Hal, a young coyote trapped in Central Park in 2006, died before he could be relocated. Photograph by Daniel Avila, courtesy New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Coyote Sightings in Queens: Is the Situation Dangerous?
Residents of Jamaica, Queens have reported sightings of coyotes near the Locust Manor LIRR station. According to the usual media hype, they are being “terrorized” by dangerous predators. It’s impossible to tell from the reporting whether there is one coyote, spotted many times, or several. It’s also difficult to ascertain whether the coyote(s) have shown behavior that is worrisome or potentially dangerous. Often people, especially city dwellers, panic at the very idea of a wild animal among us. Simply seeing a coyote, even in a residential or commercial area, is not in itself cause for alarm. Most coyotes are naturally fearful and wary of humans, and try to keep their distance.
Wary California coyote peers into backyard. Photo by Charlotte Hildebrand.
Removal or Relocation
If the situation in Locust Manor is determined to be dangerous, the city or USDA will respond accordingly. Usually, if an individual animal has shown itself to be aggressive, it will be trapped and killed. If it is considered a nuisance rather than a threat, authorities may attempt to trap and relocate it. In 2010, a 30-pound female coyote took up residence for a month in Central Park’s Hallett Sanctuary. She began venturing out of the park at night, and was eventually trapped in Tribeca and relocated to an undisclosed location within city limits.
Coyote in Central Park 2010. Photo by D. Bruce Yolton of Urbanhawks.com (click photo to visit)
How well relocation works, either for the coyote or the neighborhood, is an open question. Leaving aside Manhattan Island, research in other communities indicates that many relocated coyotes try to return to their original area (and often don’t make it, hit by cars as they attempt to cross busy roads). The public likes to think of relocation as more humane than killing, a happy compromise for all, but the truth is, as so often in nature, more complex. Most areas that are suitable for relocation of a wild animal already have a resident population of the species that will not welcome an interloper.
Removal is also unlikely to be a permanent solution to a neighborhood’s problem. The qualities that drew a coyote to settle in a particular area (available food, water and shelter) will, in all likelihood, eventually attract new animals into the void created by the removal.
It’s Our Turn To Adapt
Once confined to the Great Plains, coyotes are in the process of colonizing the entire country, a process that began about a hundred years ago. They have evinced a remarkable ability to adapt to the dramatic environmental changes we humans have created, including the loss of traditional habitat. Sooner or later, we must accept their presence in our communities, and learn to co-exist with them. Like it or not, it’s our turn to adapt.
Still, we humans need to adjust our behavior to accommodate the new reality of coyotes in our midst. Below are basic guidelines, compiled from wildlife biologists, on living with urban and suburban coyotes.
I’m not a coyote expert. I’m an amateur naturalist who is intrigued by urban nature and the changing interplay between humans and wild animals. In a future post, I’ll provide links to a variety of websites from New York and around the country that offer fascinating information on coyote behavior and how to live with these remarkable creatures.
LIVING WITH COYOTES
Keep cats inside. Cats, astonishingly effective little killers of birds and rodents, are often killed in turn by coyotes. If you love them, keep them inside.
Supervise and leash your dogs. Keep smaller dogs under close supervision, even in a fenced yard. Don’t leave pets out at night. Never leave a pet tied up outside without close supervision.
Supervise small children when they play outside, even in a fenced yard.
Don’t feed the animals. Pet food, garbage, and your cat or small dog are all food to a wild animal. Secure your garbage, and don’t feed your pets outside.
Enjoy watching coyotes from a distance, and never try to lure them closer with food. If you like coyotes, do not try to “make friends” with them. A common saying among coyote experts is, “A fed coyote is a dead coyote.” Feeding leads the animal to become habituated to humans, which may lead to aggressive demands for food, or to perceived aggression when a coyote approaches too closely.
If you see a coyote, make yourself appear large and potentially threatening by waving your arms and shouting. Let the coyote know that encounters with humans are thoroughly unpleasant and should be avoided. Blow a loud whistle or horn, or bang pots and pans. Don’t run. Running may trigger the coyote’s instinct to chase.
A coyote that is aggressive towards people needs to be removed, which generally means killed.
Report aggressive animals immediately. But remember: just spotting an animal does not mean it is a threat. Seeing a wild animal may be, in fact, an opportunity.
Keep wildlife wild.
Young coyote startled by the sound of a camera. Photo by Charlotte Hildebrand.