Love is in the air for coyotes on Cape Ann and throughout the North Shore, but that may not be the only reason the four-legged furry fauna have been sighted more frequently sauntering out in public.
Coyote sightings have surged in recent weeks as mating season is in full swing. As a result, coyotes are making appearances more frequently in daylight and closer to human activity than they normally would, wildlife experts say.
But Don Famico, the animal control officer in Salem, suspects some of the uptick in coyote activity is related to a glut of construction projects occurring in the region.
“I just think they’re getting run out of their habitats by all the construction,” Famico said. “They’re all over the city. They’re up in the golf course area, up on Highland Avenue between Walmart and the condos across Highland, Kernwood Avenue. North Salem, we’ve had quite a few calls last week in the North Salem area.”
This creates a bit of a revolving-door effect, Famico said, with the coyote population.
“Salem Woods connects to Lynn. Lynn connects to Peabody,” he said. “You can’t run them out of town, because it’s a rotating door.”
Mary Zaki, a Beverly resident who frequents the woods around Hawk Hill, said a coyote came within 5 feet of her bedroom window a few days ago.
“I called animal control, and they said, ‘Yeah, they’re out there eating squirrels.’ Which ... I didn’t like,” Zaki said.
In an interview with the Gloucester Daily Times, Marion Larson, chief of information and education at MassWildlife’s Field Headquarters in Westborough, said coyotes are out “looking for mates and trying to find a place to raise their young.”
“Just because you see a coyote during the day, it doesn’t mean the animal is sick,” she said.
Gloucester has had its fair share of coyote run-ins as well recently. On Feb. 7, city police got a call from Old Salem Road reporting “that two coyotes were stuck to each other. Animal control explained that mating season has begun.”
Like Zaki, Famico said he also has a close-encounter story to tell — in part through his daughter, former Salem city councilor Heather Famico.
“Couple weeks ago, I went to take my car out and Heather was taking stuff out of the car, outside my house, and she said, ‘Does the neighbor across the street have a dog that looks like a coyote or German shepherd?’” he recalled. “Then ... prancing down the street comes a coyote.”
And coyotes aren’t the only critters people have been spotting more frequently. Skunks have also been making more appearances, according to Famico.
“Usually, you don’t see that until early spring,” he said.
Then again, while people often do run in terror from skunks, it isn’t for fear of losing a beloved household pet.
“Some people are telling me, when they walk their dog, they’re bringing baseball bats with them,” Famico said of the fear of coyotes. “Either that, or they’re bringing some sort of pepper spray.”
That’s a recent change, with the state shedding its requirement that anyone looking to procure pepper spray get a license to carry a firearm first. That has created a market locally for different kinds of defensive repellents — Halt dog repellent is a hot one, according to Famico.
But some go bigger with what they buy online.
“I know some people who buy the bear spray,” Famico said. “It’s a little stronger.”
Others, obviously, would prefer to not go toe-to-toe with a coyote. That’s partially motivated by recent stories of coyote attacks, including a well-circulated one about a girl in Illinois being attacked by a coyote in daylight in September.
To that end, Famico said anyone who sees a coyote moving toward them should first try to intimidate them.
“Make a lot of noise, and be bigger than they are,” he said. “Make yourself bigger. Stand tall. Yell. Some people, I’ve told to carry one of those boat horns, a compressed-air horn, a whistle.”
If the coyote becomes aggressive, however, then that’s a possible sign of a rabid coyote.
“If they feel their safety is in jeopardy, a fear of being attacked, they should call 911,” he said. “Don’t hesitate if the thing is showing aggression.”
And of course, as always, don’t leave small animals unattended — lest they become meals.
“Again with the cats — keep them in,” Famico said, “because we’ve lost a lot of cats in the past year.”