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Cross Timbers Wildcat
I've always enjoyed poking around in old crumbling country houses, depilated barns or other outbuildings, scavenging for relics from the past left behind by folks that once lived there. Things like old bottles, crockery, marbles, metal implements, or bricks that have stood the test of time can often be found. If their walls could only talk, they'd surely tell some interesting stories about the people and families that called these symbols of bygone days their "home-sweet-home." There certainly aren't as many around as there used to be.
I've also learned that rummaging through these old structures can be a little dangerous, because you never know what you might step on, fall through or run into. Like the time a few years back when I heard a low growl coming from the rafters of an old falling down house I was looking through. With the musty smell of rotting wood and odor of something dead in the air, I quickly realized I might not be alone. As I backed out a door, something furry jumped through an open window to my right and was gone. After I regained my composure and nerve, I reentered and found fresh signs that a bobcat had set up housekeeping here. Apparently, it wasn't in the mood to welcome a wildlife biologist on the prowl.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is native only to North America and found from coast to coast in the United States, except in the Midwest, and into southern Canada and Mexico. Another similar cat species, the lynx (Lynx lynx), is not found in Texas, rather in Alaska, Canada and some of the Rocky Mountain States of the western United States. Bobcats are found throughout Texas and have been recorded in every county where there's suitable habitat. Here in the Cross Timbers Country of Northcentral Texas, they're found in our post oak woodlands, riparian zones along streams and rivers, and rocky canyons, hillsides and brushy rangelands. Since they're capable of living in such a wide range of habitat types, one can be encountered just about anywhere, even in an old house.
Bobcats are medium-size felines about the size of a cocker spaniel dog and in Texas, average 14-29 pounds. Their hair coat is reddish or grayish above, white underneath and spotted with black dots. Ears are rimmed in black fur, and on the top side, surrounds a white center. Small tuffs of hair on the tip of each ear are thought to help improve their efficiency in collecting sounds. Their facial hair is fairly long, forming a broad cheek ruff; otherwise their body fur is short. Black horizontal bars adorn the upper legs and black lines radiate across the face. Bobcats get their common name from their "bobbed-like" tail which is shorter than their hind foot or about 4-7 inches long. It will have 3 or 4 black bars with its tip black on top and white underneath. Most bobcats are about 2 feet tall and 2 ½ to 3 feet long. Males are larger than females.
Communication is by hisses, guttural growls and other "cat-like" calls similar to those of domestic house cats. I once watched a mother bobcat that had just crossed a highway, stop and call her kittens one by one across the road to safety. On another occasion, I listened to two male bobcats competing for the breeding rights to a female with a prolonged session of loud squalling and guttural meowing sounds.
Home territories, which may range from 5 to 50 miles in diameter, are scent marked with urine, feces, anal gland scent, and scrapes and scratches. Cats that stray into another's territory may have a fight on their hands, or in the case of bobcats, "paws." Food caches are usually covered with leaves, small limbs or other litter. Droppings are often left on rocks or other elevated places. Their tracks are about 2 inches wide and show 4 toe prints without claw marks, and the heel pad is lobed on the rear and concave on the front. When stalking prey, they'll creep along, stepping on the same spot with their front and hind feet, leaving a narrow overlapping set of tracks. Young bobcats may be preyed on by foxes and great horned owls and adults by mountain lions and hunters. They do not make good pets - don't even think about it! Life expectancy is about 12 years in the wild.
Except during their late winter breeding season, bobcats lead solitary lives. They're primarily nocturnal but may be on the prowl before sundown and during early morning hours. During the day, they'll retire to some secluded den, crevice, or hollow tree or log. Although they're good climbers and often seek refuge in trees when pursued by coyotes, dogs or man, they spend most of their time on the ground. These carnivores are known to eat rats, mice, gophers, shrews, cottontail rabbits, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, porcupines, reptiles, foxes, domestic cats, small birds, turkeys, grasshoppers, skunks and carrion. Deer, usually fawns, may be killed but are only a small part of their overall diet. Some depredate livestock.
Most mate during their second year. Females will establish a maternal den, located in a rock crevice, small cave, hollow log or other protected place, which she lines with leaves or other dry vegetation. An average of 2-3 kittens is born during late April or early May after the 60 day gestation period. Their eyes open in about 9 days. Kittens are weaned at 2 months of age and remain with their mother until fall when they learn to fend for themselves.
Although most folks never see a bobcat or have a wildcat encounter here in Cross Timbers Country, just knowing they're around adds a degree of wildness and mystery to our outdoor experiences. I'm glad there are still a few seldom seen wild things around us that move in the shadows or make sounds in the night to remind us of our wildlife heritage.
Until next time - I'll see you down the road and God Bless America!