Sometimes you’re the predator …



Bobcats are in wildlife news this week. In various places both on and off the island, individual bobcats have been seen, quite often near feeders. Any bird feeder is an attraction for birds and small mammals, especially now with so much snow everywhere. Food is difficult to find for all predators, and a feeder provides an unnatural gathering of both birds and small mammals, such as squirrels. A friend in Ellsworth has enjoyed watching a beautiful bobcat try to catch a squirrel at his bird feeder. The squirrel being stalked is slightly injured and has the use of only one back leg, but as of today, it has been able to escape being caught even by the hungry bobcat. The squirrel has been injured for many months, yet still has survived. Injured animals are usually first to be captured.

Try not to take sides in this prey-and-predator situation. All wildlife has to be concerned constantly with finding food to survive, while at the same time, trying to escape being caught. It’s the way it works in nature. Predators aren’t bad, they’re just hungry.

Bobcats are very beautiful cats. These animals are quick and very strong fighters. A large adult is capable of taking down a deer. Males tend to be somewhat bigger than females. Bobcats are normally solitary and quite elusive. This harsh winter has forced them to come somewhat out in the open and even into communities. They are pressed for food. Man and dogs are their chief predators. To get more than a glimpse of one in the wild is a rare treat.

These handsome mammals are active year round. They rely on their keen eyesight and hearing to find their prey. As you might expect, they can climb trees very well. They do so to escape dogs and to chase prey. Bobcats can swim well, but they usually go out of their way to avoid water. Although quiet for the most part, they do scream during breeding season, and this is a wild sound. The home range of a bobcat varies, but it is usually about two square miles.

Sometimes people get bobcats and the rarer lynx mixed up. A lynx is short bodied, very lean and about twice the size of domestic cat. Bobcats actually differ from lynx in that they have shorter legs, smaller feet, no hair on their bottoms and only lightly tufted ears. Lynx have noticeably tufted ears. Take a look at good photos or drawings of each of these mammals to become familiar with them. Bobcats are occasionally seen on MDI. A lynx would be a very rare sighting. In other parts of Maine where the terrain is more to their liking, they are numerous. When you’re out and about in the woods or watching your feeder, always keep a camera or cell phone handy. Nowadays, getting photographic proof of something you’ve seen is much easier than it used to be.

I’ve never seen a lynx in the wild, but I have seen bobcats and cougars or mountain lions. These big cats are very exciting and impressive to see in their natural habitat, and seeing any of them is an experience you’ll never forget.

A sawwhet owl was discovered one day recently sitting on top of a snow bank in a neighbor’s yard. This is the smallest owl we regularly have here on the island. It would fit easily from your wrist to the tips of your fingers. Saw-whet owls are nighttime hunters, but they frequently rest in bushes or more exposed places during the day, and they seem quite tame. Never be fooled into touching one, though, for they have sharp talons and can move quickly. A great horned owl measures about from your elbow to the tips of your fingers, and the frequently seen barred owl measures about from your elbow to your wrist. This gives you a little idea of the difference in size. All owls are finding it hard to find food now with so much snow everywhere. The small rodents they normally catch and eat are nicely hidden and can move freely and safely beneath the snow. Paths, driveways and parking areas may give the predators a chance to see something moving out in the open. Owls will take birds if the opportunity presents itself at your feeder, and you’ll discover that your bird feeder may serve a purpose you hadn’t considered.

In spite of the snowy, cold and wintry landscape, I have heard a few bird songs. It definitely gives one hope that we will not always be buried in snow. Chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and woodpeckers are moving on with spring activities. The drumroll of woodpeckers is a sign of courtship. It is a challenge to other males and a mating call at the same time. Warm days this month will encourage all sorts of activities in the outdoors. We may even see a few mourning cloak butterflies flitting about over the piles of snow.

Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.

Ruth Grierson

Ruth Grierson

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Send any questions or observations to [email protected] or call 244-3742.
Ruth Grierson

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