WESTCHESTER, N.Y. – Coyotes are one of the most common predators in wooded areas throughout the northeast. Local wildlife experts say coyotes often go out of their way to avoid humans, and taking simple precautions can further prevent perennial encounters.
“I’ve been working in Westchester for eight years now, and I’ve come across five coyotes,” said Mark Weckel of Mianus River Gorge Preserve. Weckel is the Bedford preserve’s director of research and land management, and has studied coyotes in Westchester and New York City for the last five years.
“I’m not walking on the trails. You have to remember, I’m backpacking, I’m bushwhacking, I’m going places looking for them, and I’ve seen only five, and everyone has run from me,” Weckel said.
Weckel has found populations of coyotes as far south as the Bronx and Queens, and says coyotes populate nearly every large wooded park in Westchester. Using “camera traps” triggered by warm-blooded mammals’ movement, he has been able to photograph and document the candids.
Still, people are far more likely to suffer injury from an unleashed dog than a coyote. On average, the NYSDEC says 650 people are hospitalized each year in New York, and one killed, by dog attacks. Only a handful of people nationally suffer injuries from coyotes. The NYSDEC believes somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 coyotes live in New York in summertime.
Multiple reports nationwide document the expansion of the coyote from the iconic desert landscape in the Southwest and Mexico into even the largest American cities. Since the extirpation of wolves and cougars in the Northeastern United States, thought to be around the 1880s in New York State, coyotes have begun expanding their territory rapidly.
The 35 to 45 pound canids look similar to dogs in build, coats vary from red to gray, and they prefer to hunt alone, and live in “family units,” as opposed to traditional “packs,” according to Weckel and NYSDEC. Suburban dwellers in Westchester are far more likely to see a coyote than other large predators, like black bears or bobcats, which the NYSDEC says do not have substantial populations south of the Catskills.
“Even if it’s a densely urban area, the coyotes that are radio collared always tend to hug the most natural areas as possible,” Weckel said. “So they’re going out of their way to spend as much time as possible in those remote, ‘quote, unquote’ wild areas, whether it’s in suburbia or in the Bronx, they’re trying to find the tree-line, not the brushy areas.”
Weckel said he has only heard of one 10-year-old report on a rabid coyote in the area, and strains of rabidity that tend to affect coyotes are mostly in Texas. Residents should be cautious of animals acting strange, prowling in the day or being aggressive to humans.
“We do need predators to help control prey populations, so we should be accepting of those that have adapted to living in the environments which we have set up for them, all the while mitigating any potential conflict,” said Weckel, about coyotes that avoid human contact and prowl mostly at night, when most people are indoors.
Weckel says people living near woods or golf courses should take certain precautions. Coyotes are most active at night, so don’t leave your pets outside at night, especially tethered dogs for example. Coyotes can view dogs as a threat and would injure or kill dogs in fights. Cats can become prey for coyotes.
Other simple ways to mitigate coyote encounters include limiting rodents access to garbages and bird seed, because coyotes are attracted to rodent populations. Weckel says he currently does not have specific data on the topic of population control, but coyotes can and do eat rodents and deer fawn.
“Throughout the wolves and cougar range, wherever they’ve been extirpated you kind of create a vacuum and everyone knows that nature abhors a vacuum,” Weckel said.