clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

From Whales to Coyotes, New York's Most Surprising Wildlife

New, 7 comments

New Yorkers typically don't think of their homes as being anywhere remotely close to nature. Or, if they do, they think of those unfortunate creatures who met their end in the Gowanus or somesuch polluted place. But from canoeing and bird-watching in Marine Park to, well, the cuteness of young'uns in our local zoos, there are plenty of options for animal lovers. That said, the city also has more than its fair share of unusual, unexpected wildlife. We've rounded up some of the quirkiest, from dogfish sharks in the Hudson River to the reported coyote sighting in the Bronx. (UPDATE: cute otters pups in Prospect Park!) If you think of an animal we missed who resides within the five boroughs, leave a comment or e-mail us.
—Hannah Frishberg

Turkeys
They're fly, they're wild: New York City's turkeys strut like they own the place. Zelda the Turkey, Queen of Battery Park, is hardly an animal—she's royalty. According to legend, during one of Zelda Fitzgerald's nervous breakdowns she once went missing, to be discovered miles downtown in the Financial District. Quite like the late great socialite, Zelda the Turkey (named for Fitzgerald) is undomesticated, and how she wound up in Battery Park is unknown, but she has been residing there since mid-2003. Although she occasionally wanders uptown to Tribeca or Greenwich Village, Zelda reigns supreme over her downtown park. It is assumed she escaped from the Bronx Zoo and journeyed downtown on the subway, but nothing is known for sure—her past is shrouded in a thin caruncle of mystery.

While Zelda may be the best-behaved turkey in New York, she is certainly not the only one surviving on her own. A flock of turkeys caused tension in Staten Island when they invaded last winter, wandering the streets, pooping on lawns, gobbling late in the night, and generally terrorizing residents.

Hawks
Despite popular belief, pigeons are not the only bird residing in New York City—there are a few hawks, too. A very social breed of raptor, red-tailed hawks prey on rock pigeons and brown rats, and one very famous one lives near Central Park: Pale Male. A beloved bird who's lived a full life in Manhattan since the 1990s: he's had a book written about his life, "Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park"; he's had eight wives, who are well documented on his Wikipedia page (from First Love to his current mate, Octavia); and he's raised multiple eyasses in the city, no easy feat, human or bird. Someone should really set him up with Zelda.

Also, pictured, is a nest on an air conditioner at Alphabet City's Christodora House, where Christo and Dora hatched three chicks in June. [Photo credit: Francois Portmann via EV Grieve]

Bats
Times Square may be a tad too bright for vampires, but the bats are coping just fine. While you may have never seen one within city limits, little brown bats—the most common species in the metropolitan area—are a very beneficial part of NYC's ecosystem. Unless you're a mosquito. These little guys are capable of consuming 600 mosquitoes in an hour, they probably won't give you rabies, they make it less likely that you'll get West Nile virus, and they give us a reason to say "sonar," which is a really solid word. [Photo credit: Hannah Frishberg, from the Gowanus Batcave]

Parakeets
There is a colony of escaped monk parakeets living near Brooklyn College. According to legend, they arrived in a 1960s shipment of Argentinian birds to be distributed at pet shops, but they mysteriously escaped their cargo hold at JFK airport and have since settled nearly 300 nests in total. Attracted to heat, the birds have settled down in the spires of Green-Wood Cemetery as well as around utility pole transformers, their massive nests completely engulfing the power equipment. Although many locals love them, Con Edison does not. [Photo credit: Harold Piskiel, who's got an entire blog dedicated to the fun colored fluffers]

Coyotes
"Awooooo," those werewolves of London bay—and so do the coyotes of New York City? These guys might have a bad reputation, but their presence here is almost as surprising as the fact that it's actually a boon to the area. In a 2012 New York Times piece on the dog-like mammals, author Sindya N. Bhanoo proposes the idea that these guys may be eating critters which would have otherwise feed overpopulated rats and raccoons. You won't find them wandering Times Square but they might camp out off the trails (warning: PDF!) in the depths of some Bronx parks.

Whales
Even whales can't resist the bright lights and the big city! Apparently, there's a whole fleet of Rockaway ferries devoted to whale- and dolphin-watching, and one was spotted just last week off Raritan Bay in Staten Island. While the blubbery mammals are always entertaining for those on shore—like the gang of humpbacks that treated beach-goers to quite the show last summer in the Rockaways—sometimes New York is just too much for them (rest in peace, Sludgie). [Photo credit: Reuters]

Deer
Dear me, not in New York City! Proving there's literally nothing the suburbs can offer that NYC can't, white-tailed deer have been slowly returning to New York City over the last several decades, according to a Times article on Bambi's urban descendants. The dense urbanity in addition to over-hunting back in the day make the city seem the last place deer would wander to, but eastern Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island house significant populations.

Sharks
You're gonna need a bigger city—many New Yorkers will agree that the most dangerous part of our waters is their filth, but a little-known fact is that sharks are not totally uncommon in the Rockaways (although finding one in the East or Hudson rivers with enough strength left to eat a human would be unusual indeed). Just last month DNAinfo reported that a man caught (and released) a baby great white off the coast of Rockaway Beach, the third in a recent string of sightings around the city. In Lower Manhattan, it is no rarity for fishermen to reel in dogfish sharks, the most common sharks in the lower estuary, according to naturalist Tom Lake. Strangely, it would seem that sharks are almost as common on the subway than in the water in NYC, as baby sand sharks are sometimes sold out of buckets on trains, and once a dead one tried to ride the N. [Photo credit: Untapped Cities]

Jellyfish
While city sharks might not bite, the jellyfish do. The lion's mane jellyfish, the world's largest, enjoy both the Hudson River's cold waters and scenic views. New York City is in their southern range limit, but especially when cold currents bring them down to Manhattan, they are commonly found in the river. Not only do these monstrous blobs sting, but they can continue stinging once they are dead. Especially if you plan on swimming in New York's domesticated-but-wildly-polluted waters, watch out for these pink masses.

Goats
For a brief moment in time, there were goats grazing under the Manhattan Bridge. The notoriously trash-loving farm friends were chilling on the verdant fields of a temporary art exhibit in Dumbo called John Street Pasture, which has been in place for the past month. The goats were the project's finale, but after their performance, which consisted of being pet and gnawing on the grass, they were disturbingly loaded onto a Halal truck, Gothamist tearfully reported. Next up, condos!
· Meet the Many Creatures Who've Swum in the Gowanus Canal [Curbed]
· All Outdoors Week 2014 coverage [Curbed]