August 25, 2016
Over recent years, we have reported in these pages the stories of an assortment of “urban wildlife,” the wild critters that unexpectedly have been sighted in this city neighborhood setting.
All sorts of non-domestic animals have appeared here – from that first photo sent to us by a neighbor of a wild turkey on a wall at Dot Park more than a decade ago, to repeated reports of a deer herd that has migrated down from the Blue Hills, following the Neponset river banks, looking for food in the backyard vegetable gardens of three deckers down the grove in Lower Mills.
This spring, a pair of bald eagles set up their home along the Neponset, and photos of the birds of prey soaring over the river became a daily staple into early summer.
And there always has been with us the “mephitis mephitis”– the Latin phrase, meaning “noxious vapor” – of the skunks that have been our nocturnal neighbors for generations. Indeed, what local family hasn’t had the experience of being awakened in the middle of the night by the unmistakable aroma of an encounter gone bad in a nearby backyard. But that’s what we get for relying on open-screened windows to cool the indoors after the sun goes down.
There have been some menacing wild creatures reported locally, too. Several years ago, a Fisher Cat – a weasel-like carnivore that preys on small animals- was on the loose in Dot Park, its telltale sound in the middle of the night a blood-curdling screech that sounds like a child’s call for help. It is believed that more than one family’s house cat became victim to the creature.
This year, a pack of coyotes showed up at Cedar Grove Cemetery. A female coyote established a den and birthed a litter of four pups, and visitors to the graveyard were startled to see the roaming band of coyotes out and about. At the cemetery, warning signs were posted, cautioning great care when walking domestic pets in the area. It is believed that the pups now have matured, and the pack has vacated the den and moved on.
The state’s Energy and Environmental Affairs agency and MSPCA/Angell hospital offers some useful facts about living safely around coyotes: They are highly territorial, and do not tolerate other coyotes in their territory, the agencies say: “Each territory has a resident family unit which consists of an alpha male and female (they mate for life), possibly 1 or 2 ‘teenage’ coyotes called associate/helpers, and during the spring and summer a litter of 4 – 8 pups. Coyotes breed between February and March, and the pups are born between April and May. The pups are weaned at 2 months old and fully independent at 9 months old.
Although coyotes most often travel at dusk, dawn, and under the cover of darkness, they give birth to and raise their young in the spring, so during this time they have to search for more food to feed their young.
The agencies offer these safety tips: Keep children, cats, and dogs indoors and supervise when outdoors at all times ; Keep pets up to date on vaccinations ; Remove food and habitat sources for small animals like rodents (brush piles, wood piles, spilled bird seed, pet food/water and water sources).
If the coyotes are in your yard, try these tips: Fencing (6 feet high and 1 foot below ground); motion sensitive outdoor lighting and sprinklers; close off crawl spaces under decks, porches, and sheds; keep your home in good repair; and use guard dogs.
Coyotes are usually afraid of humans but if you encounter one while out and about, you should attempt to leave the area calmly (do not run) and make loud noises. If a coyote is in your yard, let the coyote know that it is not welcome by making loud noises (like banging pots and pans together), spray it with a hose, toss tennis balls near the animal – you want to scare her away, not hurt her.