Bobcats

Historically, Bobcats (Lynx rufus, named for their short tail) could be found across the 48 contiguous United States, Canada and Mexico. However, due to agriculture expansion and hunting for their fur, populations declined and became restricted in the Midwest U.S. and Central Mexico. 

In the 1970’s international laws were put into place to protect the world’s spotted cats; since then Bobcat populations have been rebounding.   

Today populations are stable and Bobcats are classified as a species of least concern everywhere except New Jersey and parts of Mexico; where they are listed as endangered. 

Did you know? There are seven species of native felines in North America and the Bobcat is the most common.

Two bobcats in their enclosure during rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center

Description

Bobcats are elusive, nocturnal, and rarely seen. They are a medium sized feline weighing between 10 and 35 pounds, averaging 3 feet in length, have a 5 inch tail, and males are larger than females. 

Their coat can be various shades of brown with varying patterns of dark brown spots and stripes. The back of their ears are black with white patches, their short tail has a black tip, and they have ruffs of hair on the side of their head which look like sideburns. 

Did you know? A Bobcat’s coat is like a fingerprint, it is unique to the individual and can be used to identify them.

Ecology

Habitat:
Bobcats have evolved to survive in a variety of habitats including forests, semi-deserts, mountains and bushland. Rocky cliffs and outcroppings are very important for shelter, raising young and resting sites.

Their adaptability has also allowed them to occupy, and be successful in, suburban settings. 

Dens:
Female Bobcats den in caves, rock piles, hollow trees, brush piles and abandoned beaver lodges. They carefully line the inside of their den with soft debris such as moss, dry leaves and grass formed into a small depression. 

A female will have several den sites while rearing her kittens; she constantly moves them to keep them safe from predators.

Did you know? Male Bobcat home ranges can be as large as 20 square miles. 

An image of a Bobcat kitten on arrival at PAWS Wildlife Center

Development and family structure

On average Bobcats give birth to three kittens typically between April and July, although they can give birth year round. Kittens are blind, helpless and weigh roughly half a pound when they are born. 

They emerge from the den when they are just over one month old and start accompanying the female on hunts at three months. They remain with her, learning how to hunt, until they disperse at eight months. 

Bobcats can live to be 12 years old in the wild.

Watch footage of two Bobcat kittens interacting in their enclosure at PAWS Wildlife Center during rehabilitation:

Can't see the video above? Try watching the Bobcats on Vimeo instead.

Foraging

Bobcats are carnivorous generalists and their diet varies seasonally. The majority of their diet consists of rabbit but they will also feed on deer, rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians, carrion, insects and eggs.  

They use sight and sound to hunt their prey and catch it by using a combination of stalking and ambushing. They cache leftover prey, covering it with debris, and will revisit the carcass until most of it is consumed.   

Did you know? In Washington, the majority of a Bobcat’s diet consists of Mountain Beaver.

An image of a Bobcat during rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center

Behavior

Bobcats are solitary except during the breeding season and when females are rearing kittens. 

There are three social classes of Bobcats; residents, transients and kittens. Residents are adults that generally reside in a single home range, transients are yearlings who are dispersing, and kittens are individuals still under maternal care.

Bobcats rarely vocalize but they can produce loud growls and snarls. During the mating seasons screams and hisses can be heard.

Bobcats are very territorial. Females never share their territory with each other but male territories will overlap with several females. They establish their territories with scent markings.

Did you know? Bobcats are excellent swimmers and tree climbers.

An image of a Bobcat, released after rehabilitation at PAWS Wildlife Center

Living with Bobcats

Bobcats are not often responsible for killing domestic animals and typically use wild animals as prey items. However occasionally they are responsible for losses of poultry, lambs, small goats, pigs and house cats.

In areas with high bobcat activity, use the following tactics to deter them from making an impact. 

Clean up under bird feeders:
If you have bird feeders in your yard clean up any excess food that falls from the feeders to the ground to prevent it from building up. The buildup of food will attract small mammals which in turn can attract bobcats. 

Secure poultry and livestock:
Keep poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks) in a secure outdoor pen with well fitted doors. Enclose outdoor pens with 1 inch chicken wire placed over a sturdy wooden frame. Be sure to overlap and securely wire seams on top to prevent bobcats from forcing their way in. Keep poultry securely locked up at night. 

Keep livestock and small animals confined in secure pens from dusk to dawn. During the birthing season keep young and vulnerable animals secure at all times. Remove any sick or injured animals immediately.

Install predator guards on trees in areas where bobcats could use them to gain access to your poultry and other animals. Be sure the guard is at least 6 feet high.

Secure domestic pets:
It is best not to feed your pets outdoors; if you have no choice be sure to pick up any leftover food, clean up any spilled food, and bring in water and food bowls at night. Keep your pets indoors from dawn to dusk, when bobcats are most active.    

If you take your pets outside at night be sure they are on a leash.

Fencing:
Relying on fencing alone to keep Bobcats away will not work. Bobcats are excellent climbers and can jump fences that are over 6 feet tall. Use woven wire or a hot wire overhead to keep them from scaling or jumping your fence.

Watch footage below of Bobcat patients at PAWS Wildlife Center being released back to the wild in May 2015.

Can't see the video above? Try watching it on our Vimeo channel instead.

References

Animal Diversity Web. February 19, 2015. Lynx rufus, bobcat.

Burke Museum. February 19, 2015. Mammals of Washington: Bobcat. 

Feldhamer G.A., Thompson B.C. & Chapman J.A. (Eds). (2003). Wild Mammals of North America, Biology, Management, and Conservation (2nd ed.). Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. February 17, 2015. Living with Wildlife: Bobcats.

Images & video: Copyright PAWS 2015