05. Chickadee Notes

Lynx in New Brunswick


LynxThe Canada Lynx, Lynx canadensis, is distributed across the northern forest regions of Canada and Alaska, although it has become rare or absent from agricultural areas along the southern margin of its range. In Canada the species has been extirpated from Prince Edward Island and has been erroneously reported by several authors to have disappeared from New Brunswick. There is no doubt that the Lynx is now very rare in New Brunswick, but the species does persist here. The Lynx has been protected in the province since 1976 under the Endangered Species Act. Undoubtedly the Lynx was more common in New Brunswick during the last century than today, but naturalists writing in the mid 1800s noted even then that the Lynx was less common than the Bobcat. In 1898 there was a bounty placed on all "wildcats" in New Brunswick, a practice that continued until 1962 . In spite of this the last time Lynx furs were legally exported from New Brunswick was in 1929, when 29 cats were trapped. Lynx appear to have declined suddenly in New Brunswick. No more than 55 furs, and usually far fewer, were ever exported from the province in any one year after 1919, when 580 Lynx were trapped. Today Lynx are so few in New Brunswick, and so rarely encountered, that it is impossible to estimate how many individuals might roam our forests. The few animals that have been seen in New Brunswick in recent years have usually been accidentally snared in widely separated parts of the province.

Natural History

The Lynx can be confused with the Bobcat, a much more common forest mammal in New Brunswick. The two animals are similar in appearance but generally the Lynx is larger with longer legs, the ears are more pointed and tipped with a noticeable pencil of hairs, and the buffy grey coat is less distinctly spotted. The short tail of the Lynx has a complete black tip whereas the slightly longer tail of the bobcat has only a black spot on its upper surface, usually preceded by a series of black bands. Male Lynx, averaging 875 mm in length and 8 kg in weight, are about 5 % larger than females. Although excited naturalists and woodsmen have been known to mistake a Lynx or bobcat for the even more elusive cougar, the Cougar can be readily distinguished by its long tail, tawny colouration, and relatively short ears.

There have been no specific studies of Lynx in New Brunswick...

Although the Lynx is considered a shy creature of wilderness areas, it will occupy heavily wooded and swampy habitats a short distance from human settlement. An animal was accidentially snared near Hopewell Cape, Albert County, in southeastern New Brunswick in November of 1987. The few other recent New Brunswick records are from more remote northern parts of the province. Lynx do not appear to fare well when Bobcats or Coyotes become common. It is unclear whether this is the result of competition with these species or whether the presence of Bobcats and Coyotes indicate that habitat changes have occurred that do not favour the Lynx. Both the Bobcat and Coyote do well in semi-forested and agricultural habitats and the coyote has become a common mammal in New Brunswick in the past two decades.

There have been no specific studies of Lynx in New Brunswick so information about the biology of this cat must be gleaned from research carried out elsewhere. Lynx feed primarily on Snowshoe Hare. It has been well documented that Lynx populations rise and fall dramatically over a ten year cycle in response to the availability of this prey species. Densities of Lynx that have been estimated during studies have ranged from 2.3 to 20.0/100 km2, reflecting the cyclical nature of Lynx populations. Starvation following a severe decline in Snowshoe Hare numbers may be the principal cause of natural mortality in Lynx at certain periods. Trapping during these population downturns can even lead to the extermination of populations locally. Other small mammals up to the size of a fox or porcupine are also consumed, as well as ground birds, frogs and invertebrates . Occasionally Lynx also feed on fall-shot and winter-starved deer carrion.

...Lynx habitat includes a mosaic dominated by mature conifer and mature mixed woodland...

The Lynx is a solitary animal, far more active at night than in the day. Kills are made every night, or every other night, with 150 to 200 hares eaten each year. Although a ravenous cat will readily devour an entire hare in one meal, leftover portions are usually stored and eaten later. Although the Lynx is an excellent climber, and a passable swimmer, it can run quickly only over short distances. Like most cats the Lynx captures prey by stalking or ambush at close range, rather than pursuit.

In Cape Breton optimum Lynx habitat includes a mosaic dominated by mature conifer and mature mixed woodland, with areas of 20-year-old regenerating forest. The latter provides ideal habitat for Snowshoe Hare. Lynx usually seek shelter under a low branch, windfall or rocky ledge, and while at rest preen and lick their coats in typical cat-like fashion. Although active throughout the winter months, the Lynx will bed down in the snow under an evergreen branch or log during severe weather. Little is known about the social structure and territoriality of Lynx. Although it is known that home ranges often overlap, Lynx occupying these ranges rarely come in contact with each other. Available cover, season, and the numbers of Lynx and Snowshoe Hares in a region, all influence the size of the range occupied. Usually Lynx inhabit a home range of about 15 to 25 km2. Radio-collared Lynx have been documented to travel about 8 km daily, although distances of as much as 19 km have been recorded.

The kittens, usually two or three but occasionally as many as five, are born in April or May...

February and March mark the mating season for the Lynx. The female prepares for the birth of the young by constructing a nest, perhaps under a windfall or a natural rock overhang, or in a natural depression in the forest floor. The kittens, usually two or three but occasionally as many as five, are born in April or May following a gestation period of 60 to 63 days. At birth they measure no more than 185 mm in length and weigh up to 211 g. Their eyes open at 10 to 12 days. The kittens are far more brownish than the adults and are noticeably blotched on their upper parts. At the age of two months they begin to venture about with their mother. Most Lynx reach sexual maturity by their second breeding season but some animals may conceive as early as the age of nine months. The male plays no role in rearing the young, but the kittens will remain with the female at least until the fall. Frequently the female and her young will travel together until the onset of the next breeding season.

Helping Out

The creation of successional forest through harvesting and wildfires improves habitat for Snowshoe Hare, and ultimately for Lynx. However, Lynx also require tracts of mature conifer forest. Few of us will ever be fortunate enough to see one of these rare, largely nocturnal mammals in New Brunswick. Nonetheless, it is important that citizens support forest management programmes that emphasize the broad value of New Brunswick woodlands and which incorporate wildlife and wildlife habitat into cutting plans. This may be the only way to ensure that the Lynx will survive in New Brunswick into the future.

Those involved in fur harvesting in New Brunswick should ensure that they make every effort to avoid inadvertently taking Lynx. Particular care should be excercised when signs of Lynx are observed in an area. If necessary, seek advice from your provincial trapping association or biologists with the New Brunswick Fish and Wildlife Branch. Should you be fortunate enough to photograph a Lynx in New Brunswick or become aware of Lynx in an area, contact the Natural Sciences Division at the New Brunswick Museum. Information on rare and endangered species is stored there and you could help add to knowledge of the natural history of this endangered animal in New Brunswick.

Further Reading

Banfield, A.W.F. 1974. The mammals of Canada. National Museum of Natural Sciences, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 438 pp.

Parker, G.R., J.W. Maxwell, L.D. Morton, and G.E.J. Smith. 1983. The ecology of Lynx , Lynx canadensis, on Cape Breton Island. Canadian Journal of Zoology 61: 770-786.

Peterson, R.L., 1966. The mammals Of eastern Canada. Toronto, Oxford University Press, Toronto, 465 pp.