Eastern Coyotes in New York
Photos taken by Wolf Conservation Center neighbors in Westchester County, NY
Historically, wolves inhabited the heavily forested lands of New York. However, as increased logging and farming claimed more habitat, and unregulated hunting and trapping took more wolves (bounties were paid for wolves into the early 1800s), wolf numbers dropped until they were no longer found in the Northeast. Such drastic changes to the state's habitat and wildlife community primed the stage for an unexpected animal-the coyote-to fill the niche left vacant by wolves.
Coyotes were once limited to Midwestern prairies and the arid southwest. However, today, they can be found from the boreal forests of North America to nearly the Panama Canal and from coast to coast. Throughout their range, they inhabit numerous biomes (or ecological communities), including deserts, grasslands and forests-no small feat for any animal. This remarkable range expansion is an increase of 40% from their historic range, and is primarily in response to anthropogenic (manmade) changes. No other carnivore has experienced as large a range expansion.
While coyotes are now widespread in New York, they only recently became established here. Interestingly, they did not enter from the west as one might expect, but instead passed through Canada north of the Great Lakes before turning south into northern New York. By the late 1930s and '40s, coyotes were established in Franklin County, and by the 1980s, coyotes were found throughout the state except in New York City and on Long Island.
In the 1990s, coyotes continued spreading, quietly backfilling suburban areas passed over during their initial surge. Today, sightings of coyotes make headlines in many cities and suburbs. Coyotes even inhabit the Bronx; the only New York City borough attached to upstate and the mainland. On occasion, these stealthy explorers permeate other island boroughs, and when detected in places such as Central Park or the campus of Columbia University, their presence garners a hail of media and police attention. In 2011, someone photographed a coyote in Queens, and in 2013, black-and-white photographic evidence showed a solitary coyote as far east as Bridgehampton, Long Island. Hustling to keep pace with this elusive canid, biologists are preparing to study the implications of a new carnivore on Long Island: the last frontier for coyotes in New York, and the last large landmass unoccupied by coyotes in the east.
Excerpted with permission from Bogan, D. A. 2014. Rise of the Eastern Coyote. New York State Conservationist. 68(6): 20–23 (link to aricle). Dan Bogan, Ph.D. studied eastern coyote ecology and management at Cornell University. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Siena College.