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NatureSpeak Articles

Gillian's bobcat: Wildcat stalks White Gold bird-feeder

The Isobel MacLaurin painting of a bobcat on tower 22 of the Wizard Express is about as close as most of us will ever come to seeing one of these elusive felines in the wild. Like the legendary sasquatch, bobcats and their larger cousins, the lynx, are known by their tracks but sightings are extremely rare. So I was both surprised and skeptical when Gillian Ackhurst told me one of these secretive, and usually nocturnal, wildcats had visited her bird-feeder in broad daylight. "It looked just like that" she said as our chair passed tower 22, "and I got a picture to prove it!"

The bobcats that live unseen in the deep forest of our local mountains are at the northern edge of their range, which extends south to central Mexico. Unlike the lynx whose long legs and large, snowshoe-like, paws are adapted to sprinting through deep snow, bobcats, with their short legs and small feet, are not built for a deep powder lifestyle. In B.C. they survive by occupying mature, low elevation, stands of fir and hemlock where much of the snowfall is intercepted by the forest canopy.

A mature male bobcat may have a total length of four feet and weigh up to 40 pounds. While most of their prey consists of small rodents, rabbits, and birds, they will tackle animals larger than themselves and are capable of bringing down deer. The much smaller female usually confines her hunting to smaller prey and, when times are tough, she is not averse to eating snakes, insects and snails.

Except for a brief mating period in late February to April, when males contest fiercely for estrous females, bobcats lead solitary lives in territories of around 100 square km, marked out by scat, urine, and scratching posts. Kittens, commonly two or three to a litter, are born after a nine-week gestation and remain dependent on their mother for as long as 10 months. The males contribute nothing to rearing the young. In fact says Clayton Apps, a Calgary-based researcher who has studied B.C. bobcats, big males are more likely to kill a female's kittens than to share any food. He recalls seeing well-nourished males hunting and feeding on deer while smaller females and juveniles, unable to bring down large prey, were totally emaciated.

It was a cold snowy mid-February day when Jill spotted the bobcat in the yard of her White Gold house. Sitting quietly, watching the birds flock to and from the feeder, the cat stared back at her and made no effort to leave until it was startled by the click of the camera. Jill figures it was a young female and she has since seen the small round tracks in her yard. One can only guess what caused this uncharacteristic behaviour but it seems likely the combination of very cold temperatures and heavy snowfall in the valley meant poor hunting for our local cats. Squirrels and hares, which make up most of their diet, are less active and harder to find during severe winter conditions. Jill's bobcat may not have eaten for some time and, driven by hunger, threw caution to the wind in hopes of getting a meal.

Upcoming Events

Saturday, April 20th — Pitch-In Day . Join the Whistler Naturalists in Alta Vista to help with roadside litter pick-up. There will also be a post-event BBQ at the fire hall and a Whistler Naturalists display at the Earth Day fair in Town Plaza that afternoon.

Thursday, April 25th — A time when glaciers ruled -- the Ice Ages in British Columbia . Slide presentation by John Clague at MY Place (4335 Blackcomb Way) at 7:30 p.m. See below for more information.

Written by: Jack Souther


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