No one had to tell Jim Gaver that the short-tailed critter he and his wife, Lynne, saw in their backyard near Red Hawk Golf and Resort wasn’t a medium-size dog or a very large house cat.
The couple recently moved to Wingfield Springs from Santa Clarita, Calif., where their yard was a frequent gathering spot for the mammal zoologists call Lynx rufus. When the Gavers called out to the visitor that sunny day, they thought of its more common moniker: Bob.
“This (bobcat) was standoffish, but turned around when we called out to him—just enough time for us to get a picture of his face,” Jim Gaver said. Then he was gone.
Although bobcats are nocturnal, they are sometimes seen in daylight, prowling creek beds, yards, ballfields, gardens and streets across the Truckee Meadows. When residents unexpectedly come upon them, the encounters often spawn questions: Do they attack people? Are my children or grandchildren in danger? Will they try to get into a house? Will they eat my pets? Is it safe to approach them? Why aren’t they in the wilderness, where they belong?
Raquel Martinez, an urban wildlife coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, has answers. Bobcats were here long before humans, she noted, and are found throughout Nevada, in meadows and forests, and across the high desert and Sierra Nevada. In the Truckee Meadows, the cats feast on a buffet of rabbits, rodents, ground birds and other small game.
“They prefer wild food, but they are tempted by backyard chickens,” Martinez said.
Experts say there haven’t been many documented issues of bobcats going after pets. There have been accounts of bobcats preying on small dogs (less than 30 pounds), although researchers question the validity of some of those often anecdotal reports. Experts do agree that people aren’t on the wild cats’ menu. Even so, Martinez noted, it’s not a good idea to approach bobcats. (They don’t respond to “here, kitty, kitty.”)
“There has never been a human/bobcat fatality on record (in Nevada),” she said.
Still, Martinez said it’s important that people keep their distance from bobcats and make sure pets are on a leash. In addition, residents should be mindful of what they attract to their backyards: Birdfeeders are a boon to birds, but also attract rabbits and rodents, the cats’ primary prey.
Known for their stubby “bobbed” tails, the felines weigh from 11 to 30 pounds and range in color from tan to grayish brown. Their spotted and stripped fur acts as camouflage. The tips of their tails are black; their ears are tufted; and fur frames their faces, making the cats appear to have sideburns.
During the last three years, a researcher at Truckee Meadows Community College has been using electronic tracking devices and automatic-game cameras to get a glimpse of the secret life of bobcats that prowl within the city.
“We prefer to call them suburban, not urban, (bobcats),” said Meeghan Gray, professor and chair of the Biology and Community Health Science Department at Truckee Meadows Community College.
Gray and three students placed 16 game cameras throughout Northwest and Southwest Reno, including in the Somersett and Caughlin Ranch areas. The team gathers evidence to better understand bobcats’ movements and diet. The cameras are all at or near private homes, where some residents already have their own snapshots of the stealthy creatures, taken by security or doorbell cameras.
“Part of the reason we even started this project was that bobcats were showing up on Ring doorbells,” Gray said. “… I think a lot of people are surprised to see a bobcat. They’re used to seeing maybe a coyote, right? Or a racoon. But a bobcat? Wow, that’s crazy. They have been here the whole time, but we are just noticing them more now.”
Gray’s research project also includes one GPS-collared female cat—the first tracked in Nevada—that they have been keeping tabs on for almost a year. That cat stays close to home, she said, “with all her GPS points in northwest suburban Reno. She is a full suburbanite. … She loves it there.”
The cat gave birth to three kittens last year, Gray said, but her mate hasn’t been sighted. “The guys don’t hang around; it appears the females don’t want them to, either,” Gray said.
She suspects that the outlying areas of Reno provide easy prey for the felines. In some places—including Lemmon Valley and Sun Valley—the cats also have raided chicken coops.
Most of the photos captured by Gray’s game cameras were shot at night, when bobcats are hunting. Some residents, including Giovanni Gerrard of Northwest Reno, have spied them just after dawn or at dusk. One day in January, just before sunset, Gerrard was startled by an unexpected visitor.
“I was getting out of my car, and it jumped out from underneath a pine tree, near our front porch,” he said. “I thought, at first, it was a dog. But then I realized it was a bobcat.”
He saw the cat again a month later, just after sunrise. “It was walking across the street from our house,” he said.
Reports of bobcat sightings are common fodder for users of the Nextdoor social-media site. In east Spanish Springs, a couple named Robert and Laura remembered reports of a couple of bobcats milling around their neighborhood last year. And in Wingfield Springs this fall, a poster named Margie spotted one walking along the outside of her fence.
Such sightings can make pet owners nervous, but Gray said her research hasn’t turned up any evidence that the predators are stalking dogs or cats. When a pet vanishes, she noted, the owner may assume the culprit was a bobcat—but such cases haven’t been confirmed, at least in Nevada.
“I think (bobcats preying on pets) is one of the biggest misconceptions about bobcats, and it’s nice to hear other (researchers) are finding the same thing,” Gray said.