We first caught sight of the bobcat on a snowy day in February. He or she—we never did figure out its gender—snuck up on a flock of ducks that were eating spilled sunflower seed beneath our bird feeders. In an explosion of noise and flying snow, the panicked ducks took off. That is, all but one, which the bobcat carried off in his mouth.
Pamelia and I were stunned. Any bobcat sighting is a rare treat. We had never seen a bobcat here before, and only once had I observed one in the wild, fleetingly, more than a decade ago by a beaver pond (in a woodsy wetland marked on old maps as Wildcat Swamp) in Northwestern Connecticut.
Though bobcats are the most common wildcats in North America, their population is no more than a million or so (maybe 750,000). That’s not all that many, considering that their territory covers roughly 3 billion acres from Mexico to southern Canada.
They’re solitary animals except during mating season (late winter to early spring) when males and females can be found together. Was ours in search of a mate? We heard reports of other bobcat sightings in Maine around the same time as ours, though none within 10 miles of us.
To our amazement and delight, the same bobcat kept returning nearly every day for more than two weeks. Through our windows we observed him in action, at close range, time and again, in daylight. We appreciated every sighting. We knew this might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
A typical afternoon viewing session would begin with either Pamelia or I yelling, “There he is!” after seeing him. As he moved around, we would dash back and forth between windows, trying to angle better views and photograph him. (We wished we had taken the window screens off last fall.) He generally would stay close enough for us to watch him for anywhere between five minutes and an hour.
We came to know his patterns. The bobcat followed routes through the snow from one hiding spot (under a fir tree or picnic table, for example) to the next. Sometimes he descended to the rocky shore at low tide; other times he headed away from the water, into the woods. The only prey we saw him catch was that duck, but on some mornings we found feathers on the snow, suggesting that the bobcat (or some other animal) had found a meal overnight.
The bobcat seemed to have an injured left eye. The eye appeared cloudy, and from certain angles the bobcat looked almost cross-eyed. Bobcats in the wild have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, so we wondered if this was an old cat that had been through the wars. Seven years ago carpenters working at our house had seen a bobcat; could this have been the very same animal?
For several days I moved our motion-decting wildlife camera to a corner of the house where we had seen the bobcat. I was curious if the camera would capture the cat at night. Bobcats are primarily nocturnal—another reason why our daytime sightings were so extraordinary. The only images the camera produced, however, were afternoon shots of our bobcat’s coming and going. That doesn’t mean he didn’t hunt at night; we merely have no evidence of it other than those suspicious feathers in the snow.
We don’t know where the bobcat went, but we hope it found a mate and a place safe from coyotes and human threats such as hunting. If you have any bobcat stories or photos—or other wildlife tales—to share, please let us know. What was your most memorable animal sighting?