NATURE NARRATIVES: Young bobcats on the hunt
By Melissa Walker
A scrabbling sound was the first indication of unusual activity in our backyard. I rushed to the window just in time to see the blurred motion of a red fox jumping up our fence, then turning 180 degrees to jump down and run in the opposite direction. Almost within reach of the fox's tail were two bobcats! They pursued the fox for about 50 feet, abruptly stopping when the fox jumped out of our yard. Then the bobcats leisurely stretched out on the grass, yawned and were joined by a third bobcat. The fox was lucky that the bobcats gave up the chase, at least for today.
The bobcats relaxed in the sunny part of our yard for about two hours, then roused themselves to drink from our backyard pond and to play in our pond's filter tank. They looked like overgrown housecats as they tussled in the tank.
One of the bobcats began scratching on an aspen tree, stretching upward 34 inches (I measured the next day), and dragging its claws down the soft bark. According to Timothy Mallow in his article, “Bobcat Ecology,” “the vertical scratches made by the bobcat's claws leave a visual marker and also leave a scent on the tree that originates from sweat glands in bobcat's paws. Bobcats maintain and defend their ranges with the use of territorial markers, such as tree scratches. The home range of a female bobcat averages 2,900 acres.” That is more than twice as large as Garden of the Gods Park (1,367 acres).
The backyard bobcat drama lasted all day. By mid-afternoon, I noticed a fox squirrel at the tiptop of an aspen tree, anxiously flicking its tail and chattering. Half way up the same tree was one of the bobcats! When the squirrel jumped into the top of an adjacent aspen, the bobcat slowly backed down the tree trunk, then turned and jumped to the ground. I thought the hunt was over. But no, the bobcat looked up, located the squirrel and proceeded to climb the second tree. Then I observed that a second bobcat was patrolling the top of our back fence, near the squirrel's tree.
At this point, I guessed that the squirrel would outlast the bobcats in patience and would remain at the very top of the tree until the bobcats left the neighborhood. I decided to check back in 5 minutes, but by then, I had missed the action. There was the bobcat strolling through the backyard with the lifeless squirrel in its mouth.
As the successful predator settled down to eat its prey, the other two bobcats watched neighborhood birds from the vantage point of our deck and took another nap. The three bobcats finally left our backyard in the late afternoon.
The bobcats are probably three of the four kittens that were born in our neighbor's yard last spring. Although the mother bobcat and her four kittens left their den in early July, neighbors occasionally saw one or more of the bobcats during the fall. Just last week, in mid-January, one neighbor saw all five bobcats - presumably the mother and the almost-grown kittens - parade across her deck in single file following the lead bobcat, who held a dead squirrel in its mouth.
The bobcats will soon deplete the easy prey in our neighborhood and move on to another part of their home range. Sometime between now and May, when the kittens are almost a year old, the mother will “evict her kittens from her home range.” Until then, we fortunate neighbors may glimpse the “wild kingdom” in our own Westside Colorado Springs neighborhoods.
Melissa Walker, an area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.