Our cameras have picked up something a bit uncommon and special to see this summer: juvenile coyotes!
Though very similar to each other, note that the juvenile coyote (left) is much more lean and a bit more gangly than the adult that follows closely behind (right). The juvenile also has the typically much finer coat of first-year coyotes.
We're also fairly certain that we’ve seen this same juvenile coyote at another nearby site almost a month later!
What do you think?
Like other members of Canidae, coyotes tend to be territorial, and the proximity of these locations is a good indication that this might be the same juvenile. Another clue is the coloring of the juvenile is consistent from one photo site to the next. Though slightly older and a little larger, it seems more than likely that this could be the same coyote, if not also the same pair.
Coyotes often hunt in loose pairs and will form family units during breeding season and while the pups are being reared. This particular pair could be mom-and-pup or, depending on the family size and structure of this particular group, could be beta-and-pup or helper-and-pup. Come fall, this juvenile (who is probably three to four months old in the most recent photo) will be ready to hunt on its own and will either expand to new territory or remain with the family unit as a non-breeding helper.
We are also fairly certain that the adult in the second photo set is a female, based on her scent-marking behavior:
Like other carnivores, coyotes use scent to mark the borders of their territory. Interestingly, this site was baited only with fox urine, about 10 days prior to their visit. Though they may share some of the same territory, coyotes and foxes tend to avoid each other due to food competition - in fact, coyotes have been known to eliminate foxes - so a coyote would have a natural interest in the fox scent.
We’ve also seen other juvenile coyotes at at least one other site in the forest, taken around the same time:
Again, notice the smooth, light coat of a first-year coyote and the lighter frame. Given that juveniles are not ready to hunt on their own at this point, we imagine that it is looking behind for its partner.
What does this mean for the ecosystem?
While perhaps not quite as exciting as the recent videos of the six new wolf pups of the White River wolf pack or the three new pups of the Lassen wolf pack (definitely worth watching if you haven’t), the presence of coyotes and their seemingly abundant offspring indicates that the underlying ecosystem is healthy. What’s more, it could support the growing wolf packs nearby. However, this may come with some food competition and displacement for the coyotes - a coyote will avoid a wolf for the same reasons a fox will avoid a coyote. Luckily, coyotes are timid yet resourceful scavengers and excellent hunters, and their adaptability enables them to survive in environments that wolves cannot, including suburban and urban areas, and enables them to hunt anytime of day or night, allowing crepuscular wolves to use the same territory during dawn or dusk.
Whether we'll see wolves in this area, only time will tell, but in the meantime, these healthy, reproductive carnivores tell a story of a healthy environment that is capable of supporting diverse life.