, Arizona, sign off for the night. We hope you enjoyed this Interspecies Communications Series presentation.