Friday, February 17, 2012

Three Coyotes on a Sunny Winter Morning - Pair Bonding

Male coyote in front, female coyote in back.
Three coyotes were sunning in a grassy field near Monte Bello Open Space Preserve one morning this week.

Smaller male on left, female in center, larger male on right.
Select "Read More" for photos and discussion about what the coyotes were doing.  Please note - some photos and discussion of coyote anatomy follows.

This is the large male as indicated by the furry sheath between his rear legs.  He has a distinct spot on the middle of his snout.  I am describing features that help sort out the different coyotes in the photos.  You can also click on the photos to see a larger version.
This is the female coyote.  Her coat has a whitish cast and she has a dark dot below the center of her right eye.
This is a smaller male.  He is also showing a furry sheath between his legs. Although it does not show in this photo, he has a black and white checkered triangle on his back near the withers area.
There was some howling going on.
Then the female went for a stroll.
The large male followed her.  Notice that he also has a black dot midway down his right rear leg.  The black dot on his tail several inches below the the base is the supracaudal or violet gland.  Coyotes have many glands and dwell in a world of scents.
The female stops and the male sniffs under her tail to detect scents released into her urine by other glands. The male is probably checking to see if she is fertile. Like domestic dogs, coyotes use scents from their urine, scat and glands to determine the identity, sex, reproductive status, and territory of other coyotes, but unlike domestic dogs, coyotes only breed once a year which is February in California.
Probably not ready yet.
Time to move on.  The female is to the right and is showing her vulva beneath her tail.   The large male is in the middle and he is still checking her condition.  The small male on the left is catching up to the pair.
The female continues, 
the large male scratches, and the small male sniffs the ground.
While the large male enjoys his scratching, the small male urinates on the spot where the large male was standing when he was sniffing the female.
The large male notices the small male scent marking,
but they both decide to follow the female. Small male is on left; I am not sure what it means when he holds his tail out while moving.
Female coyote squats to urinate.
And then female coyote moves on again.
Large male follows, sniffing where she urinated to check on her condition again.
Small male also checks same spot.
Coyotes breed in California in February and the female coyote is only fertile for a few days once a year. The pair has probably been exhibiting courtship behavior for several months including increased scent marking and howling. The male frequently checks the female's urine and scat. If they successfully breed, the pups will be born in about 2 months.  The small male may be a yearling from a litter of the same pair last year and he may stay and help raise this year's litter.

Then the three coyotes travelled off into the brush.  Now that I have used photos to recognize some distinct features on them, I hope to see them again.  Can you tell whether the coyote in this photo is the large male, the female or the smaller male?
See also:

Wolf Anatomy, Wolf Howl Organization.

Wild Mammals of North America:  Biology, Management, and Conservation.  George A. Feldhamer, Bruce C. Thompson, Joseph A. Chapman, editors.  2nd edition.  John Hopkins University Press. 2003.

and thanks to a co-worker who knows a lot more about dogs than I do.


  1. You talk a lot of scents, Cindy, and in the same week as Valentine's Day too. Coyotes are smart enough not to send mixed signals, but as a species, humans have so much to re-learn.

  2. Thanks for all the wonderful information on our local coyotes. I'm amazed that in such a diverse state, they all breed in the same month.

  3. John: I too am surprised that it is so consistent for coyotes (Canis latrans) throughout CA, so I've checked several reliable sources. Janet at Coyote yipps talks about this and she frequently observes coyote behavior in our area - I just checked again and she does mention January as breeding season too. I'm also surprised the reproductive cycles are so different from domestic dogs (C. familiaris), but interestingly, that means the frequency of dog/coyote hybrids is probably low. I guess it is up to us to confirm whether they are showing mating behavior at any other times - so get out there and spy on those luvin' coyotes. I just saw the coyote butt-scooting photo on your blog - wow, I have never seen that before. I wonder if it also has something to do with leaving scent. Readers: check out coyoteyipps and John's great photos here:

  4. Great post, Cindy, as usual. Your disclaimer of coyote anatomy made me laugh. John's cool butt-scooting post is here (, although I really liked this action-packed post ( Actually, I stopped by to drop another couple of coyote blog links that I thought you might find interesting ( and Coyote Yipps is an incredible site.

  5. Fabulous blog Cindy! I love the photos and information about the coyotes down your way. Coyotes are a fascinating and very misunderstood creature. Thanks for giving them their due . . .

    I'm the PBS 'friend'. I wrote under 'The Write Cause' and I believe you contacted me regarding my work years ago. Could it be? Things like this happen to me so often that I am never surprised when I connect with good people. But this is so very outrageous that you should request my PBS book!

    We are coastal neighbors . . . anytime you are up my way (Bodega Bay) I would LOVE to have you visit and go hiking. I am now a happy subscriber . .


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