Mountain lion takes a backyard stroll in Duluth

Published 4:47 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

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By  Tim Nelson

Nathaniel Smith is accustomed to large carnivores in his yard in Duluth’s Kenwood neighborhood. He’s had to put his bird feeders on 12-foot poles to keep hungry bears away.

So when the camera outside is house pinged about 3 a.m. on Monday, he figured another neighborhood bruin was checking out his bird buffet.

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“I heard a noise about 3 a.m. and the Nest app on my phone said it saw a person in the back yard. And it’s never right when it says it saw a person in the back yard at 3 a.m.,” Smith said in an interview with MPR News. “I thought, that will be cool. I like seeing bears.”

It was not a bear.

“I opened up the app, and there was a strange animal there, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a mountain lion,’” he said.

The video shows the big cat crossing his back yard slowly at first, then suddenly darting between the grill and the patio furniture just behind his house. The camera recorded a noise that apparently startled the cat. Smith suspects it was why the lion was there in the first place.

“There’s an apple tree, just out of the frame. There was a deer eating out of the apple tree, and what people have told me is that noise was probably the deer — like an alarm snort from the deer. Once the mountain lion knows he’s been spotted, then he goes for it.”

The deer isn’t visible in the video Smith posted online, but he believes the deer escaped the lion’s clutches: “I went out in the morning, looked to see if there were any signs that the mountain lion had won, but the deer must have gotten away.”

Smith, a business analyst who lives alone and doesn’t have any pets, said he isn’t worried that the big cat will return to try its luck on two-legged prey, although he did message his neighbors and warned them that they might want to use caution with their own pets.

Smith’s neighborhood is atop the hill in Duluth, near the University of Minnesota Duluth and College of St. Scholastica campuses, with Hartley Nature Center very nearby.

There are also creeks in the neighborhood, a common feature of terrain where mountain lions are spotted in Minnesota.

Mountain lion sightings are not unusual in Minnesota, from the North Shore to even around Rochester. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has even given the cats their own web page.

The agency also has a map of verified sightings, although it hasn’t been updated in 16 months.