January 13, 2020
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How to identify the wildlife sounds you may hear in the Maine woods this winter

Photo courtesy of Ariana van den Akker
Photo courtesy of Ariana van den Akker
A red squirrel nibbles on a berry in Maine.

Many of us are fairly attuned to common bird sounds heard around Maine, but birds aren’t the only creatures making noise. Insects and amphibians are a common element of the backyard soundscape in the appropriate seasons, but wild mammals are heard less frequently.

Here’s a primer on the noises made by some of Maine’s mammals so you can be prepared next time you hear something growling at you in the woods.

Let’s start easy. After domestic dogs, squirrels are probably the most commonly heard mammal in Maine. Squirrels are most often heard giving their alarm or scold call when an intruder (that’s you) is spotted. Our eastern gray squirrel gives a series of harsh, nasal barks or squeals when alarmed, sounding like: Wert! Wert! Weerrrrr!

Common in Maine’s coniferous forests, red squirrels announce their territories with a loud whirring call often mistaken for a bird. Their scold calls are a series of rapid chips, often accompanied by tail-wagging and odd dances.

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
A porcupine walks along the shoreline in Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge.

North American porcupines are usually silent, but often make noise during courtship, most often soft mewing but also moans, grunts and snorts.

There is little chance of mistaking the howl of the coyote, heard with increasing frequency in Maine. Families of coyotes often yip or bark like dogs.

The primary vocalizations of Maine’s two fox species, red and gray, are dog-like barks. During the breeding season between December and March, red foxes can also give spine-tingling screams that can easily be mistaken for a human in distress.

In addition to the sound of your trash cans falling over, northern raccoons are also responsible for some eerie sounds in the night, including loud screeches, screams, whimpers and whines during social squabbles, and a bird-like warble while foraging.

Stock photo | Pixabay
Stock photo | Pixabay

Our striped skunk is not typically vocal, but can make high-pitched squeals during social encounters.

Bobcats rely on stealth and so do not make many sounds that can give them away, but they can growl or snarl when threatened or during social interactions.

Black bears are mostly silent in the woods but can make a variety of different sounds. Two sounds to be aware of: a series of breathy huffs and teeth clacking, a defensive threat bears make when they’re nervous or threatened; and loud moans or snorts given when angry or frightened.

W hite-tailed deer are most vocal during the fall rut, when bucks give pig-like bleats to potential mates and “snort-wheezes” to rivals. Deer also give a loud bark when alarmed, and fawns produce a nasal cry to call to their mothers.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Two white-tailed deer pause at the edge of the woods.

Maine’s moose are also most vocal during the rut, when bulls make low grunts to attract cows, who respond with drawn-out moans or sounds like a domestic cow.

I hope this helps you identify some of the sounds you hear coming from your back yard or when you’re out walking or snowshoeing in the woods. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, you need to be quiet in order to be a good listener.

A birder and writer, Nick Lund is the outreach and network manager at Maine Audubon, a statewide organization that works to conserve Maine’s wildlife and wildlife habitat by engaging people of all ages in education, conservation and action.

 



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