Coyotes

Eastern Coyote (Canis Latrans)

Coyote Crossing Road
An adult coyote crossing a roadway

Introduction

New York City is a place made up of millions of individuals, all independently exploring the dense urban landscape right alongside one another. Whether it is the daily grind of urban life that makes New Yorkers so self-reliant, or the city simply attracts people who are independent by nature, it is this shared mindset that makes New York City a fitting environment for eastern coyotes (Canis latrans). 

Eastern coyotes, like many New York City residents, are naturally curious and adaptable. They can explore as much as 10 miles of open space in a single day—that’s roughly the distance from Wall Street to the top of Central Park. And despite being skilled hunters, they can alter their diet to include whatever is available in their current environment. In a place like New York, that means discarded pet food and trash are on the menu. So if you cross paths with a coyote in New York City, respect them the same way you would any other New Yorker, and give them plenty of space. They just want the freedom to independently explore New York City too.

Two Coyotes
Two adult coyotes

General Information

Background

Coyotes can range from northern Alaska all the way south to Costa Rica. Like many New Yorkers, our coyotes are not originally from around here. Formerly, coyotes were residents of the Great Plains and Southwest. Over time they extended their range. Now eastern coyotes can be found throughout New York State, including parts of New York City. Here they live in urban forests, suburban neighborhoods, and parklands. Some of our local coyotes’ ancestors first moved into the Bronx in the 1990s from other parts of New York State. Though our local coyotes are still mostly Bronx residents, some of the younger generations have begun branching out into other boroughs like Queens. Usually coyotes occupy the same two square mile territory all year long. However, just like true New Yorkers, they are willing to move if another piece of prime real estate becomes available.

Appearance

Fashionable city dwellers know that your wardrobe needs to evolve with the seasons. Our local coyotes apparently got the memo. In winter, their coats often appear longer, fuller, and lighter in color. In the summer their coats thin out and become darker. The fur of an eastern coyote varies in color. They can appear brown, blonde, red, black, or a mix thereof. Coyotes are about the same size as a medium-sized dog and are sometimes mistaken for them. One way of distinguishing between a coyote and a dog is by looking for a black tip at the end of the tail, which coyotes generally have. Most coyotes are four to five feet in length, including a 12-15 inch tail. Coyote tracks often look similar to that of a dog, except that they leave an imprint of just the middle two claws. Coyote tracks are generally in a straight line compared to the more irregular pattern that dogs leave.

Behavior

Eastern coyotes are not introverts—they like to be out and about. They can be visible throughout the year, exploring their surroundings or searching for their next meal. They become more vocal in late summer and early fall, and will howl and yip to mark their territories or reunite their family group. They can travel 3-10 miles in a day, run 35-43 miles per hour, and swim at least half a mile.

It is probably for the best that they stay so active, because coyotes will eat whatever is available to them whenever they are hungry. Coyotes prefer to eat prey like mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits. That said, they are not picky eaters, and will expand their diets to include plant materials, berries, and insects depending on what is seasonally and locally available. Coyotes will even eat pet food that is left outside, bird seed from feeders, and garbage, so it is important not to unintentionally feed coyotes this way. These easily accessible food sources are like coyote fast food—not only is it unhealthy for them to eat, but it makes them less motivated to hunt for their own meals. They are naturally skilled hunters, employing a variety of hunting strategies including hunting alone, in pairs, with their family group, and scavenging.

Eastern coyotes in New York City can be solitary or live in a family group consisting of parents and their young. Many of the coyotes currently living in the city can actually be traced back to the original group that first arrived in the Bronx, so they truly are multi-generational New Yorkers. As their families have gotten bigger, they have begun branching out into other boroughs—a situation that any city resident with a growing family can certainly relate to.

Coyotes usually mate for life. The peak mating season is in late winter, from January to March. Coyote pups are born approximately two months later, in April and May. Pups are born blind and covered with short fur. Once pups are approximately 9 months old, they usually begin to disperse from their parents. Many public sightings occur during this time due to their increased visibility. In some cases, pups will stay behind and remain with their family groups for another year before leaving. 

In the wild, eastern coyotes usually live for one to three years. Some individuals have been documented as surviving for 6-10 years. Adult coyotes have no natural predators in New York City. Hunting, disease, and vehicle collisions are the major causes of death for coyotes.

Adult Coyote in the Snow
An adult coyote exploring a snowy landscape

Fast Facts

  • Coyotes have been present in New York since the 1930s, and have been firmly established throughout the state since the 1970s.
  • Coyotes are currently known to live within Queens and the Bronx. 
  • Coyotes help control the overpopulation of deer, particularly fawns, in some parts of their range.
  • They do not form true packs, but sometimes live in family units of up to six coyotes while young.

Coexisting With Coyotes in NYC

  • Do not feed coyotes. Keeping coyotes wild is the key to coexistence. Feeding coyotes can cause them to lose their natural hunting instincts and cause coyotes to associate humans with food.
  • Observe and appreciate coyotes from a distance. Though they may look similar to dogs, coyotes are wild animals. The best way to ensure both your safety and the safety of the coyote is to keep your distance.
  • Store all food and garbage in animal-proof containers. Coyotes are very resourceful, and will find ways into unsecured trash bins and pet food containers.
  • Protect your pets. Walk dogs on a leash and keep cats inside for safety.
  • Keep coyotes wary. If you are approached, make yourself look bigger by putting your arms up, and make loud noises until the coyote retreats. Appreciate coyotes from a distance.