The bobcat, Lynx rufus, is one of the seven species of wild cats that inhabit North America, and it is probably also one of the most well-known. Bobcats were once common across Ohio and the Midwest, but populations declined following the settlement and resulting land-use change that began in the 1700s. The clearing of woods and draining of swamps and other lowland areas that were the bobcat’s main habitat led to local extinction, called extirpation, from the state by 1850. Now, it appears as if the wild cat is making a return to our state. Might it become a more common sight here in the county?
Bobcats are generally about twice as large as an average house cat, though size can vary widely across their range. They have short dense fur in shades of gray, brown, and tan, with black coloring on the backs of their ears and covering the tail. Darker markings across their pelt help them blend into vegetation while hunting. Rabbits and other small rodents make up the majority of their diet, but the felines will also consume insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and even smaller deer or domestic animals. Lynx rufus is a crepuscular species, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk hours. Unlike the non-native coyote that hunts similar prey, bobcats are solitary animals that generally live and hunt alone.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), there have been 2,025 verified reports of bobcats in Ohio from 1970 through 2017. From that total, 499 of those sightings occurred in 2017. Verified reports require positive identification of the animal in question through incidental trapping, discovery of diseased individuals, recordings on trail cameras, or documentation from a field expert such as ODNR staff. Reports have been documented in 71 out of 88 of Ohio’s counties since 1970. Delaware County had indeed had verified sightings, though there was only one documented case in 2017. If you have a sighting of a bobcat or other wild animal of note, you can log on to ODNR’s website to report it at https://apps.ohiodnr.gov/wildlife/speciessighting/.
Unfortunately, verified sightings alone are not able to give researchers the whole picture on present population numbers and distribution. Modern historical population data came mostly from deceased individuals, usually found as roadkill. Trail camera documentation began to provide a larger share of the data in 2006, becoming the primary source of sightings starting in 2008. While the overall number of sightings have increased dramatically, ODNR researchers caution that this could be due to the increasing use and reduced cost of trail cameras and not necessarily a reflection of a rapidly growing bobcat population.
In some Midwest states, such as Wisconsin, bobcat numbers have rebounded high enough that hunting and trapping are allowed. The same cannot be said for Ohio, as the state Wildlife Council voted 6-1 in May 2018 to indefinitely postpone creating a proposed bobcat season. One reason cited by opponents of the proposal was that bobcats were only recently removed from the list of Ohio endangered and threatened species in 2014. While I’d encourage you to keep your eyes peeled, your best bet at seeing a bobcat in Delaware County in the next couple years might be to visit the resident felines at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium!
Visit Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District’s website at www.delawareswcd.org to learn more about conservation. You can also follow us on Facebook and participate in What is it Wednesday?
Rebecca Longsmith is a resource conservationist with the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.