Bobcats Alive and Well in The Last Green Valley
I saw a bobcat for the first time as a 10-year-old, visiting family friends in Sudbury, Mass. They had an old farm, and the bobcat was walking on a stone wall separating a hay field from a corn field. My dad spotted it, pointed it out and, suddenly, it jumped off the stone wall and was gone.
Over the years, I have found bobcat tracks in the snow and along muddy brooks. However, I had not seen one in the flesh (or fur for that matter) since my first sighting as a child until about four years ago.
It was almost dusk, and I was driving along one of Woodstock’s back roads. As I passed a dairy farm, a bobcat crossed the road about 50 feet in front of my truck. I slowed down to get a good look as it ambled off across the farm field and into the nearby woods.
Since then, I have seen several pictures of bobcats posted by folks on Facebook. Some of the pictures are of the animal lounging around the edges of a yard, while others are from trail cameras set up in the woods. I also have a trail camera set up at my family property in southern New Hampshire, and a few weeks back a bobcat was photographed for the first time.
I mentioned the photo to our neighbor, and she said a large bobcat had been taking her chickens that she lets “free range” during the day (she does coop them at night). In broad daylight, right in front of her, the bobcat snatched a chicken and ran into the thick underbrush near a wetland area adjacent to her house. More than likely, the bobcat on my trail camera was the one taking advantage of my neighbor’s free-range chicken takeout.
It appears we have a resurgence of bobcats in the region. If so, what is the reason? I did a bit of looking around for answers, and, of course, my first stop was the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Wildlife Division.
According to the DEEP fact sheet on bobcats (Lynx rufus), the bobcat is the most common wild cat in North America and its status has changed dramatically in our region. For many years bobcats were not protected and, in fact, there was a bounty on them until 1971. In 1972, the bobcat was reclassified as a protected animal in Connecticut with no hunting or trapping seasons due to the state’s concern with over-harvesting and the increased value of bobcat pelts.
Bobcats had also been in decline due to the loss of their preferred habitat of hardwood and mixed softwood and hardwood forests. In addition to forested land, bobcats prefer lowlands, brushy areas, swamplands, rocky woodlands, and farm areas. They tend to prefer mature forest and areas with a thick understory perfect for concealment when hunting and safety while rearing young.
By the mid-to-late 1800s, more than 70 percent of our region’s forests had been cut for agriculture and the bobcats’ preferred habitat was in decline. With the decline of agriculture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, we have seen the slow, yet dramatic regrowth of forestlands throughout New England. Today, The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor is 77 percent undeveloped land with 67 percent in forests. Much of our forest is in mature deciduous hardwood stands, perfect for bobcat and other forest-dwelling wildlife species.
Historically, the bobcat ranged all through the country and into southern Canada and south into Mexico. They are adaptable to various habitats, though they had been all but hunted and trapped out of the mid-Atlantic states, as well as being forced out by over-population and development.
The DEEP fact sheet on bobcats describes them as:
“A stout-bodied, medium-sized feline, with a short, ‘bobbed’ tail (about six-inches in length), prominent cheek ruffs and tufts of black hair on its pointed ears. The sides and back are generally the same color with faint black spots; grayer in winter and tan in summer. The underparts are white. The tail may have one to several indistinct dark bands and a tip that is black on top and whitish below. Adult males typically weigh between 18 and 35 pounds and measure from 28 to 32 inches in length. Adult females typically weigh between 15 and 30 pounds and measure from 28 to 32 inches in length. Bobcats are about two-to-three times the size of their distant relative, the domestic house cat.”
The bobcat diet is typical for a medium-size predator and ranges from small rodents, such as mice, voles and chipmunks to squirrels, rabbits, opossum and woodchucks. They eat insects and snakes and will take birds when they can. Remarkably, they are capable of taking larger prey, such as white-tailed deer — typically fawns, yearling, and older, sick, or injured deer.
Their hunting method is by stealth, careful slow stalking and ambush. They will crouch quietly in the same spot for hours on end, turning from time-to-time to observe another avenue of approach. In taking larger animals, such as deer, they will leap onto the back and use their powerful jaws to bite into the neck, severing the jugular vein.
Bobcat breeding season begins in February and March with dens located under fallen trees, in rock crevices, caves and hollow logs. They are polygamous, have more than one mate, and do not form lasting pairings. Usually one to four kittens are born in April, and they will nurse for about two months. Young bobcats will stay with the mother until the following spring. Male bobcats do not participate in rearing of the young.
The DEEP Wildlife Division has launched a two-year study to gather data and learn more about these amazing animals. DEEP is placing 25 live traps around the state to catch bobcats and to weigh, study, and put tracking collars on the animals. Tracking the bobcats will help to better understand the animals’ preferred habitat, terrain use and movements. They hope to study 50 male and 50 female bobcats.
DEEP is looking for the public’s help in recording bobcat sightings and has three ways for the public to participate in the study.
To add a sighting, you can check out the website iNaturalist at www.inaturalist.org/projects/ct-bobcat-project, where you can make a free online account for recording any bobcat sightings for CT Bobcat Project. I have looked over the listing and several folks are recording their trail camera pictures of bobcats.
You can also email any bobcat sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org or add a sighting as a comment to www.facebook.com/CTFishandWildlife. Another handy way to help in the study is to email CT DEEP Wildlife if you find a bobcat that has been killed by vehicles. Bobcat roadkill can be used for biological testing, another important source of data on the animals. Trappers are also asked to help DEEP by contacting its 24-hour dispatch center should a trapper incidentally capture a bobcat.
The Last Green Valley supports a variety of wildlife more comparable to the animals found during the Colonial era than the mid-20th century. From black bears to bald eagles, our region is now populated with many species that have only moved back in recent decades, have been reintroduced (wild turkey) or have moved north to New England from more southern regions (turkey vultures, Virginia opossum).
The story of the bobcat is one of species resiliency, regrowth of preferred habitat, and careful protection. They are here to stay, and as recent sightings suggest, seem to be doing well.
Bobcats are a fascinating and important part of our natural world and just one more reason to appreciate living in The Last Green Valley. I hope you’ll join me and others as we care for our natural world, enjoy it every day and work together to pass it on to the next generation.
Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He has lived in the region for more than 30 years and can be reached at email@example.com
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