Bobcats in Burlington

A few weeks ago a neighbor told me about a dead deer that had recently showed up in Centennial Woods, the natural area adjacent to my house here in Burlington. Last year a deer had been killed by a bobcat about a quarter mile away from this deer, but I spotted the carcass after much of it had already been scavenged so didn’t put a camera out (I did have a camera nearby and caught this bobcat scent marking – video). I was hopefully that this deer would turn up some exciting scavengers. I put out a camera a few weeks ago and it was with great delight that I watched some of the best footage footage I’ve ever gotten! Unfortunately my camera ran out of memory, so I only have video from the first 4 days, but wow, what a treat!


Family Life + Bobcats: Notes on the video

The video shows 4 different bobcats feeding on the deer carcass. It’s possible the deer died from a car collision (it’s right rear leg was broken and other than crows eating its eyes, the carcass remained untouched for 5 or 6 days before the bobcats showed up). The first part of the video shows 3 bobcats feeding together – a mother and her two kittens. The group spends quite a bit of time pulling out fur from the deer before actually eating any meat. You can see the larger female using her scissor-like molars (carnassials) to shear off chunks of meat while the kittens play-pounce on the carcass and tumble around like, well, kittens. There’s a brook about 10′ away (just behind the carcass) and the bobcats seemed to make regular trips down to the water between feeding.

Eventually a significantly larger male bobcat shows up at the carcass. Towards the end of the video, you can see him scent mark, groom, and even make a pretty poor attempt at pulling goldenrod stalks over the carcass to bury it.

A long video showing the behavior of bobcats feeding on the carcass (link)

Making sense of these bobcats

It’s hard to draw specific conclusions about the bobcats in Centennial Woods from just the videos as bobcats are habitat generalists and their patterns and behaviors tend to be context-specific. Bobcats have an incredibly wide distribution across North America, spanning a diverse array of habitats, from boreal forests in Canada to semi-arid deserts in Mexico and canals in Washington DC (while not typically urban animals, they can thrive on urban edges; apparently females are more sensitive to urban habitats – source). An individual’s home range is variable, from just .25 square miles (the size of Centennial Woods) to over 100 square miles (over twice the size of San Francisco), with males having larger home ranges than females. And much like feral and domestic cats, they can travel quite a bit in a single night (2-7 miles), but again this is dependent on both sex and habitat and partly season (some studies show larger home ranges, particularly for females, during the winter).

I’m not sure exactly where these urban bobcats are denning up – likely somewhere in Centennial Woods, but there seem to be two separate groups in the videos – the female and her kittens and then the lone male. Bobcats are polygamous (with both males and females mating with multiple individuals), with mating occurring in the late winter. Males have larger home ranges and these often overlap with one or more females. It’s possible that one of these two adults is the one that killed the deer last year, but it’s hard to tell. It’s also hard to tell if they’ll mate this year. Females raise the young on their own, and typically the young are independent and leave their mom by the fall. The more plentiful the food supply, the longer the kittens will stay with their mother (so maybe that giant chipmunk crop from the summer/fall kept this group together longer).

Size comparison of Boots (21″ high at shoulder, 45 pounds) relative to the female bobcat (left) and male bobcat (right) from the game camera; each red line is scaled to Boots’s height – 21″ (Centennial Woods, Burlington)

As with most felines, there’s considerable sexual dimorphism – the males (15-30 lbs) are often twice as big as females (10-20 lbs). They’re not exactly apples and apples, but my dog, Boots, is 21″ at the shoulder and 45.0 lbs (as of yesterday). I overlaid 3 images taken from the same camera together to give a better sense of scale. The red line = 21″ (using Boots for a measuring stick). This gives a rough sense of this size of the two adult bobcats, and you can see that the female (left) is considerable smaller (14-16″ tall at the shoulder) than Boots and the male (right, 19-20″ at the shoulder). Boots weighs ~45 lbs, but he’s much stockier than the bobcats, which have considerable thicker fur (think of a wet cat) so their weights would be proportionally smaller.

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