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Weird & Wild

How Did a Coyote End Up on a Roof in New York City?

It's no April Fools' prank—the predators are becoming increasingly comfortable in cities, which offer more opportunities for prey.

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A coyote was spotted on the roof of L.I.C Bar on Vernon Blvd. in Queens, apparently jumping from a vacant building next door.

It's no early April Fools' Day gag: A coyote climbed on the roof of L.I.C. Bar in New York City on Tuesday.

This is far from the first time a coyote has been observed in the Big Apple—howls from the animals can be heard at night in some neighborhoods—but the resilient carnivores aren't often caught gallivanting along the rooftops. (Related video and story: "Downtown Coyotes: Inside the Secret Lives of Chicago's Predator.")

"My initial thought was that it was a prank," says Roland Kays, a zoologist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, who studies suburban wildlife.

Kays says the animal was most likely exploring an abandoned building next door when it made a wrong turn and went through an open window, ending up on the bar’s roof.

At least, that's the escape route it took when an animal control officer showed up and unsuccessfully pursued the wayward predator.

The Urban Jungle

Coyotes, native to the middle of America, have spread to the eastern United States in the past 70 years. Kays says this is thanks in part to the disappearance of wolves, once top dog in the eastern U.S. before they were wiped out in the region. (Related: "Coyote-Wolf Hybrids Have Spread Across U.S. East.")

Now that the coyote population has swelled in rural areas, Kays says the animals will be more likely to forage for prey in urban cities.

"I look at animals in urban environments, and a lot of times you find them using the unclaimed space," says Kays. "Things like golf courses at night or the cloverleafs of highways, strips of green between the on and off ramp." (Get facts on suburban wildlife.)

Clearly, New York City's overgrown lots and abandoned buildings fit the bill—and now perhaps we can add rooftops to that list.

Kays cautions that one coyote on the roof doesn't mean we need to start worrying about the animals popping up all over the city.

"But the fact that it was exploring the built-up human environment to the extent that this could even happen is amazing," he says.

Junk Food?

You might think coyotes would feast on human garbage, but Kays says studies from other cities show the predators are more interested in natural prey. At best, less than 10 percent of their diet is usually made up of trash. (See National Geographic Your Shot pictures of coyotes.)

And while you might expect urban coyotes to make a dent in New York City's infamous rat population, it seems the predators are most likely to focus on native species such as rabbits and mice. Urban deer are also on the menu—especially fawns and roadkill.

And while coyotes have been known to attack pets, such as domestic dogs and cats, the likelihood that the rooftop coyote is coming for your Pomeranian is still pretty small.

That said, the Queens coyote remains at large—and at least daring, if not exactly dangerous.

Follow Jason Bittel on Twitter and Facebook.

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