North Fork sightings prompt ‘Coyote Talk’ with experts

They’re here, they’re not leaving, and they’re being watched — coyotes on the North Fork that is.

Three recent sightings scurrying around the North Fork prompted “Coyote Talk,” an educational presentation hosted by the Long Island Coyote Study Group at Hallock State Park Preserve last month. It attracted a standing-room-only crowd concerned about the region’s newest inhabitants.

Area experts who track coyotes tried to allay fears about the elusive bushy-tailed canines by explaining that the eastern coyote is actually extremely wary of humans because they’ve been hunted for centuries. 

“We understand some people are anxious, so we’re urging everyone not to leave food outside for any animal because that could attract coyotes and it’s not good for them to become habituated to us,” said Frank Vincenti, president of the Mineola-based nonprofit Wild Dog Foundation. Mr. Vincenti said the coyotes are a welcome addition to the North Fork, as they may keep the raccoon population down, which helps preserve the bird population because raccoons are notorious nest predators. 

Keeping track of the animals’ whereabouts is no small task, as the average coyote commonly travels up to 12 miles a day. “With their small feet they can traverse shallow snow easily and we’re getting less snow here because of global warming. This aided in the coyote expansion east,” Mr. Vincenti said. Trackers were out after the most recent snowstorm, looking for paw prints.

Mr. Vincenti said coyotes are beginning to colonize the East End possibly by swimming over from Connecticut or even traveling through New York City’s tunnels and along railroad lines into Queens. A pair was briefly observed living in Central Park, Mr. Vincenti said. Officials are currently monitoring approximately 30 coyotes in the New York City area. “Back in 2016, workers at LaGuardia airport were leaving food for them in a parking lot,” Mr. Vincenti said. “Eleven coyotes congregated there on a regular basis and because they were being fed, 10 of them were trapped and killed. If they had lived, their offspring could’ve dispersed and colonized Long Island sooner.”

The U.S. city with the highest density of coyotes is Chicago. Speakers said in the Windy City, they survive mostly on human garbage.

“The key is to maintain the coyote’s natural fear of humans,” said Jennifer Murray, one of the talk’s organizers and a member of Turtleback Environmental Education Center at Hallock preserve. “The North Fork community has the opportunity now to prepare prior to coyotes establishing, and adjust our habits to avoid potential conflicts. Keep your dogs leashed, keep cats indoors and do not leave pet food outside overnight.” She said that small dogs should never be left unattended, even in the absence of coyotes, because great horned owls also prey upon small pets. 

Beginning in roughly 1995, coyotes have stealthily traveled east and have been seen in Robert Moses Park, Fire Island, Syosset and Plainview. The first East End sighting was in 2013 in East Hampton. In 2017, one was first spotted on the North Fork. 

Weighing between 30 and 50 pounds with a mix of coyote, domestic dog and wolf genes, experts say eastern coyotes are very adaptable to living on the East End, hunting birds, rabbits, raccoons, fawns, turkeys, geese and insects, and foraging for fruits and vegetables.

“It’s a natural expansion for the species. Now that the wolf population in the Northeast has been wiped out, they don’t have any competition, and their biggest threats are cars and hunters,” said Lisa Filippi, biology professor at Hofstra University. She pointed out that a coyote was killed recently on the Northern State Parkway in East Williston; their lifespan here on Long Island is only two to four years, with vehicles being the No. 1 reason for their short life. Dr. Filippi added that experts are hopeful the coyotes will help reduce the population of Canadian geese which have overrun the area.

Eastern coyotes are most active at night, but are not exclusively nocturnal. “We do expect more of them to move out here from Nassau County in the next few years,” Ms. Filippi said, noting that the species in expanding all across the East Coast. There are numerous cameras tracking area coyotes, monitored by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and members of the Long Island Coyote Study Group. Hunters also provide footage of coyotes and “have been a great resource for us,” Ms. Filippi added.

“Is it true that coyotes were introduced in Wading River intentionally to control our deer population?” one attendee asked during the question and answer session.

The speakers quickly put that rumor to rest, saying that would be illegal. “This is why we’re holding education sessions around the island,” Ms. Murray said, “to dispel the myths on social media.” 

The Long Island Coyote Study Group is comprised of several organizations, including participants from Seatuck Environmental Association, the state Department of Parks, the DEC, Hofstra University and the Wild Dog Foundation. “We want to educate people and find out how they perceive coyotes. We also encourage everyone to report the illegal hunting of coyotes,” said Seatuck conservation scientist Arielle Santos. A coyote carcass washed up in Mattituck in 2019, the year the group began tracking the species through sightings, trail cameras and scat samples. 

“Why don’t you tag them?” asked another audience member. Ms. Filippi said they are thinking about that, but the process is expensive and time-consuming. She added that conservationists receive a fair amount of photos from people claiming they’ve seen a coyote, when in fact it was a dog.

“We want to train volunteers to help us track them so we can coexist with coyotes,” said Ms. Santos, who moderated the lecture. Seatuck has an online tracker that any observer can post to at seatuck.org/coyote-tracker. 

Ms. Santos encouraged North Fork residents to secure their garbage cans. “We want to minimize interaction between our pets, us and coyotes,” she said. Other experts said that coyotes only approach humans when their typical food sources have been disrupted. 

All of the speakers emphasized that coyotes are quite skittish around people. To discourage them from congregating near private property, homeowners should install decorations that move in the wind, the simplest and cheapest device being pinwheels.

Christine Macuska and her friend Beatrice Friedli, both of Rocky Point, came to the presentation because they are a bit worried about the new visitors. Both agreed the talk helped assuage some of their fears. 

“It is fascinating to hear how far they range and that they’re swimming,” Ms. Friedli said. 

“It’s not going to stop me hiking or biking,” Ms. Macuska added.