CONNECTICUT — The bobcat population is not only on the rise in the state, but sightings of the wily predator have been made in every municipality.
That’s not a bad thing, according to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. And considering the species was nearly completely wiped out here in 1972 before legal protections were enacted, it borders on being a wildlife miracle.
One reason for an uptick in sightings is the downtick in people leaving their homes, according to Melissa Ruszczyk, a technician with DEEP. Residents are seeing more bobcats in their yards because we’ve been spending more time at home gazing out windows during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Some people might think might find it hard to believe that they’re actually existing in some of these really urban areas, like Hartford Bridgeport, Danbury, Waterbury, but they are there!” she said.
A popular misconception is that the cats “come out” in the winter. In fact, bobcats are active year-round. They’re just more noticeable in the winter because there is less foliage.
For the past couple of decades, DEEP has devoted resources to get a handle on what bobcats eat while on the prowl in Connecticut. Researchers accomplish this by examining the contents in the stomachs of those cats who turn up as roadkill
“They’re eating a lot of squirrels,” Ruszczyk said. “They really like squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks and birds.”
The cats have it in them to hunt down and kill deer, but it’s less work for them to scavenge on deer roadkill. And in Connecticut, that’s one never ending buffet.
Your gut instinct may be to do everything possible to keep bobcats away from your home, but Ruszczyk suggests you may want to reevaluate that stance.
“Bobcats that live in more suburban or residential areas are really great for the ecosystem,” she said. “These animals are eating a lot of what people would consider pests. They’re doing a great job at keeping those smaller species in check.”
If, however, your idea of a pest is more in line with a 20-pound fanged feline prowling the perimeter of your gazebo, and less the chipmunk it’s chowing down on, Ruszczyk has some advice.
Rid your yard to of anything that the cat might deem attractive to the animals it hunts, such as bird feeders. If you have a concentration of the food that the prey species enjoy, you will attract those species’ predators, as well.
Suburban Connecticut’s famously manicured lawns give the cats an even greater advantage over their prey, Ruszczyk said, and present an irresistible killing field.
“A bobcat may sit in someone’s backwoods and just kind of watch,” she told Patch. If they see a squirrel in the yard, they may run out, grab the squirrel, and return to the woods.”
She recommends homeowners close off the areas beneath porches and yard sheds where varmints can feel comfortable, as bobcats interpret varmints feeling comfortable as a dinner bell.
If you’re on your way back from the gazebo and come face to waist with one of the big tabbies, Ruszczyk recommends you just make some noise (which would likely be your first instinct anyway).
“Most of these wild animals, even ones that live near people, they want nothing to do with people.”
Usually wildlife, because of their incredible senses if smell and hearing, will know you’re around before you know they are, according to Ruszczyk, “and that makes them go the other way before you know they’re ever even there.”
After you catch your breath, be sure to report the bobcat sighting to DEEP. Be prepared to have handy the date and specific location of the sighting, number of bobcats observed, and whether there were visible ear tags or collars on the animal.
The Bobcat Project
Ruszczyk is heavily involved in “The Bobcat Project,” a 3-year DEEP study intended to unravel a few of the Connecticut feline tribe’s many mysteries. Wildlife techs capture, collar and release roughly 50 of the beasts each year. The collars are programmed to drop off the cats, and when retrieved, spill information on where the animals roamed and when.
The home ranges of bobcats vary depending upon their areas, and wildlife biologists really don’t have a handle of what that is in Connecticut.
“We want to know that we have a healthy population, what they need in terms of space,” Ruszczyk said. The data will help urban and suburban planners understand where and how to build out their people spaces.
This season the project will debut a higher-tech collar, one that will recognize other collars as they come within proximity of each other.
“We’re going to be able to see how much time these bobcats spend near each other” Ruszczyk said. Bobcats are known to be solitary animals, but what does that really mean in suburban Connecticut? We’ll know next year. Trapping for the final season begins this fall.
The first two seasons were statewide, but for this final go-round DEEP made the decision to focus on gathering suburban data, and is just focusing on the Farmington Valley area and a couple of the surrounding towns.