ORONO — A couple of critters stopped by the home of a local TV meteorologist this week, but they did more than say “hi, Steve,” as so many of Steve McKay’s WLBZ viewers do.
Instead, a bobcat killed one of McKay’s chickens, and the Maine Warden Service was called.
After setting a pair of traps, Warden Jim Fahey said the bobcat — and its apparent partner in crime — were captured in live traps Wednesday morning.
“I had a chance [Tuesday] to set two traps, right adjacent to this chicken coop, and overnight we didn’t just catch the bobcat,” Fahey said. “We caught a raccoon as well.”
Fahey had a pretty good idea what to use for bait in order to catch the bobcat, he said.
“The chicken that it had dropped on Sunday evening was still in the trash, so I used that as bait,” Fahey said.
Fahey took the bobcat to Matt Ewing, an Orono man who is in the process of becoming a certified wildlife rehabilitator and planned on releasing the raccoon off County Road in Milford on Wednesday.
Cory Mosby, the furbearer and small mammal biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said the bobcat was a yearling, or sub-adult, born last year.
He said it’s understandable a small, young cat would have had a hard time surviving during this long Maine winter and would seek an easy meal at a chicken coop.
“If you think about it, if you’re an animal with small feet … deep snow makes it difficult and really hard to maneuver, especially as a predator,” Mosby said. “And when you combine that with these yearlings, or sub-adults, this is their first winter. Even in a good winter, this is the age class that you’d see the highest mortality.”
Mosby looked at the bobcat in the trap and clearly could see its pelvic bones protruding, which means it wasn’t getting enough food.
“When you lose fat and muscle, that’s usually a strong indicator that the animal is in poor condition,” Mosby said.
The cat was captured just outside the town center in Orono, on the river side of Route 2 between Pat’s Pizza and the state police barracks, Fahey said.
“In my experience, two things seem to trigger these bobcats to come into the settled areas,” Fahey said. “One is extended, bitter cold. I think if they miss a meal, they’re not really a good cold weather animal. They don’t have a lot of fat reserves, and that causes them to be hungry and to look for other food sources.”
Deep snow also causes problems, Fahey said.
“They have to hunt and kill to thrive, so if they miss meals due to poor hunting conditions, they’ll be hungry and then look for easy targets,” Fahey said.
Earlier this year, another bobcat was captured after frequenting a local chicken coop.
Ewing said it probably wouldn’t take long for the cat to rebound.
“I’ll just feed the heck out of him for the next couple of days, and when the conditions are good [I’ll release him],” Ewing said. “I don’t think he’ll have any trouble catching his own food. He just has to be forced to do it.”
Ewing said when he takes the bobcat to the release site on the other side of Orono from where it was captured, he’ll hide a beaver carcass nearby and cover it so other animals don’t find it. Then, after leaving the cat in the trap for a few hours, he’ll return, open the door and walk away. The cat, he says, will find the meat and have itself a meal shortly after its release.
“Then, a few days later, [I’ll remove] the cage,” Ewing said. “I’ve had good luck in the past with them staying in the area. [Putting some food out] just gives them one more advantage on their release, to make it out there on their own.”