Category Archives: Nature Notes

3 Shy Creatures of Massachusetts

There are some species of wildlife we can see almost every day–from a rabbit munching on plants to a squirrel climbing a tree. Others, like the bobcat, fisher, or coyote, are a bit more elusive. Learn more about each of these shy creatures and what to do if you do encounter one. 

Only Wild Cat in Massachusetts 

Bobcat © Scott Lewis

Bobcats, marked by their short “bobbed” tail, live in a range of habitats, with the highest populations in the central and western regions of Massachusetts. They’re roughly twice the size of a domestic house cat (from 15 to 35 pounds) but still smaller than most other wild cats found in the US.

Even though these cats are very wary of humans, small pets, livestock, and chickens can be on their diet. If there’s been sightings in your area, be sure to keep your animals in a secure pen or indoors at night. If you see one in the wild, make sure you keep your distance and appreciate them from afar.

Weasels That Don’t Actually Fish 

Fisher © Scott Eggimann

Despite being called “fisher cats,” fishers aren’t feline nor do they catch fish. Fishers look like most other weasels, with a sleek body (from 32-40 inches) and a long tail that makes up a third of their total length. These predators are equipped with retractable claws to help them hunt on the ground and roost in tall trees.

In the late 19th century, fishers were almost completely eliminated from southern New England because of forest destruction and unregulated trapping. After reintroduction to Massachusetts in the 1950s, fishers are now widespread across the state.

They prefer to keep their distance from humans but can attack free-roaming domestic birds, cats, and rabbits. They are also one of the only natural predators to eat porcupines. To help avoid fisher interactions, make sure to clean the seeds below birdfeeders, secure your garbage, and keep your pets and livestock enclosed at night.

Not Your Average Canine 

Coyote © Nancy Graupner

Eastern Coyotes are a resilient species that have adapted to live in almost any landscape, including cities. These canines look like medium-sized dogs (23-26 inches tall) but have longer and thicker fur.

You can hear coyotes howling and yipping at night all year round, as they don’t hibernate. Coyotes are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will eat whatever food is available, including small animals, birds, garbage, and compost.  

Although the chances of being attacked by a coyote are slim, there are some simple precautions to keep you and your pets safe. Never approach or feed a coyote, and keep your garbage secured to prevent access. If you do come across a coyote, make lots of noise to scare it away.  

Protecting All Wildlife 

Mammals like the bobcat, fisher, and coyote may not be seen on a daily basis, but they still play a critical role in balancing their ecosystem by keeping other animal populations in check.

To learn more about how Mass Audubon is protecting habitats to support all wildlife, including the shy ones, visit our Action Agenda, or donate to support our efforts. 

Celebrating Wildlife in Massachusetts

World Wildlife Day is a time to appreciate and advocate for nature. As residents or visitors of Massachusetts, we are lucky to be able to enjoy a wide array of wildlife across our landscape – from animals as small as a Bog Copper Butterfly to giant Humpback Whales.

To help you celebrate on March 3, we’ve highlighted some plants and animals you should keep an eye out for as you explore the outdoors this spring! 

Blooming Skunk Cabbages 

Skunk Cabbage ermerging
Skunk Cabbage

While they may not look like a flower, Skunk Cabbages are one of the first flowers to bloom in the springtime. You can find them sprouting in wetlands with a curved hood-like structure (the spathe) surrounding a round flower-bearing spadix. Eventually, big bright green leaves will emerge. As their name suggests, Skunk Cabbages release a potent, skunk-like smell as it blooms.  

“Quacking” Wood Frogs 

Wood Frog
Wood Frog © Amanda DeRosa

True to their name, Wood Frogs live in forested areas and breed in the vernal pools. They are a brown or tan color, with a dark “mask” covering their eyes. Wood Frogs have ridges running down their sides and no pattern on their back. As you approach a vernal pool, listen for the distinct quacking sounds of the Wood Frogs that have congregated there.  

Nesting Carpenter Bees 

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee © Meyer Franklin

Solitary bees, such as carpenter bees, sweat bees, and mining bees, are a type of bee that overwinter in Massachusetts. Many of these bees are hole-nesters, making their home out of hollowed-out twigs or tunnels in the soil. In the winter, solitary bee eggs develop into larvae and emerge in April as young bees. You can tell the difference between carpenter bees and fuzzy bumblebees by their completely black, shiny, hairless abdomen.  

Returning Killdeer 

Killdeer
Killdeer © Ken DiBiccari

Named after their shrill kill-deer, kill-deer call, Killdeer are one species of shorebird that you don’t need to go to the beach to enjoy. They can be found in fields and pastures, on playgrounds, lawns, unpaved driveways, beach dunes, and other open areas. When a predator ventures too close to their young, the Killdeer parent begins a classic distraction display, which includes flopping along the ground with its wings dragging as though injured and constantly flashing its brightly marked tail to deter the potential threat.  

Denning Coyotes 

Coyotes © George Brehm

After their mating season wraps up in February, coyotes begin to search for a suitable den site to raise their young. Coyote dens are typically hidden in downed trees, stumps, or culverts. Coyotes resemble a German shepherd in appearance but have pointed ears that stand erect, a more pointed muzzle, and a very bushy tail that hangs down in a vertical position. While you may see coyotes any time of day, they are most active at dawn and dusk. Usually, coyotes will avoid human interaction, but it’s always best to observe them from a distance.  

What are you seeing on our adventures? Share in the comments or tag us on social using @massaudubon.