"I guarantee that most people don't know that coyotes are walking down the streets of Chicago, for example, until their dog or cat goes missing and they wonder what's going on."
How Hal found his way into Central Park is not known.
Park officials believe the adventurous critter may have slipped into Manhattan from suburban Westchester County to the north or perhaps crossed the Hudson River via a bridge from New Jersey.
A symbol of the U.S. West, coyotes once lived exclusively in the western Plains states. At the turn of the 20th century they began spreading east.
"They're a very, very adaptable species," Arjo said. "They are very flexible in their social system and can hang out as singles, pairs, or form large packs based on food resources."
"They also don't have to have huge home ranges but can fit into smaller neighborhoods," Arjo added.
Wild coyotes first showed up in northern New York State in the late 1930s. They are now found in every U.S. state except Hawaii.
Suburbs in the eastern U.S. are particularly hospitable for coyotes, which do well in habitat where wooded and cleared areas merge. Coyote sightings in suburban Westchester County are common today.
Martin Main, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida in Immokalee, says that coyotes have expanded not only throughout the U.S., but also into Canada and Central America.
"It is apparent that they can make use of relatively small parks and probably even vacant lots that provide sufficient cover for denning and hiding during the day, and then capitalize on a wide range of food sources, including small pets," he wrote in an email.
"Coyotes will also eat garbage, unattended pet food, and, of course, the usual assortment of rabbits and rats that can be found in urban areas."
The canines are good swimmers, and they have even colonized offshore islands, such as the Elizabeth Islands of Massachusetts.
Ginger Allen, a University of Florida biologist and a colleague of Main's, says a coyote was spotted this year on Boca Grande, a southwestern Florida island linked to the mainland by a bridge.
She expects more human-coyote encounters on the U.S. East Coast as the coyote population expands.
"They are opportunistic eaters who will look for whatever food they can find," Allen said. "Young animals, in particular, will move into new areas in search for food."
While coyotes are still shy of humans, Allen says, people should take care to avoid the animals.
"You should be wary of any wild animal," she said. "You should not put your pet food outside, and you should not ever feed any wildlife."
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