Residents in at least one Denton neighborhood have reported seeing bobcats in the woods near their homes, along fences and, in one case, on a neighbor’s driveway, in the past month.
On his way home from work in early February, Bill Taylor saw a bobcat run across a vacant lot as he rounded the bend on one street in his Thistle Hill neighborhood and then disappear.
As he came up on the next street, he saw the bobcat standing between two houses. He pulled into a driveway and rolled down the window.
The cat had a short tail and ears, but it wasn’t orange, as he expected. It was dark gray, and not the least bit skittish.
“He didn’t look scared,” Taylor said.
And it was big.
“I’ve read they can get up to 40 pounds. This cat was all of that, and then some,” Taylor said.
Wildlife biologist Derek Broman said it is likely people are seeing the animals more frequently now because it is mating season.
Broman, who is based at Cedar Hill State Park, has a study underway through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to better understand urban bobcats.
The few studies that have been conducted have focused more on the urban-wildland interface and were done in Arizona and California, he said.
Ten or 20 years ago, biologists thought bobcats were vulnerable when their habitat was fragmented and, as a result, believed that bobcats couldn’t adapt to urban areas, Broman said. But it appears that in a couple of generations the cats are doing just that.
Broman and others have trapped and collared eight cats so far. They have enough GPS collars to follow 10 cats for a year.
One of the cats they’ve collared is showing up on trail cameras. They are learning that it is moving, not just through the Trinity River corridor, as expected, but through urban habitat as well.
When the collars begin falling off in about a year, as they are designed to do, the researchers will be able to download the data in the collars and learn more about North Texas urban bobcats.
The next phase of the study will likely include members of Master Naturalist groups to help supplement the field work. The goal is to help area cities better plan greenbelts to support wildlife corridors.
“If a greenspace supports bobcats, it may support other wildlife as well,” Broman said.
City-dwellers often worry about their pets when the wild cats are around. Broman said bobcats are often blamed for pet deaths, but those times when they have investigated a suspected kill, it doesn’t pan out.
Bobcats eat mice, rats and rabbits and typically won’t go after a healthy dog or cat that can bite, claw and fight back.
“They go after their natural prey, which is highly abundant,” Broman said.
Kimberly Williams, whose home backs up to the Thistle Hill greenbelt, said two bobcats were crouched along her ranch fence the evening of Feb. 27. She knew there was trouble because her miniature poodle was outside barking and her other dog, which is part coyote, had come running in the house with its tail between its legs.
“It was not quite dark and they [the bobcats] stayed long after dark,” Williams said. “They weren’t very cat-like. They were loud. You could hear them bumbling through the trees.”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.