Bobcats are elusive, but they are here

Assessing the number of bobcats in an area is not an easy task. The cats are elusive, nocturnal, and opportunistic, and they are, in fact, residing in Milford.

Steve Johnson, Milford’s open space and natural resource agent, talked with residents at the public library last week, explaining that the cats are not a serious threat to people, and also that their population is growing.

Bobcats have increased their population in Connecticut in recent years, but their numbers are nearly impossible to estimate because of their elusiveness. Johnson said a very rough estimate might be three cats living in Milford, and that is not restricted to the north side of town.

“The cats don’t know if they’re in Milford or Orange. They’re just looking to be fed,” Johnson said.

Much of the growth can be attributed to a lack of natural predators for the cat. There was a hunting bounty on the cat, offering $5 for a kill, from 1935 to 1972, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). Growth can also be attributed to reforestation in Connecticut, which has increased wildlife population drastically in the last 100 years.

David Siekeirski, who farms a plot on Wheelers Farms Road, said he appreciates knowing there are bobcats around. “For years and years [farmers] didn’t see anything,” he said. “Now you don’t see them often, but they’re here.”

He likes that the cats eat woodchucks, deer, squirrels, and rabbits, which eat his crops.

Siekeirski said other local farmers have seen families of cats in the area.

Johnson is working with the DEEP to study the cats. About 35 in the state have been fitted with GPS tracking devices. State officials are working to better understand migration habits, survival and breeding. As for Milford, Johnson said he has made eight sightings himself, some of which are the same cat. Sometimes the cats are sighted in unusual places, like once on the corner of High Street and West Main Street.

While the animal is typically not dangerous to people, people should take caution if they see one. People should walk away slowly. Attacks on humans are extremely rare, but they are known to happen, particularly when an animal is infected with rabies or another condition. The cats are usually very stealthy, and stay out of sight.

A bobcat is two to three times larger than its distant relative, the house cat, according to the DEEP website. It has a short, stubby tail. Adult males typically weigh between 18 and 35 pounds and measure from 32 to 37 inches in length. Adult females typically weigh between 15 and 30 pounds and measure from 28 to 32 inches in length.

Typically bobcats can be found in wooded areas or forests.

Their diet usually consists of small animals like rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, snowshoe hares, white-tailed deer, birds, and even insects. Deer that are taken by bobcats are most likely sick, injured, young, or very old.

Ben Delfranco, a Milford student, came to the meeting with his mother, Sabrina. The two look for bobcats on their regular walks at the Ansonia Nature Center in Ansonia. Ben has been interested in spotting a bobcat in Milford since Mayor Ben Blake issued a public alert recently about sightings.

He was excited to learn more about the cats at the city forum last week. Sabrina said she appreciates knowing more about the cat, especially if they run into one.

Nancy Abbey, assistant director at the library, hopes nature programs like the bobcat lecture will bring people back to walking in the woods, which she fears is becoming a lost habit.

“I hope people come away from this not being frightened by the cats,” she said. “We’ve lost touch with nature.”