Lately, there have been reported coyote sightings on the east end. Officials say Long Island had its first confirmed coyote spotting in decades back on July 2013. In 2022 there were sightings on both the north fork and the south fork. It is not definitive how an animal that once was natural to Long Island but extinguished by Long Islanders many decades ago has returned. Rangers at the Nation Monument Center on Fire Island believe the coyotes traveled over bridges and train tracks, perhaps even swimming. Other folks believe there are naturalists who are releasing them in wooded areas even in NYC’s Central and Van Cortland Park areas. No matter how they arrived, they are now being seen, even in Nassau County.
“We’re piecing together where they’re being sighted,” reportedly said Frank Vicente, director of the Wild Dog Foundation, headquartered in Mineola. He added, “We don’t know what their numbers are for sure, but it’s highly unlikely that there’s a serious number out here.” In March of 2022 Mr. Vicente claimed he has been tracking 11 coyotes in western Nassau County for several years — three families. He also said he doubts, “…there are more than 20 across Long Island.”
Others disagree. The National Park Rangers at Smith Point claim that coyotes are now living on Fire Island and are capable of swimming cross the Moriches Inlet to the South Fork. Coyotes weigh, on average, between 16 and 40 pounds with their diet mainly consisting of small animals like rabbits, but they will also eat fruits, nuts and even trash if it’s easily accessible. Long Island coyotes are “Eastern Coyotes,” and generally larger than coyotes out west. Supposedly, DNA testing suggests this may be due to interbreeding with grey wolves. Reports suggest the grey wolf can weigh as much as 175 pounds. Therefore, the eastern coyote like those sighted on Long Island can be up to 60 pounds, or as low as 35 pounds. In the American west coyotes average only up to 40 pounds.
Coyotes, being nocturnal, mostly howl from sunset to sunrise all year ’round. During their mating season(Jan-March) they howl more often. Although they look like a dog, two noticeable differences are that a coyote’s hair hangs straight down and unlike a dog’s tail, the coyote tail has a black tip and never wags.
Back in December 2020, Wildlife Biologist Michael Bottini reportedly said he knew of at least nine coyotes residing on Long Island with at least one mated pair (coyotes mate for life). He claimed they were, “in the Manhasset/Port Washington region, and three are in Suffolk, with one seen in Mattituck and two on the south fork.” He also said one was spotted at Robert Moses State Park. In July 2023, the National Park Rangers at Smith Point claimed there were more than one coyote on Fire Island. Bottini did not provide a coyote pup estimate.
It is important to know, for safety reasons, one must try to keep one’s distance from a coyote. They will most likely fear you more than you fear them. However, to scare a coyote creating noises can be effective. Coyotes can rarely carry rabies, and although they are usually only found in the wild, they are now being spotted on the outskirts of east end properties. Although they prefer hilly and wooded areas, that is changing.
There is a debate amongst wildlife enthusiasts about the pluses and minuses of encouraging the reintroduction of coyotes on Long Island as a balancing force of nature in the ecosystem. However, they are wild animals with weekly reports of infiltrating populated California suburbs and towns, and threatening babies, pets, and small livestock like chickens.
Lastly, there is an official hunting season for coyotes in New York State. It runs from October 1st to March 27th with coyotes able to be hunted day or night with a valid NY State hunting license.