Coexisting In Harmony With Wildlife: Bobcats And Coyotes
As the landscape in Newtown and surrounding towns continues to change, wild animals are being impacted and trying to adapt to their new environment as best they can. This can mean a variety of wildlife venturing into areas they never have before — backyards, hiking trails, and busy roads — when searching for refuge or nourishment.
Residents are having close encounters so frequently that it is not uncommon for people to share photos of a bear investigating their bird feeder or a bobcat traveling across an unfenced yard. Many, too, are calling agencies to report wild animals injured on the side of the road or accidentally poisoned.
Springtime also means many animals are more visible as they are out and about gathering food for their growing families.
In a perfect world, animals would know the boundaries of what land is preserved for them and what is human-inhabited, but the reality is these creatures are just doing their best to survive.
In this miniseries, The Newtown Bee will consult animal experts to explain how to support these animals safely from afar and what to do if you encounter them face-to-face.
The number of bobcats in Connecticut is on the rise, according to Wildlife in Crisis director and founder Dara Reid. Wildlife in Crisis is a volunteer-run nonprofit that cares for more than 5,000 injured and orphaned wild animals a year, including bobcats and coyotes.
Sightings of bobcats in Newtown are particularly evident, thanks to residents sharing their personal photos in The Newtown Bee’s Top of the Mountain column. Just this year, Martin West snapped a photo of a bobcat on Meadow Brook Road and Nolan MacKrell spotted two bobcat cubs frolicking on the corner of Birch Rise Drive and Juniper Road.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) describes bobcats as being “a stout-bodied, medium-sized feline, with a short, ‘bobbed’ tail (about six inches in length), prominent cheek ruffs, and tufts of black hair on its pointed ears. The sides and back are generally the same color with faint black spots; grayer in winter and tan in summer. The underparts are white.”
These animals are distant relatives of the domestic house cat but are substantially larger. Adult bobcats can range between 15 to 35 pounds and measure from 28 to 37 inches in length.
Bobcats are carnivores, and Reid says they “prey on cottontail rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, white-tailed deer, birds, and, to a much lesser extent, insects and reptiles. Bobcats, on occasion, may also prey on unsupervised domestic animals, including small livestock and poultry.”
Most active before dawn and after dusk, a bobcat’s approach to hunting is to patiently stalk its prey before ambushing it.
The risk of bobcats attacking humans is extremely low, according to the DEEP.
Bobcats can be scared away by sound, so having something as simple as a whistle with you while walking around the neighborhood or hiking on a town trail can be a helpful precaution. Yelling and clapping can also create noise to frighten a bobcat away. Reid suggests, like with bears and coyotes, to try to “appear as large as possible” and “walk away deliberately, do not run” if you encounter a bobcat.
Coyotes are commonly mistaken for wolves due to the many characteristics they share. While they may have similar color coats, they have different facial characteristics. Coyotes have narrow and pointed faces with a small nose pad compared to wolves, which have a broad and blocky face with a large nose pad.
Coyotes can also resemble large dogs.
The DEEP notes a typical coyote can resemble a German Shepherd, but that “Coyotes tend to be more slender and have wide, pointed ears; a long, tapered muzzle; yellow eyes; slender legs; small feet; and a straight, bushy tail which is carried low to the ground. The pelage (fur) is usually a grizzled-gray color with a cream-colored or white underside, but coloration is variable with individuals having blonde, reddish, and charcoal coat colors.”
Adult coyotes in Connecticut can weigh between 30 to 50 pounds and are roughly four to five feet long from nose to tail.
As for their diet, they are considered opportunistic and adjust their meals to their habitat.
“A coyote’s diet consists predominantly of mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, deer, some fruits, carrion, and when available, garbage. Some coyotes will also prey on small livestock, poultry, and small pets. In Connecticut, unsupervised pets, particularly outdoor cats and small dogs (less than 25 pounds) are vulnerable to coyote attacks,” the DEEP reports.
Pets are not the preferred prey for coyotes, though, and Reid adds that coyotes are often scapegoats for missing small dogs and cats. Often free roaming pets encounter other dangers, including cars and birds of prey, more so than coyotes.
For pet safety, it is best to keep cats indoors, especially at night, and dogs supervised and leashed.
The risk of coyotes attacking a person or child is extremely low, according to the DEEP.
Just like with bobcats, coyotes can be scared away by making lots of noise and trying to appear as large as possible. If you see a coyote, be sure to walk away and not run.
During the spring, coyotes are denning with their young and are wary of humans.
“They often exhibit a behavior known as ‘escorting.’ If it seems as though they are following you and your dog, they are simply attempting to escort you out of their territory and away from their young,” Reid explained.
Coyotes are active during the night and day, especially when rearing their young. Seeing them out in the daytime is not indicative of them having rabies.
They also can travel by themselves or as a family unit and use different vocalizations to talk with one another.
Newtown Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason said, “People hear them and think they are attacking things in the woods by making a lot of noise, but they are communicating. When they kill, they don’t make a lot of noise, because they don’t want to bring attention to themselves.”
Uptick In Calls
Mason says her department gets more calls pertaining to wildlife than it does for domestic animals. Often, calls come from people who have recently moved to town without realizing they will be living among a diverse spectrum of wildlife.
As a result, the calls typically are to report sightings of animals — such as bears, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, and opossums — and not necessarily of the animal being in distress.
“They’re here and people are going to have them a lot more in their yards, because of the building going on,” she said.
Mason reports that there has been an uptick in calls about wildlife in recent years, due to the increase in land being developed in town.
“Their land is being taken away from them… these poor animals are getting rerouted. It’s a total shame. They do all the building and cutting down trees in springtime. More and more we are getting calls about it. When there is no building, we don’t get as many calls,” Mason explained.
With less land and access to resources in the wild, animals are forced to travel into new territory to survive.
“We’re putting food out, garbage out, and [residents] let chickens roam — this is all food for wildlife,” Mason said.
One of the best ways to deter wild animals from entering a yard to look for food, refuge, or to have babies is to have the property fenced in.
Mason also cites that people should be mindful of what food they have outside that could attract animals, such as remnants on grills or in uncleaned recyclables.
“Be careful with your recycling,” Mason said. “Make sure your garbage is put in something where they can’t get in. If you have chickens, make sure the chicken feed is put away and secure — if you have to, keep it in your garage or barn locked up. These are situations that have to be done.”
Mason says if people want to report an animal in need of help, they can call the Newtown Animal Control Center directly at 203-426-6900 or the Newtown Police Department at 203-426-5841, which will transfer to call to them. When calling for assistance, people should give a brief description of the animal and location.
Additionally, Wildlife in Crisis is licensed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to care for injured and orphaned wild animals.
To reach Wildlife in Crisis, call 203-544-9913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Wildlife in Crisis visit wildlifeincrisis.org.
Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.