Bobcats are the most widely distributed wild cat in North America and live all along the west coast from California north to British Columbia. Anywhere there is sufficient prey, dense cover for safety, protection from severe weather, rest areas, and den sites, they will thrive, even in our urban environments. The average lifespan is 10-12 years.
They are crepuscular (active during twilight to midnight, and again before dawn to a few hours after sunrise), solitary and territorial and not often seen. The male’s territory is twice the size of the females and may be about 3 square miles. The territory size is governed by availability of food, mates, rest areas, and population density.
Just like your housecat, bobcats are obligate carnivores. Their diet includes rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice, opossums, raccoons, quail, assorted small songbirds, reptiles and surprisingly even a deer. They will also dine on carrion (road kill). Bobcats are very adaptable.
They are lithe and supple, with legs that allow them to climb, pounce and give rapid acceleration. This cat has excellent hearing, vision and a good sense of smell. Like your housecat, the bobcat uses his whiskers to “feel” for prey in complete darkness. If a bobcat is in a rodent burrow, the whiskers will feel the mouse and instantly react as fast as a mousetrap.
Bobcats are one and a half to two times the size of a domestic cat. They average about 36” from nose to tail, and 14-15” from ground to shoulder. Males average about 20 pounds and females average about 15 pounds.
Their common name stems from their shortened tail – a bobbed tail – which may be as long as 6 inches. It is light in color on the underside and has bold bands on the top. Colors of bobcat’s fur can be grayish brown, tawny, or dark reddish brown and always lighter on the underside. Their scientific name, felis “rufus”, comes from the brown color of their fur. They also have black streaks on the body, and the front legs and tail have dark bars and spots. Along with their bobbed tail, the black-tipped pointed ears with black tufts are easy identification marks.
Mating season is generally around December through February. Gestation takes about 60 days and litter size is 2-4 kittens. The kittens will be born in a den, usually a den abandoned by another mammal, and the mother will stay in and very close to the den for their first few months. The kittens are born with fur and already have spots.
Bobcats are extremely adaptable and are common in our area. If you should see a bobcat, keep as much distance as possible between you and it. Even though they look like just a large housecat, keep your children and pets away from them. Back away slowly, deliberately, and avoid running away as that may encourage them to pursue you. If necessary, spray them with water or make lot of noise (banging pans, air horn) to scare them away.
If you are tracking wild animals, or find tracks on your property, you can identify bobcat tracks by their two-inch diameter tracks with a heel pad, four toes and no claw marks. The trail will be narrow since their hind feet will land directly on top of the prints of their forefeet giving the impression of a two-footed animal.
Tri County Wildlife Care, a local nonprofit started in 1994, is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of our native wildlife and helping our community live in balance with wildlife. They envision a world where wildlife and people thrive together. For more information call (209) 283-3245, or visit pawspartners.org.