That Howling? Just New York’s Neighborhood Coyotes
Articles and Media Coverage From Animal Defenders of Westchester (ADOW)

We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

That Howling? Just New York’s Neighborhood Coyotes

FROM Lisa W. Foderaro,
March 6, 2015

On a cold, clear afternoon in Pelham Bay Park, the tracks were etched in the crusted snow, doglike but more oblong, the claws less prominent and, over all, more compact.


Joining an urban menagerie of deer, wild turkeys, hawks — and, O.K., rats — Eastern coyotes have, in recent years, taken up residence in city parks. In mid-January, one in Riverside Park, on the Upper West Side, was corralled and captured by the police on a basketball court after midnight. Two weeks later, another coyote was spotted in an even odder location — amid the vast grove of red brick buildings known as Stuyvesant Town on the East Side.

Parks officials say that each of three Bronx parks is now home to a coyote family, including a pair that bred for the first time last year in Ferry Point Park in the South Bronx. There is also a solitary coyote that is permanently living in Railroad Park in Jamaica, Queens.

The animals have prompted anxious calls from park visitors and residents, asking the parks department what it plans to do about the creatures. The answer is short and simple: nothing.

Sarah Grimké Aucoin, director of the Urban Park Rangers, in Pelham Bay Park at a coyote camera spot. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
“They are here, and here to stay,” said Sarah Grimké Aucoin, the director of the Urban Park Rangers for the department. “They are occupying a niche not held by any other predator, and they perform services like controlling rodent populations.”

But actual sightings of the animals are rare. Sgt. Jessica Carrero, who supervises the park rangers in the Bronx, has spent most of the past 13 years outdoors, in Pelham Bay Park and Van Cortlandt Park. She has seen coyotes only five times.

Usually the animal was a blur of motion across a trail. A few years ago, however, Sergeant Carrero and a few others were watching a rabbit on a bridle path when they realized they had company. “A coyote was staring at the rabbit too; we interrupted his hunt,” she recalled, adding that it then ran off.

In 2011, to better understand the animals’ behavior, researchers for the Gotham Coyote Project, which is studying the Eastern coyote’s colonization of New York City and Long Island, began setting up motion sensor cameras in city parks.

The digital cameras, which have night vision, are strapped to trees at knee height and away from trails. A small plastic disc that smells like cheese serves as a lure. Activated by movement and heat, the cameras are left to do their work for eight-week stretches. Then the researchers retrieve the images.

A motion sensor camera captured coyotes in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx in December 2013. Credit Gotham Coyote Project
By far the most fruitful territory has been the Bronx. In Pelham Bay Park and Van Cortlandt Park, the borough’s two largest parks, which both border Westchester, the cameras have captured images of coyote pups emerged from their dens. Residents in the Riverdale and Pelham Bay neighborhoods say they have heard the animals howling.

“We see puppies chasing butterflies in front of the camera,” said Chris Nagy, the director of research and land management at the Mianus River Gorge in Bedford, N.Y., who founded the coyote project with Mark Weckel, a conservation biologist who is the manager of the Science Research Mentoring Program at the American Museum of Natural History. “We see pairs goofing off and rolling around and playing. Sometimes you see them sniffing at the camera.”

Continue reading the main story
“The finding of pups at new places is the key, but seeing them in action is really good,” he said. “They are behaving pretty naturally because the family of coyotes doesn’t know we’re taking pictures.”

The most interesting development came last year when a camera in Ferry Point Park, at the foot of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, recorded the first known instance of breeding so far south in the borough.

In 2012 and 2013, the camera in Ferry Point Park picked up evidence of coyotes. Last July, there were pups.

A statue at Van Cortlandt Park commemorating a female killed on the Deegan Expressway in 1995. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
“We’re not sure if they are the children of coyotes in the northern Bronx or Westchester,” said Mr. Nagy, adding that he planned to do genetic testing by analyzing the coyotes’ scat.

There is some debate among scientists about how and when coyotes arrived in New York State. One theory holds that they predated European settlers and scattered to wilderness areas in the Northeast as woodlands were cleared for farms, returning when farms reverted to forest. A more widely held hypothesis says coyotes are somewhat new to the state, having moved in from central North America only after the extirpation of the wolf by the same settlers.

Whatever their provenance, coyotes were observed in northern New York starting in the 1930s, and by the 1980s had spread throughout the state.

The Eastern coyote made its modern New York City debut in the Bronx in 1994 in Woodlawn Cemetery, parks officials say. The following year, one was spotted in Van Cortlandt Park. In 1999, a coyote crossed into Manhattan, most likely following a train line. In 2010, one was spotted at the Manhattan entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.

The animals’ Manhattan appearances have tended to turn into media events, with helicopters tracking the coyotes and videos of their removal often circulated on the Internet. But the parks department is trying to encourage a quieter approach. Indeed, the animal that was eventually removed from Riverside Park had been seen in Central Park for weeks before it for some reason moved west. The Stuyvesant Town coyote may have been in Hudson River Park earlier, officials said.

A sensor camera on a tree. Credit Richard Perry/The New York Times
In Manhattan, Inwood Hill Park is considered prime coyote real estate, said Ms. Aucoin, referring to the 196-acre park overlooking the Hudson River in the northwest corner of the borough. “There’s habitat there,” she said.

The Coyote Project’s cameras in the park have recorded occasional images of coyote activity, but no signs that a breeding pair has moved in.

For parks officials, the challenge now is to educate, and reassure, the public.

The department will soon post fliers and distribute palm cards, outlining “Five Easy Tips for Coyote Coexistence.” Chief among them is keeping coyotes wild.

The cards and fliers advise residents not to feed them, and to store food and garbage in animal-proof containers. In communities with coyotes, pets should be leashed. (Small pets are a casualty of coyotes in the suburbs.) And if a coyote approaches, you should “act big and make loud noises.”

A coyote in Pelham Bay Park in 2014. Credit Gotham Coyote Project
Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
While the city’s Park Rangers usually run programs on stargazing, fire building and owls, this month they will offer their first workshop on coyotes. The program, “Living With Urban Coyotes,” is scheduled for March 21 at the Van Cortlandt Nature Center.

“The good news is that wild coyotes are wary of humans, so if we behave appropriately, then they will remain wary,” Ms. Aucoin said. “Once they begin to associate humans with food, we could have nuisance behavior, and that we would want to control one way or another.”

Last fall, a coyote came up to a golfer at a public course in Pelham Bay Park. The animal did not appear aggressive, but it touched the back of the golfer’s leg. Other golfers chased the coyote off, and as a precaution the golfer received a series of rabies shots.

“We think the coyote may have been fed at some point,” Ms. Aucoin said. “If anything, the behavior resembled begging.”

Still, Ms. Aucoin said she could count the reports of close encounters on one hand — and, indeed, she has never seen a coyote in the city herself.

“That is part of the message,” she said. “It’s a rare sighting. People might be alarmed, maybe even a little fearful. But the message we want to get out is: ‘You’re lucky. Enjoy how special it is.’”

Return to: Articles and Media Coverage
Read more at Stop Hunting

WESTCHESTER4GEESE is an adjunct of ANIMAL DEFENDERS OF WESTCHESTER. We advocate against all forms of animal abuse and exploitation, including hunting, experimentation, fur, circuses and rodeos -