Our Neighborhood Bobcats

Residents around Upper Newport Bay (the "Back Bay") continue to observe bobcats prowling around the greenbelts that surround their homes along the bluffs. These cats are being seen at all times of the day and night as they search the bushes in pursuit of a bunny rabbit which is by far their most favorite meal. They are not bashful and at times seem oblivious to our presence particularly if they are not scared away by loud children or barking dogs. We have one bobcat that is known to researchers by the name of Babe that has lived along the margins of the Back Bay for several years now and she can be recognized by the white tag she wears in her left ear. This particular cat has become too comfortable with humans for her own good as she will casually walk down the bike path right past you. She has never shown any aggressive behavior, even when an off leash dog occasionally chases her off into the brush. Nevertheless bobcats are wild animals and our children and pets need to learn to respect them and to never attempt to handle or interfere with them or their kittens.

People frequently ask if the bobcats are becoming more numerous or why they are being seen more often around our homes and in our gardens. The answer is pretty simple: We continue to build into the hills which for generations they have called home and now they have few options other than to try to share the land with us. For them life is all about defending their territory from other animals and feeding and breeding. Bobcats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they will only eat meat and when no rabbits are available then a ground squirrel will do just fine. If a female bobcat is feeding her litter of young kittens she will be even less fussy and may take small rodents, birds or whatever else is easy to catch but never anything that would remotely present a threat to her safety. Often they will be seen carrying a "coot" up from the marsh. We wonder why they would seemingly choose this bird but we need to understand that for a wild animal it is all about capturing the most calories possible while expending the least amount of energy. Many of our local ducks such as the mallards, pintails and teals can virtually explode and take off going straight up thus making their capture difficult. This is not so for the coot as it has short wings and webbed feet. For it to take off it needs to run a considerable distance to get up enough speed to fly and that is its ultimate downfall. The bobcat sneaks up in the marsh grasses and usually has only to make one quick lunge to score a dinner.

Bobcats provide a valued service for us in that they will minimize the number of ground squirrels that tunnel into the bluffs. They will certainly keep the rabbit population under control and may help us get rid other small rodents that frequent our yards.

If you should ever observe any hostile interaction between your pet and a local bobcat you are most likely seeing a bobcat trying to protect what it believes to be its turf or perhaps trying to protect its kittens. Wild animals will scent-mark the boundaries of their territory but frequently our pets don't understand this system and that's when confrontations between them could occur.

Bobcats are not normally interested in your pet as a food source. More realistic threats to our small pets would include hawks, great horned owls and of course coyotes. Even the bobcat understands these threats and has been known to hide underneath a raised patio deck or in some other secluded space near us when its time for them to give birth and nurse their kittens. A particularly favorite birth site might be a yard that is completely walled in, has decking or some other structure that they can crawl under, lots of shrubbery and plenty of rabbits living nearby. They are so secretive that often the residents of the house will be unaware of their presence.