Bobcat

Bobcats don’t lend themselves to observation often, but at this time of year it may be easier — and unsettling — to hear them.

Some of the worst things I have ever heard include currently popular music recordings and the vocalizations of bobcats.

Both of those things can make you want to go elsewhere, albeit for different reasons. In the case of bad popular (with some) music, it is just unpleasantly annoying. With bobcats, some of those sounds are frightening, particularly if you don’t know the source and just imagine what it is making those screams, moans, yowls and growls.

Bad music is generally escapable in our wild habitats, but beginning about now, the chances of hearing foul and creepy sounds from bobcats are on the rise out there. Bobcats are moving into their annual breeding season, and that gives rise to more frequent vocalizations.

It might sound sweet to each other, but both male and female bobcats make a whole range of lurid talk during the courting process. It may sound creepy and scary to people, but different strokes for different organisms. I suppose it sounds cool to the bobcats.

The sounds of bobcats can be more frightening than the felines themselves. Oh, if they were aggressive, they would be awful, but bobcats are quite fearful of humans and take great pains to avoid encounters with us.

These predators are dynamite, but it is packed into a rather compact package. Adult males are the largest, and the common range reaches up to about 33 pounds. There are records of bigger ones, but smaller cats, say, bobcats that weigh 15-25 pounds, are more the rule.

When people see one, they tend to overestimate the size. It is much like the fish that got away. Now, slow down. How big was it really?

Identifying a bobcat in a fleeting glimpse can be a little difficult, but know that this is our only medium-sized cat. Old Bob is going to be gray-brown with rusty or yellowish highlights, but a recognizable trait is usually black spots on its coat.

The routine cat-type ears will have pointy tufts of black fur that set them apart from those of domestic kitties. An important identifier, however, is on the other end. A bobcat’s tail is short in relation to its body length. Most are only 5-7 inches long.

Some people might mistake a bobcat for a mountain lion/cougar, but about the only thing these have in common is that they are both cats. A mountain lion (which is not known to have a reproducing population anywhere close) is more often three to six times larger than a bobcat.

Still, with the tendency to overestimate weights, mistakes get made. Without the chance to put a ruler on one, it is difficult to say that a 3-foot-long bobcat is a different size than a mountain lion, which can easily have a total length topping 6 feet. And a bobcat’s spotted coat might resemble a lion’s plain, tawny brown coat in poor light.

The key is that short tail on the bobcat. The cougar’s tail is long, almost the length of its body. If you can see the tail, you can generally tell one these cats from the other.

Seeing the cat at all is the problem. It is most unlikely to see a mountain lion here because about the only chances for one to be in the area are (1.) a wandering young male seeking new territory from a breeding population far to the west and (2.) the unauthorized release or escape of a big cat from captivity.

It is not all that routine to see native bobcats here despite the fact that they are quite common in wild habitats and even bordering suburban areas. Bobcats are crepuscular, most active in periods of dusk and dawn, and far more active at night than in bright periods of the day.

And they are shy and sneaky. Bobcats evidently do not want to be seen and they guard against it. They are secretive, sticking to cover most of the time and especially during the day in areas where people are around.

Consequently, people who rarely have cause to be where bobcats conduct most of their business during periods of low light, rarely see these felines. Most sightings by non-hunters are when motorists encounter road-crossing cats.

Bobcats, once nearly extirpated by unregulated hunting/trapping and habitat loss into the early 1900s, are plentiful now. With protection, they repopulated their native range and flourish now statewide across Kentucky despite regulated harvest by hunting and trapping. Regulated harvest is the key.

The caterwauling of breeding season bobcats that is beginning out there presently is part of the process that assures an ongoing population of these cats. And the return of the native cats is a good thing.

They are hunters, but they are an original part of our natural system. Their chief prey is rabbits, squirrels and small rodents. Bobcats take a few deer, but that is no significant toll on a healthy deer population.

Bobcats pose no danger to humans, and their behavior for the most part prevents most people from knowing that they even are around us.

If anyone happens to hear any of the blood-curdling sounds made by courting bobcats, however, imagination of far darker things runs rampant.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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