Coyotes, bobcats and bears, oh my
With a large number of homes nestled in the woods, it’s not surprising Wilton has an abundance of wildlife as well.
But while many wild creatures are happy to stay hidden in the forest, a coyote and a bobcat recently made public appearances in town, along with multiple sightings of black bears.
The coyote was encountered on the Norwalk River Valley Trail and followed a person walking two Parson Russell terriers.
The bobcat was sighted strolling along the patio of a home on Wicks End Lane in the early morning.
A few weeks ago, black bears were spotted in Wilton, including a large one, estimated to weigh around 300 to 500 pounds, in the vicinity of Westport Road. There was another sighting in the backyard of a home near Cranbury Park.
While there were no problems reported from any of these sightings, experts advise using caution when encountering wildlife.
Charlie Taney, executive director of the Norwalk River Valley Trail, said he wasn’t surprised to hear about the coyote who made an appearance on the Wilton trail.
“This happens every year, usually in the spring,” Taney said. “There are plenty of coyotes in the area, but they are usually secretive and you don’t see them.”
But after females have had their babies, a coyote may show itself in order to keep people and other animals away from the cubs.
He said people should not feel threatened by this particular coyote. “We are so lucky to live in an area with the beauty of nature. What comes along with that is wildlife, and we need to be thoughtful that we share this space with all God’s creatures. Clap, make a lot of noise, and they will go away,” he said.
But coyotes can pose a problem when they are hungry. Because coyotes rely heavily on meat in their diets, they are always on the prowl looking for food, and pets like dogs and cats can fit the bill.
If a coyote has been reported or seen in the area, residents are advised to keep dogs and cats inside or supervised in fenced-in areas where coyotes can’t get to them.
While coyotes may routinely be seen in the spring, bobcat sightings in Wilton are a bit more unusual.
“Bobcats are shy and tend to hide, but the bobcat population is on the upswing,” said Donna Merrill, executive director of the Wilton Conservation Land Trust.
Merrill has seen a bobcat recently on her property. “At first, you think you are seeing a cat and then you see there is no tail,” she said.
Former Wilton state senator Toni Boucher said her neighbor recently spotted a bobcat on the patio of his home on the corner of Wicks End Lane and Crosswicks Ridge Road.
Boucher has concerns. “Kids wait for the school bus on that corner. I worry about my cat and dog and kids that ride their bikes around that corner,” she said.
On Saturday, June 8, she said the neighborhood is planning to hold a block party in the same area where the bobcat was seen.
While bobcats are “beautiful and very attractive,” she said, they are also “fierce” and people should stay away from them.
According to the the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the bobcat is the only wild cat found in Connecticut and is the most common wild cat in North America.
The bobcat’s status has changed dramatically in the state. Historically, they were not protected in Connecticut and were viewed as a threat to agriculture and game species. The state even had a bounty on bobcats from 1935 to 1971, according to the DEEP.
But by the early 1970s, a large increase in the value of bobcat pelts raised concerns that the population could be overharvested. In 1972, the bobcat was reclassified as a “protected furbearer” in Connecticut with no hunting or trapping seasons.
As a result, the bobcat population has seen a dramatic increase and in 2017, the DEEP Wildlife Division initiated a bobcat study to investigate bobcat habitat use in different housing densities in Connecticut. Biologists want to determine how the state’s bobcats meet their needs in both rural and suburban areas, as well as how successful bobcats are at reproduction and survival.
For the study, residents who observe a bobcat are asked to send an email message and any photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post sightings on DEEP’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/CTFishandWildlife.
The DEEP reports more than 8,500 black bear sightings a year in Connecticut, with several being sighted recently in Wilton.
Black bears are becoming increasingly common in Connecticut as the population continues to grow and expand.
As the bear population has grown, the Wildlife Division has seen an increase in the number of reported problems with black bears.
The primary contributing factor to bear nuisance problems is the presence of easily-accessible food sources near homes and businesses.
After waking from their winter hibernation, bears are on the prowl looking for food. They have a keen sense of smell and will come out of the woods to scour garbage cans, pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, and birdfeeders.
Because fed bears can become habituated and lose their fear of humans, bears should never be fed, either intentionally or accidentally, according to the DEEP.
The Wildlife Division advises residents to remove their birdfeeders from March through November and keep trash cans inside a garage or shed. Grills should also be cleaned and stored away after use. Residents should not approach bears, leave pet food outside overnight, or add meat or sweets to a compost pile.
If a bear is encountered, make noise so the bear is aware and back away slowly.
For more information on black bears in Connecticut, visit “black bears” on ct.gov/deep/.