There is only one bear species that makes its home in Massachusetts: the handsome Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Although they are the largest meat-eating mammal in the state, reaching up to 500 pounds, Black Bears also enjoy berries, nuts, seeds, flowers, fruits, and succulent grasses (including corn), as well as garbage.
After hibernating through the winter, Black Bears are beginning to emerge from their winter sleep around the beginning of March, and they are hungry. You would be too if you’d been living off your stored body fat for months! Birdseed is a delectable and calorie-dense treat for hungry bears and they have excellent memories, so if you live in an area with bears, you might want to take down your bird feeders before the bears find them.
Unfortunately, conflicts between people and bears are becoming more commonplace as land is developed in or near bears’ preferred habitats. As black bears lose their preferred feeding and denning sites to development, they must move greater distances to find food (and often in residential areas). Learn more about bears on our website, including how to keep them away and what to do should you encounter one.
February marks the beginning of the breeding season for coyotes in Massachusetts. Coyotes are resourceful, often misunderstood creatures who have successfully adapted to areas altered by people, meaning they are able to survive in the forests and fields of rural Massachusetts as well as the suburbs of Boston. As omnivores and opportunists, they’ll eat just about anything from mammals to insects to nuts to fruit, depending on the season and food availability. They are an important part of the food web, helping to control rodents and other pests as well as mitigating deer overpopulation that can ravage local ecosystems.
Sightings of eastern coyotes in suburbia can create concerns about peoples’ safety in their backyards, but coyotes are wary animals who will avoid people at all costs (except in very rare cases involving rabies infection, which can affect behavior). It’s important to keep things in perspective: Coyote attacks on humans are so rare in Massachusetts that during the last 60 years, there have been fewer than 15 confirmed attacks. A little common sense and a few simple precautions are all it takes to ensure you and your loved ones (including pets) stay safe:
Never, ever approach or attempt to feed a coyote.
Secure your garbage and pet food inside to prevent easy access.
Keep your pets indoors and on a leash when outside.
Should you encounter a coyote, retreat slowly and make lots of noise to scare it away.
Although coyotes are susceptible to the rabies virus, it is still quite rare. If you notice a wild animal behaving strangely, contact your local police department. If you suspect you have been exposed to rabies, seek medical attention immediately.
Except in extremely rare instances, people have nothing to fear from coyotes. In fact, they should be celebrated for the role they play as a top predator in our local web of life. Here are five photos of coyotes from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest to honor these handsome native canines.