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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

A cat who came in from the cold

Bobcats are increasingly common in our region, and that has its own ripple effects

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 2/24/21

Randy and Julie Grahn were surprised during the recent cold snap to have a regular visitor in their backyard— a bobcat. While normally pretty secretive, this cat appeared perfectly comfortable …

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A cat who came in from the cold

Bobcats are increasingly common in our region, and that has its own ripple effects

Posted

Randy and Julie Grahn were surprised during the recent cold snap to have a regular visitor in their backyard— a bobcat. While normally pretty secretive, this cat appeared perfectly comfortable at the Grahn’s and even took up residence at times in a vacant doghouse in the backyard.
At other times, it has sat in one of their bird feeders, as if it’s hoping to turn an unobservant bird into lunch. While the Grahns normally feed the birds, the bobcat has been taking advantage of some of the fare they’ve been putting out, including the skins of smoked fish and roasted ducks, which the birds will normally haul away.
At one point, the bobcat just sat in the doghouse and watched intently as deer fed on spilled bird seed 25 feet away. The cat made no movement, but the deer eventually spooked anyway.
It’s not surprising that a bobcat found that doghouse attractive during the recent cold spell. While the bobcat population has increased significantly in our region, particularly on the western side of St. Louis County, our area remains on the northern fringe of bobcat range. Our winters generally provide a challenge to bobcat survival, a challenge that the shelter from a doghouse might ease at least a bit. Access to the occasional doghouse isn’t the real explanation, of course. Biologists suspect that climate change is allowing more of them to survive here than in the past, given milder winters in general.
I suspect other factors, such as recreational deer feeding, are playing at least as large a role. While bobcats don’t eat the corn that is now so broadly distributed across the North Country landscape in winter, that new and energy-intensive food source is changing the North Country ecosystem and it has wide-ranging ripple effects. That corn has allowed for the spread of wild turkeys into the North Country, for example, which are prime prey for bobcats. Deer, particularly fawns, are another important prey base for bobcats. If recreational feeding helps some deer survive that might otherwise have perished in a North Country winter, that means more fawns in the spring. Increases in the prey base allow for a higher carrying capacity for predators, including bobcats and wolves.
As with everything in nature, the spread of increasing numbers of any predator into our region, will have ripple effects. I’ve written recently about the noted decline in the number of fisher in much of northeastern Minnesota. While biologists see multiple factors behind that decline, including overharvesting of older timber which fisher need for nest cavities, bobcat are also known to prey on fisher, so their growing presence in our area is likely part of the explanation of the decline of that species.
Biologists also suspect that bobcat will eventually supplant lynx in northern Minnesota, particularly if we see less snow in the future. Lynx can outcompete bobcat where the snow is deep, since the lynx’s huge feet give it the ability to walk on top of all but the fluffiest snow. That gives the lynx the ability to effectively prey on snowshoe hares, but it’s also made the lynx something of a specialist. If bobcats move into an area and prey, even to a limited extent, on hares, it reduces the prey base for lynx and limits their reproductive and overall survival potential. Bobcats, by contrast, are generalists, which will readily shift to other more available prey as need be. They’ll take anything from adult deer to mice.
While most animals right now are still hunkered down waiting for spring, it’s a busy time for male bobcats. Late winter is the breeding season and this time of year, the toms will range widely in search of receptive females. Breeding is the tom’s only involvement in the process as the females do all of the rearing of the kittens, which are born in late spring. The young are dependent on the mother, relying on milk for their first month of life, before gradually shifting over to solid food. They typically remain with the mother for their first nine months, eventually separating in about January, shortly before the breeding season.

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