This Queens coyote – let’s call him Frank (yes, he is a boy) – has resided in a 6.5 ha wooded park near John F. Kennedy Airport since at least 2009. Since then, residents of an adjacent housing complex have occasionally photographed the coyote traversing their parking lot. When we arrived to deploy camera traps to “officially” document Frank, neighbors informed us about the coyote as soon as we stepped out of the car. One man we spoke to said he frequently sees the coyote and that it often eats food left out by his neighbors for stray cats. The people we spoke to were generally pleased, or at least intrigued, to have an interesting animal in their midst.
This part of Frank’s story is typical of the urban coyote. Despite reports of packs, we believe Frank is a loner. He quietly made his entry years ago. Over time, he’s gotten used to living close to humans, some of which inadvertently feed him. Eventually, this type of habituation could lead to a coyote problem. But Frank owns at least one distinction: He is our first documented resident Long Island, NY coyote. While most native New Yorkers refuse to admit it, the NYC borough of Queens is on Long Island. The Island is one of the largest land masses in the northeast that – as far as we know – does not support a coyote population. Yet the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk are dominated by suburban development and numerous large open space parcels and would make great habitat for eastern coyotes. To get to Queens and the greener pastures beyond, a dispersing coyote has to either swim the Long Island Sound or cross one of several large bridges that connect the boroughs to each other and the mainland. All these routes require braving dozens of kilometers of Gotham’s concrete jungle.
For the past two years, we have been leading an effort to document coyote site occupancy and colonization in the NYC metropolitan area. Researchers from a number of local conservation organizations, including the Mianus River Gorge, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Pace University have set up cameras across 25 parks in the NYC metropolitan area. Our goals are to predict which parks are most likely to support coyotes and identify corridors. Coyotes are already widely distributed across most of the Bronx, NYC’s only mainland borough, and Manhattan Island sees a few dispersers on occasion. Long Island is coming and we hope to document this substantial range expansion in real-time.
The colonization of Long Island is an amazing opportunity for academics, but it is also a real problem for land managers. The urban coyote has quickly forced us to rethink our perception of what is traditionally considered habitat. City and suburban dwellers do not expect to share their open spaces with coyotes. The coyote is a creature of the American West, not their backyard. Arguments for the coyotes filling a vacant ecological niche will fall on deaf ears when the public concern is ultimately the safety of their pets and children. In the end, the public will determine the fate of the urban coyote. Hopefully wildlife professionals in NYC can get in front of this issue with education campaigns before a negative encounter with a coyote drives the narrative.
Reprinted with permission from Urban Wildlife News – The Newsletter of the Urban Wildlife Working Group of The Wildlife Society. Volume 10, Number 2, Winter 2012