Country Ecology: Bobcats

Tamworth–January 10, 2017–Attending Dr. John Litvaitis’ lecture a year ago on our native bobcat population taught me something beyond wildlife management research and statistics. This cat species thrived during the period our farmlands reverted to brushy habitat, but then declined once the forest canopy closed. The bobcat specifically hunted cottontail rabbits, which also declined from the same vegetative changes. Bobcats don’t handle deep snow, so could not go north where the snowshoe hare thrives, which is lynx food. And the recent introduction of coyotes gave them new competition for prey they had never had before.

There was a bounty on the bobcat, and money was made killing it. Bobcats were once so numerous that they became the mascot for UNH sports, and some live ones were even kept on campus for that purpose. You can see stuffed former mascots available in certain places within UNH buildings. Dr. Clark Stevens studied bobcats, and let coeds in his particular forestry class tan a pelt for their keeping as part of that course. He obtained furs from Fish & Game.

The bobcat is an adaptable predator that inhabits wooded areas, as well as suburban backyards, forest edges, and swampy environments in the USA. It remains in some of its original range, but local populations are vulnerable to our many roads and also extirpation by coyotes and domestic animals.

The bobcat is vital for controlling pest populations, and is now eating gray squirrels. The professor showed photographs of bobcats hanging around bird feeding stations; helpfully capturing those pesky rodents for a meal. They sometimes lurk under porch decks awaiting the presence of the pilfering squirrels. Great news for us birdwatchers who detest numerous squirrels eating sunflower seed! And bobcats cannot be hunted nor trapped anymore!

With a gray to brown speckled coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the bobcat resembles the other species of the mid-sized Lynx genus. It is smaller on average than the Canada lynx, being about twice the size of a domestic housecat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs and a black-tipped, stubby tail, from which it derives its name.  You might be surprised it is not as large as you probably surmised.

Though the bobcat prefers rabbits and hares, it will hunt anything from insects, your neighbor’s chickens, and small rodents–to young deer and now wild turkeys. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. Like most cats, the bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although with some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The bobcat breeds from winter into spring, and has a gestation period of about two months. Its bouldery den’s location has certain attributes to make the cat pair’s reproductive success a surety. There may be some breeding in Whitton Ledge above the pond with the same name; some have noted wintry tracks there.

So, our NH bobcats are on the rise, and as recently reported in UNH’s Magazine for alumni about faculty research, our native cat is on the move, showing up in places they’ve never been before.  These are major findings from a four-year study of the elusive animal that puts the “wild” in our wildcat mascot. Led by Dr. Litvaitis, who is professor of natural resources and the environment at UNH and working along with the NH Fish & Game, the researchers estimate that our state is now home to 800 to 1,200 bobcats, which is up from the 100 to 150 animals that existed in the mid-1980’s. They now prominent throughout the Granite State, even in areas like the Seacoast, that for decades had zero bobcats.

Litvaitis’ study, which was launched in the 2009, trapped and collared 19 bobcats, but also relied on citizen-scientists’ input around our state. Many sent more than 1,000 photographs and descriptions of the bobcats they witnessed into the project’s ongoing website. John Litvaitis said he was not surprised by the enthusiasm of the participants, as “everyone’s gaga about bobcats!”  He states it is an animal that exemplifies the things we like about living with nature. “If you’ve got bobcats, the world’s still pretty good. We haven’t screwed everything up.”  Which is largely true when you have a feline predator at the top of the food chain returning to do its job in NH’s overall ecological picture.

You may have witnessed the release of these beautiful felines after certain grad students and others measured them in the study, as photogenically covered by NH public television’s “Windows to the Wild”. I like what is happening with that environmental television broadcasting effort in this state, and I think it quality film work. I look forward to its enticing programs every Sunday noon and wish them well for producing even more intriguing footage.

Dave Eastman also broadcasts “Country Ecology” four times weekly over WMWV 93.5 fm. As Vice President of the Lakes Region Chapter/ASNH, he welcomes you to monthly programs at the Loon Center in Moultonborough. He is available at: cebirdman@yahoo.com (or) www.countryecology.com  for consultation. This article was originally published by the Conway Daily Sun.

Country Ecology: Bobcats

One thought on “Country Ecology: Bobcats

  • January 12, 2017 at 1:50 am
    Permalink

    Very interesting and encouraging news about this species.
    One was recently seen and photographed in ‘downtown’ Freedom, NH.

Comments are closed.