Co-existing with Urban Coyotes – even in NYC

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.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, Central Park, coyotes, December, In the City, NYC Parks, Seasons, Wildlife/Natural History, Winter

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10 Comments on “Co-existing with Urban Coyotes – even in NYC”

  1. Kelly Rypkema Says:

    I worked at a natural science museum where we had to field questions and concerns about coyotes, and other wildlife. People’s fears really seemed to stem from misunderstanding and lack of information. Thank you for helping to bridge that gap with the great information in your post!

    The coyote issue we most commonly had to address was coyote predation, or suspected coyote predation, on small pets. It is a difficult truth that, for wild animals who normally have to hunt and scrape to get a meal, finding a small pet enclosed in a backyard is like having a meal provided for them. Simply keeping cats and small dogs attended or inside at night can prevent heartache later.

    The rest of the time coyotes really keep to themselves. My first day on the job, I fortuitously encountered a coyote on one of the trails. I was enthralled and excited to see it. I wanted to share a moment with it, so what did I do? I very unprofessionally whistled, clapped and called to get its attention. It never once broke its focus on the trail ahead and continued into the forest. So, in my experience, coyotes ignore or retreat from human interaction – especially annoying humans.

    My uncle lives in the outskirts of Las Vegas where coyotes play in his backyard almost every morning. He says the neighborhood’s attitude towards coyotes is one of tolerance. The residents watch their pets, leave the coyotes alone, and don’t feed or encourage them. I hope that, given time for the newness to wear off, New Yorkers will likewise learn to live with coyotes, and hopefully appreciate them. They are truly amazing creatures!


    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Kelly. Your thoughts about coyotes dovetail with those of most experts. I truly hope East coast city dwellers can learn to appreciate and adapt to wildlife, as your uncle’s community has. I agree with you: truly amazing creatures!

  2. Wild_Bill Says:

    What a wonderful trip. It must be so cool to visit the coast of BC. Yes, we must learn to live with the natural world rather than conquering it. This is the ticket to our own survival.


    • Thank you, Wild Bill. I’m still seeing the mountains, almost like a scrim behind my eyelids, even here in NYC. Of course, they had already disappeared from my actual vision in BC after a few days when the normal winter rain returned. We hit it lucky with the weather when we arrived. But even dripping wet and with a close, gray horizon, the Pacific Northwest is just so beautiful.

  3. CGJ Says:

    I like Charlotte’s idea about posting signs with tips about how to respond to urban wildlife. Much of the advice is general, and would apply to a large majority of animals. To further expand on this idea, how nice would it be if there were interpretive signs in our parks to tell us more about the flora and fauna found there?


    • In Riverside Park near me, there are little green signs on some of the trees with their names. No info other than the colloquial and Latin names, but still, very sweet – and helpful to the botanically-challenged, like me.

  4. Charlotte Says:

    I hope you post this on other wildlife sites. Your list of do’s and don’ts should be seen by many, posted on electricity poles in urban neighborhoods and on community bulletin boards where coyotes have been spotted. Really, people get a clue. Much more education must be done.

    I think you’ve found your calling: human-animal conflict blogger!

  5. Barbara Says:

    Melissa this is brilliant – I truly hope that many people are referred to your site and understand the beauty of having wildlife in a huge city like New York. It is truly an opportunity to observe wildlife, whether it’s a bird, squirrel, coyote, deer or raccoon – these seem to be the most able to adapt to city living.

    In Toronto Canada, (the largest city near me) there are a number of ravines that penetrate the city from north to the southern boundary Lake Ontario. They are filled with wildlife, but people often freak out when they see a coyote on the edge of a ravine. They do it in the country where I live as well which is insane as far as I’m concerned.

    Humankind has much to learn about co-existence – just with each other. I often wonder if there is any hope for living with the wild among us, peacefully. Let’s hope so.

    Wonderful post.


    • What a lovely response, Barbara. I was fascinated on my recent trip to BC to hear that they are experiencing an increase in top predators, including coyotes, cougars, bears and even wolves. This is in the area north of Vancouver as well as in the city.


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