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The Wild Side of the DC Cat Count

The DC Cat Count is a collaborative three-year project aiming to estimate Washington DC’s total cat population and develop tools and protocols to help inform data-driven cat population management that can be applied to other communities.

Not familiar with the project? Learn more here.

Community cat at night captured on field camera

The camera survey portion of the project was designed to estimate the outdoor cat population, but we saw a lot of wildlife, too. The DC Cat Count collected one of the most extensive urban wildlife datasets ever created and was one of the first studies to sample across the entire urban landscape: forests, parks, alleys, yards, vacant lots, and everywhere in between!

This large-scale sampling effort led to a LOT of data. Over the course of three field seasons from 2018-2020, the DC Cat Count deployed 1,530 total cameras, took nearly 6 million photos, and detected a total of 33 species across the District.

Our most frequently detected species may not come as a surprise; this Top 10 list includes the domestic animals and wildlife that DC residents may be accustomed to seeing or hearing about and the number of camera detections:


Top 10: Most frequently detected species

  1. Domestic cat - 33,134
  2. Eastern grey squirrel - 31,979
  3. Domestic dog - 22,820
  4. Brown rat - 11,311
  5. White-tailed deer - 8,096
  6. Northern raccoon - 8,072
  7. Red fox - 2,787
  8. Virginia opossum - 2,407
  9. Eastern cottontail - 1,046
  10. Eastern chipmunk - 980

Animals photographed by the DC Cat Count camera traps


Bobcats, beavers, and otters, oh my! 

But, motion-activated camera traps are non-invasive and minimize the effects of human disturbance, which led to some notable observations of rare and/or elusive wildlife, too. Some of the wildlife that we detected were not even known to inhabit DC. The following species each accounted for fewer than 1% of our total observations.

Bobcat captured on DC Cat Count camera trap

Common Name: Bobcat
Species Name:
Lynx rufus
Total Detections:
1

Fun Fact: Apart from a bobcat escaping from its enclosure at the National Zoo in 2017, the DC Cat Count documented the first bobcat in DC. Bobcats have been reported in Loudoun County, Virgina, (about 25 miles outside the city), but tend to avoid heavily urbanized areas.


North American Otter image captured by DC Cat Count camera trap

Common Name: North American Otter
Species Name:
Lontra canadensis
Total Detections:
2

Fun Fact: DC Cat Count cameras documented an otter in the National Arboretum, where they had not been previously reported. Otters are an indicator species; their presence often points towards a healthy ecosystem and clean waterways. With the water quality of DC’s watershed slowly improving, otters may be able to make a comeback in the Anacostia River. See the full 2021 water quality report here.


Southern flying squirrel image captured by DC Cat Count camera trap

Common Name: Southern Flying Squirrel
Species Name: Glaucomys volans
Total Detections:
10

Fun Fact: Flying squirrels aren’t rare in the DC area, but they’re rarely seen by the human eye. Given their small size (about 3 ounces), nocturnal nature, and tendency to spend their time in tree canopies, they are an example of an elusive species. Our camera traps were a great way to confirm their presence.


Grey fox walking through DC photographed on a DC Cat Count camera trap

Common Name: Grey Fox
Species Name:
Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Total Detections:
35

Fun Fact: We only documented grey foxes on 4 out of our 1,530 cameras, and all of those cameras were in the same neighborhood. Unlike the relatively abundant red fox (#7 most detected animal in our survey), grey foxes are listed as a species of greatest conservation need in DC.


American beaver in DC photographed on a DC Cat Count camera trap

Common Name: American Beaver
Species Name:
Castor canadensis
Total Detections:
38

Fun Fact: Beavers used to be plentiful in the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers until they were hunted to near extinction as a part of the fur trade. While we didn’t see many of them on our cameras, their populations are stable again, and their presence has a lot of benefits for ecosystem health and biodiversity. 


Data generated from the DC Cat Count camera survey helps confirm what wildlife is present in the area, but can also contribute to a greater understanding of urban ecological processes, and how wildlife live and move in cities.

Interested in checking out more of our camera-trap photos and keeping up with the project? Find us on Instagram and Twitter: @dccatcount.

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Clear Fitler