Large Mammals

Black Bear Coyote Deer Moose

ABOUT BLACK BEARS

Black bears are the most common of the three kinds of bears who live in North America, and the type you may encounter in Massachusetts. Growing about five feet tall and can weighing 100 to 600 pounds, a black bear’s diet consists mostly of fruits, nuts, and insects along with small live prey and carrion, making them omnivorous. Black bears live solitary lives except when they are courting mates and rearing cubs. Cubs are usually born in the spring and stay with their mothers until they are about two years old. They become sexually mature at about age three, but usually don’t breed until age five.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Although black bears have historically shied away from humans, they may wander onto human-inhabited property, primarily looking for food.

Take these steps to keep black bears away:

  • Eliminate all food sources from your yard. Secure open compost piles, clean up spilled seed from bird feeders, clean and put away grills, and bring in all pet food remnants and containers if companion animals are fed outside.
  • Store garbage in a shed or garage between garbage collection days. Put out garbage the morning of garbage collection day rather than the night before.
  • Firmly secure your garbage containers with bungee cords or purchase bear-proof garbage containers. View vendors that sell bear-proof garbage containers.
  • Limit bear access to beehives, orchards, and farm fields by installing electric fencing or heavy-gauge fencing with barbed wire.
  • Install motion light sensors and use loud radios.

If you encounter a black bear:

A bear encounter can be scary. These animals are most dangerous when accompanied by cubs, are feeding or guarding food, are injured, or are startled by the sudden appearance of a human. Bears who have frequent exposure to humans in campgrounds or around garbage dumps are less fearful and can be more dangerous. If you are in an area where you know bears may be present, carry hot-pepper spray with capsaicin as the active ingredient. Check the legal potency and carry-restrictions in your state. If sprayed from seven to ten feet away, the repellent irritates the eyes without permanently injuring the animal.

  • Stay calm and never approach the bear. Hold your ground and keep your eyes on the bear. This may be all that is necessary to de-escalate the situation.
  • Wave your arms and appear as big as possible.
  • Make noise by banging objects or by shouting in a human voice. Do not imitate a bear’s growl or other animal noises.
  • If all else fails, throw things at the bear to urge him to move on.
  • In the unlikely event that the bear bluff charges, experts advise standing still since the bear usually uses this bluff charge as a warning before turning and moving off. If attacked by a black bear, be aggressive and fight back.

(Please note: These tips are for encounters with black bears only. If you are traveling in areas where other types of bears may be present, seek information and advice about how to handle bear encounters in those regions.)

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

As with all mammals, bears can contract rabies.

MSPCA BLACK BEAR FACT SHEET 
Learn more about black bear behavior

ABOUT COYOTES

The coyote is a member of the same family that foxes, dogs, and wolves belong to: the canids. Their name comes from the Aztec word for the species coyotl, which, loosely translated, means trickster. Eastern Coyote moved into areas of Massachusetts in the 1950s, and now can be found in ever town in the state. At first glance these coyotes resemble German Shepherds in shape and size. They are also often confused with red and gray foxes.

Coyote vary in size depending on location but generally are four to four-and-a-half feet long including the tail, stand 18 to 25 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh 20 to 50 pounds. A coyote may be gray, brown or tan above and white or light-color underneath, with a straight, bushy tail.

Coyote are adaptable and can live in a wide range of climates and conditions, from suburbia to wilderness, sea level to over 10,000 feet in altitude, and are now found in all states except Hawaii. They are territorial, with the males marking their boundaries with urine, as many canids do. The size of the territory is directly related to the quality of the habitat, and often several square miles are necessary to support a coyote family.

They are omnivorous and make use of an astonishing variety of plant and animal foods including garbage, insects, rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, carrion, and even berries and fruits. Coyote play an important role in controlling rodents.

Coyote breed during February or March and give birth in April or May. The litter size varies, depending in part, upon environmental conditions and coyote population density. The pups nurse for up to two months, mature quickly, and are fully independent at about nine months. While offspring are small and unable to hunt, the male coyote provides protection and food for the family unit.

Possible Conflicts and Solutions

Generally, coyote are extremely shy and avoid contact with humans. In urban and suburban areas, however, coyote may be less likely to fear people and more likely to associate them with an easy, dependable food source. Some have been known to come up to the doors of homes if food is regularly present. Pets, especially cats and small dogs, are seen by coyote as a food source and should be protected. If you live in an area where there are coyote, it is important to supervise children and pets when they are outside.

Make sure you are not inadvertently attracting coyote by leaving out open trash containers, feeding pets outside, or leaving spilled bird seed on the ground, which can attract small rodents that in turn can attract coyote.

Innumerable non-lethal strategies exist to discourage coyote predation on pets and livestock, including guard animals (dogs, donkeys, llamas), smell and taste aversion substances, shock devices, noise devices, and portable fencing. Go to our links and resources page to find a company that sells roll top fence attachments which prevent coyotes from jumping over fences. Poultry and hobby livestock can be well-protected from coyotes with fencing (both structural and electric) and by ensuring that the animals are properly confined in well-built cages or pens each evening. For more information on how to avoid conflicts with coyotes, see The Humane Society’s coyote hazing guidelines. For a comprehensive solution, see Long Beach California’s Coyote Management Plan.

Historically, trapping has never been a method for managing coyote populations in Massachusetts. In the past few decades, there have only been two land trapping seasons for taking coyote. Hunting is more commonly used in the state for killing coyote, with the coyote hunting season lasting nearly five months. If coyote should pose a threat to public health or safety, the law allows for the use of prohibited traps for capturing those problem animals. As conflicts most often occur in suburban areas, trapping should be conducted responsibly. A special permit is required.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Like all warm-blooded animals, coyotes may contract rabies.

MSPCA COYOTE FACT SHEET
Common questions and answers about coyotes living in Massachusetts

ABOUT DEER

A member of the Ungulates, or hoofed mammals, deer are one of the most well-known animals in New England. The white-tailed deer is one of the most common species and can be found throughout the United States, except for in parts of the far West. Deer can jump over eight feet high and can run at speeds up to 40 miles per hour! Adult male deer, called “bucks”, can weigh more than 400 pounds and usually live in small groups. Does, adult female deer, can weigh up to 40 percent less than bucks, and live in larger groups which include their offspring. Mating season, known as “rut,” occurs between October and January, with one to three fawns usually born in May or June.

Agricultural areas with woodlots, fields, and streams are common areas for deer. Additionally, they are often found living at forest edges where they can retreat into the forest for shelter and escape, and can browse in open areas or fields. “Home ranges” are used by related females, but exclude sexually mature, related males. White-tailed deer are most often active at dusk and dawn when there is less danger.

The feeding habits of deer can vary widely depending on location. As herbivores, they feed on a variety of plant material throughout the seasons, including flowers, shrubs, acorns, cultivated plants,  ornamental shrubbery, and even grass.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

Due to their abundant tracks and droppings, it is usually not difficult to determine deer damage, especially in gardens and landscaped areas. Another easy way to tell if deer are causing the damage is to look at twig ends. Plants or trees that are browsed by deer have a ragged, squared, and torn appearance because deer do not have upper incisors to neatly clip plants. Areas with high deer density may show a “browse line”, where vegetation will be trimmed from the ground up to the deer height, usually around three to six feet from the ground. Damage to tree bark can occur if bucks rub their antlers along tree trunks.

There are a variety of techniques that can be used to minimize and even eliminate damage done by deer. Landscape design involving careful selection and placement of plants is helpful. Planting native species of shrubs and trees can help, as well as implementing preventative measures against deer damage before it begins, especially in the spring. Consulting with a local nursery or landscaping company about appropriate plants is a good first step, as they often have listings of deer-resistant and deer-attracting plants, and can tell you when certain plants are eaten by deer in various areas.

If deer browsing is heavy, deer-proof fencing is the most effective and long-term way to protect resources such as crops or landscape plants. A range in fencing designs are available, from high-tensile strand wiring that may be angled for better effectiveness, to standard mesh-woven wire, chain-link designs, and various types of electric wiring. Fences should be at least eight feet high and extend underground to prevent fawns from crawling underneath them. Very simple fencing designs can be used if there are other food sources available in the area. However, if food is in high demand, deer can jump fences ten feet high. Fencing or netting individual plants is often effective if fencing an entire area is too expensive. Trees can be protected from buck rubs by wrapping them with corrugated plastic sleeves or surrounding the tree with two-inch wooden stakes four to five feet high.

Repellents can be used to detract deer and work by either directly making the plants distasteful or by deterring them from an area using sight, smell, or sound. Repellents work well in smaller areas and gardens. Homemade repellents can be made by placing human hair, soap, or garlic in netting or stocking, then tying it to tree branches or fences around an area that needs protection. Commercially made contact repellents are also available and can be sprayed directly onto plants, though many cannot be used on food crops. With any kind of repellent, the key is to begin using it as soon as you see deer damage. Remember to reapply it often, especially after rain or when new growth appears.

Another technique that may repel deer is the use of scarecrows and effigies, especially ones that move. Motion sensing lights, scare tape, balloons, mirrors, strips of tinfoil, and even wind chimes and radios can be effective in frightening deer away from an area. Varying these devices and using them in combination with other strategies is a good idea to ensure they remain successful.

Go to our links and resources page to find vendors that sell these products.

PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS

Deer can be hosts to the ticks that carry Lyme disease. There is current debate about their role in contributing to the spread and prevalence of this disease, however, as adult ticks live on other hosts, and declining deer densities have been proven to not have affected the production of new ticks.

MSPCA DEER FACT SHEET
Learn more about Lyme disease and deer hunting

About Moose

Native American Algonquins gave moose their name, meaning “eater of twigs”. It’s hard to believe that the largest wild animal in North America could grow to an average of 1,000 pounds and stand taller than most humans – 6 feet at the shoulder – on a diet of leaves, twigs, aquatic plants, and tree buds. However, eating 40 – 60 pounds a day does, sustain them. They accomplish this volume without upper incisors; they strip off bark rather than cutting it. They also don’t see distant objects well, but compensate with keen hearing and a good sense of smell.

Male moose, known as “bulls”, are larger than the female “cows”, and are further distinguished by dark brown or black muzzles and large antlers that can weigh up to 60 pounds. Antlers begin to grow in the early spring and mature by late summer or early fall. During the winter, mature bulls lose their antlers completely, while young bulls may keep their smaller spikes into early spring. Cows, who do not have antlers, have a light brown face and a patch of white fur beneath their tail. The distinctive flap of skin and long hair that hangs from a moose’s throat is called the bell, and is typically less noticeable in cows.

Bulls and cows stay on the move during mating season, or “rut”, which begins in mid-September and lasts about a month. Their home range varies from five to more than 50 square miles, the latter during rut. Bulls don’t breed until they’re five years old, while cows begin at a year and a half and usually have one calf by age two. Once a cow reaches four years old, it’s common for her to have twins. Twenty to 25 pound calves are born in late May or early June, and by Thanksgiving they’re up to 20 times heavier. Cows are extremely protective of their calves and have been known to kill wolves and black bear while defending their young. Moose can live more than twenty years, although many die earlier due to predation, disease, human hunters, and automobile accidents.

POSSIBLE CONFLICTS & SOLUTIONS

The most common concern people have about moose is motor vehicle collisions. Given the moose’s enormous size and the automobile’s high speed, collisions between the two are dangerous and can result in both human and animal injuries and deaths. Many solutions have already been proven effective at preventing collisions, and new technologies are being developed. Check out our page on preventing automotive collisions with wildlife and read below for more suggestions on how to stay safe.

Stay Safe While Driving: Tips to Reduce Collisions with Moose 

  • Take moose-crossing signs seriously. They’re placed in high accident and frequent crossing areas.
  • Don’t speed. Excessive speed inhibits the ability to avoid a collision and increases the risk of serious injury or death.
  • Be extra cautious in the autumn. Hunters frighten moose and keep them on the move. While mating season for moose, which makes them travel more, is September and October.
  • Dim your dashboard lights at night. This increases your visibility on darkened roads.
  • Scan roadside edges for moose as you drive, especially at dawn and dusk and from May to October, when moose are more active. Remember to look up for eye shine – moose are tall

Protect Your Roads: Encourage your Community to take Preventative Measure

  • Post moose-crossing signs in high accident and frequent crossing areas.
  • Air public service announcements during times when moose are on the move.
  • Reduce speed limits.
  • Erect high fences or extend existing fences bordering major highways.
  • Increase fines for littering and enforce existing laws. Litter attracts animals to roadsides.
  • If road salt is attracting moose and other animals to roadsides, clean it up and/or place salt licks further away from the road for the moose.
  • Mandate that all driver education courses include information on collisions with animals and safe driving methods for prevention.
  • Keep current with developing technologies and implement them when available — wildlife bypasses, laser devices, mirrors, collision avoidance sensors, and new headlight technology are a few currently being tested.

Hunting Will Not Prevent Collisions

Moose hunting is currently illegal in Massachusetts, but efforts to allow a moose hunt in the state have been initiated over the past several years. Proponents of a moose hunt claim it’s necessary for stabilizing the population and preventing car-moose collisions. The state of Maine, however, which celebrates its large moose population, has two hunting seasons for moose, yet the population continues to grow.

Between 1995 and 2000 there were 3,983 crashes involving moose, resulting in 15 human deaths and 805 human injuries. Public officials in Maine take this issue very seriously, and have studied a myriad of ways to reduce the incidence of moose hit by cars. What they have found is that “educating drivers through awareness programs was identified as a factor that could most effectively bring a reduction in animal/vehicle crashes” (Maine Working Group Interim Report, p.11). They do not rely on hunting in Maine, but rather have seen a decline in accidents as they have implemented educational and technological solutions.

MSPCA MOOSE FACT SHEET