Mass extinction is occurring on a level not seen since the final days of the dinosaurs; largely as a result of human overpopulation and environmental degradation. A few animals have bucked the trend; notably rats, mice, pigeons, seagulls and crows. But there are a few that might come as a surprise.
The coyote was once romanticized as a scrawny little cousin to the wolf howling at the moon in the western deserts and plains (or a gadget using cartoon buffoon chasing a roadrunner around). In a remarkable success story, coyotes have not only managed to stand their ground, but expand their presence into all 49 continental United States, Canada and Central America. There have been at least four coyote sightings in Manhattan and they have been spotted several times within Boston city limits. As larger predators like grizzly bears, lynx and wolves have been wiped out, coyotes capitalized on the void. There is, in fact; speculation that the larger, bulkier eastern coyote is a product of interbreeding with Canadian grey wolves. Keep your cats inside, folks!
The all-American raccoon has not only managed to thrive in the face of human advancement, but take advantage of it to the point where there are greater concentrations of them in the suburbs than there are in the forest - and the suburban 'coons are larger and plumper than their forest dwelling kin. That is because raccoons are omnivorous generalists - meaning they'll eat just about anything - and and many of the human dinner leftovers that are not quite good enough for us that end up in the garbage suit the 'coons' palate just fine.
The clearing of forests for towns and cities have produced ideal hunting grounds for red tails and many other species of hawks. Pale Male and his family are residents of Central Park in New York City that have even had TV documentaries made about them and this writer has observed red tails on the Boston Common. The pigeons, rats, mice and squirrels that thrive on our discards are their favorite menu items. The once endangered peregrine falcon has even made use of city skyscrapers as nesting and lookout areas in lieu of cliffs.
With their no-so-secret weapon, i.e. their ability to shoot a pungent foul smelling substance from their butts; skunks have become pretty fearless. Like raccoons, they are omnivorous generalists, so if no other food is around, our garbage will do. Skunks also perform a little-recognized public service by feasting on grubs and other garden pests. Their biggest "predators" are cars; which as they still haven't quite figured out are not immune to their noxious squirt guns, leading to Loudon Wainright's song "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road".
They were once thought of primarily as residents from south of the Mason-Dixon line; like the one time comic strip resident "Pogo". But like 'coons and skunks; opossums will eat virtually anything - like the garbage, road kill and insects that human populations tend to generate- and therefore they have expanded their range. Like most of Australia's indigenous mammals, the 'possum is a marsupial, meaning Mom Opossum will carry her babies around in a pouch until they reach a certain age.
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