Winter brought out the bobcats

The winter of 2016-17 will soon be gone, but not forgotten for the number of big, furry bobcats it brought to the public’s view, with low temperatures and snow that made it easy to spot the felines’ tracks.

A total of five bobcat sightings were reported for Wilton in 2016, which is “above average” for suburban towns in Connecticut, said Paul Rego, wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“If you compare these numbers to, say, 15 years ago, you’re talking about a remarkable increase in the sightings of these animals,” Rego said.

The sightings are reported by residents. However, there are far more sightings than reported because the typical resident who calls reports seeing the animal only the first time. The sightings become ordinary after a while.

“To the best of my general knowledge, those numbers are sizable,” said Chris Vann, also a wildlife biologist with the DEEP.

Bobcats, which hunt squirrels and other small animals during the winter, can be found in most any suburban town, but not in highly populated urban centers.

“People are commonly seeing them through many parts of the state, except the cities,” Vann said. “Their population seems to be doing well.”

Another indicator of the number of bobcats in the towns is how many are reported dead on the roadside, having been hit by vehicles. Thirty-five died that way in 2016, according to Rego, and again, that number is up substantially from previous years. He did not have full data for the past 10 years readily available.

Chris Muir, Wilton’s animal control officer, saw one dead bobcat on the roadside on Sept. 7, 2015.

“That’s the last time I saw one,” Muir said. “Every few months or so we get a report of one, but people aren’t afraid of them.”

There is no hunting of bobcats, as they are listed as a protected species. They are not threatened at the moment, Vann said.

“I know in our surrounding states bobcats are hunted in New York and Massachusetts,” Vann said.

The abundance of bobcats results in calls from residents all over the state, particularly in the outskirts of developed areas, where there are also many reportings of coyotes. Bobcats tend to be more sensitive to human interaction than coyotes, though. Coyotes, for example, are known to hunt small pets.

“Bobcats seem a little bit less likely to cause conflict,” Vann said. “They do kill chickens, though. We do know bobcats show up in people’s yards and will occasionally take a stray cat, but they usually stay away from dogs.”

Bobcats can be dangerous if protecting their young. “You want to give a mother her distance,” Vann said.

February marked the second month of the mating season for the cats, which are the smallest of the big cats in North America.

“They deserve respect, but they are no immediate danger to people in most cases,” Vann said. “If you see them in your yard, and don’t feel comfortable, stay in the house if you feel you need to.”