Saturday, February 06, 2010

Mate guarding

photo by Murray Head 1/27/10

Continuing his saga of interspecies love at the Reservoir, Murray Head sends in an item from eBirds posted today [2/6/10] :

The Wood Duck had moved to the south of the Reservoir where he was aggressively trying to keep a female mallard away from the [Mallard]males.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Blakeman on Coyotes in Central Park

Coyote at The Pool -- 103rd and Central Park West -- 2/2/10

John Blakeman has some sobering thoughts about the idea of welcoming a coyote to our Central Park Nature Community. He writes:

I tend to share the thoughts of the writer from Georgia. Coyotes on Manhattan can be problematic from several standpoints.

As the writer implied, coyotes are not domestic dogs that eat bagged or canned dog food (although they will if it is found). They are extremely cunning and opportunistic canine predators, capable and willing to kill and eat essentially any animal they encounter.

Coyotes have a particular taste for house cats. The Central Park coyote will go out of its way to find and kill and eat any of these it can smell or see. And small dogs wondering about on their own could be reduced to coyote protein.

Doubtless, the coyote will subsist on rats and garbage, mostly rats. I encounter an extended family group of coyotes at the NASA Plum Brook Station here in northern Ohio, where I'm in charge of conducting prescribed fires (up to 400 acres at a time, totaling up to 2500 acres each year) to restore tallgrass prairie vegetation to these large open meadows surrounding NASA's world-class engineering facilities (for example, the world's largest space environment chamber, 100 ft wide and 120-ft tall, with full space vacuum and temperature conditions).

When we do our burns we sometimes see a dozen or so resident coyotes moving right out in front of the flame front advancing across a giant open meadow. The coyotes learn quickly that the flames push meadow voles and other rodents out in front of the flames. As the rodents run along to avoid the flames, the coyotes pounce on them.

The coyotes in recent years have learned to search for and kill new-born white-tailed deer fauns. They prefer not to kill adult deer, but young fauns and small yearly deer can be quickly taken down by a few coyotes. We see the remains of these, a pile of dissembled small deer bones, after our burns each spring, hard evidence of coyote predation in the previous year.

The initial presumption might be that coyotes in Central Park are merely a welcomed new member of the wild fauna of Manhattan .That could change, however, should the animal begins to hunt in the manner it's capable of. These are not just undomesticated German shepherds or other friendly dogs. Coyotes are very serious and capable large predators. Yes, they could rip apart any human they might elect to attack. Right now, that's not so likely. But when a resident coyote gets hungry during a period of time when its normal food is hard to find, say during a very cold winter period when rats remain in sewers and other sordid rat shelters, who knows what a quasi-domesticated or urban-adapted coyote might resort to.

Consider this. The laws of New York City, I would presume, prohibit any resident's keeping of a pet lion or tiger, or wolf. And rightly so. All of these are large predators that have no place, either for themselves, or for humans, in dense urban areas. From the same perspective, should an unconfined coyote be allowed to roam in Central Park?
Right now, with a still only a single coyote roaming Manhattan, the dangers are reduced. But what happens when a second or third coyote somehow wanders in? What will be the result of a breeding population of these large predators confined to the somewhat meager natural prey populations of the area? Will hungry and competitive coyotes then start to hunt semi-cooperatively, being willing then to corner and attack larger animals, say defenseless sub-adult humans?

Then, what happens when rabies becomes ensconced in the population?
Neither Manhattan in general, or Central Park in particular, are ideal for coyotes. As controversial as this would be received by many, I personally believe that this specimen should be removed from CP in whatever manner that works. This is not a cartoon episode, or a contrived episode of "Nature." I seriously doubt this is going to end well, especially if the animal is left to its own diverse, even fearsome devises. A bit of biological reality, not poetic faunal romance, should prevail.

And can you believe this? Exactly as I'm writing this, about 9:00 pm here at my rural residence, I just heard a coyote yip and howl just a few hundred yards out in the prairie I planted behind my house. I've heard this animal several times before. It's aurally marking it's territory, getting ready to breed and raise young this spring. But it will not be confined in its wanderings (up to 10 miles each night) by urban streets or buildings. Out here, things are pretty settled.

Coyotes --- plural -- in Manhattan? Not much good can come of this I fear. Pale Male and the other red-tailed hawks have wonderfully learned to adapt to the unique habitat and prey conditions of Manhattan and greater New York City without any real problems. Would that this might be so for coyotes. But I fear that this will be difficult, if not impossible.

--John Blakeman

Meanwhile, Veryl Witmer, the photographer who took the photos I posted here yesterday, made the Big Time. His story and photos of the coyote appeared yesterday on the City Room blog of the NY Times. Here's a link:,%20central%20park&st=cse

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Coyote pix! [with small corrections in text]

Yesterday I received an e-mail from an amateur photographer named Veryl Witmer who often takes his camera into the park to photograph wildlife. He sent me six photos of the coyote currently in residence in Central Park -- he chanced upon it while walking in the park two days ago. Since he also told me that the Parks department is well aware of the animal's location, I am publishing his photos here without worrying about invading the coyote's privacy. *

all photos by Veryl Witmer- 2/2/10
* A few hours after posting this I received an eMail from Veryl gently informing me that my assumption that Veryl is a female name was incorrect. I therefore changed the pronouns in the text above from "she" and "her" to "he" and "his".

Below, a note received yesterday from regular Indianapolis correspondent Bill Trankle:

Great to hear that another coyote made it to the park, but I think the greatest part of this continuing saga is still unexplained. As you mused in your article, how the heck did the thing get to CP in the first place (your Cross-town Bus idea gave me a chuckle)? This is the second coyote to show up, unless the first was released somewhere and decided he wanted to return (while that sounded good at first, he was hounded [couldn't resist, sorry] so badly that I doubt he would have fond memories of his brief sojourn in CP), so does that mean there is some canine Underground Railroad at work there? Inquiring minds want to know, but we probably never will.

Hopefully they treat this one better than the last or like they did the wild turkey. Keep us posted!

PS from Marie
Actually, the latest visitor is the third coyote to be seen in recent years, not the second. The article I posted yesterday told about the first. Then there was Hal, in 2006. And now the youngster seen in the photos above.

Below, another letter received this morning, telling some of the negative aspects of having a coyote in a public park:

Dear Ms. Winn,
I read your book Red-Tails in Love several years ago right after visiting Central Park and seeing Pale Male for the first time. I live in Atlanta, a wooded neighborhood inside the city limits. I have hawks, deer, foxes, owls, racoons, snakes, you name coyotes. Believe me, you do not really want coyotes in Central Park. I thought your old article about the coyotes was funny but I must tell you, coyotes are skilled hunters and pose much more of a threat to pheasants and other wildlife than a dog that is well fed on Alpo! My own dog was mauled and nearly killed by a coyote in our backyard. They are opportunists and will eat anything: cats, dogs, birds, small animals, insects; you name it. They are extremely cunning and adaptive and once they arrive, you cannot get rid of them. My neighborhood association has hired trappers to no avail. The coyotes are too smart. I used to see rabbits all the time in my neighborhood but not since the coyotes established themselves a few years back. I love wildlife but coyotes are not meant to live in the city. They have been known to attack small children in other places where they seem to have lost their fear of humans.
I love your website!! Central Park is one of my favorite places in the world and I know it best from your book and website. I have only been to New York a few times but I love visiting there.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Coyote redux

Below, a previous Central Park Coyote, dubbed Hal, in a photo taken 3/22/06

Coyote Spotted in Central Park:
So read the headline today in AM New York, the free newspaper I read every morning on the way to work.
While a manhunt, or rather a canidhunt ensued after the last two coyote visitors were discovered in the park, this time the Park's Dep't seemed to be taking a different tack:AM NewYork quoted a parks department spokeswoman named Vickie Karp who said “It is a good sign that wildlife is returning to New York.” Yes!

I was happy to see that nobody was freaking out at the idea of a coyote in Central Park, and remembered an article I'd written in 1999 at the time of the first coyote visitation. I too had thought a coyote in the park was a good sign. Indeed I thought it might serve a good, practical purpose.

So here is the article, for your amusement. Maybe this time the park will follow my only slightly tongue-in-cheek advice:


[This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal [Leisure and Arts page] on April 8, 1999]

Last Thursday [1/1/99] one of the weirdest visitors ever showed up in Central Park. You may have seen him on the news that evening or on the front page of the New York Times the following morning. The color photo by Dith Pran reveals a man dressed in protective clothing who is cowering in the background while a few steps away, leaping gracefully over some clumps of grass, his mouth gaping, ears erect, bushy tail between his legs, is a large,furry, brownish grey canid. A coyote.

A surprising variety of creatures -- raccoons, woodchucks, squirrels, mice, rats, 5 species of turtles, at least 6 kinds of fish, and 22 species of birds are year-round residents of Central Park. A far greater number are tourists, among them 4 kinds of bats and some 170 species of birds. They pay regular visits, but for perfectly good reasons having to do with food supply they wouldn't want to live here.

Occasionally, some wildly unexpected creatures show up. A few years ago a South American gull whose northernmost boundary is Lima, Peru stopped in at the little water body near 5th Ave and 59th Street officially called The Pond.[It turned out that the bird had come from the Bronx Zoo where an outdoor aviary had collapsed.]

Only last week [1999] a flock of 17 big green and red parrots were seen swooping around the park, flying in formation like planes at an air show. They have been identified as Mitred Conures,[Aratinga mitrata] a species that usually resides in the mountains of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This particular flock seems to have permanently relocated, and spends its winters in the vicinity of Rosedale, Queens.

How did a coyote find its way into Central Park? Once a resident of the American West, Canis Latrans [the species name means "barking dog"] has dramatically expanded its range and may now be found throughout the northeastern states.] An animal with a deeply ingrained fear of humans might conceivably have come down from the wilds of Westchester, where coyotes have been sighted.. It could have skulked from green patch to green patch through the wilds of the Bronx, swam across the Harlem River into Inwood Park and then Riverside Park on Manhattan's wild west side. But how on earth did he get from there to Central Park with no connecting strip of green? Crosstown bus?

Unlike the gull or the parrots or just about any of the park's exotic visitors of the past, the latest rarity was not exactly given a warm welcome. Before the birders' grapevine could notify the park's tightly knit nature community of the thrilling arrival, a posse of policemen, park workers, public officials, and news reporters commenced to hunt the coyote down. And although he was finally captured, in the process he proved to be just as wily as his famous cartoon prototype

Regina Alvarez, a Section Supervisor for the Central Park Conservancy, was one of the many participants in Central Park's first Coyote Hunt. A personable young woman with a genuine interest in wildlife, Ms. Alvarez often acts as a liaison between the park's powers-that-be that might see a dead branch as an eyesore to be removed and its vigilant community of regular birdwatchers who regard it as a potential home for a woodpecker.

"We had heard rumors earlier about a coyote in the park, but nobody was sure whether it was an April Fool joke," Ms. Alvarez relates. "At about 10:40 a.m. I heard one of the guys who works at the Castle reporting on the walkie-talkie that he'd just spotted the coyote at the Marionette theater. I dropped everything, got into my golf cart and scooted across the Great Lawn. "When I reached the Delacorte bathrooms I heard on the radio that the coyote was heading for the Ramble. That animal was so fast! As soon as somebody said 'He's at the Castle' somebody else said 'No, he's here at Bow Bridge,' and then 'No, he's at Balto," and then 'No, he's at the Hallett Sanctuary.' The coyote got from the Castle to Hallett in less than 2 minutes."

The Sanctuary is an enclosed nature preserve on the west side of The Pond. By the time Ms. Alvarez got there a large number of people had already gathered: At least 25 police officers from the Emergency Service Unit were there. They were filling their dart guns with Ketamine HCl, a widely used veterinary tranquilizer.

Neil Calvanese, Central Park's Chief of Operations, and its preeminent tree expert was there, together with Dennis Burton, the park's Woodland's Manager. Also people from the Parks Dep't, from the ASPCA and the Center for Animal Care and Control. Commissioner Stern was there. So was the Borough Commissioner, some deputy commissioners, and lots and lots of reporters.

The coyote had been seen entering the Sanctuary through a hole in the fence on the west side. When Ms Alvarez arrived she saw Van Thon, another Supervisor, closing up the hole.

Ms. Alvarez continued her narrative: " Maria and Russell--she's the Great Lawn Manager and he's the Turf Care Supervisor for the park--and I were told to spread out around the sanctuary and tell on the radio when we see the coyote. Neil and the commissioner and the guys with the darts went inside the sanctuary.

"Then I saw him --a beautiful, big, healthy animal. Really big. When he saw they were chasing him he did the smart thing -- went right back to the hole he had gotten in through. But he saw they had closed it. So he kept running.

"You could tell that nobody there knew how to hunt down a coyote. Every time the animal appeared everybody made so much noise that they'd scare him off. The animal was basically going around in circles, but they kept waiting in these odd spots where they couldn't get a good angle.

"The whole thing was so exciting because this never happens in the park, and it was exciting to see a kind of animal I'd never seen before. But I also felt terrible. He was just trying to live. They weren't trying to kill him, but I still felt awful. I actually think everybody was sort of rooting for the coyote. We couldn't help being impressed that it took so many people to catch one animal.

"Then I heard that he'd escaped, got out of the sanctuary. Unbelievable. He emerged on the south east side of the sanctuary and began swimming! I think that's when they darted him. But still he managed to get by the big crowd standing there, and he began running north along the East Drive. He made it all the way to the Rumsey Playfield. Then the drug really began to take effect. "But even after a circle of policemen surrounded him, he still resisted for quite a while. Finally they subdued him and strapped him on a stretcher. They took him away and that was it."

The coyote was taken to the Bronx Zoo's Wildlife Health Center where he will remain until further notice. James Doherty, the zoo's General Curator was most welcoming. "I'm delighted to know there's a coyote in New York City. It add to the richness of a place. The city is big enough to have raccoons and woodchucks and coyotes -- a great variety of animal life.

In a phone interview on Tuesday Mr. Doherty reported on the condition of the Central Park coyote. "The animal is a young male and weighs 35 pounds. He looks to be in very good condition.Nice teeth, good flesh. No broken bones. No erratic behavior that might indicate rabies.

"Ideally he'd be reintroduced into some wilderness area upstate. But most of those regions already have a coyote population and wouldn't accept him. He needs a good place with no other coyotes. The difficulty is finding such a place."

All at once I thought of a place that might serve the bill perfectly, a place with no coyotes, God knows, and a place, moreover, where the coyote would serve a useful function: Central Park itself.

The park's most intractable problem happens to be unleashed dogs. Though it is illegal to let a dog run unrestrained in Central Park, the rule is broken rampantly and, in the early morning hours, with the tacit approval of the Parks Department. Meanwhile, the great numbers of dogs running free wreak considerable damage on the park's turf and plantings. Unleashed dogs also pose a threat to the park's wildlife. Two weeks ago an unleashed dog killed a male pheasant that was the new mate of a female that had lived near the Conservatory Garden in lonely splendor for the past two years. The new pair had just been about to start a family.

When asked how a coyote might survive in Central Park the zoo's Mr. Doherty answered: "Coyotes avoid people. There'd be no reason for people to worry on their own account. He would probably eat squirrels and rats and possibly stray cats. He'd probably get dogs that were off the leash. But it would be unlikely to attack a dog on a leash with a human at the other end..."

If you want to read this morning's AM NY article, here's a link:

Monday, February 01, 2010

Will my Redtails starve in the snow? asks a Virginia hawk lover. John Blakeman responds

Ashby's redtail outside her window

Ashby's pair, photographed from inside the apartment

Yesterday I received a letter from an anxious hawk lover:

Hi Marie,

I am worried that my Red-Tail couple may starve or freeze in the snow. They have never seen a storm this bad. There's a foot of snow on the ground, and the chill factor is 6 degrees Fahrenheit, unheard of in central Virginia. Also, they may be senior citizens, having lived in the park across the street for a dozen years that I know of. Should I feed them? Will they be OK?

[Ashby attached the photos above]

All day they stayed perched on the 12th-story railing looking forlorn. The park across the street where they hunt is covered with snow, not a rodent to be found. These 2 hawks are like family. They came to my window to visit me when I was ill, and I hate to see them suffer...

Well, I sent Ashby's letter to John Blakeman immediately. As ever, his response came quickly. He wrote directly to Ashby and sent me a copy:


Take no concern whatsoever. Your red-tails are in just perfect health, and very contented. Your photos reveal this. I’ve been studying and caring for red-tails since 1968, and I can assure you that everything is fine with them, the (for Virginia) snow notwithstanding.

The key is this. The birds can easily go four to seven days without food before they even begin to get desperate. In the winter, they have lots of energy-reserve fat for occasions just such this. They can comfortably go for days without food. That happens, too, in winter wind and rainstorm events, so none of this is new to these birds.

The cold? Well, for Virginia it might be cold. But not for Eastern Red-tailed Hawks, Buteo jamaicensis borealis. At 20 below there is concern. But not with the comparatively mild temps you have down there.

Notice how fluffed up the feathers are? They’ve got two inches of the finest and warmest feather down under there, keeping the body core perfectly warm. They aren’t cold at all.

They are just passing the time, watching out over the park for anything that moves. A chipmunk or squirrel or rat that sooner or later pokes its nose out and starts wandering around looking for food will become food itself, for the hawks. They know where every rodent territory is out there, and they know that the rats and mice are—now—safely under the snow. But that won’t last, and food will be available.

You are so fortunate to have the birds sitting at your window. Marvel at all of this, and worry not about their welfare. Their genes have this all accounted for.

Were they to learn of it, our red-tails up here in Ohio and New York would be telling a few good stories about those Southern hawks, how for a time, they had to live like Yankee hawks have to all winter (and very successfully).

My very best.
John A. Blakeman