Wild Encounters in Suburbia
Increasing number of daytime animal sightings leaves us humans asking, 'Whose home is this really?'
It’s called the suburbs.
It’s an area mere minutes from the hustle and bustle of the cramped, big city, where patches of residential and commercial development are interwoven in a harmonious balance with patches of unbridled green space.
But, tell that to the humans and wildlife living here.
Within the last year, there have been several reports of close-call animal sightings. Sometimes the sightings are during the day, seen ambling through folks backyards or even jaywalking across the street.
Most of these sightings are harmless to humans, but there have also been reports of those animals being rabid.
As reported in April, Upper Moreland Township found a skunk that tested positive for rabies in the 600 block of S. York Road in Hatboro. At the same time, Radnor Patch reported a fox that tested positive for rabies in Wayne.
According to a Philly.com article, on May 29, a rabid bat attacked two people at the Upper Merion Swim and Tennic Club in King of Prussia. According to the article, Montgomery County Health Department has confirmed seven cases in which rabid animals were found since January.
Foxy Sightings and ‘The Trust’
Last week, a school worker in a local school district reported that her elementary school students had to be ushered back inside during their recess hour, due to the close sighting of a red fox.
The week prior to that incident, a Willow Grove resident also reported seeing such foxes boldly wandering around the incredibly busy intersection of Easton and Fitzwatertown roads - in broad daylight.
“While it’s not common to see Red Foxes in highly developed neighborhoods like that near Easton and Fitzwatertown roads, it’s certainly not unheard of,” Dr. David Robertson told Patch in a correspondence. “There are quite a few animals roaming around our neighborhoods.”
Robertson is the executive director of the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, whose headquarters is in Huntingdon Valley. The Trust’s mission is toward conservation, ecological restoration and education about its 800-plus acres of nature preserve.
It is also surrounded by heavily developed residential communities.
According to Robertson, the reason people don’t see most of these animals is because they are largely nocturnal (active at night) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk.)
According to Robertson, a quick survey of the kinds of animals that do live in the Montgomery County suburbs may include (in descending order of popularity):
- Bats (during the summer)
- Norway rats (year-round)
- Red foxes
- White-tailed deer
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“Many of these animals inhabit small pockets of woods and fields that haven’t been developed,” Robertson said. “There are often stream corridors running through neighborhoods that animals use as ‘highways’ and travel corridors.”
He further explained that the red fox near Easton and Fitzwatertown roads may have used the Pennypack Creek tributary that rises in the neighborhood west of Fiztwatertown Road, flows past the Best Buy and Pier 1 stores, and then under Easton Road.
“The township owns a few wooded acres back there that would provide a perfect habitat,” Robertson said. “Most animals only need a small plot of undeveloped land to, ‘do just fine.’”
Did He say Coyotes?
Yes, according to Robertson, the same coyotes that stalk Mid-West prairies and howl at the moon also live in Montgomery County.
“The coyotes in the Pennypack Creek Valley, and throughout Pennsylvania, actually made it here all by themselves,” Robertson said. “Every county in Pennsylvania now has coyotes.”
He explained that the coyotes, which are a distant relative to the gray wolf, made their way from the prairies to the Great Lakes and down the east coast.
“They need a bit larger territory than foxes or other wildlife,” Robertson said. “But, they are pretty adaptable and can fit right in our suburban locations with patches of woods and fields.”
Also living in the Pennpack Preserve and occasionally roaming nearby roads are Wild Turkeys.
According to Robertson, these turkeys were game farm-raised stock that were intentionally released into Lorimer Park, located in Abington.
He notes that the park is downstream from the Pennypack Preserve, and that the turkeys used the creek to travel northward into the preserve, as well as southward into Philadelphia.
“They are used to eating at neighbors' bird feeders and have proliferated,” Robertson said.
Robertson suggests that residents encountering the local wildlife should simply leave them alone.
He said that a resident’s chance encounter will likely happen during the animal’s natural daily (or nightly or pre-dawn/dusk) routine of searching for food or mates.
But, should a resident notice atypical behavior of an animal, such as encountering it at an atypical time, or if the animal is clearly acting strange, more aggressive or more tame, the resident should immediately distance themselves from the animal and contact police.
Both Upper Moreland and Abington police departments have an animal-control officer.
However, Robertson adds that sometimes animals do venture out at atypical times of day for various reasons.
“It might just be especially hungry,” he said. “Such is the case when animals have a new brood of babies in the spring.”
So, whether it’s a red fox, or particularly a skunk, that you happen to see, it’s best just to appreciate such wildlife nieghbors from a distance.