Long Island is one of the few places in the United States where coyotes are not regularly seen, and researchers in New York City believe it’s just a matter of time before these wild dogs become a common sight here.
The organizers of the Gotham Coyote Project, which documents the lives of coyotes in New York City, are working on a new project called Wild Suburbia to help Long Islanders document the presence of coyotes, bobcats and foxes here.
Wildlife biologist Dr. Chris Nagy gave an overview of the project to attendees at the Long Island Natural History Conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory in March.
“Coyotes are super-flexible, super-adaptable and very intelligent animals,” he said. “They were concentrated in the prairies and deserts, but now, Long Island is one of the last places in North America where they are not.”
Two sightings of a lone coyote have been documented in the past two years near farm fields in Bridgehampton and Water Mill, and residents of Fishers Island have been hearing them howl for years, and have taken to keeping their cats indoors to keep them from being eaten by coyotes.
Dr. Nagy said he’s not surprised to hear about these sightings. A lone coyote has been living in a park in Queens since 2009, and his research team has captured video for several years of coyote activity in the Bronx. They’ve even become common in Westchester.
One lone coyote was even seen this week on the roof of a bar in Long Island City.
Dr. Nagy said there are two distinct routes that coyotes took when heading east from the western plains — a route across the southern United States, and a route over the Great Lakes and through Canada, where they might have bred with wolves.
Dr. Nagy said these northern coyotes are 30 percent larger than the original population, and it’s these larger coyotes that have populated the New York metropolitan area.
He said he believes it’s quite feasible that a coyote who made its way through New York City could have walked the length of Long Island and ended up in Bridgehampton in a couple weeks.
“I’ve never bet against coyotes colonizing a place,” he said.
Dr. Nagy said the purpose of the Wild Suburbia Project is to “have as many eyes on the ground as we can” to document the movement of coyotes on Long Island.
He hopes residents of Long Island log in and document the absence of coyotes if they don’t see them here now, because the documentation of their absence will be as useful to scientists as the documentation of their presence when they arrive.
“If you see a coyote — let us know,” he said. “If you see nothing at your house, that’s valuable information. Fill me in every year. It’s nice to have a steady stream of data.”
Wild Suburbia is also documenting the population of Long Island foxes, in an attempt to see what happens to their population when the coyotes arrive.
Dr. Nagy added that people don’t need to fear coyotes — he pointed to statistics that domestic dogs bite 4.5 million people and cause 34 deaths each year, while 450 people die each year falling out of bed and vending machines cause two deaths per year.
He said 142 coyote attacks against humans were reported between 1960 and 2006 — mostly in southern California — but only two human deaths have ever been attributed to coyotes.
Coyotes are primarily nocturnal, and don’t approach humans unless they’ve been fed and become accustomed to human interaction, which wildlife biologists strongly discourage. They also discourage feeding or leaving your pets outside in areas where coyotes are present.
“They like to stay away from humans,” said Dr. Nagy.