It was 8:30 on a weekday morning. Snow had fallen—maybe two inches—and flurries continued to float down as two healthy-looking coyotes came over the rise behind our house. Standing statue-still briefly, they began frolicking and shooshing up snow with their muzzles. The display went on for a while until they moved over to a sloped area and resumed their cavorting. Typically, January through February is their time to mate, so this might have been a mating pair.

At first it was a bit of a shock, because at that hour neighborhood schoolchildren were walking to the bus stop, but the coyote prancing was mesmerizing. Lately, there are more wildlife encounters in the woods, on the beaches, just about anywhere on Cape Cod.

This upsurge was the subject of an informative talk, “Coming to a Neighborhood Near You,” given last January by Mass Audubon’s Ian Ives, sanctuary director of the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary. He described the diverse number of species found on the Cape, some of which once existed here but died out, only to return and, now seemingly, are thriving. Examples of this include wild turkeys, gray seals, and ospreys. The Mass Audubon website,, is packed with helpful facts on local wildlife.

If you reside here, then you already are used to seeing more wild animals and birds. And if you’re visiting or planning to visit the Cape, welcome! Just some advice, though, regarding the Cape wildlife. Not all folks think that having roaming wildlife, especially coyotes, is appealing, pet owners among them. Many of us have lost pets years back when dogs were let out unaccompanied and felines cried to go outside until they decided to come back indoors. In fact, a coyote in our neighborhood grabbed a small Chihuahua as the owner was right there in the yard, yet not close enough to help. Nowadays, those with pets know to be more careful.

Small or medium pets, and young children must be closely supervised when outside the house. That goes for fenced yards, too, and electronic fences, which are designed only to keep your pet from running out. They do nothing to prevent unwanted critters from entering.

Hawks are another predator that are not stopped by fencing, and they can snag a small cat or dog. Of course, it is well known to keep cats indoors considering that they are mesopredators. That term means they prey on a variety of birds and small mammals and that larger predators are interested in hunting them.  

So, why are we seeing more animals around? Even with expanded development, the Cape is endowed with splendid natural resources. Over time, residents, visitors, and organizations are learning not to take this for granted. With invaluable help by groups such as Mass Wildlife, Mass Audubon, and The 300 Committee, land parcels are remaining as open spaces and waterways are getting cleaner. When animals and birds discover a suitable habitat, they are encouraged to settle and breed. As a result, the Cape is experiencing a wealth of wildlife traveling about, doing their daily routines.

For the most part the presence of wildlife is not a problem, but it pays to be knowledgeable. Just as you now use caution when jumping into the surf, due to increased seal and shark sightings, be wary when taking a walk in any wooded area, even during the day. Beyond an increased coyote population, foxes, raccoons, hawks and owls roam around, especially when they are hungry. In fact, primarily nocturnal critters aren’t limited to nighttime activity. Depending on temperatures, the amount of available food, whether the animals are mating or nursing babies, they might leave their dens at any time if they feel the need.

Populations Come And Go

Foxes and raccoons have been a steady presence on the Cape, but other species that once were nearly, or completely, eliminated from the region are repopulating. After 1851, nary a turkey strutted about the Cape. Then, being reintroduced in the 1970s, turkeys made a comeback and are going strong—35,000 and counting. Ospreys, which now are ubiquitous, nesting on pole tops in every Cape town, literally were decimated when DDT was widely used. The deer population also was greatly down in numbers at the turn of the 20th century, but now there are roughly 30,000,000 in the US.

Fishers, another species depopulated in the 19th century, quietly reappeared on-Cape around 2009 and are becoming more familiar. And naturalists are thrilled to see bald eagles again, especially now that nesting pairs are being spotted. Minks and otters maintain a low profile but need clean waters in our ponds, lakes, and rivers. Among the many laudable successes of the Coonamessett River Restoration was the appearance of otters and minks.

Meanwhile, some larger animals, such as bobcats, are not as prevalent. The last confirmed sighting of one was recorded on video over 10 years ago in North Falmouth. However, bobcat tracks do get reported periodically. As for bears, it’s only a matter of time before another black bear or two cross the bridges or swim the canal, as one intrepid fellow managed in 2012. Currently, about 4,500 black bears make Massachusetts home, so don’t be surprised to learn that a hundred or so have been sighted in suburbs over the bridge.

What if you come upon an injured animal that might warrant medical attention? Contact an animal care facility. It’s handy to store the phone number for the town’s Animal Control Officer where you are walking.

In Bourne, the number is 508-759-0600, extension 1504

In Falmouth, the number is 508-540-2552

In Mashpee, the number is 508-539-1442; after 3 PM,
use 508-539-1480

In Sandwich, the number is 508-833-8004

Molly Masson, Falmouth’s senior Animal Control Officer (ACO), advised, “I would recommend calling the town’s animal control officer first. The ACO can assess the situation and then contact a wildlife facility, if needed, and by doing so, can also take away the ‘middleman’ factor. The only issue with that though is some towns animal control officers do not deal with wildlife, i.e., Yarmouth Natural Resources does. However, the animal control officer is always able to direct calls.”  

Additionally, each of the above towns’ Animal Control websites includes lengthy information about wildlife.

Here are other vital local organizations that can offer help:

Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, 508-362-0111.

For after hours, emergency only, use 617-835-6845;

Wild Care Cape Cod in Eastham, 508-240-2255, 9 AM – 5 PM,
seven days a week;

Friends of Cape Wildlife, based in Provincetown, 508-375-3700,
8 AM – 10 PM, seven days a week.

If reporting hurt or stranded sea mammals and turtles, call:

  The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Cape office in Yarmouth, 508-743-9548.