Posted tagged ‘central park coyote’

NYC Coyote Existential: Where do they come from and where are they going?

April 4, 2010

Central Park Coyote, 2010 by Bruce Yolton. Visit

Across the continent, interaction between wildlife and humans is on the rise, as urban and suburban sprawl eats up ever more habitat. Stanley Gehrt, director of the Urban Coyote Project, maintains there are more than 2,000 coyotes living, often out of sight, in the Chicago metropolitan area. Biologist Jonathan Way of the Eastern Coyote Research is studying coyotes in the greater Boston area.

But Manhattan? Surely Manhattan is exempt from sharing its paved-over, built-up streets with wild predators.

No more. Our island status and a relative paucity of desirable habitat has made us late-comers to the wildlife party sweeping the country.  But the guests, predators and prey, welcome or not, are arriving.  We can kick them out, but, as we have already seen, others will arrive to take their place.

So, New Yorkers and city dwellers around the country, it’s time to open up a public discourse about our changing relationship to nature and urban wildlife in the new century.

Coyotes in Manhattan: In 1999, a young coyote turned up in Central Park. Nicknamed Otis, he was captured and taken to the Queens Zoo (yes, Manhattanites, Queens has a zoo) where he lives today.

In 2006, another young coyote turned up in Central Park. Called Hal after the Hallett Nature Sanctuary where he made his base, he too was captured. After a brief stay with experienced NYC rehabilitators, Hal died just as he was about to be released on private land outside the city. His death was variously attributed to an underlying heartworm condition, poison from a consumed rat, stress from the chase and capture, and injuries sustained in the capture.

In the winter of 2010, a coyote again made its home in the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, where it was regularly sighted over a two month period. In early March, a young 30-pound female coyote, probably the Central Park coyote, was captured in downtown Tribeca,. She was taken to Animal Care and Control for observation and assessment, and was later released in an undisclosed location within city limits, possibly Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.  (Some NYC coyote watchers believe the animal captured in Tribeca is a different animal from the Central Park coyote; however, no new Central Park sightings have been reported since the capture.)

Between January and March 2010, other Manhattan coyote news included the capture of a young female coyote in Harlem, a coyote killed on the West Side Highway, the sighting of three coyotes on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University, a near-capture of a coyote in Chelsea, and a sighting by walkers in northern Manhattan’s wild Highbridge Park. While the total number is in dispute, it is safe to say there have been at least three, and quite possibly four, coyotes in Manhattan this winter.

Unlike the falcons, hawks, bald eagles and osprey that have returned to the city in recent years, coyotes are newcomers to the eastern seaboard.  The first coyote sightings in New York state date from the 1920s. Originally a western species that thrived across the open territory of the Great Plains, coyotes  have successfully colonized every county in the state except Long Island and, until recently, New York City.

Coyotes are one of the few large carnivores that have responded to human manipulation of the environment by expanding their range and numbers.  Most large North American carnivores, including the coyote’s close cousin, the wolf, suffered dramatic declines after the arrival of European settlers, four hundred years ago. But coyotes, like humans, are an extraordinarily adaptable species. Opportunistic omnivores, they can eat just about anything from carrion to berries, can scavenge, forage or hunt, and can live just about anywhere from the southwestern desert to northern forests. To avoid contact with humans, coyotes in highly developed areas shift from their usual diurnal schedule to become successful nocturnal hunters. And if the population dwindles due to hunting or natural environmental cycles, coyotes simply produce more pups. Despite decades of relentless hunting, poisoning and trapping, the coyote is thriving.

As human development changed the face of the Great Plains, the adaptable coyote gradually extended its range north and east into the Great Lakes region of the U.S. and southern Canada. In Canada, they interbred with the remnants of an eastern wolf population before moving south into New England. Recent DNA testing confirms that many eastern coyotes have a significant portion of wolf genes, resulting in a hybrid animal that is larger, on average, than western coyotes.

The disappearance of large carnivores throughout most of the northeast created an imbalanced ecosystem in which rodents and deer populations grew unchecked by the wolves, mountain lions, bobcats and bears that were once their natural predators. Coyotes moved easily into this prey-saturated predator void, hunting rodents and other small animals, and scavenging deer carcasses. Wildlife ecologist Justina Ray calls the coyote “the most successful colonizing mammal in recent history.”

Mid to late winter is the usual time for adolescent coyotes to venture away from their parents in search of new territory. This annual pattern led coyotes to colonize Westchester by the 1990s, and the Bronx in the late 2000s. As of 2010, according to Sarah Aucoin, Director of the Urban Park Rangers, two coyote families are breeding successfully in Van Cortland Park, leading some officials to suspect that Manhattan’s young coyotes may be Bronx juveniles seeking new habitats.

Scouting Territory? Bruce Yolton/

Gordon Batcheller, a wildlife biologist with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, says, “Looking at the Manhattan landscape, it’s not hard to see where they could live. They are very adaptable to a variety of conditions.”

To get from the Bronx to Inwood Park in northern Manhattan requires nothing more than an easy trot across the Amtrak railway bridge, or, possibly, a short swim battling the Hudson River’s notorious currents. From Inwood Park, an enterprising coyote can head south through a system of greenways and beautifully restored parks with only occasional necessary forays into the streets. At Riverside Park and 116th Street, they can move east through the Columbia campus to Morningside Park, which is, at its southern end, just one short block from the great wooded expanse of Central Park. The most recent coyote was first spotted several times in Central Park’s wild North Woods before settling on the protected four acres of Hallett Nature Sanctuary as her home base.

Leaving Hallett. Bruce Yolton/

The appearance of coyotes in Manhattan has inspired a wide range of responses in New York residents. One long-time New Yorker said, “It’s the end of civilization,” while others thrilled to the idea of a large wild creature in the heart of the city and wondered, perhaps naively, as the days of residence turned to weeks and the weeks to months, whether long-term co-existence just might be possible.

While Manhattan may be coyote-free at the moment, they’ll be back. If not next year, then the year after. How should we respond? Reader, what do you think?

Visit the archives of Out walking the dog for other posts on Manhattan’s coyotes, including NYC Coyote Dreams: Worlds Within Worlds.

Note:  Ravens, which traditionally scavenge alongside western coyotes, appear to be following the coyote’s track into the northeast. A raven that haunts Marble Cemetery, an old graveyard in lower Manhattan, may be a released captive, but a pair of wild ravens is nesting, as I write, in Queens.

Thanks to the Urban Park Rangers for hosting a talk last weekend, entitled “NYC Coyotes: Return of Native Wildlife – Balancing Urban Ecology, or Conflict in the Urban Jungle?” The speaker was Frank Vincenti of the Wild Dog Foundation, a “coyote advocacy group” eager to educate the public about eastern coyotes and wild dogs around the world.  Thanks also to Matthew Wills of Backyard and Beyond for pointing out the coyote-raven connection, which is also discussed in Hope Ryden’s book, God’s Dog: A Celebration of the North American Coyote.

Tribeca Coyote and Central Park Coyote: One and the Same?

March 26, 2010

Tribeca coyote outside the Holland Tunnel

(For more photos of the chase and capture, visit the UK’s Daily Mail.)

The coyote is now at Animal Care & Control of NYC on East 110th Street, where discussions are underway about her future.

Below is the Central Park coyote several weeks ago, free.  Compare with the coyote above.  Is the Central Park coyote the same animal as the captured Tribeca coyote?

Or does the Central Park coyote still roam free?

Photo by Bruce Yolton at

What do you think?

For more NYC coyote articles by Out walking the dog, including sightings in Central Park, visit the archives.

Central Park Coyote News: Trust me, he’s not who you think he is

March 20, 2010

Please visit the Unknown Urban Hipster for a surprising, illustrated interview with the Central Park coyote.  The wild dog turns out to be one cool cat, and older than he looks.

The Hipster also provides some terrific links, including to a short film about German artist Joseph Beuys and his 1974 NYC performance piece, I Like America and America Likes Me, that featured Beuys and a (supposedly) wild coyote together in an art gallery for eight hours a day over three days.

I have been trying to find out where the Beuys coyote came from and what happened to him or her after the performance, but have come up empty-handed. The Central Park coyote speaks briefly to the Unknown Hipster about the performance, and claims the Beuys coyote was “an asshole.”

Thank you, Unknown Hipster, for the illuminating interview.

Central Park Coyote Dream: worlds within worlds

March 12, 2010

Worlds within worlds

Some people dream of bicycles and when they wake, they dust off their bikes and ride to the river. There they discover they can no longer tell an egret from a plastic bag nor a hawk from a hand saw. Other people dream of petty grievances and wake with hurt feelings, nursing grudges against unknowing friends.

I dream of coyotes.

In my dream, the animals move east from their ancestral home range in the Great Plains into the Great Lakes and beyond. Some enter Ohio and Pennsylvania, while others cross north into Ontario before resuming their eastward journey. In Canada, they mix with remnants of a wolf population that roamed the east before being decimated by European settlers.

In my dream, it is the 1930s and coyotes are slipping south across the international border that no animal recognizes to enter New York state. Over the next three or four decades, they reach Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. By the 1990s, coyotes are thriving throughout Westchester and the Bronx, and in the last year of the last century, a young male crosses the waters that separate Manhattan Island from the mainland. Captured in Central Park, the coyote is banished to the Queens Zoo, where he still lives today.

Otis, the outrider, still lives in the Queens Zoo.

Otis, as he comes to be called, turns out to be a harbinger of a population on the move. In 2006, another young coyote turns up in Central Park, and within the first two months of 2010, coyotes are spotted in Chelsea, Central Park, Harlem, Morningside Heights and Highbridge Park. No one knows how many have come into Manhattan; it may be as many as four or five or, more likely, just one or two moving through city streets and parks. By early March, the animals seem to have melted into the city streets and left no trace behind.

Except for one. Sleeping by day in Hallett Nature Sanctuary at the southeast corner of Central Park, a solitary coyote emerges each night when the park grows quiet.

In my dream, I am staring into the dark forested slope of the Sanctuary, looking for movement. A slim, lithe, dog-like shadow slips across the little land bridge on the west side, bounds over the low fence that borders the walkway, and trots up the path. Repeatedly disturbed by oblivious walkers and once by Parks crew in golf carts with flashlights, the coyote swiftly leaps back, undetected, to the safety of the Sanctuary and disappears.

I wait in the gathering dark for a reappearance. Time passes. Raccoons haul their burly bodies out of hollow trees, groom themselves awake, then lumber to the ground and trundle off into the Sanctuary on mysterious rounds.

Central Park Raccoon, Bruce Yolton,

Cold now and tired from a week of early rising, I call it quits. I pass through Artists Gate and, still searching the park for movement, head west on 59th Street toward the subway.

And suddenly, the coyote is there, standing in a clearing next to a huge dark outcropping, directly across from Essex House. Its gaze is intelligent, alert and sharp, as if it’s trying to make an informed decision about which way to go.

I stop in my tracks. Behind me, carriage horses stand patiently with lowered heads, while their gossiping drivers wait for fares. Pedestrians hurry past. Inside the park wall, just a few yards away, the coyote occupies an untamed world that nests within the civilized world of the city like a Russian doll. My city holds so many worlds, perhaps an infinite number of worlds, worlds natural and unnatural, familiar and strange beyond imagining. In some few of these worlds, coyotes roam free.

Eyes meet across many borders, and hold.

Then the coyote turns and trots north out of sight.

I keep dreaming and do not wake up.

D. Bruce Yolton;

This post is part of the Carnival of Evolution #24, hosted by 360 Degree Skeptic. Visit the carnival and enjoy the rides.

I See the Central Park Coyote: Joy!

March 2, 2010

Yesterday I managed to get down just after sunset to the Pond at the southeastern end of Central Park to watch for the coyote. Photographer Bruce Yolton was already on the bridge with his big camera set up.  He said the coyote had been out on the ice about ten minutes before, but had left. We waited.

I walked a slow loop around the Hallett Nature Center and the pond, staring into the dusk, hoping to see the coyote on the other side. No luck. I rejoined Bruce on the bridge, and we waited some more in the gathering dark.

Two pitch-black shapes flew past us, low and swift. “Ducks,” Bruce said. They joined their tribe in the water under the bridge.

And then I caught a slim shape moving along the little spit of land that juts out onto the ice. The coyote!

Photo by D. Bruce Yolton/

It disappeared around the far side, so we moved around the path after it. We were able to watch it for quite a while. It came out onto the ice many times, trotting and occasionally breaking into a lope. Its trot is remarkably quick and its movements efficient. Once it made a grand, pouncing leap from the bank back to the ice.

Wary and shy, it slipped back into the sanctuary at the sound of loud voices. It seemed to be trying to find a quiet space through which it could move on out of its Hallett-Pond territory, but was constantly deterred by people walking their dogs, loud ice skating music on the nearby rink and other evening park activity.

How different it must be in the wee hours of the night, when the park is empty of humans and dogs, and the coyote has free run. I’d like to see that.

See more photos and a short video of last night’s coyote sighting at Urban Hawks.

NYC Snow Day Brings News of Central Park Raccoons and Coyotes

February 27, 2010

The Parks Department declares Saturday an official Snow Day, and is providing free sleds and hot cocoa at several parks, including Riverside at 103rd.

Snow Day!

Esay trees a squirrel

Esau and I went by to check it out.

We ran into Sunny and Sheriden, our Urban Park Ranger friends, who were supervising the happy sledders from the bottom of the hill.

As always, I was delighted to see them and, of course, pumped them for the latest on Central Park’s rabid raccoons and visiting coyotes.

Raccoon Update

In a little over a week, USDA biologists have already trapped, vaccinated, tagged and released around seventy raccoons in Central Park. Seventy!  Add in the sixty rabid raccoons collected since December 2009, and it’s pretty clear that the total Central Park raccoon population must be well into the hundreds. This extraordinary population density has undoubtedly contributed to the rapidity with which the disease has spread.

One raccoon, already tagged and vaccinated, found its way into a trap for a second time. Since it was injured (not related to the trapping, as far as I know), researchers euthanized it. Tests revealed that it was rabid. This doesn’t mean the inoculation failed, but rather that the raccoon had been infected prior to being vaccinated. Since rabies shows no symptoms until it reaches the brain (at which point the raccoon has only a few days to live), a number of infected but still apparently healthy animals are likely to be trapped, vaccinated and released. The disease will kill them, but meanwhile they may continue to infect healthy, as-yet-unvaccinated raccoons.

Still, I’m impressed with the city’s response and the cooperative effort of state and local agencies. I remain hopeful that the virus will be contained and our raccoon population, dramatically culled by disease, will again be healthy.

Sheriden also said that since the snowstorm, some of Central Park’s raccoons are finding their usual secretive pathways too deep in snow for comfort, and are taking to the main walkways of the park. She’s guessing they’ll be getting more calls than usual over the next couple of days as healthy raccoons that just don’t want to get their feet wet waddle down the same paths as rabies-conscious New Yorkers who are trying to steer clear of the wildlife.

Coyote Update

The Central Park coyote (or coyotes, since no one is quite sure how many there are) continues to run free. It is reported to be quite shy of people. Sunny saw it once down at the south end of the park, playing with the snow. She said no one is trying to catch it, at the moment; they’re concentrating on the raccoons. And both she and Sheriden seemed to be hoping that it might be allowed to stay. I have to assume, though, that officials are considering the unfortunate possibility that the coyote may contract rabies from the raccoons.

Whatever the eventual fate of 2010’s coyotes, evidence is mounting that coyotes are adapting to east coast city life. Ball’s in our court. We city dwellers had better start figuring out how we can adapt to them.

Keep checking back for the upcoming series on coyotes in the east.

Coyote Update: Central Park, Columbia University, Highbridge Park

February 24, 2010

The Central Park coyote is still here.

No further word on the three Columbia University animals. They seem to have melted into their city surroundings. They may have made their way to a park. On February 13th, a coyote was spotted at Highbridge Park up at the northern end of Manhattan. Is it one of the three Columbia coyotes or is it yet another visitor? No one knows. But it’s clear we have at least four coyotes on the island.

Gapstow Bridge over the Pond

The Central Park coyote has been seen most often on the frozen Pond at the south end of the park, near the Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

Hallett is a four-acre wooded area that is closed to the public to protect wildlife.

The coyote has also been seen at numerous locations in the park, including the Great Hill and the Pool up at the northern end.

Northern end of Central Park

I imagine that in the quiet of the night and early pre-dawn hours, our coyote can cover the entire park with ease.

Bruce Yolton of Urban Hawks shot new video of the coyote on the frozen Pond earlier this week. There’s something strange and poignant about seeing it play all alone with a discarded plastic bottle as lights from a passing emergency vehicle reflect on the ice. Bruce maintains that the nearby Nature Sanctuary “would be a perfect place for the Coyote to sleep during the day and was the favorite spot of the 2006 Coyote, Hal.”

Visit Urban Hawks to watch the video and see new photos.

Central Park Coyote, Bruce Yolton/

Then check back at “Out walking the dog” to read the start of a series on urban coyotes that will eventually include a little history on the Eastern Coyote, speculation on why they’re moving into these mean streets and what the future holds for city dwellers, both human and wild canid.

Meanwhile, remember: LEAVE THE WILDLIFE ALONE!  Don’t approach or feed our coyotes or raccoons. Most problems – forget the rabies for a minute – stem from humans providing food for wild animals. Animals then lose their natural fear of us, look on us as a food source and become bold and demanding.

But hey, even Esau gets that way when people give him too many treats.

Forever Wild Esau

Coyotes: Columbia University and Central Park

February 8, 2010

Three coyotes were spotted on Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus on Sunday morning. You read that right. Three! As far as I know, this is the first time a pack of coyotes has made its way into Manhattan. I’m impressed.

Police officers responded, but only spotted one, walking behind the Schapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research.

I hope Saint John the Divine keeps their lovely, free-ranging peacocks indoors for a while.

White peacock at St. John's by jskrybe/

Well, a trio of coyotes in the hood certainly puts a whole new spin on the Central Park coyote. Did a pack cross into Manhattan together? Is the Central Park coyote a member of the three-dog Columbia coyote pack? Just how many coyotes are there wandering about in upper Manhattan?

As far as we know this Monday morning, however many there are, they’re all still free and livin’ la vida loca in the heart of the city.

Last Friday, Esau and I went coyote-hunting in Central Park’s North Woods. No coyotes, but plenty of flyers with a cute drawing of a raccoon surrounded by the ominous words: Rabies Advisory:

Leave wildlife alone

All the official-looking people we talked to affirmed that the coyote was still out there…somewhere.  A Central Park Conservancy guy, tooling around in a golf cart, responded to our questions by asking if we knew Paul. No, we replied. Should we?

Apparently, Paul and his dog were walking on the Great Hill Thursday morning when they noticed a peculiar-looking dog, watching them from the other side of the mesh fencing. The coyote. When they resumed walking, the animal shadowed them, matching their pace and direction from its side of the fence.

At the ravine, we are amazed by the size of this root ball from a tree downed in last August’s freak storm.That mountain behind Esau is all root ball. Yowza.

Giant root ball

We wandered to the pool, where Bruce Yolton took last week’s photos of coyote on ice. We didn’t see the predator, but we did see some nice-looking prey:

Mallards in open water

When they’re not swimming, the mallards loaf around on the edge of the ice, like neighborhood corner guys, waiting for something interesting to happen.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure these quackers would recognize interesting unless it jumped up and bit them. Literally. They certainly seem blase about Esau’s presence. I’m guessing they’d make easy pickings for a hungry coyote.

But then, NYC is full of easy pickings, whether in the parks or on the streets. Especially on trash night when the big black bags are piled high. If Esau has caught rats on 108th Street, while leashed, a wild coyote would surely have a field day, and do us all a favor, in the process.

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