ARLINGTON, Va. – Arlington County naturalists have received their first proof of what they and residents have long suspected – coyotes have come to Arlington.
Just last week, a game camera at Potomac Overlook Regional Park , in Arlington, took the first video of an Arlington coyote. "We’ve had reports of them for years now, mostly in north Arlington, along the Potomac River, but couldn't get any proof," said County Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas. "The public has sent us several pictures claiming coyotes but they were all either dogs or mangy foxes."
What brings coyotes, long an iconic image of the West – and paired with the Roadrunner in a beloved series of cartoons - to Arlington? Abugattas believes that our highly urbanized, densely populated County might actually be attractive to coyotes, who are skillful scavengers.
“Coyotes will make a living wherever they can find food, even in big cities,” he said. “I think they are here to stay.”
Coyote not native to Virginia
In its 2011 Wildlife of Arlington: A Natural Resource Heritage Technical Report , the County reported that "it is considered likely that coyotes have found their way into Arlington, but they are extremely cautious, range very widely and move primarily at night." The coyote is not part of the historical native fauna of Virginia but is a master at adaptability and has steadily moved from its western haunts. The coyotes spotted in the Eastern United States tend to be larger than Western coyotes.
“Eastern coyotes are larger than their Western cousins,” said Abugattas. “Some naturalists think that as the coyote migrated eastward, they may have interbred with wolves, and the wolf DNA helped them grow a bit bigger.” Others believe these eastern coyotes simply grow bigger because there is more food available to them.
Coyotes avoid people
“Coyotes are very good at avoiding people, so residents shouldn't be overly concerned,” said Cliff Fairweather, the new naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center. “The key is for resident to not feed them or to encourage them not to be afraid of people. The longer they are afraid of people, the better it will be for coyotes and people.”
To learn more about the strategic steps Arlington is taking to protect the County’s natural areas, reach the Natural Resources Management Plan , adopted in 2010 by the County Board.
“Since we’ve been making parks in Arlington more natural by eliminating exotic invasives, planting local native plants, introducing some historical animals, we have seen some great results,” Abugattas said. “Our Barcroft Park has some unique and rare plant species. We’ve got spotted salamanders – that we had not seen for 20 years. We have White M Hairstreak butterflies and woodcocks.”