Experts estimate less than 20 on Long Island

Examining the coyote population in Nassau County

Who’s afraid of the big bad coyote?


Coyotes, once absent from Long Island, have been gradually making a return. These elusive predators sparked both curiosity and concern among residents when they first began arriving, but in the near decade since the coyotes began migrating back to Long Island, the wild canines have kept a low profile.

Current estimates suggest that there are fewer than 20 coyotes on the island, with populations primarily concentrated in western Nassau County.

Frank Vincenti, director of the Wild Dog Foundation, has been tracking these coyotes closely since they first arrived and noted there have been fluctuations in their numbers due to factors such as breeding success and accidents. Despite occasional setbacks, including the loss of breeding animals to vehicle collisions, the population has remained stable.

“We think there are about maybe a little less than 20,” Vincenti said. “We haven’t had consistent breeding over the last five years, but every other year there’s been a litter.”

Vincenti explains that while there have been more sightings on the north shore, in areas like Oyster Bay, Glen Cove and Sea Cliff, this does not necessarily indicate a significant population increase. These sightings could be due to dispersing young coyotes or resident coyotes expanding their territories. He also mentioned that the town of North Hempstead hosts the largest population of coyotes in Nassau County, with around 10 to 12 animals.

John Di Leonardo, executive director and anthrozoologist at Humane Long Island, said he views the return of coyotes as a positive development. According to Di Leonardo, the coyotes are part of a larger trend of animal migration and help balance the ecosystem by preying on other species like wild turkeys and Canadian geese, which are also making a comeback on Long Island.

“I think they’re a native species here and they’re becoming more established. That’s a good thing,” Di Leonardo said. “I just hope people are getting more educated about them and realizing that it’s a good thing that these animals are coming back here.”

The impact of coyotes on the deer population, another species with rising numbers, is less clear. Coyotes are more likely to prey on fawns and weaker deer rather than adult ones. This natural predation can contribute to a healthier deer population by removing the weaker individuals from the gene pool. However, both Vincenti and Di Leonardo agree that there is no evidence of significant deer predation by coyotes on Long Island so far.

Human-coyote interactions have been minimal and mostly benign. Vincenti recounts a notable incident in Roslyn Harbor where a dog was injured in an encounter with a coyote in a nature preserve. This incident underscores the importance of keeping pets leashed in areas where coyotes are known to roam.

“That’s something we’re really trying to prevent,” Vincenti said. “For the most part, the coyotes have been keeping to themselves.”

Education and outreach are crucial in managing human-coyote coexistence. Vincenti’s organization, along with other groups like the Long Island Coyote Study and Gotham Coyote Project, are working to inform the public about living alongside these wild animals. They emphasize securing trash, not feeding coyotes, and keeping pets indoors or leashed to avoid negative encounters.

Di Leonardo also stresses the importance of letting wildlife remain wild. Human habituation can lead to more conflicts and calls for culling, which he believes should be avoided.

“I think it’s important for people to understand to let wildlife be wild,” he advised. “Don’t feed them, don’t approach them, admire them from a distance and allow them to have that healthy fear of us.”

Historically, coyotes were native to Long Island but were driven to near extinction. They began returning around eight years ago, and their re-establishment is seen as beneficial by many environmentalists.

Vincenti and Di Leonardo emphasized that common-sense precautions could mitigate most concerns.

“Coyotes typically smell a human from miles away and they want nothing to do with it,” Di Leonardo said. “They don’t seek any interaction with us, and certainly no one should try to approach them.”