Tonawanda News

Bob Confer

January 16, 2012

CONFER: Unexpected sights in the wilds of Niagara

— — In recent years, local residents have had the chance to witness some interesting animals within our borders. Among those that generated the most press and most talk were the black bears that frequented the area for a couple of months. The beasts elicited either fear or appreciation, depending on one’s perception of bruins. More often than not, the former emotion ruled the day.

There’s an animal that’s as equally misunderstood frequenting the area now, the elusive bobcat. One ran across the road in front of me during my morning commute through the town of Lockport last week. This was the second bobcat that I’ve seen in our neck of the woods since 2006. I saw the first one late at night in the northeastern part of the town as well. That one hung around for a few weeks, having left its tracks throughout our farm before it moved on.

These bobcats were exciting sights, as wildcats are not often seen in these parts of Western New York. While uncommon in our Southern Tier, they are downright rare in the Niagara Frontier as they probably don’t breed in this area (although the vast Alabama Swamps should never be ruled out). Like the young bears of a few years ago, they are probably just passing through.

I shared my most recent experience on Facebook and in conversation and the responses ran the gamut from “awesome” to “are they dangerous?” I even got a couple of “Thank you, now I know I’m not crazy” comments, with some people admitting that they’ve seen what they thought were bobcats in recent months yet they didn’t want to admit as much for fear of being ignored or kidded.

Another sort of fear is a common denominator in people’s beliefs about bobcats. When many people hear “bobcat” they think “mountain lion,” hence the hesitation. Other than being felines, they are not alike. Bobcats are not gigantic pet-eating, man-attacking beasts that are 7 feet long and more than 100 pounds in weight. Rather, they’re small, just a little bit bigger than a red fox. They weigh between 15 and 20 pounds and are around 30 inches in length and 20 inches tall. They don’t attack people (they are extremely skittish) and, in this region where their prey is plentiful, they won’t eat your small dogs and cats. Their diet consists mostly of smaller rodents (like voles and mice), rabbits, squirrels, road kill and birds — a smorgasbord no different than that taken by feral and free-roaming domesticated cats. You aren’t afraid of them are you?   

Bobcats really can’t be confused with any other animal in the area. Beyond their impressive size for a local cat - they are much taller than a house cat and 2 to 3 times their weight - their stunted bobbed tail (hence the name) and spectacular coats are dead giveaways. So, if you do see a bobcat (or what you believe to be a bobcat), do what you can to snap a picture of it. Even if you can’t, still report your sightings to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. The DEC is interested in learning everything they can about the distribution and abundance of the cats out of their population epicenters of the Adirondacks and Catskills, areas where they are common enough, by the way, to be hunted or trapped. Send your photos and observations to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us with “Bobcat Observation Report” in the subject line.

Good luck in seeing one of these creatures. And, if you do, consider yourself fortunate, not imperiled (bobcats are more afraid of you than you of them), and savor that rare and fleeting moment.  

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. His column is published on Fridays. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.

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Bob Confer