Program on local bobcats draws large crowd

Print More

This beautiful cat was photographed by Ginny Apple next to her house in Barkhamsted.

Sponsored by Granby Public Library and the Granby Land Trust, national wildlife conservationist and Barkhamsted resident Ginny Apple presented a program on local bobcats on Sept. 17 at the center library. Over 50 residents enjoyed the lecture, along with related slides and artifacts.

These medium-sized felines are tawny color in the summer, becoming grayer during the winter, and have the characteristic bob tail, which may turn up at the tip, but not always. The largest bobcat recorded in New England was a 60-pound male in New Hampshire, but typically males are 15-30 pounds, 28-32 inches; females are 18-36 pounds, 32-37 inches. Their black tufted ears have bands of white.

Bobcats are apex predators in Connecticut, meaning that they are at the top of their particular food chain. They prefer to dwell in the brushy dense undergrowth of forests, where they hunt for rabbits, squirrels, mice and the occasional weasel or fisher cat. Their eyes have a split pupil, which is an adaptation for good eyesight in both daylight or night time. Their vision is eight times more powerful than that of humans.

Although bobcats can swim and run, that is not the usual way they hunt. Rather, they stalk their prey and then pounce upon it from as far as 12 feet away. They can climb trees and will pounce on a deer from above. They are rarely a source of conflict with humans, but they will take advantage of chickens, cats and small dogs when in residential areas or farms.

Perpetual travelers, bobcats don’t stay in one place for very long. State programs of collaring and tracking 25-30 individuals show them to have a 10 to 36 square mile range, mostly in young forests or wetlands with sufficient understory. They will define their territory with distinctive claw marks on trees, as do porcupines and bears.

Able to breed before they reach the age of one year, bobcats mate from January to May. The female may give birth to two, or rarely three, kits, but usually just one. The kittens are born in two months and are blind for nine weeks. The mother may nurse until the end of September, picking out several places in which to keep the kits safe. The male parent does not stay around to help with childcare; as with most wild cats, bobcats live a solitary life.

At three months, the kits will begin to travel with mom, and by six months, they begin to start out on their own. The life expectancy of bobcats in the wild is five to seven years; in captivity, they can live 25 to 30 years.

We do not have a vigorous breeding population of bobcats in the state because there are very high numbers of road kill and the kittens are successfully hunted by great horned owls, fox, coyotes and fisher cats.

There is now a ban on international trade of bobcat pelts, and it is no longer legal to hunt them in Connecticut, where a law passed in 1972 banned the hunting or trapping of fur-bearers. The last trapper to receive the $5 bounty for one was a 14-year-old boy living on Mountain Road. The year was 1968.