Two members of the cat family remain in New England. Also called wildcats, bobcats are found in all six states, but they are rarely spotted by even seasoned hunters. They live deep in the forests and roam around at night in search of small mammals, birds and other creatures to eat. The screeching cry of a bobcat is not a sound anyone who hears it will soon forget. The Canadian lynx was once firmly entrenched throughout New England, but it is now confined to the very northern portions of Vermont and New Hampshire, plus parts of Maine. This cat is similar in size to a bobcat but has large ears and paws that function almost like snowshoes in the winter months.
Mustelids, the Weasel Family
This family of mammals contains seven species of predators that exist in New England: minks, ermines, long-tailed weasels, fishers, river otters, pine martens, and striped skunks. Minks can be up to two feet long. They are usually found near water and are good swimmers. They feed on animals such as muskrats and fish. Ermines, or short-tailed weasels, and long-tailed weasels are smaller than minks. Both are voracious predators, eating such things as voles, moles, mice and birds. Fishers are a larger member of the weasel family in New England. Despite their moniker, they do not eat many fish. They are capable killers of animals such as porcupines and rabbits. Fishers have expanded south in New England since the 1990s. River otters are found in rivers, ponds, lakes and streams in the region, feeding mainly on fish. They have sleek bodies and webbed feet, and are as comfortable in the water as they are on land. Pine martens, becoming more rare in New England, are spotted occasionally in the northern fringes of this part of the country. These tree-climbing wonders have ears like a cat's and devour squirrels and birds. The most frequently seen of this family of predatory mammals are striped skunks, omnivorous creatures that can seemingly eat anything. They can produce a horrible smell from glands near their tails and fend off danger by spraying the adversary.
Canine predators in New England include coyotes and two types of foxes. Coyotes are not believed to be native to this eastern area, but the population has skyrocketed recently. These canines are similar to large dogs, but they have grayish to yellowish brown fur and a bushy tail that, unlike dogs' tails, stays down when they runs. Coyotes eat small mammals and birds, and are not above sneaking into a backyard and carrying off a small family pet. The red (pictured at top) and gray foxes are smaller and are stealthy hunters that avoid detection from humans under most conditions. Red foxes have fur described best as rust-colored or orange-red, while gray foxes have a grayish-brown pelt with rusty sides. Both types of foxes will make a meal out of anything they can find, preferring small mammals. While foxes will yelp and yip, coyotes will howl hair-raising calls that are clearly recognizable.
The black bear population is not nearly what it once was in New England, but there are bears in all six states. Frequent sightings are reported even in areas as far south as Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Black bears are the smallest bears in the United States, but they can still reach weights of 350 pounds, with some capable of being even larger. The bears will eat anything they can digest, including small mammals, insects, birds, eggs and vegetables. They live in wooded areas but occasionally will venture into spots where people live to raid a garbage can or bird feeder. Four to six feet long with imposing claws, black bears, which in New England are normally black with brownish noses, will defend their cubs when they have to. Bear attacks on people are not unheard of.
Raccoons are predators of crayfish, insects, birds, fish and frogs. They can reach weights of up to 40 pounds and live mostly in trees or ledges. Raccoons have ringed tails and what look like black masks on their faces. Their front paws are almost like little hands, with which they use to pry apart food and hold things. The only danger these animals present to people is when they develop rabies, at which time they can act strange, coming out during the day and showing no fear of humans.