Archive for the ‘coyotes’ category

Urban Coyotes in Art, Poetry and Music

January 30, 2015

In honor of our recent coyote visitors in New York City, here are a few images and songs inspired by urban coyotes.

Coyote Under Moon.

By Atty Gell.

Beautiful, no? This print was made by Atty Gell, an artist who lives near Trout Lake Park in East Vancouver, Canada. Coyotes are not infrequently spotted passing through the park and the neighborhood.

When I was working on my play, NYC Coyote Existential, I asked Atty to create some coyote images for me to use for publicity purposes. She sent these lovelies.

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For poetry, listen to Tim Seibles read his poem: Midnight, the Coyote, Down at the Mouth.

For music, try this music video of Coyotes by Modest Mouse, inspired by an incident in 2002 when a coyote was spotted riding light rail in Portland, Oregon. Don’t know what well-trained coyote played the role, but here’s a photo of the actual wild coyote, looking no more harried than any other habitual commuter on a bad day.


The same Portland coyote inspired the Sleater-Kinney’s song, Light Rail Coyote:

And if you need to bang your head a bit (and as evidence that the urban coyote has been around and has legs, as it were), here is Coping with the Urban Coyote, Unida’s 1999 album. Love that cover art.

NYC: After the so-called Blizzard

January 27, 2015

 Where the blizzard at?


Snow dogs.

Anybody seen my blizzard?


Dog with unfortunate sense of style.

I know how bad the storm is for people to our east, west and north. But if there was a blizzard here in Manhattan, I missed it.

Oh, it snowed, all right. Here’s what the city looked like yesterday, back when we still believed in unicorns, elves, and being buried beneath the “storm of the century.”

Disappearing city.

By 6 PM, all city parks were officially closed. The subways started shutting down at 7 PM.  At 11 PM, all mass transit and all roads were closed.

– Wait, did you say the parks closed at six?
– Uh-huh, that’s right.
– But at six, there was, like, hardly any snow, and no wind, and great visibility, and …
– Don’t worry about it.

Because this is New York, baby, and this is what a closed park looks like.

Night sledding! Woot woot!

Night sledding in Riverside Park! Woot woot!

You can’t tame the night sledders. Not in New York.



Only the wildlife took the closing seriously. The raccoons were nestled all snug in their snow-frosted den.

Raccoons are inside in fur slippers, drinking cocoa and watching the weatherman.

Raccoons who live in the wall were wearing fur slippers, drinking cocoa and watching the weather on NY1.

All night and this morning, the city was eerily, wonderfully quiet. And the streets remarkably clear, thanks to the snowplows that had free rein of the streets all night.


Broadway this morning, light snow coming down.

The ever-present city hum was almost imperceptible, and even now, late in the afternoon, it’s unusually quiet. Although not in the parks.

The parks, with their five or six inches of fresh snow (a bit short of the predicted two feet), are bustling.

Sledding in Riverside Park.

Sledding in Riverside Park – looks like a Currier & Ives.

Everywhere are walkers, sledders, little kids in snowsuits, dogs in boots, and parents hauling children in sleds.

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Last but definitely not least, here is an adorable little man in brand new boots, enjoying his first big snow.


Little man on a mission.

Coyote Caught in Manhattan’s Stuy Town

January 26, 2015

Another coyote was caught in Manhattan, this time in Stuyvesant Town, just north of the East Village.

After being spotted near the Con Ed station on East 14th Street, the coyote was chased by police into Stuyvesant Town and  later released in the Bronx. A young female, she is the second coyote to make it into Manhattan this month. The first January coyote, also female, was captured in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side, and released in what city officials straightfacedly refer to as “a wilderness area in the Bronx.”

Are other coyotes roaming Manhattan even as you read this? Hard to say. But if they’re not here now, they’ll be back.

With an established breeding population in the Bronx and Westchester, there will always be young dogs in search of territory to call their own. If they head south, probably late at night, they’ll find their way over a bridge into Manhattan. Others have found their way east into Queens. From Queens, where are you going to go but east, young dog, to colonize Long Island? And, in fact, the Hamptons reported their first officially confirmed coyote sighting in 2013.  Rick Wesnofske, a potato farmer in the town of Water Mill who photographed the animal in his fields, said the coyote was “… just walking around, looking at the potatoes.”

Photo: Rick Wesnofske

Photo: Rick Wesnofske

Long Island potato fields, Bronx wilderness areas, Staten Island garbage dumps, and the endless graveyards of Queens are one thing. Manhattan is another. I mean, let’s face it, the city’s unlikely to let a wild dog run free all over our nice street grid. I’m skeptical that coyotes will be able to establish themselves in Manhattan, unless they were to stay within the boundaries of a large park, say, Inwood Park up at the tip of the island. They’ve already tried Central Park in 1999, 2006 and 2010.

I was lucky enough to spend some time watching the 2010 coyote. She – yes, it was yet another young female – camped out in Hallett Nature Sanctuary at the base of Central Park for a month or so,. During that time, I entertained fantasies that she just might be able to make a go of it here in the city. Unfortunately, she started venturing outside the park, and was ultimately captured in a Tribeca parking garage. (She was released in an undisclosed location.)

Watching her in the night park as she stepped out onto the ice of the frozen Pond, or trotted up an empty path was a thrilling experience. It inspired me to write a play, NYC Coyote Existential.

NYC Coyote Existential by Melissa Cooper

NYC Coyote Existential, staged reading at Proteus Gowanus Gallery in Brooklyn, April, 2012..

Could be it’s time to mount a production right here in the city.

Coyote Captured on Upper West Side

January 11, 2015
Photo by Christopher Sadowski as seen in The New York Post

Photo by Christopher Sadowski. Visit The New York Post for more of Mr. Sadowski’s photos.

Last night in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, a coyote was captured by the police. As far as I can tell, this is the first coyote sighting in Manhattan since March 2010 when a beautiful young coyote spent about a month in the city. She quickly found her way to Central Park’s Hallett Nature Sanctuary and made her base in that protected acre in the shadow of the Plaza Hotel before being captured down in Tribeca. In 2012, coyote tracks were found in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights in northern Manhattan, but I can find no report of a sighting.

Coyotes have been resident in the Bronx for some time now. More recently, they seem to have taken up residence in Queens, and in 2012, a coyote was spotted in Staten Island. Manhattan’s coyotes probably come down from the Bronx over one of the bridges at the northern tip of the island or, possibly, by swimming.

Wildlife biologists at the Gotham Coyote Project are currently studying our coyote population, using camera traps to answer the question: “Where in NYC and its surrounding suburbs can you find coyotes?” The Munshi-South Lab is also involved with monitoring the establishment and dispersal of coyotes in NYC. A camera trap captured this gorgeous image.

Camera Trap image from the Munshi-South Lab website.

Camera Trap image of coyote and pups from the Munshi-South Lab website.

Last night’s coyote, a female, resisted arrest, as one hopes any healthy wild animal would do, and led the police on a chase through Riverside Park before being tranquilized and captured in a basketball court. According to the Twitter account of the 24th Precinct, the police had the coyote “corralled inside fenced-in BB court, but so cold out, the tranquilizer in the darts kept freezing!” They had to wait for a second Emergency Services Truck to arrive with “warm darts” as they “wanted to stun it as humanely as possble.”

Police report the animal was unharmed and was taken to Animal Care and Control where it will be examined before being released somewhere outside the city.

Top Posts of 2012, Part One

December 28, 2012
The dog and I thank you.

The dog and I thank you.

As the end of the year approaches, the dog and I would like to thank our loyal readers for their regular visits to Out Walking the Dog. And as our community continues to grow, we’re  delighted to welcome readers – and commenters – from all over North America as well as Great Britain, Italy, Finland, Spain, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and beyond.

Here is the first installment of Out Walking the Dog‘s Ten Most Popular Stories of 2012.  These stories, all written and published in the past year, cover topics that include waiting dogs and feral cats, the effect of human-generated trash on wildlife, the arrival of coyotes on Staten Island, squirrels, and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. (Oddly, the most popular story of all remains a post I wrote in 2010: Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. It has received far and away the most hits each and every year for three years now. Go figure.)

Most Popular Stories, Ten through Six

White kitten, Randall's Island, NYC.

White kitten, Randall’s Island.

10. Lives of City Cats: The Working and the Feral explores the lifestyles of NYC felines from cats that work to keep delis and bodegas mouse-free to feral cats that roam urban parks and streets. Free-roaming cats, both domestic and feral, cause a surprising amount of ecological damage as they kill birds that evolved without defenses against these efficient non-native carnivores. Are Trap-Neuter-Release programs a humane response to feral cat colonies or part of a larger ecological problem?

NYC Red-tail Eats Rat.

NYC Red-tail Eats Rat.

9. The Trash of Two Cities: How Our Trash Kills Our Hawks is a favorite post of mine. In it, I trace the 2012 deaths of NYC raptors to NYC’s overabundance of trash. Secondary poisoning kills raptors that consume rats laden with rodenticides (see post #6, below). All animals, including rats, seek food, water, and a safe place to rear their young. NYC provides all three in abundance, with trash providing most of the food that sustains our sizable rat population. The key to effective pest control is keeping our trash off-limits to animals. A visit to Philadelphia leads me to compare that city’s solar-powered compacting trash cans with the open cans and dumpsters of New York.

8.  The Waiting Dogs of NYC is a photo essay of New York’s ubiquitous waiting dogs. Dogs wait for their owners outside restaurants, shops, post offices. Some wait in pairs, some wait alone. Some wait happily, some wait anxiously. My dog, too, waits. But the bond between an urban dog and its owner is strong.

Esau waits.

Esau waits.

NYC coyote: Mark Weckel.

NYC coyote: Mark Weckel

7. Another NYC Borough Falls to the Coyote muses over the first documented sighting of a coyote in Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill. How did the coyote get to Staten Island? What research is being done in NYC to find out more about where our urban coyotes are living? “As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, coyotes are coming, people. In fact, they’re here.”

6. Good-bye, Riverside Park Red-tail documents the community reaction to the demise of a red-tailed hawk known as Mom who nested each year in Riverside Park.  Over the years, Mom survived a string of bad luck, including the death of a mate from secondary poisoning (see post #9 above) and the destruction of her nest with three nestlings in a storm.  But last year was a tough one for NYC’s hawks with at least four dying from rat poison. We visited the charming memorial put up in the park at Mom’s nesting site.

Riverside Park Memorial

Riverside Park Memorial

Check back before the new year for the top five stories of 2012.

Home From Dallas, Celebrating NYC

August 4, 2012

I’m home!  After a wonderful month in Dallas, rehearsing and performing my play, NYC Coyote Existential (more on coyotes in Dallas in a future post), New York’s parks seem impossibly green. As I wrote in the play, the summer green of the Northeast can seem “almost hallucinogenic, layer upon layer of vertigo-inducing green, like something out of Apocalypse Now or H.P. Lovecraft, the color alive and sentient.”

Of course, everyone here in NYC is busy complaining about the heat. But hey, after a month in Dallas with one day after another of three-digit temperatures, well, I’m just not buying all the moaning. Sure it’s hot, and yes, it’s soupy.  NYC heat is like going a few rounds in a clothes dryer with a wet towel. Hot. But Dallas at 108 degrees is like walking straight into a giant pizza oven.

The biggest difference is that here in NYC, we walk everywhere, to the subway, to the supermarket, to the hardware store, so we’re actually out in the heat. Pretty much wherever you need to go, you walk to get there.

In Dallas, not so much.

Dallas is a quintessential American car city, where many people walk only from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned store to … well, you get the idea. So as long as the air-conditioning is working, you can avoid the full impact of that mind-boggling heat. The animals, of course, seek natural cooling sources, which means, first and foremost, water. Here, a mixed group of waterbirds cools off and feeds at the White Rock Lake spillway in East Dallas.

I’ll write more about Dallas and its animals soon. Right now, though, I’m celebrating NYC in the dog days of August.

On Thursday evening, as we drank margaritas on the roof of our apartment building, a fat, phenomenally red moon – the Sturgeon Moon – rose in the east, and a red-tailed hawk landed atop the school next door. The hawk perched in the deepening shadows so long that I wondered if it was going to stay all night. When it finally flew off, its wide wings caught the light of the moon and lit up for a split second like the wings of a predatory angel.

No, I don’t have pictures. You’ll just have to take my word.

Down in the apartment, a tiny green inchworm – more like a quarter-inchworm, really – clung doughtily to the kitchen faucet.

Tiny worm

It reared its unimaginably small head and seemed to be trying to figure out where to go. I put it on a nearby jade plant, where it will probably either die or gobble up my only plant before transforming into a moth ready to gobble up my winter clothes. But how did it get onto the faucet in the first place?

And on Friday, six flights down and one block east, a small but mighty ant carried a huge, winged, red-headed carcass (identification, anyone?) up and down a fence railing, the iron so beautifully rusted that it resembled wood.

In Central Park, the water has turned completely green with algae, and the willows appear to be melting in the midsummer heat.

A fat freckled fish lurks near the shore.

And this morning in Riverside Park, the wall leaners and sitters are out in force.

A dryad with her cat sips a cold drink and gazes at the passing world.

After a while, the nymph hoists the gigantic cat onto her shoulder

and heads up the hillside.

I am so lucky to be back in Manhattan, where dryads carry giant cats through the streets and parks.

Another NYC Borough Falls to the Coyote

April 6, 2012

A coyote has been spotted in Staten Island.

Photo by Nick Mirto. Click image to visit

New Jerseyan Nick Mirto saw the coyote in Staten Island’s Freshkills landfill on a recent run to dump a load of soil. Luckily for us, he pulled out his trusty iPhone and snapped the above photo. On previous trips, Mirto has seen herds of white-tailed deer and two red foxes at the site.

How did the coyote get to Staten Island? Well, deer swim across the Arthur Kill from New Jersey, as you can unmistakeably see in this video, taken by a boat captain: Two Deer Swimming To Staten Island.  Like deer, coyotes are strong swimmers, and they certainly inhabit New Jersey.  You can see in the map below that it’s not terribly far.

Juvenile coyotes often disperse at this time of year, kicked out by parents who are preparing to raise a new litter.  Most of the coyotes that have shown up in Manhattan over the past decade or so have been juveniles between one and two years of age. My guess is that the Staten Island coyote, too, is a young animal in search of new territory to call its own.

According to a CUNY Brooklyn website, “The Fresh Kills Landfill covers 2200 acres, can be seen with the naked eye from space and is taller then the Statue of Liberty, at a height of 225 ft.”  That’s a mighty big area for a coyote, full of prey. If you can ignore the fact that the landfill is stuffed with toxins, it would seem to be a pretty happy hunting ground for a coyote.

On other New York coyote news, Science Friday just posted a lovely video of the on-going studies being conducted by wildlife biologist Mark Weckel. Studying Coyotes in NYC.  The video reveals that a camera trap photo below, which I had guessed was taken in Van Cortland Park, was actually taken in Yonkers.

Camera Trap Photo: Mark Weckel. Click image to visit Science Friday.

As I’ve been saying for a couple of years now, coyotes are coming, people. In fact, they’re here.

NYC Coyote Round-up: Walking the Talk, Talking the Walk

March 24, 2012

Ever since 2010, when I came face to face with a young female coyote in Central Park, I’ve had coyotes on the brain. As my regular readers know, I’m fascinated by (some might say, obsessed with) the urban coyote phenomenon and bowled over by the extraordinary story of migration as these highly adaptable wild dogs have spread out of their native home in the Great Plains, across the continent and into every imaginable habitat, including our suburbs and cities.

Coyotes in an unidentified NYC park. Photo: Mark Weckel. Click image to go to New York Times Green Blog.

Another winter has come and gone with no new coyote sightings in Manhattan. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going about their business nearby.  For years, coyotes have been quietly living and breeding in the Bronx (where I suspect the photo above was taken). Recent coyote sightings in Queens induced the usual breathless, frothing-at-the-mouth coverage by local media.

A coyote in Queens, nicknamed Frank by researchers, photographed by a trail camera. Click image to go to article by Mark Weckel and Chris Nagy.

Today I have five happy bits of New York City coyote news:

1. A recent article by  Sindya N. Bhanoo in the New York Times Green Blog looked at New York’s urban coyotes with refreshing calm and genuine curiosity. Bhanoo uses well-chosen quotes – from a researcher, the head of the urban park rangers and even a high school student involved in a coyote study – to educate readers about urban coyotes, reassuring the frightened (simply seeing a coyote is not cause for alarm), cautioning the foolish and/or sentimental (don’t feed, don’t approach, etc.), and even pointing out the possible benefits of having a top predator in the hood (rodent and deer control).

2. Today, Proteus Gowanus, Brooklyn’s interdisciplinary art gallery and reading room, was the starting point for a coyote walk.

Led by artist Dillon de Give, the walk was intended not to look for coyotes, but as a way to imagine how a coyote might travel through Brooklyn. Sticking to green spaces whenever possible, Dillon led walkers into  Manhattan and north to Hallett Nature Sanctuary at the south end of Central Park. Hallett, a one-acre area that is off-limit to both dogs and humans, was used as a resting spot Manhattan’s coyote visitors in 2006 and 2010.

3. Next weekend, de Give will embark on his annual Lah walk.

Image by Dillon de Give. Click image to visit Dillon’s website.

According to Dillon’s website:

“Lah” is an annual project that commemorates the spirit of Hal, a coyote who appeared in Central Park in 2006 and died shortly after being captured by authorities.

Lah illustrates how a coyote might find its way into Manhattan with a reverse human journey out of the city: a hike retracing a potential coyote-like path through greenspaces. Citing examples of juvenile coyotes that have made long dispersal trips, the walk averages around 50-60 miles.

The walk has been performed solo, in a group, and in a pair.

In 2010, I joined Dillon and his fellow Lah walkers on the first leg of their journey from Hallett to the north end of Central Park, leaving them at Frederick Douglass Circle to continue their way north for several days.

4. On Saturday afternoon, March 31st, Frank Vincenti, Director of The Wild Dog Foundation, will lead a Coyote Lecture in Forest Park in Queens. Frank is a passionate advocate for co-existing with coyotes, and will be talking about coyote natural history. I’m guessing he will also talk about the growing population of NYC coyotes, and the latest DNA research showing that many Eastern coyotes carry wolf genes, acquired during their long migration by inter-breeding with a remnant population of Red wolves. For more information, visit the NYC Parks Department or call (718) 846-2731.

5. And last, an invitation for NYC readers to join me for a staged reading of my hot-off-the-presses new play:

New York City Coyote Existential
(a short play with science & songs)

Apologies for the blurry screen shot. Some day, I’ll learn to scan.

This is a bare bones reading in a small gallery space at Proteus Gowanus. It will feature the wonderful actress Mary Shultz as The Coyote with music by Thomas Cabaniss. Please be aware that seating is very limited, and is first come, first served.

Check back soon for updates on New York’s coyote news.

‘Midnight: The Coyote, Down in the Mouth’ by Tim Seibles

February 28, 2012

As my regular readers have undoubtedly discerned, I have certain urban animal species on the brain. Rats, raccoons and coyotes, among others, roil the mental waters. In the throes of fascination, I call on science, art and poetry.

Urban Coyote with Rat by Atty Gell.

An earlier post quoted Stanley Kunitz’s marvelous poem, Raccoon Journal.  Today it’s time for coyotes to get lyrical.

I recently came across this reading by Tim Seibles of his poem, Midnight: The Coyote, Down in the Mouth. It’s a wonderful reading, best heard, I think, without the accompanying images. But since I couldn’t find a purely audio version to share, here is the poem, illustrated and animated to within an inch of its life. You don’t have to watch, only listen. And enjoy.

You may read the poem here in Seibles’ book, Hammerlock, which you can buy here, or order from your local independent bookseller. Mine is BookCulture on West 112th Street.

Top Five Urban Nature Stories of 2011: From Peacocks to Mastodons

December 31, 2011

Yesterday we began our coverage of Out Walking the Dog’s Top Ten Stories of 2011 with Numbers Ten to Six. The stories explored urban coyotes and whales as well as a secret garden in the middle of New York City and two peculiar NYC plants, one of which is connected to an on-going ancient British festival.

Today the countdown continues with the top five stories. Here we go:

Number Five:
Great White Peacock of Morningside Heights takes a look at the pure-white free-roaming peacock of Saint John the Divine. My readers appear to be in the grip of a communal fascination with peacocks in general and white peacocks in particular. Well, who can blame them? The birds are extraordinary. More peacock posts will follow in 2012.

Number Four:
City Hawk Snatches Chihuahua? recounts an eye-witness report by a fellow dog walker in Riverside Park of a red-tailed hawk flying off with a pink-leashed chihuahua. Believe it or not, similar stories are regularly reported. Urban legend? Fact? You decide. With a made-to-order illustration by Los Angeles writer and blogger Charlotte Hildebrand.

Number Three:
Rabies in Manhattan: What About Squirrels and Rats? is a search engine favorite, as readers from NYC and around the country seem especially concerned about the possibility of rabies in squirrels.  I wrote the post almost two years ago, during the early days of the NYC raccoon rabies epidemic, but it continues to receive a large number of hits.

credit: Marcelo Barrera

Number Two:
NYC Coyote Watch 2011: Coyote in Queens
was published at the end of January 2011, when a coyote had been seen – and photographed – in Calvary Cemetery, Queens. Queens and the Bronx seem to be the coyote’s current boroughs of choice with a breeding population in the Bronx and on-going sightings in several Queens neighborhoods. Long Island has fallen to the adaptable predator. Today, Queens. Tomorrow, the Hamptons.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll, please. The Number One Story on Out Walking the Dog during 2011 is …

Mastodons in Manhattan: How the Honey Locust Tree Got its Spikes. Written in 2010, Mastodons in Manhattan has consistently been my most-read post. Go figure. It tells the story of how the Honey locust tree, which may be seen in abundance in NYC parks, adapted to predation by North American megafauna by developing long, fierce spikes that are tough enough to pierce mastodon tongues (and automobile tires).

And that’s it for 2011, folks. We hope you’ll continue to follow our urban nature explorations in 2012.

Most Popular Urban Nature Stories of 2011: Numbers 10 – 6

December 30, 2011

Today and tomorrow, we’re celebrating another year of watching New York City’s urban wildlife by looking back at Out Walking the Dog’s Top Stories of 2011.  The articles include mastodons, chihuahua-carrying hawks, whales, coyotes, rodents, burdock, peacocks and the secret garden of St. John the Divine. Today I’ll count down from Number Ten through Number Six. Tomorrow I’ll cover Numbers Five through One.

Ladies and gentlemen, let the countdown begin:

Number 10:
In the Number Ten spot, we have a tie between two very different stories.

NYC Coyote Existential: Where Do They Come From and Where are They Going? explores recent scientific research behind the origins of the coyotes that are populating the Northeast and have begun turning up in NYC. Prompted by my own sightings of a young female coyote in Central Park, the story features several of D. Bruce Yolton’s marvelous night photos that capture the odd, dream-like quality of seeing a coyote in our urban world.

Seed Pods and Eyeballs offers a brief exploration of the marvelous Sweetgum tree with its ubiquitous (in Riverside Park, anyway) spiky seedpods, known as monkey balls, porcupine eggs and space balls, among other colorful names. I was inspired to write the post by a reader’s query about the starry eyes of a snowman in a photo from an earlier post.

Number 9:
Feeding Wild Animals: Squirrel Man Calls To His Friends
looks at the problems of over-population, habituation to humans, and disease that may be caused by feeding urban wildlife. But the story also observes the profound pleasure and connection to nature that many people derive from the activity.  Does the pleasure balance the harm?

Number 8:
The Burry Man, The Burry Dog and Burdock
is a personal favorite. After an unpleasant encounter with burrs in Riverside Park (the dog was covered in them), I researched burdock, and found the bizarre annual British ritual of the burry man. Check out the story for more than you ever wanted to know about burrs along with photos of a burr-encrusted dog and the marvelous real-life burry man.

Number Seven:
Saint John the Divine: A Secret Garden in Morningside Heights
is a photo essay of one of my favorite neighborhood spots in the glory of spring bloom. Free-roaming peacocks, bronze animals and more: read the story and plan a visit.

Number Six:
Whales in New York City
details the thrilling return of whales to the waters of New York, including the presence of a group of 30 to 50 fin whales just past the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.

Check back on January 31st – tomorrow!  – for the top five stories of the year.

Co-existing with Urban Coyotes – even in NYC

December 18, 2011

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 (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.


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.

Queens Coyotes Expand NYC Range

December 16, 2011

Coyotes have taken up residence in another New York City borough.  They’ve long been living in the wilds of the Bronx.  Now continued coyote sightings and encounters confirm that at least one animal, and possibly several, are living near the Locust Manor Long Island Railroad station in Jamaica, Queens. The local media is playing up the situation (‘Coyotes Terrorizing Residents Near LIRR Station’) as if a pack of fire-breathing, man-eating dragons had moved into the patch of woods by the train tracks.

Residents of the Locust Manor neighborhood are scared, which is certainly understandable, particularly given the lack of reliable information about urban coyotes.  One woman tells a reporter that she turned around and “it was on me,” a statement the reporter does nothing to clarify. Does the woman mean that the coyote attacked her or that it simply and suddenly appeared? Clearly not the former, or the reporter would have had an even bigger field day.

I started to wonder about the ongoing presence of coyotes in Queens when a post I wrote last January, NYC Coyote Watch 2011: Coyote in Queens, suddenly began receiving a large number of hits from people seeking information on coyotes in Queens.  In February, a reader wrote in to say that a friend of his had spotted a coyote in Flushing Cemetery. In April, another reader wrote worriedly of a disturbing encounter in Jamaica, near the LIRR tracks. Frank Vincent of  The Wild Dog Foundation wrote back, offering to speak to the community about the issue. And yesterday, a reader wrote about her family’s encounters with the Locust Manor coyote.

In the wake of the news report, the city sent a park ranger to investigate the situation.  My hope is that the city and the community will take an active role in educating residents about co-existing with wildlife. Many communities in New York and around the country are bringing in wildlife experts to talk to their citizens, defuse hysteria, answer questions, and offer suggestions and perspective. Informative websites are Project Coyote, based in California, and Chicago’s Urban Coyote Research Project.

The Locust Manor coyotes are certainly not the first wild coyotes in Queens. The animals appear to be spreading throughout the borough. Almost a year ago, a beautiful reddish coyote was spotted in Calvary Cemetery in Queens, not far from Long Island City. Calvary Cemetery is in Zone Two in the NYC map below, while Locust Manor, Jamaica, is in Zone Twelve, and Flushing is in Zone Seven. I think they’ve got the borough covered.

New York neighborhoods

When coyotes are spotted in such disparate areas, odds are pretty good that they’re living unnoticed, or unreported, in other areas as well.

This is big wildlife news for New York City, as well as for Long Island. For years, New York State wildlife experts have maintained that coyotes are resident throughout the state with the exception of Long Island. But Queens is on Long Island, so that statement clearly needs a little updating.

Today, Queens. Tomorrow, the Hamptons.  Oh, and Brooklynites, you’d better keep your eyes open.

Urban Animal Species Mix and Mingle

November 13, 2011

Equus caballus shares a meal with Columba livia.

Homo sapiens is the dominant species on Central Park South, aka West 59th Street. But we are not alone. Right here on the busy corner of Sixth Avenue and 59th is a peculiarly urban mix of wild, feral and domesticated animals.

The large mammals visible in the photo below are Homo sapiens (subspecies, New Yorker), and two species that originated in North America: Equus caballus (subspecies, suffering carriage horse) and Canis lupus familiaris (subspecies, city hotdog).

Also present on the street are Columba livia (Rock dove, aka city pigeon), Sturnus vulgaris (European starlingand Passer domesticus (House sparrow), as well as unidentified flies, bird mites and other insects enjoying the still-mild weather. Not one of these species – with the possible exception of humans – is considered native.

But I have a question: How long does a species need to be in residence before it is considered native? A few hundred years? A thousand?  Five thousand?

Around 15,000 years ago, give or take a couple of millennia, Homo sapiens crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia, accompanied by Canis lupus familiaris, the domesticated dog. Do we consider those paleolithic humans, our ancestors, to be a wild natural species? Or do we see ourselves as existing, even then, somehow outside nature, at the start, perhaps, of the dichotomy we of man-made versus natural?

Interestingly, around the time that humans were migrating westward, wild horses were disappearing from the continent, along with other large animals, including saber-toothed tigers, mastodons and wooly mammoths. Why did the horses disappear?  Climate change was certainly a factor. But did over-hunting by the newly arrived humans contribute to the extinction of the horse, as it did to the mastodon?  Whatever caused its extinction, the horse was not seen again in North America until the 1500s, when Spanish explorers brought the animals across the water, and unknowingly transformed the culture of indigenous North American peoples.

Plains Indian family with travois and horses, near Calgary, c. 1925 Photo: H. Pollard, McCord Museum

Millions of years before their North American extinction and re-introduction, horses had moved westward across the Bering land bridge, and fanned out across Asia and Europe. They were hunted for food and, eventually, tamed, trained and bred.

Horse cave painting in Lascaux, France

 By 2,000 B.C., horses were serving as transportation. They also served as beasts of burden, carrying goods. As war animals, they changed the nature of battle.

One hundred years ago, New York was still a city of horses. Today, the only horses left in Manhattan are police horses and Central Park carriage horses. I love to see horses in the city, but I pity them.

While the horses wait for their next fare, they share spilled grain with pigeons.  Sometimes, the two species even appear to interest each other.

Passersby rarely notice the little inter-species gatherings that go on all up and down the street.

 Directly behind the patient horses is an unassuming spot in Central Park that marks for me one of my heart-lurching sightings of  a wild native dog, Canis latrans, the Central Park coyote.

Canines originated in North America, spreading, like the horse, westward into the rest of the world, where they were domesticated at many times in many places. Domestication eventually led to breeds like the little dachshund, or badger dog (seen in the second photo), created by German farmers and breeders to control ground-denning wildlife.

But the coyote is a wild thing, found only in North America.  A highly adaptable omnivore, Canis latrans continues to evolve before our eyes, having expanded its range eastward into parts of the continent where it has never been seen. In southeastern Canada, coyotes hybridized with wolves before moving south into New England and New York state.  (The extent of the hybridization is still under debate, with some researchers maintaining the animals should be referred to as coywolves while others maintain they remain coyotes with a soupçon of wolf.)

Coyotes now inhabit the Bronx mainland, and have been been reported in Queens. They are irregular visitors to Manhattan, sometimes taking up temporary residence in Central Park. The March 2010 coyote, the one I was lucky enough to watch on several occasions, lived in the city for a month, before being trapped in Tribeca.

Winter is the time when juvenile coyotes often head out in search of new territory.  It’s been a year and eight months since we last had a coyote in Manhattan – or since we knew we had a coyote in Manhattan. But as another autumn rolls toward winter, I’m ready and waiting, convinced that it’s only a matter of time before the next coyote ventures onto our island.

Let me know if you see or hear anything.

NYC Walk/Study (with coyote)

March 7, 2011

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering…

… in Wildness is the preservation of the world …

Henry David Thoreau, Walking

Click poster to go to Walk Study web site

New Yorkers are walkers. Whether by preference or by necessity, you pretty much have to walk to get anywhere in this city.  But some New Yorkers are walkers of a whole other order, who have, as Thoreau said, “a genius for sauntering.”  One of these is Dillon de Give

Dillon de Give, walker extraordinaire

Dillon leads an annual three-day trek north into Westchester to trace in reverse the pilgrimage of Hal, a young coyote who wandered into Central Park in 2006, and died after being captured by city officials.

Coyote walk by Dillon de Give

The coyote walk, held in early spring around the time of Hal’s death, is called laH: returning the spirit of Hal to the wilderness. Last year, I met Dillon and a small cheerful band of fellow walkers near Hallett Sanctuary and accompanied them north through the park.

On their way

I left them at 110th Street

Crossing into Harlem

and the troupe continued on their 45-mile journey.

A rest stop somewhere north of Manhattan

This spring – starting next Sunday, in fact – Dillon and his colleague Blake Morris are leading the Walk Study Training Course, “a series of meetings of walking about reading and reading about walking.”  Participants will meet for six Sundays from 3-6 to walk in the city and discuss writings by Thoreau (of course), Mary Overlie’s The Six Viewpoints, Michael de Certo, Honore de Balzac, Richard Schnechner, Bruce Chatwin and Frederic Law Olmsted, and others.  If you’re interested (and how can you not be?), please visit The Public School, New York to see the reading list and register.  The class is free.

Oh, and while not part of the class, participants are invited to join the 2011 three-day coyote walk.


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