A Guide To The Wonderful Wildlife of New York City

Having grown up in the middle of the woods of northwest New Jersey, I have a deep appreciation for wildlife in all its forms. Coyotes, owls, deer, skunks, turkeys, and snakes were all frequently seen on our property, and I loved watching and learning about them. This love for the natural world was obviously so strong and inspiring that I moved to New York City, where nature flourishes with such colorful intensity every day, just like poverty and corruption. Here is a short guide to just a few of the creatures you can find in the concrete jungle and why they’re just as fucking nuts as the people:

1. Pigeons

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Shutterstock

City pigeons are easily the best argument for the extermination of birds, and it’s massively disappointing that they aren’t edible, given their uselessness. They enjoy walking in zig-zags in front of you and thinking “Must go faster, must go faster” à la Jeff Goldblum, all because they’re too drunk to remember they have wings and can fucking fly to escape a perceived threat. Meanwhile, you’re trying your best not to step on the stupid bastards. When they do remember their flight capabilities, they celebrate with a ridiculous “WOOWOOWOOWOO” sound.

Where: Everywhere. Probably about to shit on you right now.

Appearance: Grey body with a head that looks like it was dipped in motor oil. Blood-shot eyes.

Size: Bird-sized.

Diet: Vodka, bourbon, bread crumbs from little old ladies.

Temperament: Too sauced to really have a personality.

2. Raccoons

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Shutterstock

You see a lot of weird things in New York City, but you won’t see a raccoon walking down Madison Ave in the middle of the day unless it’s about to make a generous donation of rabies. Raccoons are nocturnal, which translates to New Yorkers as “have restaurant jobs.” Just like restaurant workers, they far more commonly reside in the outer boroughs where it’s quieter and rent is way cheaper (for now). They can be found in the garbage outside of your apartment, especially when you go out for a smoke and they jump out at you like sentient horror props.

Where: Bushwick, Astoria, Riverdale, or homeless in Central Park.

Appearance: Striking resemblance to old-timey robbers.

Size: Small enough to be sneaky, large enough to not fuck with.

Diet: All the kale you let rot in the fridge, pizza boxes, empty beer bottles, banana peels.

Temperament: Mostly shy, until you enter biting range.

3. Red-tailed Hawks

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Shutterstock

For you non-Audubon members, red-tailed hawks are hawks with red tails (citation needed). These raptors are pretty rare, probably because anything larger than a frisbee flying without express permission in NYC is immediately blown to kingdom come. Basically the answer to the pigeon problem, red-tailed hawks are focused, sober, and graceful hunters. Unfortunately, most New Yorkers don’t even know they exist since spotting one would require looking up, and only disgusting tourists do that.

Where: Central Park, fancy 5th Ave apartments, wherever Mary Tyler Moore is.

Appearance: Like an eagle but not. Bad case of resting bitch face.

Size: Basically the modern day equivalent of a pteranodon.

Diet: Pigeons, chihuahuas, toddlers, obviously not rats.

Temperament: Pretentious, ultra-liberal.

4. Stray Cats*

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Shutterstock

I had high expectations for strays in NYC, considering Oliver & Company was one of my favorite movies growing up. Who didn’t have that image of mangy yet endearing cats and dogs running around dodging taxis, stealing from food trucks, and breaking into badass musical numbers? (Un?)fortunately, I have yet to see a single stray dog in New York, let alone one with the voice of Billy Joel. The cats, however, are all over the damn place, and they’re as cute as they are proficient at avoiding moving vehicles (read: not at all). Every stray feline you see in New York is either flat or accompanied by a death metal cover of that Sarah McLachlan song. 

Where: Busy streets, behind bars engaging in brawls and unsafe sex.

Appearance: Scarred, emaciated, desperate, missing limbs or eyes.

Size: Ranges from “dead kitten” to “that thing escaped from the Bronx Zoo.”

Diet: Each other, obviously not rats.

Temperament: Will fucking kill you if you so much as sneeze the wrong way. Unless you choose to adopt one from a shelter, in which case you are awesome.

5. Squirrels

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Shutterstock

Squirrels are jittery little bastards as it is, but New York City squirrels have specially bred themselves into epileptic coke ninjas with severe schizophrenia. They spend most of their time doing reckless things with no hint of sanity or logical objective. I have personally witnessed one bring an oreo cookie to a windowsill three stories up, dance around the cookie, and then backflip off the windowsill for absolutely no reason. There’s also one desperately digging through the ceiling into our apartment like a tiny jackhammer. We don’t know why and we doubt he does, either.  Given their unpredictable and suicidal nature, it is wise to keep your distance.

Where: Anywhere with trees and/or cocaine.

Appearance: Undeniably but deceivingly cute.

Size: Undeniably but deceivingly tiny.

Diet: Nuts, PCP, oreo cookies.

Temperament: Squirrely

6. Peregrine Falcons

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Shutterstock

Easily the coolest animal living in New York besides your hipster neighbor, the peregrine falcon is making a comeback from being seriously endangered. They are the fastest birds on the planet and hunt by murder-diving onto anything foolish enough to enter their airspace. Window washers, Spiderman, and scientists attempting to study them and their nesting habits are frequently met with furious talons to the face, as the little buggers have abandoned the useless concept of fear. Reportedly, they make a tiny “boop” noise when they fly at the speed of sound into the windows of that new 432 Park Avenue monstrosity.

Where: Nest on church steeples, skyscrapers, bridges.

Appearance: A tiny blur as they rocket past your office.

Size: Pigeon-sized.

Diet: Anything dumb enough to think its safe more than three feet above the ground.

Temperament: Feathery balls of rage and hatred.

7. Rats

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Shutterstock

The undisputed champs of New York City fauna, the rat is synonymous with life in the Big Apple and has remained unaffected by spiking cat and raptor populations. Not only are they everywhere,  but they’re fucking huge. Like, Jesus, dude, I saw one the size of a bear eating a dead hobo the other day. Or at least that’s how your friends will make it seem. New Yorkers love to exaggerate the size of these rodents to make their own lives seem like a gritty, dramatic struggle with peril at every turn. Strangely, no one ever reacts when one of these “massive,” “beastly” creatures skitters out onto the subway tracks. This is because a) the rats are really not that big and b) again, no one wants to be seen as a disgusting tourist.

Where: Subway stations, the kitchen of your fave brunch destination.

Appearance: Not so much repulsive as pitiful.

Size: Average for rats. Stories of monster rats probably originated with some meth-addled idiot seeing a raccoon in Central Park once and not knowing what the fuck it was.

Diet: Everything, especially dropped MTA cards.

Temperament: Emotionally and physically exhausted, jaded, depressed, but totally optimistic that life in New York City will one day be what the movies said it was.

*You can help save animal lives here: nycacc.org TC mark

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