The COVID-19 pandemic has quickly become one of the greatest challenges humanity has faced in recent memory. But for the animals that live in and around our communities, not so much.
With most people practicing social distancing and staying in their homes to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, wild animals in urban and suburban neighborhoods have become more visible — a phenomenon that has proved to be exciting for some, and somewhat of a challenge for others.
“We were all just staring out the window, just rapt,” said Ilana Seidmann, a three-year resident of Newton Centre, describing the moment she and her two young children watched a large bird of prey dive toward the ground just “inches” from their window to grab and kill a smaller animal — probably a rabbit or a smaller bird, she said — on April 15. “I’ve never seen a bird of prey in Newton in front of my house … We just don’t see anything like that.”
Seidmann, a program coordinator at the Newton Senior Center, said she regularly sees squirrels, rabbits, and finches around her home, which is in a “pretty dense” part of town, but never anything as large as this bird, which she thinks was a falcon.
“It was extremely exciting,” she said. “We were so loud my husband was in a meeting with his boss and had to apologize for all the commotion. We were all yelling and screaming.”
Around New England, people tend to see more wild animals in the spring than during any other time of year anyway, as a result of increasing daylight and the tendency for animals to be looking for mates or for food for their newborn young, said Marion Larson, chief of information and education at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
But widespread shutdowns and work-from-home protocols mean that people are even more likely to come across the animals that already live around them, Larson said.
“This has resulted in people noticing their wild neighbors,” Larson said in an email. “The wildlife has always been there, but they never realized it.”
For many, that realization has been more of a burden than a spectacle.
“The timing of this whole pandemic has been a considerable challenge,” said Sean Crowley, an entomologist and owner of Pest Assassins, a pest control company with offices in Newton and Plainville.
The pandemic has changed the way he and his crew work, as they don masks, gloves, and boot covers while trying their best to maintain a safe distance from the customers whose homes they have to enter.
Overall business has been down slightly since the pandemic began, and some customers are not able to pay for Pest Assassins’ services immediately, in part because it is now only accepting online payments to avoid handling cash, checks, and credit cards, Crowley said.
“People are having to prioritize things differently,” he said. “Racoons are destroying their attics and their houses, and they’re saving to buy groceries … We’re waiting, but it’s the right decision.”
Nevertheless, Pest Assassins is getting about 40 percent more calls specifically about squirrels, raccoons, and termites than it normally gets around this time of year, Crowley said. The spike in reports is probably due to several new factors, like less roadkill and people noticing the animals that live near them for the first time as they stay home, he said. Termites tend to swarm during the day, when people are typically at work, he noted.
“We’re definitely taking a hit, but not as much as we expected right now because nature doesn’t care,” Crowley said. “These animals are going to reproduce and behave the way they’re biologically programmed to.”
The pandemic has been Crowley’s greatest challenge in his 21 years of pest control work, he said, but his customers seem to be more grateful than ever before for Pest Assassins’ services.
“I’ve learned that the insects and the animals will always follow the same patterns, but people will surprise you all the time. The people who have hired us have been very appreciative of us going out to help them right now, and we’re thankful,” Crowley said. “It’s definitely a challenge, but in a good way.”
Andres Picon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.