Tag Archives: Wildlife

The Mighty Moose

Moose Richard JohnsonEarlier in the season, nature photographer and Mass Audubon volunteer extraordinaire, Richard Johnson, set out to photograph a moose that had been spotted at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton, Massachusetts.

Waiting patiently from the safety of his car, telephoto lens ready, Richard snapped this photo when the moose appeared at the edge of a sanctuary meadow. The announcement and photograph on Facebook generated much excitement and many folks expressed surprise that moose were in Massachusetts.

Hiding in Plain Sight
According to MassWildlife, there may be 1,000 or more moose living and breeding in Massachusetts. At Wachusett Meadow, there have been sightings for more than a decade. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back in the early 1700’s, much of Massachusetts’ forests had been cleared for farming. Since this habitat is essential for moose, they moved on, all but disappearing from our borders. Fast forward to the present, Massachusetts is the 8th most forested state in the country. So it’s not surprising that moose join the growing list of animals, including fishers, eastern coyotes, wild turkeys, and beavers that have returned to our neck of the woods.

For the most part, moose can be found in central and western Massachusetts. Rarely, a moose may even be spotted in the eastern part of the state, like the young moose that wandered through a backyard in Wellesley in June.

Moose Facts

  • Everything about a moose is big! They are the largest deer in the world and the biggest antlered animal in the world. At shoulder height, moose can stand up to 6 feet tall. An adult female generally weighs 500-700 pounds; an adult male 600-1,000 pounds.
  • Males grow antlers in early spring. If the male is full grown and well fed, his antlers can weigh over 30 pounds and measure 7 feet across. Imagine carrying that much weight on your head!
  • Big antlers help attract a mate in September and October and then fall to the forest floor in early winter, where they are gnawed on by mice, porcupine, and rabbits in search of calcium and minerals.
  • Females give birth in May and June, usually to single calves who stay with their mothers for one year until the mother is ready to calve again.
  • Moose tracks are similar to white-tailed deer tracks in shape (two crescent-shaped halves), but are much bigger: usually 4-6 inches long if they belong to an adult moose. The pointed end of the track indicates the direction of travel. Like white-tailed deer, a moose leaves an alternating walking pattern.
  • In Algonquin, the name moose means “eater of twigs” or “stripper of bark” and, indeed, moose are huge herbivores, eating up to 60 pounds of roughage daily. In winter, moose eat needle bearing trees and hardwood bark, buds, and twigs. Favorites include willow, aspen, white birch, and mountain ash.
  • Like all deer, moose lack a set of upper incisors, so moose tear and strip browse and bark rather than cutting their food neatly. Unlike smaller deer, moose browse very high—up to 7 feet above the ground.

If You See a Moose
You’re most likely to see a moose in September and October during breeding season (when males go in search of a mate) and again in May when the young of the previous year leave their mother before she calves again.

It can be thrilling to see such a large, beautiful animal in the wild, but be careful! “While not aggressive by nature, moose can pose a threat at certain times of the year,” says Bill Davis, District Supervisor with MassWildlife. “Males entering their breeding season could react if people approach, he notes. Likewise females with calves can be very protective and defensive. Watch and enjoy moose always from a respectful distance.”

If you do see a moose, please report your finding to MassWildlife to help them continue to monitor moose populations. And if you see a moose at a Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuary, let us know!

Want to learn more about wildlife in the winter?
Take a Mass Audubon tracking class this winter and learn to recognize tracks and scat of moose and other winter animals.

Photo © Richard Johnson

Nature’s Gold Medalists

The Summer Olympics are in full swing, and we’ve got competition on the brain! As our favorite athletes take to the world stage, we couldn’t help but wonder who might give them a run for their money in the natural world. Our resident wildlife expert, Linda Cocca, shares her thoughts on some potential gold-medalists.

Diving: Long-tailed Ducks
Found in the coastal waters of Massachusetts during winter, the long-tailed duck can dive as far as 200 feet underwater. It uses its specially adapted wings to plumb the depths in search of food, including mollusks and crustaceans.

Gymnastics: Gray Squirrels
Able to climb trees, shimmy down poles, hang from their toes, and otherwise reach a food source in a single, 10-foot bound, these resourceful mischief-makers earn their medal.

Weight Lifting: Ants
Nature’s little powerhouses, ants can lift and carry more than three times their own body weight in order to build and feed their colonies. Not too shabby for something smaller than a thumbtack!

Long Jump: Fleas
Though they may be despised, there’s no denying that fleas have a remarkable jumping capabilities—they’re able to leap 800 times their body length!

Sprints: Cottontail Rabbits
Cottontail rabbits, which can be found throughout the state, can reach speeds of 18 mph when fleeing from danger. They use this speed and a zigzag-patterned gait to elude their many predators.

Boxing: Praying Mantis
The praying mantis uses its large, lightning-fast front legs to snatch up its prey, including moths, crickets, and other praying mantises. In fact, this predatory jabbing motion is so fast that it’s difficult to see with the naked eye.

Sailing: Flying Squirrels
Southern Flying Squirrels—the most common flying squirrels in Massachusetts—can glide through the air a distance of 200 feet using a wing-like membrane that extends from their wrists to their ankles. About the size of a baked potato, these little squirrels don’t flap but let the wind carry them aloft for smooth sailing.

Are we missing any? Share your favorite athletic animal in the comments and find more interesting facts at Living with Wildlife.

Photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Why The Bear Went Over the… Moraine! (Updated)

American Black Bear via U.S. Dept. of TransportationThis past Memorial Day, scores of mainlanders made their annual three day weekend pilgrimage to Cape Cod. There was the usual holiday weekend chatter about the perennially popular topics of traffic back ups and weather, but this year, the biggest topic of conversation at the start of summer was… the bear!

As a steady stream of travelers made their way over the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, it appears that a lone male black bear also either swam the canal or braved the bridges (wildlife experts favor the canal explanation) and began heading east on Cape Cod, possibly in search of a mate. Cape communities have done a great job of protecting open space, so the bear had a natural travel corridor through the pitch pine-scrub oak woods and adjacent residential neighborhoods, leaving behind tracks and a curious mixture of amazement, amusement, and panic in its wake.

The bear became an instant celebrity, tweeting and amassing more than 1,500 Facebook “friends.” After moving through the upper and mid Cape by mid-week, it headed to the Outer Cape where Bob Prescott and the staff of Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary kept an eye out for the bear as they monitored hatching plovers and diamondback terrapins.

Eventually the bear turned up in Provincetown and then turned back south where it was captured by state wildlife officials for relocation to Central Massachusetts. And so ended the bear’s two-week “vacation” on Cape Cod that attracted as much media attention as a Presidential visit to the Vineyard.

Wildlife experts report that this is only the second black bear documented in Southeastern Massachusetts in the past 50 years. Now common in central and western Massachusetts, black bears had been nearly extirpated in Massachusetts half a century ago but their numbers are increasing, and bear sitings in eastern Massachusetts are becoming more common. Similar stories can be told of wild turkeys and fishers, who have made huge comebacks due to the increase in forested land in Massachusetts and are now both regular visitors in the woods outside my window. But I’m still waiting for a bear!

UPDATE 6/27/12: Looks like our pal, the Cape Cod bear has a real hankering for the coast. The very same black bear that was relocated from the Outer Cape to Central Massachusetts was recently caught heading east. This time, he made it as far as Brookline, where he survived a 80-foot fall from a tree after being tranquilized. State wildlife officials say they will take him farther west … who knows where he will turn up next!

Image via U.S. Department of Transportation