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Thursday, November 20, 2014

In recent years, Niagara County 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. 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 making equally infrequent visits to our county: The elusive bobcat.


With their size and beautiful coats, bobcats can't be confused with 
domestic or feral cats. (PHOTO COURTESY OF FOREST WANDER 
I’ve been lucky enough to see bobcats in Eastern Niagara on two occasions over the past decade. I saw the first one on a late winter night in the town of Lockport back in 2005. As I crossed the Canal Road bridge onto Groff Road, he ran across the street into the woods. That one hung around for a few weeks, having left its tracks throughout our nearby farm before it moved on to another area.

Then, two years ago, one ran across the road in front of me during my morning commute on Slayton Settlement road in the town of Lockport, pretty close to the Town’s nature trail. It was a magnificent feline.

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 bears of recent years, they are probably just passing through.

There is nothing to fear 

As is the case with black bears, 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. Instead, 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?

If you see one

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) in Niagara County, 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.

You can upload your photos and observations at the DEC’s “Upstate New York Furbearer Sighting Survey” website. As a side note, you will notice on the survey that they are also interested in sightings of fishers and otters, two animals with expanding ranges that I hope make it to Niagara County — and this column — in the next few years.

Winter is the best time to look for bobcats, as you can be stealthy and noiseless in the woods and their telltale tracks are evident in the snow. Good luck in seeing one of these beautiful 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 lives in rural Gasport. And no, he does not have a bob tail. You can follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

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