What happens when wildlife comes to town?
Sightings of deer, elk, birds of prey and coyotes are increasingly common in parts of the Portland metro region. Reports of larger predators like cougars and bears have been on the rise too.
However, the recent uptick in wildlife sightings does not necessarily indicate a large spike in population or changes in animal behavior, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife District biologist Steve Niemela.
In the past few years, ODFW has received more calls about animals in neighborhoods, but Niemela thinks that is more likely due to changes in how humans perceive their environment rather than any actual alterations in the environment. Specifically, Niemela mentioned the increased use of cell phones, social media and doorbell cameras.
Sightings of animals caught on doorbell cameras in the middle of the night have grown increasingly common in recent years, Niemela said.
Before people had their homes equipped with cameras, these animals were likely around and simply not observed by humans. This has created the perception of more wildlife in the area.
Social media has had a similar impact, according to Niemela.
"People can take a photo of an animal and post it online, whereas before someone might spot a coyote or cougar and they just come home and tell their family about it," he said. "The change in technology allows us to observe more and record more and share more, and all of that is creating an impression of things changing more rapidly than they might actually be."
So, what kind of animals are in the metro area and where might we see them?
"The greater Portland area has an incredible abundance of wildlife in town," Niemela said.
Mostly, people in the metro area call ODFW about coyotes, raccoons, skunks, birds and squirrels, according to Niemela.
The region's natural areas and riparian corridors along rivers are used by many animals. Niemala said the riparian corridors act like traffic corridors for wildlife, who use them to travel from one area to another.
According to Niemala, bald eagles have been in the area for quite awhile. Eagles can be seen in suburban communities like Sherwood and West Linn — where they have somewhere nearby to grab a snack.
"Especially with the big, epic rivers we have around here — the Columbia, the Willamette and the Clackamas — those areas are good habitat for eagles," Niemala said. "And as long as they can adapt to disturbance from humans, they can do pretty well."
According to Niemala, coyotes are the most common concern among Portland-area residents.
Niemala said local coyotes are not usually aggressive, but their ability to killing small pets leads to concern.
Niemala added that there are cougars in this part of the state, though they are less common than coyotes. Of Oregon's six "cougar zones," the sector encompassing the Portland area, Willamette Valley and parts of the coast has seen the greatest growth in the cougar population over the past 10 years, Niemala said.
According to ODFW, Oregon is home to about 6,000 cougars, with the highest densities of the big cats in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon and the southwestern Cascades. Cougars can have a "home range" of up to 100 miles.
Neimela also said the area's growing population of urban deer, the cougar's primary food source, make cougar sightings more likely. Other than the Portland city center, Niemela said there are not many places where ODFW would be surprised to hear of a cougar sighting.
Niemela added that the state also has an estimated population of between 25,000 and 30,000 black bears. He noted black bears tend to avoid urban areas, though they use greenspaces and riparian corridors. According to ODFW, they are most common in the Coast Range, Cascade and Blue Mountains.
Niemela said people can call ODFW with any wildlife concerns. Specifically, they should report threats to human safety, attacks of pets or livestock, predatory animals seen multiple times during the day, and aggressive behavior like growling or barking.
He also noted that most conflicts with animals are food-driven, so people should always clean up their food, clear out food scraps on the barbecue and not leave pet food outside. He added that bird feeders can attract unwanted wildlife.
During potentially dangerous encounters with wildlife, Niemela said it's important to make sure the animal knows humans are something to be concerned about.
"Yell, be loud, blow an air horn, honk," he said. "(If you're safe) it's OK to take a moment and appreciate the wildlife, but then scare it off."
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