ex·tir·pate – to destroy completely
In researching animals for this segment, this disturbing word appears repeatedly. In our first segment, we highlight black bears, bobcat and moose. Each of these animals has had to overcome challenges in co-existing with humans. In the mid–1800’s, dramatic deforestation peaked, greatly reducing the habitat available to many animals. The black bear was once considered extirpated from Connecticut. The bobcat exists only in limited populations, most heavily here in the Northwest Corner. It has been extirpated in many areas along the mid-Atlantic coast. The moose had lost adequate habitat and disappeared from the Connecticut landscape for many years. Presently, more than two-thirds of Connecticut is forested again. The moose, like the black bear, is making its way back into this forested habitat and it is only a matter of time before populations again become established in our state.
In 1989, Connecticut passed the Connecticut Endangered Species Act. It recognizes the need to protect plant and animal populations from extinction. The overall goal of the Act is to conserve, protect, restore and enhance any endangered or threatened species and their essential habitat.
The Gray Wolf once roamed most of the United States, including the hills of Connecticut. In the 1960’s, their population shrunk from 250,000 to 450! They are now considered extirpated from the state of Connecticut and are listed as threatened by the federal government. Reported sightings of Gray Wolves have most often turned out to be Coyote sightings. The fisher was once considered extirpated, but has made a comeback. The timber rattlesnake is on the Endangered Species list. It is in danger of extirpation throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the state. By staying aware, being educated and taking necessary actions, these wonderful animals will around for generations to come.
New England’s moose population has expanded over the past decade leading to increased sighting in Connecticut. Between 1992 and 1998, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Wildlife Division received reports of two to three moose sightings each year.
Moose are very large animals with long, slender, grayish-white legs. They may stand over six feet tall at the shoulders and can weigh up to 1,400 pounds. Females (cows) are smaller than males (bulls). On average, cows weigh 750 pounds while bulls weigh 1,000 pounds.
Adult males have impressive antlers, which are shed annually. They begin to grow in early spring and are fully developed by late summer. Males scrape the velvet off the antlers by rubbing against trees and shrubs. These palmately-branched antlers can weigh close to 60 pounds and spread to more than five feet across.
Moose can present a serious threat to public safety under some circumstances. Although usually shy, moose can feel threatened and become aggressive during the rutting season or after calving. They also may demonstrate unpredictable behavior if they wander into populated areas. Under no circumstances should moose be approached. Although they may appear to be docile, moose should be given the healthy respect that New England’s largest land mammal warrants.
Moose are also potentially dangerous when involved in automobile collisions. They are very large, long-legged and difficult to see under low light conditions (moose are most active at dusk and at night). Data collected from other states indicate that a moose/car collision is 30 times more likely to result in a human death than a deer/car collision. On the average, one out of 50 moose/car collisions results in a human fatality.
The pileated woodpecker is about 15 inches in length and is one of the largest woodpeckers. It has a black body, a red crest, white stripes on its neck and black and white stripes on its face. It has yellow bristly feathers over its nostrils that keep out wood chips. It has a long, sticky tongue; a long, sharp pointed bill and yellow eyes. Males and females are similar, but males have a red forehead, and females have a gray to yellowish brown forehead.
The pileated woodpecker eats insects, fruits and nuts. A large part of its diet is made up of carpenter ants and beetle larvae. It uses its sharp bill to pull bark off a tree to expose ant colonies. It uses its long, sticky tongue to poke into holes and drag out the ants. It also digs out large rectangular holes in trees to create roosting and nesting spots and to expose insects!
Although the pileated woodpecker is adapted to clinging to the sides of trees, it is a strong flyer and it will even sometimes hop around on the ground. The pileated woodpecker “drums” on hollow trees with its bill to claim territory.
The black bear is a stocky animal with short, thick legs. It is the smallest North American bear. In Connecticut, adult males, or boars, normally weigh from 150 to 400 pounds, while females, or sows, weigh from 110 to 200 pounds. Yearlings weigh 45 to 100 pounds. Adults are five to six feet long.
In wilderness settings bears usually avoid people. But food attractants near homes can cause them to grow habituated to humans and disturbances, such as dogs and other noises. Bears are attracted by bird feeders, garbage, outdoor pet food, compost piles, fruit trees, and berry-producing shrubs.
To avoid attracting bears:
Remove bird feeders from late March through November. If a bear visits a bird feeder in winter, remove the feeder.
Add a few capfuls of ammonia to trash bags and garbage cans to mask food odors. Keep trash bags in a container with a tight lid and store in a garage or shed. Wait until the morning of collection before bringing out trash.
Do not leave pet food outside overnight and store livestock food in airtight containers.
Do not put meats or sweet-smelling fruit rinds in compost piles. Lime can be sprinkled on the compost pile to reduce the smell and discourage bears.
Thoroughly clean grills after use.
Never intentionally feed bears. Bears that associate food with people may become aggressive and dangerous. This may lead to personal injury, property damage, and the need to destroy problem animals.
Encourage your neighbors to take similar precautions.
The bobcat is a stout-bodied, medium-sized feline, with a short, “bobbed” tail, a prominent face ruff and tufts of black hair on its pointed ears. The sides and flanks are usually yellowish-brown or reddish-brown with distinct or faint black spots. The under parts are white. The back is often tawny-colored with a dark mid-dorsal line. The tail may have one to several indistinct dark bands and a tip that is black on top and whitish below.
An adult male can weigh 14-40 pounds and grow to 32-37 inches. A female can weigh 10-33 pounds and reach 28-32 inches. They feed on cottontail rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, snowshoe hares, deer, birds, and to a much lesser extent, insects and reptiles. Bobcats may also prey upon domestic animals such as poultry, small pigs, sheep, goats and housecats. They live in environments with mixed deciduous-coniferous and hardwood forests and rock ledges. They have a preference for brushy and rocky woodlands broken by fields, old roads and farmland.
Compared to many wildlife species, bobcats rarely cause conflicts with human activities. Infrequently, they kill livestock, especially fowl, and attack domestic cats. Problems caused by bobcats are too infrequent to justify efforts to reduce populations. Conflicts should be addressed on an individual basis and can often be remedied by preventative methods such as fencing. Bobcat attacks on people are virtually unknown. They are not a significant vector of disease and rarely contract the mid-Atlantic strain of rabies.
The coyote in this area are generally quite healthy and can take on a wolf-like appearance, particularly in winter months when their coats are at the fullest. The Gray Wolf is considered extirpated from this area. The coyote fur is usually a grizzled-gray color with a cream colored or white underside, which can account for its misidentification with a wolf. Individual coyotes can vary in color, including reddish, blond or charcoal coats. Most, but not all, coyotes have dark hairs over the back and a black-tipped tail.
The coyote is not a native species to Connecticut, but is now part of the ecosystem. In the last 100 years, it has expanded its range from the mid-west. Coyotes were first reported in Connecticut in the 1950’s. Eastern Coyotes are generally larger than their western counterparts. Most adults weigh 25-40 pounds. They measure about 4 feet long from nose to tail. Coyotes are opportunistic feeders, eating primarily mice, deer, woodchucks, and rabbits. They will also feed on birds, insects, fruits and berries.
Coyotes seen in residential areas rarely threaten human safety. Livestock such as sheep and fowl, and pets such as cats and small dogs, are at greatest risk of coyote attacks. Limiting sources of attraction to coyotes, such as not leaving pet food outdoors, removing decaying fruit below fruit trees, installing protective fencing for livestock are the best deterrent. Coyotes are abundant across North America, yet only a very small number of attacks on humans have ever been reported.
We have had several reports of seeing this fascinating creature around town! The fisher was considered extirpated from Connecticut in the early 1900’s. Due to changes in reforestation and land-use practices, the fisher’s habitat has been restored in part of its historic range. A population first began re-colonizing in the northeastern section of the state. The fisher had been unable to re-colonize in Northwest Connecticut because the region was isolated from a source population. In 1988, the fisher was reintroduced by an initiative of the DEP Wildlife division. As a result of this project, a viable, self-sustaining population of this native mammal is now established.
The fisher is a large member of the weasel family. It has a long, slender body, short legs and an elongated bushy tail. They are usually dark brown to nearly black. The tail, rump and feet are darkest, in contrast to the head and shoulders, which are lighter in color and often grizzled in appearance, especially in males. Fishers have five toes on each foot and semi-retractable claws which allow them to climb trees.
A male fisher can weigh 8–14 pounds and measure 36–40 inches in length. Females are 4–6 pounds and 30–36 inches in length. Their diet consists of squirrels, rabbits, mice, voles, carrion, fruits, birds, and frogs. They are probably most famous for their ability to successfully hunt and kill porcupines!
The fishers’ long, wedge-shaped snout is well suited for making vicious attacks to the porcupines face until mortal wounds cause the porcupine to succumb. The "fisher-cat" is neither much of a fish catcher nor is it a member of the cat family. It does resemble a house cat in general body size and shape, but the fisher has shorter legs and a longer, wedge-shaped snout.
The timber rattlesnake is one of the two venomous snakes found in Connecticut. The distinctive rattle at the tip of the rattlesnake’s tail is perhaps one if its most distinguishing characteristics. But don’t be fooled! Many harmless snakes, when aroused, will vibrate their tails rapidly in drive leaves, making a sound that can be mistaken for a rattlesnake.
The timber rattlesnake is listed as an Endangered Species. It is presently estimated that the rattlesnake lives in isolated populations in approximately 10 towns in northwestern and central Connecticut. The greatest threat to its survival is depredation by humans. An adult timber rattlesnake can measure 28-43 inches in length. They live in deciduous forests with rugged terrain, steep ledges and a nearby water supply. Other distinguishing characteristics are its vertical eye pupils and a flattened, unmarked, triangular head about twice the size of the neck.
The timber rattlesnake occurs in two color variations in Connecticut. One variation has black or brown cross-bands on a yellow, brown or gray background. The cross-bands may be V-shaped and break up toward the head to form a row of dark spots down the back and each side. The other variation is darker and has a heavy speckling of black or very dark brown that hides much of the lighter pigment. Timber rattlesnakes are naturally secretive and generally move away to hide if they detect approaching humans. If a sleeping rattlesnake is encountered, it may recoil into a defensive posture and rattle. In this situation, it is best to back away slowly because the snake’s vision is designed to detect motion. Quick movements may further agitate the snake.
In Connecticut, rattlesnake bites are rare and defensive bites may only carry a fraction of venom that is injected into hunted prey. Any sightings of this shy snake should be reported to the DEP.
American snapping turtles have powerful jaws and a fearless attitude. Their mouth is equipped with a bony ridge that runs the length of their mouth instead of teeth. This ridge, accompanied by an immense crushing pressure, allows the turtle to ‘snap’ through flesh and bone with ease. They are among the largest of freshwater turtles and can live up to 30 years in the wild. Males in the wild can weigh as much as 45 pounds and their top shells (the carapace) can measure up to 24”. The bottom shell (the plastron) barely covers the underbelly. Because of their inability to tuck into their shell, snapping turtles will tend to ‘stand and fight’ rather than hide from opposing danger.
The snapping turtle is a widespread, hardy, and adaptable species found in all types of water bodies ranging from polluted ponds in urban parks to wilderness areas, as well as brackish, tidally influenced habitats. Snapping turtle nest sites tend to be some distance from water, and occasionally in high human traffic areas such as back yards and roadways. The nest may contain as many as 83 eggs.
It is a common misconception that snappers may be safely picked up by its tail, with no harm to the animal; in fact, this has a high chance of injuring the turtle. A handler must also be wary of injury, as they can snap with amazing speed and power - a large adult snapper can easily bite off a finger or toe. If moving a snapper is absolutely necessary, scooping and lifting the turtle just off the ground with a shovel (especially a snow shovel), if done quickly, may be safest and easiest for all concerned parties. Lifting the turtle with the hands is difficult and dangerous. Some snappers can, and will stretch their necks halfway back across their shell to bite.
People sometimes kill snappers out of unfounded fears that the turtles pose a threat to human safety and to other wildlife. Although snapping turtles are aggressive when defending themselves they are actually quite shy animals, preferring to quickly swim away whenever approached.
Despite reports of sightings, the Eastern Cougar or Mountain Lion is listed as extirpated by the State of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection. The Connecticut DEP reports that they have found no evidence of a reproducing, native population of cougars. The Eastern Cougar is on the federal endangered species list and many believe that they are extinct. There are, however, organizations, individuals and researchers who believe the DEP is wrong. Reports have been made in a number of areas throughout Connecticut, although no confirmations have been made. The Cougar Network is an organization that helps research cougars and confirms sightings. The Network has confirmed sightings in Maine and Massachusetts and has had numerous reports in the other New England states.
Because cougars are elusive animals, and seldom seen by even experienced outdoorsmen, sightings that are backed by tangible physical evidence are the only ones that are considered confirmations. Sightings usually occur in only a few brief seconds. Dogs, bobcats, house cats, deer and other wildlife have all been misidentified as a cougar. Because of these factors, organizations such as the Cougar Network employ two classifications as confirmations. Class I confirmations include the body of a dead cougar or a live captured animal; photographs or video; or DNA evidence such as hair, scat, etc. Class II confirmations include the tracks of a cougar that can be verified by qualified professionals; or any other tangible, physical evidence that can be verified (things such as prey carcasses, microscopic hair recognition or thin-layer chromatography of scat).
Because the Northeast region of the country is very distant from known populations of cougars in the West and Midwest, cougar experts believe that any animals that exist in this region came from captive origin. There has been no reported evidence of a breeding population, but in DNA tests that have been performed on hair samples, the confirmed sightings in this part of the country have the presence of South American genotypes. Because of this information, organizations such as the DEP and the US Fish and Wildlife Service believe that cougars could potentially exist in the wild, but they arrived there either by escaping a game farm, or they were let loose by owners who once held them as an exotic pet. They do not believe there are native, reproducing populations.
Regardless of the origin of the cat, if you suspect you’ve seen a cougar, carefully note where any tracks may exist so that a professional can observe them, and make note if any other identifiable traces exist. Snap a picture if you have your camera handy. These beautiful animals measure approximately 2 feet tall at the shoulder and can measure up to 5 ½ feet long. With another 2 ½ feet for their tail, they can be up to 8 feet in length! A cougar can weigh up to 180 lbs. and live up to 12 years in the wild.
Their diet consists of large mammals such as deer, but they will also eat smaller mammals such as mice, squirrels, porcupines, beavers, and rabbits. Cougars are solitary animals, are very territorial and they actively avoid other cats. Their range can vary in size from 10 square miles to 370 square miles. Cougars are active hunters. They hunt alone and attack from behind, breaking the neck of their prey by biting it at the base of the skull. After killing the prey, they will bury and leave it, coming back to feed when they are hungry.