Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Deer-Bobcat Interaction in an Urban Landscape

Living where I do among nearly 300,000 humans in the Sarasota- Bradenton area I remain amazed by the relative abundance of wildlife that survives in this increasingly concrete-choked landscape especially in areas west of Interstate highway 75.  Since moving here in early 2009 I’ve found river otters quite regularly (including too many road kills), nesting swallow-tailed kites (the most beautiful raptor on earth), eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, several cottonmouth’s (including one on my front step during a torrential downpour), opossums, white-tailed deer and no shortage of armadillos.   The latter, almost all the time, are road-kills.

Probably the wildlife species most closely associated with “wilderness” has been the bobcat.  Before moving to Florida I had seen only two bobcats in my lifetime.  The first was crossing the road not far from Clint Eastwood’s home (and his empty chair) near Carmel, California in October 1980. The second was seen stalking a flock of Gambel’s quail along the San Pedro River in southeast Arizona in May 1998.  Since moving to Florida however I have seen probably 20 more in the wild including one not far from my house in a heavily urbanized area on January 24, 2013.

Location of the white-tailed deer and bobcat interaction this morning (left pin). The site lies just 0.78 miles from heavily traveled Interstate 75 (right pin) and two city blocks north of a major highway intersection.  Click on the image to make it larger.

My most recent sighting of this magnificent mammal occurred this morning while I was on my bicycle.  As I pedaled down Honore Avenue and approached the unnamed road that turns into the shopping mall where Staples is located, I noticed a fawn white-tailed deer, perhaps no more than a month old, dash across Honore (without looking for oncoming traffic) and disappear into the thick woody vegetation behind the shopping mall. About 2 steps behind the fawn was a second one (no doubt its twin) that was traveling at the same high rate of speed.  Perhaps two seconds behind the second fawn was an adult female white-tailed deer and what seemed like a nanosecond behind the adult deer was an adult bobcat running full out in pursuit of a late morning breakfast.

Once they passed I pedaled to the place where they were seen entering the thick woody vegetation.  There I saw white-tailed deer tracks and bobcat tracks but nothing more.  I waited a minute to listen for the sounds of a kill but heard none.  All I heard was a persistent male northern parula and some northern mockingbirds mimicking everything they had ever heard.

Defenders of Wildlife information about bobcats states that they primarily eat lagomorphs but also take birds, rodents and adult deer.   
Early June is the time of year when juvenile bobcats are still with the mother and are still fed by her.   My guess is that this animal was in pursuit of the fawns not the adult because of the size of the fawns and because of their vulnerability.  Despite the reason (and it doesn’t really matter anyway) it was exciting to see this interaction.  I only wish I could have seen through the thick vegetation to determine if the bobcat was successful.  Perhaps I’ll have a hunch if I see the female deer again but next time she has with her only one fawn.  Several recent studies have shown that white-tailed deer fawn mortality rate (rate of deaths from birth until their first birthday) ranged from 53 percent to 77 percent.  Thus it’s likely that only one of those fawns I saw this morning was going to live to blow out its birthday cake candle 10 months from now.

Regardless of the speculation about something I could never prove it was exciting to once again see an animal I usually associate with wilderness roaming around near two major street intersections, a heavily-traveled interstate highway and the homes of nearly 300,000 people.  Given that paving the countryside is the fate for most of Florida’s landscape in a few short years, I hope these urban bobcats continue to survive.  Even if the deer are extirpated, there is no shortage of house cats here.  Maybe Morris the Cat will become the principal food item of these bobcats.  At least then there would be one positive outcome of urbanization.

1 comment: