Photo © Larry Ditto
Bobcats are adapting to urban areas
By Mary Schmidt
The city might seem to be an unlikely place for a bobcat, but wild cats are learning to adapt to the rapidly changing landscapes of Texas — even in the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth, one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the state.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist Richard Heilbrun and other researchers studied bobcats in Dallas-Fort Worth to learn more about how and why these animals are interacting with urban landscapes.
Heilbrun’s research, published in 2019, reveals a high density of bobcats in metropolitan areas despite the assumption that subdivisions and roads would serve as habitat barriers. Heilbrun says the animals strongly prefer wild food as opposed to pet food (or pets) and will typically hide in the woods to stay out of sight.
Yet because our urban environment can support the bobcat’s needs, they remain in our neighborhoods.
“Our urban areas are not 100 percent concrete,” Heilbrun says. “There is nature all amongst where we work and where we play.”
Heilbrun points out that bobcats aren’t necessarily moving into people’s neighborhoods — people are moving into the bobcat’s neighborhood.
In the study, traps were set out around the urban matrix. Once a cat was fitted with a satellite collar, it was released back into the wild. The collar tracked the movement of the animal, and after about 10 months to a year, it fell off. Scientists then studied the data to understand the elusive carnivore’s presence in urban landscapes. They found that bobcats heavily used creeks and the Trinity River corridor. The home-range size was found to be smaller for urban bobcats than for those in other areas.
Heilbrun is hoping the research on bobcats and additional research on other urban carnivores will raise awareness for managing our wildlife environments and illustrate the importance of green space in urban areas. Instead of fearing the animals, residents need to protect wild creatures.
“All of our information points to the need to understand our wildlife and maintain the wild places within our communities,” Heilbrun says.
So, what is this cat that lurks beyond our backyards during the night?
Bobcats can grow to be twice the size of a domestic feline. Males weigh an average of 26 pounds, and females an average of 20 pounds. Named for their short tails, bobcats average 25 to 35 inches in length.
Bobcats are very adaptive felines with highly developed physical capabilities. They inhabit the widest range of the Texas wild cats, with the highest concentration in the South Texas Brush Country. Biologists recognize two subspecies of bobcats in Texas — the desert bobcat in the western and northwestern parts of the state, and the Texas bobcat that occupies the rest of the state.
Bobcats are making homes in small towns and suburbs, realizing there is plenty to eat in these areas. Heilbrun and his team collected bobcats that had been killed by cars and examined what was inside their stomachs. In one cat, they found 23 rats. In addition to rodents, bobcats feed on other small animals such as rabbits and birds. They will also hunt deer, porcupines and skunks.
Like most cats, bobcats are agile animals. They often use lookout trees to survey their territory. They prefer to restrict much of their activity to nighttime, and their excellent eyesight allows them to see the slightest movement in low-light conditions. While you aren’t likely to see these secretive felines, they may very well be on the prowl in the creeks or woods of your city.
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