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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Streetwise Coyotes in the Big Apple

NEW YORK -- Gotham's newest immigrant comes with a reputation for cunning. The Indians called him a trickster who could steal fire and create humans from feathers, mud and straw.


The coyote, like the millions of other creatures who call New York home, will surely have to use every trick it knows to survive in the city.


"I thought they were supposed to be wily," said city Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, referring to the cartoon character, Wile E. Coyote. "They're not so swift about crossing the Major Deegan."


It was on the six-lane Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx that the city's first coyote was found last February -- struck and killed by a passing vehicle. Since then, officials have been trying to figure out how to make the city's newest immigrant settle in.


It hasn't been easy.


A coyote was found shot in Van Cortlandt Park, another male hit by a car was found dead in Pelham Bay Park. A second coyote was killed on the Major Deegan in May.


After the third car-coyote fatality, Bronx Parks Commissioner Williams Castro suggested the city put up motorist-alert signs warning of "Coyote Crossing" near where authorities believe the canines are entering the city from neighboring Westchester County.


The signs are still pending, but additional fencing is being erected.


One of the coyotes struck on the parkway was given the nickname Major and urban park rangers had him stuffed this fall. He was put on display first at a festival in Brooklyn and then moved to the headquarters of the city's Parks and Recreation Department in the newly dubbed Coyote Chamber.


Eventually it will be displayed at the Van Cortlandt Park Urban Ecology Center "to serve as an ecological example and tell the tale of the coyote in New York," said Bradley Tusk, spokesman for the parks department.


The most famous Bronx coyote was a male dubbed Wiley that made its home in Woodlawn Cemetery and was fed table scraps by a concerned couple who thought he was a stray dog until told otherwise.


Wiley appeared sickly but authorities persuaded people to stop feeding him. The animal hasn't been seen at the cemetery recently, but Castro believes he is doing all right somewhere.


There have been other live coyote sightings in Van Cortlandt Park and even in Riverdale, a section of large homes, according to Castro.


The coyote, or Canis latrans, is known for its nighttime serenade of eerie howls. Once they lived only in western North America, but now are fairly common throughout most of the United States.


"Coyotes are very widespread in New York state," said Michael McKeon, spokesman for the state Department of Environment Conservation. "We think they're everywhere but Long Island." They're not good swimmers.


They're hunted for their pelts in upstate New York, McKeon said. Incensed trappers recorded 1,315 coyotes taken in 1993-94.


As for why they're suddenly coming to the Big Apple, McKeon said coyotes are just spreading out. They often go looking for food, and if there are many pups that survive the winter, the search for food expands."Pups are born and are pushed out of the nest," he said. "There's no Mom coyote bemoaning an empty next here. Coyotes are migratory and they go in every direction, like the spokes of a wheel."


Moving toward the city is a "natural progression," he said. "They're moving up, moving over and moving down as part of nature's progress."


As long as there's green space, coyotes can survive, explained Gordon Batcheller, also of the DEC.


"The green belt along the Hudson River can potentially support a coyote," he said. "Some unoccupied buildings could attract coyotes. They are very adaptable as long as there's some green space."


The coyotes found in the city have all been young, 2 or 3 years old, Castro said. They are variable in color, from black, brown to beige and weigh as much as 27 kilograms, which makes the Eastern coyote about nine kilograms heavier than those that roam the Western plains.


Coyotes have been sighted in the suburbs of New York for years. While coyotes tend to be shy around people, incidents of human attacks are not unknown.


"If the coyote associates people with food, it can attack," Castro said.


Ideally, he would like to catch some of the new residents and tag them with radio collars so scientists can observe them. But, Castro says, "Our policy right now is to leave them alone."