Monday, April 23, 2012

Bobcat takes deer at Westmoreland Sanctuary

We have some more interesting news regarding bobcats here on the preserve at Westmoreland Sanctuary.

On Wednesday, April 18th, I was leading a walk with two other adults on the Spruce Hill trail when we came across a big patch of disturbed ground right in the middle of the trail.  There was a lot of deer hair all around the trail which really caught our attention.

At first I thought that the hair may have been left behind by a deer grooming itself, but then we noticed the hair made a path leading off the trail.  There looked to be signs of a struggle and it looked like the deer may have been dragged.  We followed the hair, and not ten feet from the trail, under the crown of a fallen tree, was the whole body of a young white-tailed deer (approx 60-70lbs) buried under a coating of leaves and sticks.

The carcass was very well concealed under the tree and the coating of leaves piled on top.  There was no noticeable smell from the deer, and it only had attracted the attention of 2 or 3 flies.  All signs point to a fresh kill, likely from the night before or early that morning.  I couldn't tell if much of the deer had been eaten, or how exactly the deer may have been subdued because of all the leaves it was buried under.

I'm was 95% sure this was the work of a bobcat.  They and other large, solitary cats are known to be able to take down larger prey, eat what they can, and then bury the rest for later when they get hungry again. If this were a coyote kill, they would have certainly torn the deer to pieces and eaten nearly everything within a few hours.  Coyotes are social, so a family unit of coyotes would have easily made short work of this small deer.

To help us solve the mystery, I placed two of our remote cameras next to the deer that evening (April 18) in hopes of capturing images of the mystery creature when they return to their stored meal.
Cameras are on the left and right sides of the image.  Deer is under the fallen tree.
On Saturday, April 20 I returned to the deer carcass to see what had happened over the past 2+ days and see what images had been recorded.  Much to my surprise, there was absolutely nothing left of the deer except a light coating of deer hair all over the leaves where the carcass was laying.  The 2 cameras had captured a total of 104 images.  Below are some images (in chronological order) of the cat as captured by the two cameras using two different angles:
The bobcat returns to its hidden meal
Surveying the area, likely smelling our scent from earlier in the day
Reappearing from behind the carcass
2 hours later, the bobcat returns
Taking note of the camera
Investigating more scent left behind, this is where I laid my pack when setting up the camera
A little grooming
Posing for the camera

Returning back to the carcass after grooming

Coming back out from behind the carcass, likely after reconcealing its meal
Our last image of the bobcat
The last bobcat image was captured at 12:24am Thursday morning.  The carcass wasn't visited again by any animals until early Friday morning (1:44am) when the first coyote arrived.  Over the course of Friday morning, afternoon, and evening, the coyotes, turkey vultures, and a few crows dined on the carcass until there was nothing left when I arrived back on the scene to retrieve the cameras on Saturday around noon.

Based on size alone, chances are this was a male bobcat.  The size of the cat in relation to the objects around it are quite impressive if you've seen this portion of the trail for yourself.  There is also some significance in the fact that we have some documentation of a bobcat feasting on a deer that it was able to capture and kill.  Though the deer was small, the bobcat may become an important predator and ally in our efforts to return the deer population to a healthy and sustainable level for our forest ecosystem.  This was quite an extraordinary find that we were very lucky to have discovered and have an opportunity to document.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow! How far south have the bobcats gotten. I've seen coyotes in Yonkers - New Rochelle - and the Bronx. Being that bobcats are solitary... I wonder if they could find enough habitat. Coyotes are even living in Pelham Bay and Van Cortlandt parks in the Bronx. Both of those parks are certainly big enough... but not sure if the bobcats want to bother going through the traffic to get there like the coyotes have done.