Wildlife in New York City
Get to know your neighbors! New York has a reputation as a concrete jungle, but thousands of animal species can be found in our parks. Here’s a brief guide to just a few of the many birds, reptiles, and mammals that call New York City home.
What to Do When Encountering Wildlife
If you see an injured animal, the best thing to do is leave the animal where it is, give it some distance, and call 311. The more information you can provide 311, the better. Please remember that young animals often look as if they have been abandoned, when in fact their parents are nearby.
Abandoned domesticated animals (dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, et cetera) should be brought to Animal Care & Control.
Coyotes are canines that look a bit like domestic dogs, although with a flatter forehead, more pointed snout, and longer legs. Although they have a fearsome reputation, most coyotes are not dangerous to people. Coyotes eat a wide-ranging diet, composed of anything from insects to fruit to deer.
Eastern Grey Squirrels
Squirrels play a major role in greeting park lovers and helping to nourish our trees. All of the squirrels in New York City are eastern grey squirrels. They eat nuts, seeds, and berries, but please don't fed them. Squirrels are perfectly capable of feeding themselves. They can find their own food, which is healthier for them than human food. Feeding a squirrel can make them less fearful of humans, which can also hurt them in the long run. Also, they can bite!
Bats are the only mammals with the ability to fly. The most common species of bats found in New York are little brown bats, which belong to the family of mouse-eared bats. Little brown bats can eat up to 600 insects per hour! Bats have a thumb and four long fingers on each wing. They go into hibernation from October through April and mate prior to hibernating. Baby bats, called pups, are born around June or early July. Bats, like all other wildlife, should always be enjoyed and viewed from a distance. If you find a bat on the ground and it is still alive, leave it where it is; it is probably healthy and in cold stupor, which helps it conserve heat during the winter. If found in a park, call 311 and ask for Urban Park Rangers. They will place the bat in a sunny or warmer location. When it warms up, it often will fly away on its own.
These small mammals are well-known for their favored defense mechanism: releasing a foul-smelling spray to deter predators. Make sure to always keep your dog on a leash while walking through any area where skunks might live (preferred habitats include parks in northern Manhattan) to avoid any stinky incidents. You’re unlikely to spot many skunks during the day—they prefer to come out at night, when they can forage more safely for their food. The most common predators for NYC’s skunks are great horned owls.
This shy animal is North America’s only marsupial. You’re unlikely to see opossums during the day—they are primarily nocturnal. They can be found in trees, but prefer to amble on the ground. Opossums may den in any area that they believe to be dry and safe, such as hollowed logs, ground burrows, wood piles, or under buildings. They adapt well living in an urban environment, and are sometimes found leafing through garbage cans for food.
Foxes are solitary hunters that mostly feed on small animals such as rats, rabbits, and birds, however they are classified as omnivores and can eat fruits and vegetables. They are very resourceful and adapt well to living in urban environments.
These medium-sized deer can be found in Pelham Bay and Van Cortlandt Parks and throughout Staten Island’s greenspaces. Deer can swim, run up to 35 miles per hour, and jump over an 8 foot high fence. White-tailed deer eat a variety of plants, fruits, and leaves. While they may be friendly, it is illegal to feed or leave food for deer, as it can increase nuisance behavior, make deer more vulnerable to being hit by cars, and may make them ill. In addition, white-tailed deer may carry ticks, which can carry diseases such as Lyme disease.
This little raptor is NYC’s smallest falcon, measuring 7 or 8 inches long when full grown. Kestrels have adapted well to urban environments, and love to set up nests on the tall and ornate buildings of NYC. They hunt insects and other small creatures in open grassy areas.
These fast and fierce flyers are hunters that catch their prey, which include pigeons, mid air. Peregrines love to set up nests on the bridges that surround NYC. They grow to about 15 to 20 inches, with a wingspan of 40 inches.
The red-tailed hawk is NYC’s most common raptor. You might spot these hawks building their nests on buildings or tall trees. They hunt small rodents such as rats and squirrels, as well as small birds. Hawks tend to mate for life.
Eastern Screech Owl
This tiny owl is fully grown at only 4-5 inches tall. As befits their size, they like to nest in tree cavities and feed primarily on insects and small songbirds. Screech owl pairs are monogamous and once they choose their mate, they stay with them for life. Eastern screech owls have been spotted in Inwood Hill Park and in Central Park, where they have been intentionally released over several years in an effort to increase their population.
Eastern Box Turtle
You can recognize these turtles by their high domed shell. The males have red eyes, while the females’ eyes are a yellowish-brown. These guys move slowly and retreat into their shells when they feel threatened. Because of their slow movements, Eastern box turtles are at great risk from cars.
The snapping turtle is New York City’s largest turtle, and one of the largest freshwater turtles found in the world. It can grow up to 18 inches long and weigh up to 45 pounds. These turtles prefer to live in muddy ponds and lakes, where they can hide and surprise their prey more easily. Female snapping turtles lay their eggs in buried nests on land, laying 20-40 eggs at a time.
Named for the diamond-shaped growth rings on the top of its shell, these turtles are the only aquatic turtles in the city that live in brackish water (a mix of fresh and saltwater, such as Queens’ Alley Pond). The females tend to be larger than males, and lay their eggs on sandy beaches.
This particular turtle is not native to New York City. The red-ear slider is one of the country’s most popular types of turtles to keep as pets, and many sliders have been abandoned in the city’s parks by people who lost interest in keeping them. This is dangerous for both the red-eared slider and for native turtles. A pet slider is not accustomed to hibernating during the winter when lakes and ponds freeze over, and may introduce diseases to wild populations as well as compete with them for food resources.
Looking to do scientific research in parks? File a Research Permit so we can assure that your project is in accordance with our rules and guidelines, and we can assist you as much as we can.