State wildlife rehabilitator Dan Proulx introduces his pet snake, Beetlejuice, during a wildlife presentation at Swampscott High School. (Libby O’Neill)
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SWAMPSCOTT – A wildlife expert was at Swampscott High School presenting everything residents needed to know about local wildlife on Tuesday.
Dan Proulx is a state licensed wildlife rehabilitator and problem animal control (PAC) agent and has years of experience as an animal control officer on the North Shore.
The number one rule Proulx mentioned was that it was illegal to keep and breed wildlife without a license and he advised residents never to touch an animal with their bare hands. He then introduced the common wildlife of the North Shore and how to prevent them from showing up in your homes.
Coyotes have essentially become the unofficial animals in Swampscott now, with more publicity everywhere. According to Proulx, the reason they are getting bold may be the lack of food like rabbit and squirrel this year.
They weigh around 30 to 50 pounds, but appear larger due to their rich fur. Proulx claimed that a person can actually lift one with one hand. Their range of travel is 5 to 30 miles, the same group of coyotes may have been circling Swampscott and Nahant according to Proulx.
Keeping coyotes from invading someone’s yard can be simple. First, rearrange yards frequently, coyotes can easily get used to their surroundings and you can confuse them. Do not leave trash or food in the yard, as that can always attract wildlife.
Due to the decorations put up during Halloween, no coyotes were sighted, so Proulx encourages residents and homeowners to put up scary decorations to protect them. Do not use bird feeders, this can attract rodents which will in turn attract coyotes. Most importantly, try to act fierce when coyotes are around you and let the animals know that this is not their territory.
The rabbit and squirrel population could be declining due to the fact that the coyotes may have turned their attention to hunting puppies, as Proulx surmised when he received fewer and fewer calls from injured rabbits. A rabbit’s only defense is to freeze or run when in danger.
He then told people how to prevent rabbits from nesting in the yard to prevent overcrowding. First, buy reflective pinwheels in early February before they reproduce and plant them in the garden. Rabbits will be scared when they see their reflection. Another option is to buy a fake owl, place it high on the ground and move it daily or buy rabbit repellent.
Proulx warned people about relocating a nest. By relocating nests, he is able to kill baby rabbits that remain in the nest for most of their infant lives. Mother rabbits can abandon a disturbed nest, and to find out if the babies are potential orphans, the best way is to string tic-tac-toe over the nest. Take a picture when the tic-tac-toe is attached and see if the mother moves the string as she goes in and out of the nest.
If they become orphaned babies, people should always contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. They can put a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel or T-shirt to keep the animals warm for a few hours.
Proulx tells people not to feed any animals, as they can go a couple of days without food, but if they eat the wrong food, they can die.
SQUIRRELS and RACCONS:
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to squirrels and raccoons is that they make wonderful mothers, according to Proulx. When you come across lost baby squirrels or raccoons, always make sure to round them all up because the mommies will be back for them.
People should cover their chimney to prevent squirrels from entering their homes. It would also help to cut down any tree branches that are hanging on or near the roof.
Snakes are very rare on the North Shore according to Proulx. Most North Shore snakes are not venomous and want nothing to do with people. They don’t really show up in the winter season, however if people want to get rid of pet snakes, call a rehabber.
Coyotes, raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes are all prone to carry rabies, so it is very important to be aware for the sake of residents and their pets. On May 2, 2020, a raccoon tested positive for rabies. “It’s rare, but it exists,” Proulx said.