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Year In Review: ‘Coexisting In Harmony’ Series Helped Residents Share Newtown With Wildlife



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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 are 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 the “Coexisting In Harmony With Wildlife” series this year, The Newtown Bee consulted animal experts to explain how to support these animals safely from afar and what to do if you encounter them face-to-face.

The first article of the series focused on birds of prey. Horizon Wings Owner/Founder Mary-Beth Kaeser shared that Connecticut has a variety of native raptors, owls, falcons, kestrels, and eagles.

In the article, readers learned how it is a misconception that if a person touches a baby bird the mother will reject it. Kaeser assured that is not the case and the mothers will still want their baby back. If a bird of prey is injured or orphaned, Kaeser recommends calling a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.

The following week, the series featured facts about opossums, which are the only marsupial native to North America. Pamela Lefferts, who is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and cofounder of Ferncroft Wildlife Rescue, informed readers that healthy opossums are practically immune from rabies, but people should still keep their distance out of respect for them being wild animals.

Also, since opossums consume roadkill and skeletons, they often venture into traffic looking for nourishment and get hit by cars. When seeing an injured opossum, it is important to contact a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible for the best chance of the animal’s survival. In many cases the mother opossum has died, but her babies are still alive inside the pouch. Another fact about opossums is that if a baby falls off the mother’s back, the mother does not go back for it and the baby is then orphaned.

The series continued by covering bears, specifically the American black bear seen in Connecticut. Dara Reid, director of Wildlife in Crisis, explained, “Black bears now live amongst us. Or, we live amongst them, depending on your point of view. The maturation of our forests in Connecticut have given rise to a growing bear population. Unfortunately, these forests are now bisected by roads and endless suburban sprawl.”

Connecticut master wildlife conservationist Felicia Ortner also contributed to the article and pointed out that, “Accumulated data supports the black bear is seldom aggressive toward humans.”

Bears can be deterred by sound, so Reid recommends carrying a whistle to use. The more sound you make — such as clapping and yelling — the better the chance a bear will flee.

Similarly, bobcats and coyotes can be frightened by sound and the two animals were featured together in the series’ article that was published on April 30. If you encounter a bobcat or coyote, in addition to making noise, try to appear as large as possible and be sure to walk away, not run.

The risk of bobcats or coyotes attacking a person or child is extremely low, according to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

In addition to fencing in your yard to deter bobcats and coyotes from entering it, Newtown Animal Control Officer Carolee Mason advised, “Be careful with your recycling. 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.”

The next article in the series included foxes (the red fox and the gray fox), raccoons, and rabbits (the native New England cottontail and the eastern cottontail).

It is in a fox’s nature to run and flee from a situation instead of being confrontational, and foxes can be easily scared away by making loud noises. However, while foxes mean no harm and are just looking for safety for their family, Mason warns they will defend their babies if an unleashed dog, or other animal they see as a predator, approaches them unexpectedly.

Raccoons are nocturnal and touted as carrying rabies or other diseases if spotted during the daytime, but that is a myth. Reid explained, “Seeing a raccoon during the day, especially during spring and summer months, is perfectly normal. This does not mean that they are ill.”

Rabbits have many predators on the ground and in the air, so it is important for everyone to do their part to help them survive. Methods that help save rabbits, as well as other wildlife, include keeping cats inside and dogs supervised outside, braking for animals when driving, and not putting out rodenticides and other harmful poisons. Even something as simple as leaving bushes and bramble along the perimeter of your property can help rabbits seek refuge from predators.

Turtles were the focus of the next installment. DEEP reports that nine out of the 12 turtle species found in Connecticut are currently on the state’s List of Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern Species.

When a turtle is determined to accomplish its mission — whether it is for nesting, mating, or searching for water — it refuses to let anything stop it. As a result, that quest usually has it so focused that the turtle may not mind walking right across all types of roadways.

Pam Meier, founder/director of the nonprofit organization The Turtle’s Back, recommends, “Always take them to the side they’re headed toward; if you don’t, they’ll head back into the road. Put your flashers on when you stop (and only do so if it’s safe), because the cars behind you may not see the turtle with your car in the way and hit it.

Readers then got the opportunity to learn more about skunks – specifically the eastern striped skunk – and Dr Emily Andersen shared what to do if a pet is sprayed by one.

Also, it was mentioned that while skunks are primarily nocturnal, they can be out during the day, too. Seeing them in the daytime does not mean they are rabid or that something is wrong with them. They are more active in the daytime during the spring, when they are foraging for food to feed their babies.

The last article of the “Coexisting In Harmony With Wildlife” series was about ducks.

According to Megan Apicelli, a wildlife coordinator at Animal Nation, “Bread is not healthy for ducks or geese to eat. Some healthy alternatives are cracked corn, frozen peas or corn (defrosted), chopped lettuce or salad greens, mealworms (live or dried), grapes cut in half (be sure to cut so they aren’t a choking hazard), bird seed, duck feed pellets (these can be purchased at the feed store), other chopped fruit and vegetables (very small to avoid choking), [and] oats (uncooked).”

Wildlife Resources To Save

People can always call the Newtown Animal Control Center directly at 203-426-6900 to report any animal in need of help. When leaving a message for assistance, people should give a description of the animal and its location.

To reach Horizon Wings, call 860-429-2181 or 860-481-0525. A representative can also be reached by messaging the group on Facebook, facebook.com/horizonwingsraptorrehabilitation.

Ferncroft Wildlife Rescue accepts injured or orphaned opossums. Lefferts says people can contact her directly at 508-864-7274 and that texting is best, so people can send a photo of the animal, too.

Newtown resident Joe Proc, of Fog Pocket Wildlife Shelter, is also licensed to rehabilitate opossums, squirrels, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, and many bird species. Proc can be reached by e-mail at bongo-joe@sbcglobal.net.

For assistance with turtles, contact Meier at theturtlesbackct@gmail.com or 203-903-2708.

To contact Animal Nation, call at 914-400-6014 and leave a message including your name, contact number, town you live in, and a brief description of the animal in need of help.

People can also contact Wildlife in Crisis in Weston, 203-544-9913, which helps with a wide variety of wildlife.

DEEP’s emergency dispatch can be reached at 860-424-3333. To find a list of authorized rehabilitators (individuals and organizations), visit portal.ct.gov/deep/wildlife/rehabilitator/dealing-with-distressed-wildlife.


Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Ferncroft Wildlife Rescue founders William and Pamela Lefferts hold opossums Patch, left, and Lavender. The two opossums are non-releasable and are now ambassador animals for the rescue’s educational programs. Patch came to Ferncroft Wildlife Rescue after suffering a brain injury from being hit by a car in October 2019. Lavender was rescued after being found abandoned at just a few weeks old. —Pamela Lefferts photo
Female mallards, like this one seen at Ram Pasture in Newtown, are speckled brown with orange and brown bills. They also have a white-bordered blue patch on each wing. —Bee Photo, Silber
In April, then-Newtown resident Martin West locked eyes with a bobcat on Meadow Brook Road. —Martin West photo
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