This is my May column for Maine Woodland Owners. Canada lynx have spread out to our area and are now on our road. Eventually we’ll see one one on the game cameras.
“Secretive forest-dwelling cat.” U. S. Fish & Wildlife describes the Canada lynx as a secretive cat. I second guessed myself. Was it really a lynx I’d been watching? Longer legs? Yes. Taller ear tufts? Check. Quick to disappear like a bobcat? Definitely not. The cat watched us watch him. He’d crossed Route 6 from the edge of frozen East Musquash Lake, went up the bank, and sat at a fir tree. It was the first lynx I’d seen in the wild. This young lynx wasn’t at all shy and was still there when we had to drive away.
Lynx have always been on my list of animals to see. Until a few years ago I didn’t expect to see them close to home. They’ve spread out beyond Grand Lake Stream and tracks have been found on my road in Talmadge. We have a high snowshoe hare population right now, the main diet of lynx, so we’ve been expecting them. They’ll eat one or two hares a day when possible. They also eat partridge and spruce grouse, squirrels, meadow voles, and other small animals. Road kill supplements their diet.
A male Canada lynx is 33” long and weighs around 26 pounds at maturity. The female is only slightly shorter at 32”, but she weighs only 19 pounds. They’re legs are longer than those of a bobcat and their feet are considerably larger. It’s very easy to tell the difference between a small bobcat track and the huge, wide track of a lynx. Those wide feet help them stay on top of snow, and the space between toes helps them grip on ice.
March is mating season. A male’s home range covers up to 40 square miles and overlaps that range of multiple females. Their home range is half as much, and they overlap other females. Males are solitary other than during mating season. After a 60 to 64-day gestation the female gives birth to an average sized litter of two to four kittens. Their blue eyes open on day 14 and eventually turn to brown. By a month old they’re beginning to eat meat. Hunting lessons begin in the den when mom brings in live food. They’re weaned at three months, after leaving the den. The family stays together for most of the first year. Kits continue hunting lessons with their mother until just proficient hunters, usually just before they separate at the start of the next mating season.
When the hare population is low a lynx might forego breeding for the year, and they’ll expand their hunt outside the home range to stay alive. Lynx stalk and ambush prey. Their canine teeth have nerves that help them feel where they’re biting their prey.
Canada lynx prefer dense softwood forests near bogs. They’re seldom seen in wide open spaces. I received a voice mail from someone who wanted to tell me about a lynx he saw swimming up north but didn’t get his phone number written down to make the return call. I think seeing a lynx swimming would be quite exciting. It’s not something we think about often, is it.