GOOD Morning Wilton is thrilled to bring readers an occasional feature contributed by the environmental educators at Woodcock Nature Center. They’ll be bringing you news and information about what’s happening seasonally in nature where we live and answering reader questions about our local environment and wildlife. (Email questions directly to Woodcock Nature Center.)
Written By: Jennifer Bradshaw, Environmental Educator
Coyotes and Bears, Oh My! No, the circus didn’t come to town, these are just some of the largest mammals found here in Connecticut. This state is home to around 50 species of mammals–the largest being the black bear and the smallest being the least shrew.
The name “coyote” is derived from the Aztec word “coyotl”. The scientific name “canine latrans” is Latin for “barking or howling” dog. Coyotes were first seen here in the mid-1950s mostly in Northern CT. Over the years they have expanded their range and are now part of the state’s ecosystem. Eastern Coyotes are larger than their western counterparts, weighing between 25-45 pounds and 4-5 feet nose to tail. Coyotes have long, thick fur with full bushy tails. Their ears are large, erect, and come to a point. Coyotes’ diets vary throughout the year: in the summer they feed on berries and insects, whereas in the fall they eat more insects and small mammals. Annually, their diets consist of white-tailed deer, rabbits, groundhogs, raccoons, birds, insects, plant, and fruit matter.
A common myth is that Coyotes are nocturnal. They are crepuscular meaning most active at dawn or dusk, but can also be diurnal. These year-long residents are very territorial and mate for life. They mate in January and give birth in March/April. Litters of 4-6 pups are born and raised in dens or bush piles. Coyote pups grow fast and are ready to abandon these dens at 5-7 weeks.
Although coyotes have been known to attack pets and humans, these incidents are rare and can be prevented by being aware of our own behaviors and modifying them slightly. As with any wild animal, never feed coyotes! When wild animals lose their fear of humans it can create serious problems such as considering pets as potential prey. Do not let your pets run loose. This can run the risk of unnecessary conflicts or predation. If you encounter a coyote never run from them. Instead, you should make noise–shout, clap, or throw something. Particularly around pupping season, they may be more intent on protecting their territory.
Black bears, (Ursus Americanus), are mostly found in the Northwest corner of Connecticut. In recent years their population has been rapidly rising. These large and powerful animals can weigh between 120-450 pounds depending on whether it’s a male (boar) or female (sow), with the males being larger. This species of bear are omnivores and opportunistic feeders. They eat grasses, berries, nuts, twigs, honey, larvae, insects, fish, and carrion. Occasionally, they will eat small mammals. These bears will raid bird feeders, garbage cans, and campgrounds. With a highly sensitive sense of smell, they are drawn to any source of food.
Black bears are active at night but can also be active during the day, especially in the fall when they are building up fat reserves. By late fall, they retreat to a den for the winter months. Dens can be constructed of brush piles, fallen logs, or rock crevices and are lined with soft materials such as grass or leaves. From November to mid-March they will usually stay in their dens however, they can come out to switch den sites. Black bears mate from June to July. One to four cubs are born in January-February, while in these den sites. Cubs remain with their mom for up to two years. Mother bears are known to be very protective of their cubs and can become very aggressive while caring for them.
Black bears are good tree-climbers and excellent swimmers. Although they typically can be seen wandering around the woods foraging for food, they can run up to 30 mph. Bears do not seek out human interaction but due to a growing population, it may become inevitable. It’s important to remember that they will usually run the other way or be frightened off by loud shouting or banging. In the rare case where you are confronted by a mama bear or an extra curious one, be “bear aware”! Do not approach them. Slowly back away, do not turn your back on them. The best approach to avoiding an unpleasant interaction is to keep food sources in sturdy containers which prevent the odor/smell from escaping.
In July of this year, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT-DEEP) sent out a press release warning the public of an “unprecedented number of [human] interactions” with black bears. It said bears that consume food from bird feeders, trash, or accessible pet food become comfortable around humans. These food-conditioned bears then “pose a greater risk to the public safety and can cause damage to houses, cars, pets, and livestock.”
The CT DEEP also suggests that if you see a bear, observe from a distance, be loud and walk away slowly, never feed or attract them, and report all bear sightings to the Wildlife Division at 860.424.3011.