Silent Hunters


Mountain Lion, National Geographic Photo

Cougar, Mountain Lion, Panther, Puma…listed in dictionaries under more names than any other animal in the world.  “It is the ultimate loner, a renegade presence in the wildest canyons and wildest mountains, the sign of everything that is remote from us, everything we have not spoiled,” The Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary.  America’s lion has roamed throughout the Americas for at least 50,000 years.

Native to Oregon, the state is home to more than 5,500 cougars. Males can have home territories of 200 square miles.  Only a few cats can survive in a 30-square-mile range.  While cougar sightings and encounters are rare, it is wise to educate yourself about the big cats.

Cougars are the 4th largest of the big cats.  A cougar can be identified by its large size, cat-like appearance, consistent tan or tawny body color, and long tail. An adult cougar’s tail is nearly three feet long and a third to a half of its total length. Males can weigh up to 260 lbs.  Females are smaller and can weigh up to 90 lbs.  They can run up to 50 MPH, they can jump over 30 feet long or 18 feet straight up, they are good climbers and can swim if necessary.  Most active at dawn and dusk, cougars are lone hunters.  Cougars are carnivores, they hunt by stealth, and they require eight to ten pounds of meat per day.  Their primary food source is deer, but they will eat elk and smaller animals like raccoons, coyotes, porcupines and other mammals.

Mother Cougar and Cub, photo credit Mountain Lion Foundation

Females have one litter, up to six cubs, per year.  Baby kittens are completely dependent on their mother when they are born.  Mama cougars are fiercely protective of her cubs.  Cubs are born with spots and blue eyes.  The spots add camouflage from predators; these fade within about six months.  They grow quickly.  A kitten can survive on it’s own by six months but that is rare.  Typically they will stay with her for twelve to eighteen months.  Cougars can live up to approximately ten years in the wild.

If you ever wonder why we don’t see Cougars more often, these big cats can sleep twenty hours a day.  While actual cougar sightings have increased, coyotes, bobcats and dogs are often mistaken for cougars. If you are in an area where cougars have been spotted, it will be posted.  You can look for signs that a cougar has been there by looking for scat (droppings) or tracks.  Cat tracks are round and typically lack claw marks.  Males will leave scrapes (or scratches).  Cougars do not roar, they scream or “caterwaul” (a shrill howling).  They are the largest cat that can still purr.

mountain lion track
Mountain Lion track

Living or playing in Cougar Country…

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times; especially if you are sitting quietly.
  • Be especially alert at dawn and dusk when they are more likely to be active.
  • Leave your dog at home or keep it on leash.
  • Hike in groups and let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Make noise to alert wildlife to your presence.
  • Keep children and pets close to you.
  • Keep campsites clean.  Sleep 100 yards from cooking areas.
  • Store food in animal-proof containers.
  • Do not approach or feed wildlife.  Prey attracts predators. Avoid baby wildlife.
  • Be aware that animal calls and whistles can attract a cougar.

If you encounter a cougar, stay calm and stand your ground.  Cougars often will retreat if given the opportunity. Leave the animal a way to escape.  Maintain direct eye contact, back away slowly.  If the cat acts aggressively, make yourself look big by raising your arms and yelling.  Do not show fear, crouch down, turn your back, or run.  If attacked, fight back.  Report all attacks to 9-1-1 as soon as possible.


Fur Identification Challenge

Several years ago we brought you the feather identification challenge and it continues to be one of the most popular blog articles we’ve posted.  So… for those of you up to the challenge, lets see who knows their fur:

beaver fur

coyote fur

racoon fur

mule deer fur


bobcat fur


Here are your only hints:

All of these mammals can be seen at the Cove.

#1 is related to the porcupine

#2, and 3 are commonly seen near campgrounds

#4 is from the Cervidae Family

#5 is rarely seen but lives here

Post your answers in the comments section and check back in one week for the answers!! Good luck and thanks for playing!! 🙂

What Is The Cove Made Of?

David Pearson VEA 2015
Notice the straight line of rimrock behind David’s head.

David Pearson, Visitor Experience Assistant, has a passion for geology and has been sharing The Cove’s volcanic past with campers this summer.  For those of you who can’t come to David’s evening campfire programs, here is just a glimpse of what The Cove is made of…

The Geology of where the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius rivers meet is fascinating indeed. When in these canyons, one can’t help but notice the different layers in the walls and wonder how they formed. The geologic history of the area goes back 50 million years. However, most of what we are able to see within the cannon walls dates back about 10-12 million years ago. There are three prominent formations that stick out; the Deschutes Formation, the Rimrock Basalt and the Intracanyon Basalt. The oldest of the three is the Deschutes Formation. This is the softer lighter layers in most cases, but it can also be dark grey. In it we see layers of ash, pumice, sandstone and river stone conglomerates. The Rimrock Basalt covers most of the very top of all the layers except “The Island” and the bench that the Crooked River Campground is on. Round Butte to the north of the park contributed greatly to the Rimrock Basalt. The average distance between the Rimrock and the water is between 600 – 800 feet.  Notice that the height of the Island is about 200ft lower in elevation than the rest of the canyon walls. That is because these were formed by the Intracanyon Basalt flows that happened after the Rimrock flows in areas of the canyon that had already eroded. As many as 15 different Intracanyon flows happened in rapid succession. These traveled all the way from the Newberry Crater area and started to cool by the time they came in the vicinity of the modern Round Butte Dam. As the lava cooled it created a natural dam and back flowed several miles up the Crooked and Deschutes rivers. The Island is composed entirely from Intracanyon basalt. It is the columnar jointing (or palisades) on the Island that inspired the name for the park. The basin that The Cove Palisades lies in has throughout its geologic history been covered by lava, water and ash. The relentless force of these rivers has repeatedly eroded all this ash and lava and carved out the beautiful canyons we see today. If you take a moment you can read the walls and take a trip back in time.

DSC_0074On the left notice the softer lighter layers of the Deschutes Formation. This had already begun to erode significantly by the time of the Intracanyon Basalt follows that we see on the right.