The coyotes of Manhattan: Meet New York City’s thriving wildlife underbelly

The coyotes of Manhattan: Meet New York City’s thriving wildlife underbelly
·4 min read

Last February, footage emerged of a New York City local peacefully enjoying a walk through a snowy corner of Central Park.

The New Yorker in question was seen strolling near a pond on the east side, with parks department officials asking people to “stay calm”, local news channel ABC 7 reported.

The individual in question was a coyote — a nearly three-foot long carnivorous canine with tawny fur, perky ears and a bushy tail, known in the US mainly for suburban dog-snatchings, and unsuccessful (but fictional) attempts to catch a certain roadrunner in the desert Southwest.

While such a predator may seem out of place in the heart of New York City, the Central Park coyote wasn’t the only one of its kind in Manhattan. Coyotes have also been spotted on the Upper West Side as well as in parks along the far northern tip of the island, per Gothamist — in addition to spots in the outer boroughs of Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

And those are just the coyotes. Researchers recently set out to document the full extent of mammalian life in New York — from chipmunks to feral cats — and found a panoply of furry, hoofed and clawed creatures who call the Big Apple home.

The scientists placed motion-activated camera traps, that can quickly snap photos of passing animals, in 31 parks around the city, spanning every borough except Staten Island, along with parts of Long Island and Westchester. They published their results this month in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

In total, they recorded at least 15 different mammals — including domestic dogs, domestic cats and humans. Some of the wild species are seen often such as gray squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks.

But others lurk through the streets of Gotham mostly undetected, preferring the shadows to the open fields — like raccoons, skunks and Virginia opossums, all of which were found across the city.

And then there were even more unexpected visitors, like the coyotes and some red foxes — as well as white-tailed deer, which were seen in a few spots in the Bronx. The camera traps even picked up one mink, a ferret-like relative of weasels, in a Manhattan park underneath the George Washington Bridge.

Coyotes, despite showing up in Central Park prior, only appeared on camera traps in Inwood Hill Park at the very northern tip of Manhattan, as well as in the Bronx and Queens.

Unsurprisingly, the study also noted that they snagged photos of small rodents in the Muridae family — i.e., rats and mice.

Some of these were pretty common. Cats, squirrels and racoons were picked up in every single park they looked at, for example. Both humans and opossums showed up in camera traps in 87 per cent of the parks.

The researchers analysed what might be drawing these animals to different parks. They found that larger parks tended to attract more species, and areas that were more “natural” — meaning less altered by humans — had higher species diversities, on average.

That’s rather intuitive, as you could more imagine a deer enjoying an afternoon in a larger, quasi-suburban spot in the Bronx surrounded by fields and trees than at the small but mighty Washington Square Park in downtown Manhattan, complete with skateboarders and buskers.

The data reflected as much, with the highest species richness found in spots like Pelham Bay Park and Van Cortland Park, two larger swaths of habitat in the Bronx.

New York City might also be just a bit too urbanized for some animals who live elsewhere in the state, the authors note, such as black bears and bobcats.

The study only looked at mammals, and didn’t touch Staten Island, the least population-dense borough. In addition to mammals, the city is home to birds like red-tailed hawks and great blue herons, reptiles like turtles and any number of insects, cockroaches included.

But overall, these results could show a more hospitable landscape for wildlife across New York City than might be imagined — and a potentially brighter future.

“While urbanization is generally detrimental to biodiversity, we found that there were greenspaces in the New York metropolitan area where mammalian diversity was high,” the study authors wrote.

“This suggests that there is a potential to make cities more suitable habitats for many mammalian species and that a barren ecology is not inevitable.”