Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bobcats with chicken breath, and other bedtime stories

The past couple of days have been quite exciting, in a man-versus-jungle sort of way. After seeing a large bobcat out near the edge of the canyon in the morning, we later saw what appeared to be a mother bobcat and at least one of its babies. Evidently it was the day to train young Bobby to hunt. David actually saw the youngster grab a chicken and try to run off with it. It had to hold its head up high to keep the chicken from dragging on the ground, hampering its escape attempt by affecting its ability to see where it was going. David made some noise close to the kitty, who immediately dropped the chicken (which was apparently unhurt other than losing a large wad of feathers) and ran into the berry bushes.

Meanwhile, I was stationed, with my camera, about 40 yards away on the south side of the black walnut tree, expecting the mother bobcat (with or without Bobby) to head that way. Sure enough, Mama came out of the brush about 25 feet from me, just the other side of the tree. She saw me right away and shot off across the shooting range into the berry bushes on the north side of the hill. Alas, I wasn't able to get a photo, she was too quick; I live in hope, however.

Looking around the area where young Bobby had grabbed the pullet, we discovered several piles of feathers, all looking like they came from the New Hampshire pullets. We will have to do a head count tonight when they're all tucked in, to see how many we might have lost; hopefully very few. We do realize, though, that we need to do some serious strategizing as far as predator control is concerned.

Bobcats like to hunt at the edge of the woods, sneaking up on their quarry and staying under cover until the last minute, then jumping out to grab the unsuspecting prey. We've actually witnessed this, even in our front yard; the birds start squawking, we take a look, just in time to see a cat jump over the fence, snatch a chicken in its mouth, then leap back over the fence. It's amazingly quick, and honestly, we have to admire the beauty and grace of these animals, even if we don't always appreciate their lunch choices.

Keeping in mind their hunting habits, we are continuing our efforts to clear away the brush, low-hanging branches, and all the nettles, bracken ferns and other vegetation that grew like crazy during the mild, wet weather of last spring. We figure we'll at least make it harder for the cats to sneak up on the free-ranging birds. Short of completely confining the chickens and turkeys in fenced areas, which we really don't want to do, this seems to be our best strategy. It's helped a lot just to do some reading on the subject, to understand the hunting habits of bobcats and other predators. We also plan to hatch more birds in the spring, to account for occasionally sharing some with the native wildlife.

This afternoon, when it's warmed up a bit, I will be back out there with the sickle, pruners and Swedish brush hook. What the heck, I can always use the exercise.

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