This year (2015) we’ve had three Mearns coyotes (Canis latrans Mearnsi) living near the Border Fort: Singer II, Angel, and their daughter, Baby. Angel has been with us the longest, having arrived in late 2011. She was a yearling at the time and about to provide us with an insight into the social life of coyotes in a big way.
She came along as part of a larger pack, sometimes as many as six coyotes showing up at one time in December of 2011. Angel appeared to be the baby of the bunch. She was also deeply curious about Pam and me, more so than any other member of her family. A few weeks after the pack’s first appearance, I had the good fortune to be up on the water tower when Angel came into the clearing we consider our front yard, foraging for edibles out in the open long enough that I was able to observe her closely and also to get some great photos.
It was obvious that she’d taken a whipping. There was a fresh scar, a bite mark, running diagonally across part of her face, and she limped on one leg. Intuition told me that she’d gotten old enough to come into heat and had been thrashed by her own mother and ejected from the pack, Mama not caring to share her husband with her daughter. We’ve never read about that sort of coyote behavior anywhere else, but we’ve never observed anything to disprove the theory, either…and a few weeks ago, my wife heard one heck of a coyote fight at first light that confirmed everything.
In 2015, Angel, now five years old, had in turn whipped the dickens out of her daughter, Baby, ejecting the yearling female from the pack. After the extremely serious domestic dispute, Pam watched Angel walk right up our driveway, looking all serious and stern.
Does the male coyote do the same thing with the male yearlings? We don’t know; all of this behavior we’ve observed has involved the females.
Since that morning, we’ve seen Baby by herself. We’ve seen Angel and Singer II running together. (Singer II is Angel’s mate and the spitting image of Singer, who was Angel’s father.) But no longer is Baby allowed to run with the older pair.
Despite the time that has passed since her beating, the marks left on Baby by her mother show clearly in these photos. There are still several clearly swollen spots around Baby’s left eye. Her left ear is notched along the outside edge, down fairly close to the skull. A lot of fur is gone from the fronts of her forelegs.
It’s obvious that these Mom-administered beatings are not meant to be battles to the death. If they were, the species would have died out long ago. Angel’s “tooth scraping” of the fur from Baby’s forelegs could have easily crushed a bone, had Angel been of a mind to kill or cripple her daughter. The way we see it, it’s more likely a matter of the daughter trying to understand why her loving mother is suddenly and viciously inflicting pain, not to mention cold emotional rejection.
The scars on a young coyote’s psyche must be massive.
On the other hand, would anything less get the message across? Probably not; the urge to mate is a powerful thing. It takes a lot of hurt to cut through that.
And you can see the hurt in Baby’s countenance, as it could be seen in Angel’s face and gait in 2011. This is, to us at least, the face of confusion and loneliness.
At the moment, Baby dares to be physically closer to us than she does to her own parents. That has to be hard for an aware Soul to handle, and nobody can tell us coyotes are not aware Souls.
Which explains a great deal.
Consider this: We’ve seen nearly crippling anguish in Angel more than once. Her first mate was a coyote we called Bighead (who may have had a bit of dog blood in him, as the skull of a full blooded Mearns coyote is not exactly huge). Two years ago, Bighead disappeared; we believe he was killed, probably by a human, and we also believe that Angel saw it happen. For months thereafter, Angel showed her depression in her very movement; it looked like it took a supreme effort for her to rouse herself enough to hunt, to keep herself alive at all. For a while, we were not at all sure she would make it. The bond between her and her mate was that tight.
And it makes sense that it would be that way. If a young human female was beaten severely by her mother and thrown out on the street as soon as she had her first period, she would be deeply traumatized just as the young female coyote is traumatized. When she attracted a mate, man or boy, she would bond to him tightly, no matter what; the mate would become everything to her.
Coyotes are people, too.
When Baby eventually attracts her own mate, will we have two family packs living in our immediate vicinity? No clue. That’s not happened in the seven years we’ve lived here, but we’re making no assumptions. Most likely, the younger couple will have to scramble, to establish their own territory, and we’ve seen no indication that Angel’s going to move; she seems to like it here.
But only time will tell.
UPDATE: November 27, 2015
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and Baby appears to have much to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving weekend. A few days ago, we started seeing her running in fairly close proximity to her parents once again. Today, her good fortune expanded exponentially even beyond that: Angel’s overall family is now a pack of four coyotes, all of whom showed up and hung out for a few minutes, hanging together in obvious harmony.
At a guess, Baby has already attracted a mate and is no longer seen as a threat by Angel, at least when she’s not in heat.
We suspect the “new pack” is comprised of an older couple plus a younger couple, especially as we’ve not seen a “four pack” grouping in years. The year we met Angel (2011), she was part of a “six pack” of coyotes, but we’ve not observed more than three at once since 2012. How long it will be before we can visually pick out the newcomer, we have no idea; photographs make that relatively simple but not always easy to obtain.
Nonetheless, it looks like Happy Coyote Holidays in 2015.