Last night we heard chirping. Loud chirping we’ve never heard before in all our time living in the mountains. Loud enough to hear over the TV and over the fans as they worked toward cooling down the house. My husband muted the TV and turned off the fan. Sure enough, something was chirping out there. But what?
We’ve seen and heard all manner of critters while hunting, while at home, and on hikes. Deer and elk are commonplace. Pronghorn, no big deal. Snakes, toads, newts, salamanders, skinks, marmots, picas, squirrels, rabbit, prairie dogs, owls, birds of all kind, diurnal raptors, you name it. Bobcat, black bear, coyotes, lynx, fox (both red and gray), bobcat, moose, and mountain lions. I even swear I’ve heard wolves howl. I’ve owned wolf hybrids in the past. So, we’re not exactly new at this and we’ve had some interesting interactions when it comes to critters.
This chirping bothered me. We went down the list of possible culprits. None seemed obvious. We thought about raptors like hawks and eagles, but it was way too late and the chirps didn’t match anything either of us knew.
It was late and time for me to milk. Something in the back of my mind told me to look up mountain lion. I did a search on “mountain lion vocalizations” and found an article from the Missouri Department of Conservation. Suddenly, I had a bad feeling when it mentioned that mountain lions sound like a bird chirping.
For years I lived in the mountains and had to deal with mountain lions all the time. As a musher, I was constantly worried about my dogs because we had five mountain lions in our valley. These cats were so pressured with humans and each other that we always heard their territorial calls and their mating screams. Never chirps.
I searched again, this time for mountain lion chirps. I found a YouTube video and by golly, that’s what we heard. I told my husband I wasn’t going to milk in the dark with a cat prowling around. We’ve had encounters with them at our place before. We’ve actually been hissed at by one and even heard the territorial calls when they went to visit some of my neighbors.
Counted noses this morning and all were here. It’s dry now, so there’s no way to track a cat. I may have to switch to milking in the daytime. Mountain lions aren’t as reclusive as people like to think. They’re sneaky, yes, but they do come visit from time to time. And they are dangerous so I'll have to keep an extra vigilant eye on my livestock.
Maggie Bonham is a multiple award-winning author of more than 30 books and the publisher of Sky Warrior Books. You can check out her blog Eating Wild Montana about her adventures with hunting, raising, and growing her own food in Montana.