Sunday, July 15, 2007

Know the signs that bobcats are in an area

By Ed Payne
Saturday, July 14, 2007

Bobcats live all over the United States, with the exception of the corn-belt region and a few areas of the deep south.

The population of this large, overgrown alley cat with a short tail has increased in Ohio markedly in the last few years. Some 40 years ago, coon hunters treed and killed a bobcat that stirred quite a bit of excitement in this area. Now, sightings and signs are reported frequently.

The bobcat resembles an overgrown alley cat with a short tail and tufted ears. He is light black or gray with darker black spots and averages 20 to 25 pounds, although some will weigh 35 pounds. I trapped one in Montana that weighed 32 pounds.

The bobcat leaves definite signs of his presence and since he is thriving in a world of encroaching civilization, these signs are of more than passing interest.

The big cat's tracks are rather rounded, more so than those of dogs and coyotes that are of about the same size. In soft or muddy ground and on snow, hair can be seen between the toes. The bobcat shows no claw marks on the ground and when the animal is running, the front toes tend to spread more than those of the hind feet. Depending on the size of the cat, the prints are about 8 to 14 inches apart when walking.

Bobcats most often hunt by stretching out on a limb over a game trail where they wait to pounce on some luckless rabbit, squirrel, skunk, or other small animal. They have been known to kill deer fawns and adult deer that have been injured or sick.

These cats, as do all of their tribe, bury their droppings by scratching dirt over them. In the case of this cat, however, this cover is apt to be a rather haphazard operation. In very dry climates the droppings are likely to be in small, constricted segments and sometimes as pellets. Where the area is damp or in wetter areas, the scat will be much like that of dogs or coyotes. If you see claw marks around the droppings, though, and attempts to bury them with dirt, chances are that a bobcat has been in the area.

Another sign of these animals can occasionally be seen at the base of trees. Since bobcats are like other cats, they sharpen their claws by scraping them on posts, stumps, and trees. Bits of bark are scraped off and drop tot eh ground. The claw marks themselves, of course, are another sign.

The bobcat is a noisy creature during mating season, usually in January or February. His howling and screeching at that time can be rather fearsome. At other times, his noises are similar to those of a house cat, but with more volume.

This deceptively gentle-looking cat is rarely seen during the daytime. It is a nocturnal wanderer who dens in rocks, hollow trees, and, once in a while, in a fox's den.

There have been a few instances when the bobcat turned his attention to livestock and domestic barnyard fowl. A 35-pound bobcat could easily pull down a young calf or colt or pick up a young pig.

The bobcat is a sign of the forest wild and in spite of the diminishing habitat, his numbers are increasing and is an indication of his adaptability and courage.

The bobcat is one of the protected animals of Ohio and should not be trapped or killed. If a bobcat is seen or signs are confirmed, wildlife authorities would like to know about it.

Ed Payne's Outdoors column appears every weekend. story/spt65_714200724836.asp

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