Good morning. It’s Monday. I am filling in for James Barron, who has the day off. Today we’ll look at the presence of coyotes in and around New York City.
Credit…Robert Stolarik for The New York Times
New York City is a land of superlatives. It was the country’s first capital city. It also has the biggest transit system in the U.S. and the most World Series titles. (Sorry, Mets fans. Your time will come.)
But in one weird way, we’re near the bottom of the pack: We’re one of the last major American cities where coyotes have taken up residence.
“Every city in the continental U.S. pretty much has coyotes,” said Dr. Chris Nagy, a founder of the Gotham Coyote Project, which has been studying coyotes here for over a decade. In New York, he said, “it’s taken a little longer.”
Why? Simple, Dr. Nagy said: It’s “a happenstance of geography.”
Coyotes are from the Great Plains and the Southwest. They have only recently made their way east, looping up over the Great Lakes and through Ontario, he said.
Nagy, who also directs research at the Mianus River Gorge, a conservationist group, said that coyotes were relatively new to New York.
A few coyotes first reached the Bronx in the 1990s. That itself was quite a feat.
“Getting into the city basically requires traveling across bridges that have a tremendous amount of traffic,” said Stanley D. Gehrt, a professor of wildlife ecology at Ohio State University who researches coyotes.
“Coyotes can do that,” he said. “It’s just not that easy.”
Then, they spread out through the city. That’s also a challenge, Gehrt said: There is not that much green space here for them to roam.
“It’s just much more what we call concrete and steel per square yard than in some of the other large cities,” he said.
Researchers estimate that there are about 20 coyotes in New York City, a number that fluctuates with the seasons. (That’s tiny, but trending slightly upward, Nagy said. )
Their geographic range is growing. In March, one ambled down a street in Queens. A month later, police officers rescued one from the East River. Long Island is probably next, Nagy said: “Once coyotes get there, we would totally expect them to flourish.”
Those encounters certainly inspire curiosity and draw headlines: In 2020, the police urged people to keep their distance after reports of a coyote wandering through Central Park. But coyotes themselves pose little danger, scientists said: Attacks on humans are frightening — but rare.
“The perception of the risk is much greater than the actual risk,” Gehrt said.
But reports of coyote sightings do tend to spook us, even if the animals don’t actually approach. The fear may partially stem from our preconceptions of what a city is, said Colin Jerolmack, a professor of sociology and environmental studies at New York University.
“We often think about ‘the city’ as the place where wild animals are not,” Jerolmack said, adding, “which means that when we encounter these animals, we see them as trespassers and we declare war on them.”
Coyotes also have an especially bad reputation.
Humans have long viewed them as inherently mean or as vectors of disease or bad luck. They have been known to harm or kill suburban pets, although researchers say such encounters are rare.
“Even some of the people who like to love wolves and think they’re these wonderful, spiritual beings often look at coyotes as these dirty little varmints,” Nagy said.
In fact, ecologists say, it’s easy to coexist with coyotes. They’re hardly underfoot: There are so few of them, and the city’s population seems stable.
And while coyotes do eat our trash, scientists have found that the animals usually stick to a more natural diet. Researchers at Fordham University found last year that coyotes still hunted small mammals and ate bugs and plants, just as they would in a more wild “wild.”
Still, if you see one, it’s good to know what to do:
Observe coyotes at a distance and do not get too close. It’s safer for you, and for them.
If they come close — within about 20 yards — Nagy said to try to get them to retreat. Make loud noises and make yourself look bigger by waving your arms.
Do not feed coyotes on purpose, and use trash bins that close tightly.
“They can find enough food in the parks that they don’t need us to supplement it,” said Carol Henger, who led genetic research of the coyote population when she was a graduate student at Fordham.
The best way to keep your pet safe from a coyote — and a coyote safe from your pet — is to keep them apart.
“There are definitely times when coyotes do attack a pet and occasionally they may bite someone, but it’s extremely rare,” Gehrt said.
Wildlife experts recommend keeping cats indoors and dogs leashed, especially in wooded areas. It’s safer for everyone to let wild animals be wild.
Expect a mostly sunny day with highs in the low 60s. The night will be cloudier with temperatures in the low 50s.
In effect until Nov. 1 (All Saints Day).
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I was taking a path through Prospect Park on my way home from the farmers’ market at Grand Army Plaza on a Saturday. I noticed a man and a woman staring up at the trees quietly.
“What’s up there?” I asked.
The woman said she thought the bird that she and the man, her father, were observing was a hawk. She pointed to a branch on one of the trees and tried to help me find the bird.
Moving from one spot to another, I tried to see what they were seeing, but it was difficult with the sunlight streaming through the dense cluster of maples and oaks.
A few minutes later, a woman pushing a shopping cart appeared and asked what we were looking at.
I told her I was looking for a hawk — probably red-shouldered, perhaps a juvenile — and was going to try to point my cellphone at it, take a picture and then enlarge it. But I was having as much trouble composing the photo as finding the bird.
The woman suggested trying to get a better view from a different spot, and we finally both got a look at the hawk.
As we prepared to go our separate ways, I told her I had enjoyed our chat. She asked my name.
When I told her, she looked surprised.
Wait, she said. Did you go to Performing Arts High School?
Suddenly, I recognized her from 60 years ago.
— Riva Rosenfield
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. James Barron returns tomorrow. — A.N.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Ashley Shannon Wu and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].