The region’s backyards are ‘perfect cover’ for bobcats

A bobcat rests on its haunches near the home of Reena Joseph and Jeff Linkinhoker on Old Colchester Road in Oakdale. (Courtesy of Jeff Linkinhoker)

A bobcat stretches out near Reena Joseph and Jeff Linkinhoker’s home on Old Colchester Road in Oakdale. (Courtesy of Jeff Linkinhoker)

Pam Fain was getting ready for work early one morning at her Ledyard home when she looked out her sunroom window and saw movement outside.

Fain, a 26-year resident of Avery Hill Road in Ledyard, has seen foxes, deer, rabbits and even coyotes at her home, but before that morning on July 21, she had never seen a bobcat.

The bobcat, Fain says, was stalking a rabbit in his garden by a bush, but was unable to capture it.

“Luckily I didn’t get to see the bunny takedown,” Fain joked. “But it was a good experience; the bobcat was just beautiful.”

Bobcats have become a common sight throughout Connecticut, and according to state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wildlife biologist Jason Hawley.

Hawley, the principal investigator for the Connecticut Bobcat Project, helped collar and track the movements of about 150 bobcats in the state. The study was conducted to find out how bobcats are distributed and to see how they are adapting to habitats with different housing densities. While the researchers are still analyzing the results of the study, their preliminary findings suggest that the bobcats are actually selecting areas that are closer to humans.

While it is difficult to give an estimate of how many bobcats are currently in the state, DEEP has recorded 2,389 bobcat sightings in 2022 so far.

“One of the most surprising things we are finding is that they are doing quite well in very suburban and even urban habitats. We found that these cats actually choose to live at closer distances to human structures, whether in homes or industrial and commercial buildings,” Hawley said.

According to Hawley, one possible reason for this trend is that since bobcats are ambush predators, they need thick cover to hunt their prey. Since many suburban areas have bushy hedgerows, often filled with invasive plant species like the multiflora rose, many neighborhoods have the cover that bobcats need to survive.

Additionally, suburban areas provide bobcats with easy access to food. Since many homes have bird feeders or gardens that attract rabbits and squirrels, bobcats can more easily catch their prey.

Reena Joseph, of Old Colchester Road in the Oakdale section of Montville, has been seeing bobcats near her home for the past five to seven years, especially near the bird feeder in her garden. In July 2021, Joseph captured video of a bobcat playing with a squirrel she had just caught in her yard.

“The bobcat caught a squirrel and it was very fast,” Joseph said. “He was there for half an hour playing with it, throwing it up into the air and then he just sat down and started eating it.”

With an abundance of prey and effective cover, as Hawley explains, people have “inadvertently created the perfect habitat for bobcats” in their own backyards.

Hawley also noted that even bobcats in more rural areas choose to be closer to human development. Once again, she said weed cover and easy access to prey are the main motivators.

People are also seeing bobcats more often because their population size continues to grow. While bobcats used to reside primarily in the northwestern part of the state, legal protections to curb unregulated hunting and an increase in forested areas have allowed bobcats to recover in all eight Connecticut counties, according to DEEP. In the last 20 years, bobcats have begun to recolonize, or repopulate, all parts of the state and can now be found in almost every town.

“They have really bounced back well over that period of time,” Hawley said. “I’d say they’re just as abundant in eastern Connecticut and even southeastern Connecticut as they are in western Connecticut.”

As bobcats become more common, some people may have concerns about the safety of their livestock and pets. While bobcats do occasionally attack small dogs and cats, Hawley said coyotes are a much bigger threat to their safety than bobcats. Chickens can sometimes be a target for bobcats, and Hawley said fully enclosed coops are the best defense. He said healthy bobcats pose almost no threat to humans.

Hawley offered some simple tricks for those who are nervous about having bobcats around.

“If you’re not comfortable with the bobcat in your yard, make the bobcat uncomfortable,” he said. “You can yell, throw a tennis ball at him or use an air horn to make him uncomfortable and that’s usually enough to get them on their way.”

However, since bobcats are relatively shy and reserved animals, Hawley encourages people to try to enjoy the times when they can see the cats in their own backyards.

“We were very excited and happy to see one,” said Joseph’s husband, Jeff Linkinhoker. “We just thought it was for the best.”