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The Coyotes Are Coming

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Research posts

The howl of a coyote has long been associated with the American West. But over the last century, these canny canines have expanded their range dramatically, fanning out all over North America. Coyotes have been found as far north as Alaska and as far south as Panama. And in recent years, coyotes have arrived in New York as well. 

Mother coyote and pups, photographed in the Bronx, NY.
A mother coyote and her pups photographed in the Bronx by Gotham Coyote Project’s cameras.
© Gotham Coyote Project

Over the past few months, these normally shy animals have been making themselves known in the city, with appearances in Queens and Manhattan’s Riverside Park. Mark Weckel, manager of the Museum’s Science Research and Mentorship Program also works with the Gotham Coyote Project (GCP), which monitors populations of coyotes and foxes in the city, and says that the recent sightings shouldn’t come as a surprise. Coyotes are now a fixture of the city’s wildlife—just not one New Yorkers can expect to encounter very often. 

“Urban coyotes have smaller home ranges, and they find the areas we frequent the least,” says Dr. Weckel.

Weckel and his colleagues says that animals like the one spotted in Riverside Park are likely tourists from the Bronx, where a breeding population has been established for years. The GCP has been following these populations with video cameras for several years, capturing images like this sequence of coyote pups at play.

Coyote Pup Gif
Urban coyote pups play just like any other dogs, though with some different toys.
© Gotham Coyote Project

Coyotes like those recently spotted in Manhattan and on Long Island are often young individuals, called transients, getting ready to branch off from their families and establish territories of their own. While these animals are unlikely to find a foothold in Manhattan, which lacks the secluded, wooded areas where coyotes can thrive, Long Island is another story. 

In April, GCP staff including Weckel published an article in the journal Cities and the Environment that described the establishment of a coyote population on Long Island as “inevitable and imminent.” With coyote expansion to the outer boroughs a foregone conclusion, the GCP is trying to anticipate how the coyotes will make inroads to these new habitats. That should help them study how the arrival of a top predator—which New York City hasn’t had in generations—changes ecosystems.

Coyote Bronx
A coyote photographed in a park in the Bronx.
© Gotham Coyote Project

“We’re developing computer models that tell us where we want to monitor for colonization,” says Weckel. “We’ll need to collect baseline data on coyote prey like rodents, and competitors like foxes, before coyotes arrive. That way, we can better understand the coyote’s role and impact.”

So what does the coyotes’ move into more parts of the city mean for New Yorkers? Not much, Weckel says. Despite the spate of appearances this spring, coyotes are retiring animals that are happiest—and most successful—when they avoid humans. The continued growth of coyote populations also provides a great opportunity to educate people about the wildlife around them.

“There is very little risk to living next to coyotes because they don’t want to see you or be seen by you,” Weckel says. “The idea of urban coyotes can be strange, but it can also make us think about the city as an ecosystem in different ways."