Countdown of Coyote Facts

 Last week, we co-hosted an informational coyote presentation at the Stoneham Police Department.  Stoneham Animal Control Officer Brian Johnstone and volunteer Jenn Silva helped us welcome John Maguranis from Project Coyote.  Read on to see what our 12-year-old “junior intern” Lydia Olivieri learned from the event:

By Lydia Olivieri

When you listen to John Maguranis, the Massachusetts representative for Project Coyote, talk for two hours about coyotes (he calls them “ki-ots”), you learn lots of fascinating things you didn’t know. These are the top 10 facts I learned about the coyote from the “Living with Coyotes” event sponsored by the Friends of the Fells and the Stoneham Police Department.

  • What we know as a coyote is very different than what the rest of the country knows as one. In the northeast, the coyote we see is the Eastern coyote, which is really a mix of the Western coyote, wolf, and even part dog. When humans started to travel west around the 1850s, we met up with the wolf. It wasn’t a pleasure for the animals. Many ranchers hated the wolf and practically wiped them out. Researchers believe this opened the door for coyotes to expand their range, so some of the coyotes moved east and mated with the wolves in the Northeast and created the same eastern coyote you might see in your neighborhood today. One difference between the two types of coyotes is that the Eastern coyote is sizably bigger than the western coyote.
  • Coyotes like to travel by rail. The railroad tracks are a phenomenal place for coyotes to travel. This is because tracks provide a clear pathway that stretches for miles. Tracks are also a human-free zone.
  • Family relations between coyotes are very sophisticated. Most coyotes usually mate for life, but even though they’re loyal to their mates, it’s not always the same for their pups. Maguranis tells stories of times he approached coyote dens and the parents bolted from the den and left their pups there to fend for themselves. Maguranis said this happens when humans or other large animals enter their dens. It is a matter of survival instincts for the parents, who can always mate again. But once the danger leaves, the coyotes return and move the pups to a new, safer location. If the litter does survive until adulthood, the pups usually go off on their own to mate and start their own territory or sometimes just wander around. The pups sometimes return to their parents’ territory. They are allowed to stay there, but they lose some privileges, such as they only get to eat leftovers. Usually, females stay at the den, and the males provide food and protection.
  • The biggest threat to coyotes is humans. When humans use harmful chemicals, such as rodenticide, these chemicals harm coyotes. Rodenticide lowers the immune system of coyotes and causes mange outbreaks. Maguranis rescues many animals with this problem, and he brings them to Tufts Wildlife Clinic where the people there rehabilitate them. The life span of an eastern coyote is 9-13 years, but 500,000 coyotes are killed a year by humans. Coyotes are at risk when humans feed them. When coyotes are fed by humans, they see humans as a provider of food. That is dangerous for a coyote. They lose their healthy fear of humans, and when humans and coyotes interact, it isn’t good for either of them. Almost all the know coyote attacks have been the result of people feeding them in the past. “A fed coyote is a dead coyote,” said Maguranis.
  • Coyotes can be extremely useful. Coyotes play a key role in maintaining the ecosystem. For instance, they balance the population of animals like Canada geese and deer, and since they eat mainly rodents (almost 1,500 a year), they may lower the risk of Lyme disease. If you are a golfer, there is a chance you’ve seen a coyote at a golfing range. This is because coyotes eat rats around golf courses, so the owners like coyotes in those areas. It’s a win-win situation because the coyotes have food to eat, and the golf course owners don’t have to use rodenticide.
  • What to do if you see a coyote. If you see a coyote, do not be afraid. You might’ve heard the rumor that if you see a coyote in your backyard, you should bang pots and pans together. That will scare the coyote away, but it doesn’t prevent them from coming back. Instead, you should walk toward them aggressively so that they know you’re the boss. Not only will they run away, but they will also learn a permanent lesson to stay away from humans. This process is called “hazing”.  Ask to be connected to Maguranis for training in hazing. Unless a coyote is rabid, it will almost always run away. The amount of time in which it runs away will vary based on its experience with humans.
  • Coyotes are rarely rabid. In the past 24 years, there have only been 13 cases of coyotes testing positive for rabies in the state lab while there have been 199 confirmed cases in domestic cats. This is because the rabies virus is very weak, so if a coyote eats an animal with rabies, it is extremely unlikely the coyote will then get rabies from it. Also, rabies comes from being bitten, and since coyotes are predators, animals aren’t usually biting them.
  • Coyotes are not nocturnal. A common misconception about coyotes is that they are nocturnal. They are actually crepuscular, which means they are more active around dawn and dusk. They prefer to do their activities immediately after dawn simply because there are few humans out at that time.
  • A coyote’s territory can range from three city blocks to 70 miles. In urban areas, a coyote’s territory is usually rather small, but if a coyote lives in the wilderness, its territory can be up to 70 miles. The size of the territory is not only based on the density of the place, it is also based on how much food a coyote can find in that area; sometimes three blocks is enough. Coyotes are very protective of their territory and only allow family members inside, and other coyotes usually respect other coyotes’ boundaries.
  • Coyotes have an unfair reputation as being vicious. During the program, Maguranis talked about how when someone gets bitten by a coyote, the media is all over it. For example, the first recorded coyote bite in MA took place in the Cape about sixteen years ago. A young boy was outside and bitten by a coyote. News stations all around the country covered this story, but it wasn’t till a few months later when people found out what really happened. It turned out a veterinarian had struck the coyote with his car sometime earlier and took the animal to his clinic to heal a broken leg. While the vet was tending to the coyote, he was feeding the animal, so it learned to get food from humans. It just so happened that the boy who was bitten had food on him, so the coyote attacked. Once this was found out, only a few news stations covered it. Coyotes rarely bite people. In fact, in the past 65 to 70 years, there have only been seven confirmed cases of Eastern coyotes biting a human in Massachusetts. By contrast, there are 4.7 million dog bites a year in the US.

Thank you for reading my blog. Are there any things that surprised you in this blog or think we should’ve mentioned? You can learn more about John Maguranis’ program Fostering Coexistence at

By Lydia Olivieri

7th grade student at Andrews Middle School (Medford)

By Laurie Adamson   FOF Member and Volunteer

Photography by Dennis Crouse

My husband and I joined Pete Costello and six other birders on a cool Saturday morning in May to bird watch. Pete has been leading birding trips in the Greenwood Park area on Saturday mornings during spring migration.

We had a delightful morning watching and listening to birds. Since retiring I have become a warbler junkie. These birds are my favorite spring migrants. I call them ‘little jewels’. They are painted beautiful colors and have exquisite markings. You look up in the trees and see brilliant yellow: yellow rumps, orange and black throats, gold colored caps, streaks on the breast and chestnut sides. They are a feast for the eyes. But is doesn’t stop there; these little guys also have beautiful songs. Beauty and song aren’t the only things that attract me to watching these birds.   They also put on a wonderful display hopping from branch to branch, flying out catching insects in flight. It is a wonderful dance to watch.


Pete was willing to take us to his “secret spot”. No, he didn’t ask us to put on blindfolds and we didn’t take an oath not to tell anyone. He enjoyed sharing his spot with others who share his love for birdwatching. On this morning we were treated to several warblers: yellow warbler, black and white warbler, northern parula, yellow rump warbler, black throated green and a common yellow throat. Another treat was a pair of rose breasted grosbeaks. We watched the female building a nest. We were serenaded by Baltimore orioles. Their brilliant orange is an eye catcher.


Get out your binoculars and enjoy the parade of gems in the Fells. If you don’t have binoculars, don’t fret. You will still be able to enjoy the birds. The orioles this time of year are plentiful and put on lively displays. You can’t miss their brilliant orange. You can also watch the warblers doing their acrobatics in the trees. There are many great places to bird in the Fells: Long Pond, Wrights Pond, High Service Reservoirs, the shore of Spot Pond, and Virginia Woods.

Pete has a wonderful approach to birdwatching. He moves quietly through the woods, frequently stops to watch and listen, and will stay in one spot to watch and wait to see who visits. People new to birding to seasoned birders are welcomed on his trips.


By March, plants, animals and human visitors in the Fells are all getting antsy for spring, and frustrated by the distinct possibility of more snow at any time in the month. Hope is on the way however as spring officially begins this month and early signs of spring are everywhere. Early in the month our clocks change. This will make it darker in the early morning for a while, for those of you who like to walk in the Fells then. But now of course there is more light in the evenings.

Bearberry buds

Bearberry buds

Even in February buds on several woody plants were beginning to fill out. By March this is clearly evident, for example on blueberry and huckleberry bushes. And the evergreen ground-plants, if they’ve had a decent covering of snow during the coldest days of the winter to avoid damage, are now developing their buds. Bearberry, for example, is filling out its flower buds ready for blooming in late April.

Skunk Cabbage can be seen at the water’s edge of streams or in swampy areas where water is flowing through. It has been blooming by early March in recent years, and as such is the first non-woody plant to bloom in these parts, but ‘bloom’ hardly seems the right word for a flower that would not win a beauty contest, made worse with the skunk-like smell if the plant is crushed. The flowering-body, called the spadix, looks to me like a Faberge egg sitting in its little housing called the spathe. It is related to and has the same structure as an arum lily. The bad smell and even look of rotting meat attracts flies, some of the few pollinators around so early in spring . Later, very large bright green leaves develop.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

March 20th or 21st (depending on the year) marks the official beginning of spring.  But with our latitude here in the Boston area at 42 North the literal equinox – i.e. when the length of day and night are exactly the same – occurs four days earlier when the sun rises at 6.53am and sets at 6.53pm on the Summer-time clock. From then on we can really feel the growing strength of the sun and both plant and animal life will take advantage of the greater amount of sunlight.  On warm days keep an eye out for the Mourning Cloak butterfly – a big dark brown job with creamy-yellow edging.

But not all activity is during the day. Towards the end of March, on reasonably mild, damp nights, spotted salamanders gather at vernal pools in the Fells to congregate and inseminate. In recent years vernal pool expert Matt Burne has led expeditions to observe this amazing sight. Send me an email if you’re interested in signing up.

Here is a report from a few years ago:

“About 20 of us welcomed spring by attending the Friends’ Salamander Migration Program. After checking for over a week the spotted salamanders did not disappoint, appearing at their ancestral pool to mate and provide a new generation for future amazement.

One solitary individual was noted on Thursday, March 25th, having traveled over a dry woodland. A light rain the following evening encouraged about eighteen others to arrive by 9pm. Later, at midnight, congressing was at full tilt with upwards of three dozen salamanders participating. It was repeated the next night.”

On March 28, 2005, on a very rainy night, it was my joy to be part of a small group led by Hue Holley to a pool in the Fells. We saw about 20 salamanders. They were bigger than I expected – six to eight inches long – and I was struck by their determination to get to the pool, up over rocks and slithering over ice. The photo at the top shows a couple who made it.

And their fellow amphibians, the Spring Peeper frogs and Wood Frogs, the latter sounding like ducks, are also active towards the end of March in the pools and swampy areas in the Fellls. And of course song birds are coming back.

Wild Turkeys are also about in the Fells this time of year – their mating season.

Huckleberry Bud

Huckleberry Bud

The information and images in this post initially appeared on Found in the Fells, a project of Friends of the Middlesex Fells Board Chairman Dr. Bryan Hamlin.

As I slip into the woods on the Virginia Wood Trail the sound of morning traffic on Pond Street quickly fades away. The quiet forest envelops me with rustling leaves and birds calling. I’ve adopted this trail through the Friends Adopt-a-Trail program, but in some ways I feel like it’s adopted me. The lure of the forest is hard to resist, and these early morning forays before work stay with me all day. Of course there’s lots to do, branches to trim back, logs to cut, trash to pick up, but the work is light and fun, and it’s rewarding to help keep the trail clear for others to enjoy. And there’s lots to enjoy in Virginia Wood, between the waterfall at the dam, and all the interesting stories at each station of the Spot Pond Brook Historic Trail.

Mapleleaf Viburnum

Mapleleaf Viburnum

Along the way I notice the changing of the seasons, Indian cucumber leaves turning crimson (photo at top), yellow zigzag goldenrods, and the purple berries of the mapleleaf viburnum. The air is brisk and moist along Spot Pond Brook, the water spilling over a log making a quiet gurgling sound joined by the murmer of crickets, and soft buzzing of bumblebees, working their way through blue asters. Winter brings the first crunch of snow underfoot, white edging on the cracks in rock outcrops, and clear thin ice along the edges of the brook.

Heartleaf Aster

Heartleaf Aster

Some animal sightings are common, like frogs and snakes, while others are more fleeting. One morning I saw a flock of birds noisily chase a red-tail hawk up and down the brook, flying right overhead. Another time a mink slunk right by me running up a tree trunk to quickly cross a jumbled rock talus slope. Deer tracks in the mud of a vernal pool attested to where they ate the tops off of one of their favorite foods, the orange-flowered jewelweed.
It’s always hard to leave the forest and get back into my car to finish the morning commute to work, but I do so with a sense of satisfaction at the work accomplished, and with a serenity that will carry me through the day. I’m often reminded of where I was by finding a leaf in my hair, or burs on my clothes, which always brings a smile to my face. Over time these early morning walks have brought a deeper appreciation of the gift to us all that the Tudor family made in honor of their daughter Virginia.

Thank you to all who made our 15-year anniversary event on Saturday a huge success! We estimate nearly 150 people were in attendance to enjoy the live animal show from Critters ‘n Creatures, face-painting, and scavenger hunt! Thanks so much to the Medford Family Network and the North Suburban Child and Family Resource Network for support in planning the event, and to the Stone Zoo for donating zoo passes for the raffle! It was a fantastic day.

Here’s what our enthusiastic face-painter, Kathy, had to say about the event:

Just wanted to say what a fun and great event the reunion was on Saturday. Everything went well and the families enjoyed it. As I was doing tattoos I was asking what animals they enjoyed and what they were going to have painted on their face. Lots of nice interaction with the kids and parents. Hope to be celebrating 20 years with all of you.

Here are a few photos from the day’s events:

Kids and a Tortoise

Scavenger Hunt



Face Painting

Animal Show

Animals Close Up



By Bryan Hamlin

This is somewhat of a down-time for wildflowers on the woodland floor where it is now very shaded. But there are some that manage. Look for the attractive False Solomon’s Seal. I think it’s too nice to be anyone’s false. It is in the same genus – in other words closely related –  as Canada Mayflower (see May page) – but the plant arches over the same way as the earlier blooming Solomon’s Seal. In late May and blooming through much of June – Yellow Star Grass (which is a lily). In the second half of June the pairs of feathery white Patridgeberry flowers decorate the already attractive patches of small dark green leaves on banks. And where the sun gets through more – where there are meadows in the Fells and open spaces on hill-tops and around the larger bodies of water and along the trails, then there will be blossoms galore; in other words where the plants can get enough sun.Four-leaved Milkweed is a more attractive cousin to the Common Mikweed; and Rattlesnake Weed – is a nondescript yellow hawkweed save for its striking rosette of basal leaves with their dark purple veins. There are other hawkweeds blooming but these are not native. Another woodland bloomer in June in somewhat damp places is the cute-looking Indian Cucumber Root, a very small-flowered lily. And two laurels bloom – the bushes of white Mountain Laurel and the smaller Sheep Laurel with its magenta flowers.

Mountain Laurel – Kalmia latifolia

Yellow Star Grass – Hypnoxis hirsuta

In really wet places, including on the sides of ponds look for the striking native Iris or Blue Flag. On the north shore of Wrights Pond there are also Yellow Irises but these are an introduction, and I have to say I prefer our native iris. Also by the sides of ponds the sweet scented Swamp Azalea and Swamp Sweetbells, the latter looking a bit like a late-blooming High-bush Blueberry except that the white bell flowers are hung out in long rows on slender twigs. And on the open water of ponds throughout the Fells are to be seen both white and yellow water-lilies. In short, much to delight the eye and nose in beautiful June.

The information and images in this post initially appeared on Found in the Fells, a project of Friends of the Middlesex Fells Board Chairman Dr. Bryan Hamlin.