Wild Animals in Our Area
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The following information is not to scare you — it is to remind you to keep your distance when it comes to a sizeable predator like a bobcat or coyote. They are amazing, beautiful animals that play an important role in the environment, but they can be unpredictable and dangerous. Most animals, even predatory ones, are usually as afraid of us as we are of them.

Caution — Bobcat in the Neighborhood
     Don't Leave Pets Unattended on the Lanai

Bobcats
     Preventing Conflicts
     How to Handle a Bobcat Encounter
Coyotes
     Protecting Pets from Coyotes
     How to Handle a Coyote Encounter
Foxes
     Protecting Pets from Foxes
     Fox Encounters

Living with Florida Wildlife
     Nuisance Wildlife
     Wildlife Assistance/Nuisance Wildlife

Bobcats

The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is named for its short, black-tipped bobbed tail, and is found across almost all of the continental United States. They are medium-sized cats and are slightly smaller but similar in appearance to the lynx. Their coats vary in color from shades of gray to beige to brown fur, with spotted or lined markings in dark brown or black, have black-tufted ears and resemble the mid-sized lynx. It is smaller than a lynx, but is about twice as large as the domestic cat.

A habitat dense with vegetation and lots of prey is ideal. Each bobcat may have several dens, one main den and several auxiliary dens in its territory. Their main den is usually a cave or rock shelter, but can be a hollow log, fallen tree, or some other protected place. Their auxiliary or shelter dens are located in the less-visited parts of their home range, often brush piles, rock ledges or stumps. Destruction of their habitat by the ever-expanding human population, and broken up by roads and commercial development, limits the bobcat's range and their access to food and shelter, jeopardizing their ability to survive. They are forced to find food wherever they can.

Bobcats are excellent hunters, stalking prey with stealth and patience, then capturing their meals with one great leap. Though the bobcat prefers rabbits, it will hunt anything from insects, chickens, geese and other birds, and small rodents to deer to farm livestock, which they usually consume during the winter months. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. The bobcat is able to survive for long periods without food, but will eat heavily when prey is abundant. During lean periods, it will often prey on larger animals it can kill and return to feed on it later.

Bobcats hunt primarily by sight and sound, which means they spend much of their time sitting or crouching, watching, and listening. Once they’ve located prey, they stalk within range of a quick dash and then pounce. The bobcat also hunts animals of different sizes, and adjusts its hunting techniques to the size of its prey. With small animals (e.g., rodents, squirrels, birds, etc.), it lies, crouches, or stands, and waits for victims to wander close, then pounces, grabbing its prey with its sharp, retractable claws. For slightly larger animals (e.g., geese, rabbits, etc.), it stalks from cover and waits until its prey comes within 20 to 35 feet before rushing in to attack.

Although most active around sunset and sunrise, in some parts of its range it is more nocturnal and only seen during the daytime if prey is scarce.


Preventing Conflicts

Bobcats are not often responsible for killing domestic animals, but occasionally are responsible for losses. Mostly, they tend to use wild animals as prey items. Once a bobcat causes damage for the first time, it gets easier for the animal to do it again.

Where bobcats are a problem, use the following strategies to prevent conflicts:

  • Keep dogs and cats indoors, especially from dusk to dawn. Left outside at night, small dogs and cats may become prey for bobcats (which have attacked cocker spaniel-size dogs).
     
  • Feed dogs and cats indoors and clean up after them. If you must feed outside, do so in the morning or midday, and pick up food and water bowls, as well as leftovers and spilled food as soon as pets have finished eating. Water, pet food and droppings attract small mammals that, in turn, attract bobcats.
     
  • Don’t feed wildlife. This includes deer, feral cats (domestic cats gone wild), and other small mammals. Remember predators follow prey.
     
  • Prevent the buildup of feeder foods under bird feeders. Bobcats are attracted to the many birds and rodents that come to feeders.

Bobcats can climb, so wooden fence posts or structures that give the bobcat footing and access to an otherwise unprotected pen will not be effective. Bobcats also have the ability to jump fences 6 feet or more in height.

Livestock producers have discovered that scare devices like bright lights, motion detectors connected to recordings of barking dogs or radios will deter bobcats — that is, until they realize that they aren’t life-threatening.

No chemical repellents, fumigants, or toxicants are currently registered for bobcats.

Trapping and relocating a bobcat several miles away usually doesn't work since bobcats typically try to return to their original territories, often getting hit by a car or killed by a predator in the process. If they remain in the new area, they may get into fights and often killed by resident bobcats. Also, moving bobcats won't solve the problem because other bobcats will replace them so it's often more effective to use the above recommendations for making the site less attractive to bobcats than it is to constantly trap them.

Bobcats are susceptible to the same diseases as domestic cats, and disease can be transmitted between domestic cats and bobcats (or vice versa). This is just one reason to keep your pet cats indoors.

They don't usually attack people and their pets and tend to avoid human interactions.


How to Handle a Bobcat Encounter

The important thing to remember is to stay back. If a bobcat is nearby, just quietly back away and take your pets inside. Do not let your cat or dog run the neighborhood or even your yard unattended. The bobcat will move on very quickly, and should not pose any sort of problem.

Occasionally, we humans will wander towards an area where a bobcat has a fresh kill hidden. In those cases, the cat will act defensively, and show his teeth, snarl at you, and block your path to walk forward. If this happens to you, turn around and walk in the other direction. The cat should not follow you as long as you are going in the opposite direction of whatever he is guarding. As soon as the cat is finished eating, it will move on to a new area.

From time to time, bobcats will climb into a tree and just kind of lie down on a large branch, usually very high up. This is a dangerous situation. Stay inside your home and call your local animal control office. However, when it comes to an animal with the kind of power that a bobcat has, err on the side of caution. Stay away from the animal, stay indoors, take your pets indoors, and call the authorities. Better safe than sorry!

Bobcats are nocturnal and diurnal (occurs every day). There is very little social interaction between individuals, who mark territories. Within their ranges, they can travel between 3 and 7 miles nightly, inspecting many objects as they go. Mating begins in December and can extend into June, with the peak in March.

Momma Bobcats are EXTREMELY protective of their young. If you think you see a baby bobcat, do NOT touch it or pick it up! Bobcat kittens are adorable and look like normal kittens, but this is NOT how they act when you pick them up! The kitten will scratch you, struggle, and more importantly — she will make noise which is sure to get Mom’s attention. You do NOT want to start a fight with a Momma Bobcat. You will not win.


Foxes

Foxes are often spotted in our area, sometimes found curled up under a bush, disappearing when it notices that someone has spotted it. The red fox is probably not native to Florida except in the northern Panhandle, but has been introduced by hunting clubs and is now found in many areas of the state. It is normally found in uplands mixed with fields and weedy pastures. Unlike the gray fox, it avoids heavily wooded areas. It has the appearance of a small dog and weighs from 10 to 15 pounds and measures up to 2 feet long with another foot for a bushy tail. The end of the tail is black, tipped with white. Breeding takes place in late fall or early winter, and a pair usually mates for life. The den site is usually a dug out underground burrow, through they sometimes may enlarge the burrow of a gopher tortoise or armadillo. Their dens are usually 20 to 40 feet long and 3 to 4 feet deep, and they have multiple entrances. Red foxes mainly eat small mammals like rabbits, rats, and mice. If food is plentiful, they may kill more than they immediately need, and store the extra food in the ground. 

Because the gray fox frequently has quite a lot of red hair, it can be confused with the red fox. The adult gray fox may weigh from 7 to 13 pounds and measure up to 40 inches, including a 12 inch tail. The female is slightly smaller than the male. The hair along the middle of the back and tail is tipped in black and has the appearance of a black mane. The face, sides, back, and tail are gray, while the under parts are white and the sides of the neck and underside of the tail a rusty-yellow color. The gray fox is widespread across most of the United States, and while found throughout Florida, it is much more abundant in the northern sections. It is normally found in wooded areas, preferring to live in more inaccessible cover. Gray foxes mate in January, February, or March. An average of three to five young (pups) are born and pups stay with their parents until late summer or fall. Both male and female are devoted parents and provide food, care, and training to the youngsters. The den site may be hollow logs, gopher holes or hollow trees. Mice, rats and rabbits are the mainstays of the gray fox's diet, although it will consume almost anything edible. All types of small birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, fruits, berries, insects, and some carrion serve to supplement the diet. The gray fox seldom raids the farmer's hen house; it prefers to live in wilder, more dense brushy cover. While the gray fox helps maintain a balance in the rodent and rabbit populations. They are preyed upon by dogs and bobcats, and a young fox may fall prey to an owl, hawk, or coyote.

  • Foxes aren't dangerous to humans unless they are rabid (which is very rare), or if it's captured and being handled. Even then, a fox’s natural tendency is to flee rather than fight.
     
  • Foxes may prey on small pets or livestock (e.g., rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens), so pets should be kept indoors or housed in sturdy structures. Foxes prey on squirrels, birds, chipmunks and other animals that are only active by day, so they may simply be looking for a meal at that time.
     
  • Foxes also eat various fruits, but usually don't bother garden vegetables.
     
  • They are sometimes are blamed for damage they didn't cause (e.g., spotted eating from a spilled trash can when neighborhood dogs or other animals were actually responsible).
     
  • A fox cutting through your yard is probably just passing through on his way between hunting areas and no action is necessary on your part.

Both gray and red foxes are subject to rabies, but it hasn't been a serious problem in Florida. Before calling to report a fox or ask for assistance, observe the fox's behavior for these signs:

  • Partial paralysis or the inability to use its limbs well.
  • Circling or staggering as if drunk.
  • Self-mutilation.
  • Acting aggressively for no reason.
  • Acting unnaturally tame.

If you see these signs, do not approach the animal since exposure to rabies is primarily through bites or saliva. Contact your local animal control agency, police department or health department.

Mange or rabies? Mange is an extremely debilitating affliction caused by microscopic parasites, resulting in either patchy or entire hair loss. It causes intense irritation of the skin, to the point where foxes have been known to chew their own tails off trying to relieve the itching. At advanced stages, infected foxes are often seen wandering around during the daytime, seemingly unafraid and may be mistaken for a rabid one because of their sickly appearance and seeming lack of fear. These animals try to maintain their body temperature seeking any warm place they can find.


Protecting Pets from Foxes

You may be concerned about your pets being outdoors when foxes are around. With a few exceptions, the precautions you should take are the very same things that are appropriate to do for your pets even if foxes were not around.

Keeping cats safe: A typical adult cat is about the same size as a fox and has a reputation for self-defense, so foxes are generally not interested in taking such cats on. Kittens and very small (less than five pounds) adult cats, however, could be prey for a fox. The best way to avoid encounters between foxes and cats is to keep your cats indoors — a practice that will keep your cats safe from other hazards like traffic, disease and fights, as well.

What about dogs? Most dogs are not at risk from a fox attack unless they have threatened its young, but they still should not be left outside unattended for a host of safety reasons. Miniature dogs are especially vulnerable to harm from predators, including foxes, so they should always be closely monitored when outside.

Protecting small animals: Pets like rabbits and guinea pigs should be kept indoors for their health and safety, especially at night. If kept outside during the day, they should be housed in structures that are secure against both bird and animal predators.


Fox Encounters

Both red and gray foxes live among us in cities and towns, where scavenging for food makes life easy, but they generally avoid people. However, the lure of easy food like pet food can result in backyard visits. Foxes have a natural fear of people, so if you see one outside during the day, there's no cause for alarm. It will usually run away as soon as it detects your presence. If it doesn't, it has probably learned to associate people with food and may be bold and approach. These foxes can easily be scared away by making loud noises like yelling or blowing whistles, dousing them with water hoses or squirt guns, or throwing objects like a tennis ball toward them. Usually, the best thing to do if you see a fox is to leave it alone.

There have been reported cases of a fox attacking small children, but that rarely happens. In some cases, the fox may be acting territorial or may have been defending itself. Attacks on humans are very rare, but unfortunately they get a lot of press that gives foxes a bad name. The fact is that foxes are very careful at what they do and while it can happen that they go into a house by accident, they will look for the exit as soon as they realize that there are people inside. There have been times when a fox has been credited with an attack, but in reality the culprit has been another animal. There is no reason to fear a physical attack from a fox. Even in cases where a human is close to its den, a fox will try to guide the person away by escaping.

Repellents: No repellents are expressly used on foxes, but there are many products to repel domestic dogs from yards. They should have a similar effect on a passing fox. Examples include “Get Off My Garden,” which is sprayed at or below ground level or directly on plants, and “Scoot,” which is sprayed on lawns or foliage where a fox has been digging or leaving calling cards.