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"If you talk to the animals
They will talk to you
and you will know each other.
If you do not talk to them,
You will not know them,
And what you do not know
You will fear.
What one fears one destroys."
- Chief Dan George

New York States Five Large Mammal Species

Though most of us never see them, our area of New York State is home to five large mammal species. Included are the red and gray fox, the eastern coyote, the white-tailed deer and the black bear.

The red fox prefers to roam the border between fields and forests. Its primary food is rodents but it will also eat insects, grasses, and carrion. They do not prey on cats and their largest prey is the jackrabbit. The red fox may grow anywhere between 9 and 17 pounds. They are active at night but most active around dusk and dawn and it is common to see healthy fox out in the daytime. They occupy dens only during the birthing season, digging their earthen den into hillsides or under old buildings. One special feature is that red fox urine can be used for repelling raccoons, which do not like to share living space with the red fox. They do carry a few diseases: parasites, distemper, mange and rabies, though they are not presently rabies vector specie. A nursing female may resemble a fox with mange.

Gray fox have a strong preference for forests. Its primary foods are rodents, rabbits, more plant material than the red fox and they also do not prey on cats. Gray fox are a bit smaller than the red weighing between 6 and 15 pounds. Their legs are a bit shorter as well. They are also active at night
and at dusk and dawn. They are not as likely to be out during the daytime as the red. The grays live in dens all year long. They use hollow logs, tree cavities and rock piles. They can also den under and around sawdust piles. The Gray is the only tree climbing fox. They are a bit more cat-like than the red fox. They have been found to carry parasites, distemper and rabies, but are not presently listed as rabies vector specie. They are unlikely to have mange.

The eastern coyote has been the object of much controversy. The do resemble the German shepherd dog in some ways, but there are really more differences. Typical coyotes’ backs, upper sides and neck are gray or gray streaked. A few are black or a reddish-blond. Unlike dogs, they carry their tail at or below the horizontal plane. Adult coyotes may range from 35 to 50 pounds. They may resemble wolves until a close-up view reveals a smaller head, smaller feet and more rounded ears. Their diet includes smaller mammals, insects, many kinds of fruit and scavenged deer. The diet will vary from place to place. There have been some authenticated reports of coyotes killing dogs and cats close to the owner’s backyard. There have been no validated reports of coyotes attacking humans, while there are several reports of dogs attacking humans. It is always wise to be wary of any animal that is sick, cornered or protecting its young.

The white-tailed deer is the most numerous large mammal we have in our area. They range in weight from 75 – 400 lbs. for males and 50 – 250 lbs. for females. They feed mostly on twigs, leaves of trees and shrubs, crabapples, grasses, waste grains and forbs. * As a large mammal, they have few predators other than humans. We all enjoy seeing them running in the fields with their fawn, and in the winter, people often try to help by feeding them. Due to the introduction of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State legislature have made feeding deer illegal. CWD belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (an abnormal protein infectious particle that is found in the brain, central nervous system and some lymphoid tissue of deer and elk). It is transmitted by animal-to-animal contact and is enhanced when these animals congregate around feeding stations established by humans. There is no risk of hunters acquiring the disease provided safe handling practices are used. Symptoms include weight loss, disorientation and a loss of bodily functions before death. There is no known cure and it is always fatal. A female deer will often leave her fawn for up to 24 hrs. at a time. We often get calls from people who have spotted them standing or sitting alone. It is wise to leave them where they are unless there is evidence of maternal death.

Finally, news about the recent sightings of the black bear! The re-entry of these animals into upstate New York has caused concern by citizens. Black bears will weigh between 200 and 475 lbs. They feed mostly on berries, nuts, tubers, insects, larvae, small mammals, eggs and carrion. Because of their size and fierce appearance, humans have long feared them. There is little we can do other than to discourage their presence by removing our bird feeders and keeping our grills inside at night.

Large mammals will always be with us. They were here long before we were, and will continue to be here as long as they can find food, water and safe habitats.

*forbs: flowering non-woody stemmed plants not included in the definition of trees, shrubs or grasses


Submitted by:
Trish Zimmerman





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