Bobcats

Overview

Bobcat - Photo by: Robert Potts

Figure 1: Photo Credit - Robert Potts

Bobcats (Lynx rufus), which are rare in northwestern sections of Maine due to long winters and deep show, are common throughout the rest of Maine. They are reclusive animals and are rarely observed in the wild, although they appear to be habituating to urban and suburban settings. Deep snow will force bobcats closer to towns and residences in search of accessible food, causing an increase in bobcat sightings and complaints.

Adult male bobcats weigh 20 to 30 pounds and average three feet in length. (Fig. 1) Females are considerably smaller. Bobcats can be various shades of buff and brown, with dark brown or black stripes and spots on some parts of the body. The tip of the tail is black on top and white underneath. These cats have short ear tufts; the ruffs of hair on the side of the head give the appearance of sideburns.

Lynx and bobcats are not easy to distinguish.

The tail is the best point of comparison. The tip of a bobcat's tail is black on top and white beneath; a lynx's tail is completely black tipped. The feet of a bobcat are noticeably smaller than those of a lynx. In addition, bobcats have shorter ear tufts and a less uniform coat color than a lynx.

Finding Bobcats in Open Areas is Not Uncommon

Figure 2

Lynx Have Larger Feet That Help Deal With Snow

Figure 3

Facts about Bobcats

Habitat and Home Range

  • Bobcats use all of the habitats that are found throughout their range in Maine, from agricultural areas to dense woods.
  • Rock cliffs, outcroppings, and ledges are important to bobcats for shelter, raising young, and resting sites. Large brush or log piles and hollow trees or logs are used in wooded areas.
  • Finding bobcats in open fields, meadows and agricultural areas is not uncommon, provided enough brushy or timbered areas for escape cover is nearby. (Fig. 2)
  • Bobcats occur less frequently in areas of deep winter snow. Unlike lynx (Fig. 3), bobcats have relatively small feet so snow greatly reduces their mobility and ability to catch prey.
  • Home range size of bobcats in Maine varies from about 36 square miles for adult males and about 18 square miles for adult females.

Food and Feeding Habits

Bobcat Stalking Prey - Photo by: Peggy Faranda

Figure 4: Photo Credit - Peggy Faranda

  • Bobcats are opportunistic and will prey upon a wide variety of animals.
  • Food sources include mice, voles, rabbits, woodchucks, beaver, deer (full grown and fawns) and turkeys. They also feed upon insects, reptiles, small birds, and carrion.
  • Bobcats will occasionally take house cats, poultry, small pigs, and lambs. To discourage predation of domestic animals, follow the suggestions under "Preventing Conflicts."
  • Bobcats hunt primarily by sight and sound, which means they spend much of their time sitting or crouching, watching, and listening. Once they've located prey, they stalk until they are close enough to make a quick dash, then attack.
  • A bobcat will often cover, or cache, the remains of a large kill with snow, grass, or leaves, revisiting the carcass until most of it is consumed.

Once bobcats have located prey, they stalk within range of a quick dash and then pounce. (Fig. 4)

Reproduction and Family Structure

  • Bobcats are solitary animals. Males and females only associate for the brief time required for courtship and mating, usually in late February to late March.
  • A litter of one to five kittens is usually born in May on a day-bed located in thick vegetation to deter predators.
  • Young bobcats leave the family group as early as eight months, but often stay with their mother until their first birthday.
  • Bobcats can breed with other felines. There are records of male bobcats mating with female domestic cats. Some of the resultant hybrid offspring showed classic bobcat characteristics. There has also been recent genetic documentation of breeding between bobcats and lynx.

Mortality and Longevity

  • Bobcats have been known to live up to 12 years in the wild, but the average life expectancy is probably closer to three to four years. In captivity, they may live 25 years.
  • Few predators other than fisher and humans are able to kill an adult bobcat.
  • Adult bobcats may receive fatal or debilitating injuries from prey animals.
  • Eagles, great horned owls, coyotes, foxes, bears, and adult male bobcats are known to kill young bobcats.

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Lynx: Maine's Other Wild Feline

There are approximately 1000 adult lynx (Lynx canadensis) in Maine. They frequent the young spruce and fir stands in remote northern and western boreal forest parts of the state; they are unlikely to be seen in southern or central Maine. They prey on snowshoe hare but also take other mammals, birds and carrion. Lynx have large feet and long legs that give them a competitive advantage in deep snow when compared to bobcats and other carnivores that might otherwise compete for habitat and prey.

Figure 5: Photo Credit - Gerald and Buff Corsi

Until 1967, lynx were trapped and hunted as furbearers. As a result of an apparent population decline, Maine's legislature closed the season. It now seems clear that the lynx population in this state could not sustain perennial exploitation due to the fragmented nature of boreal habitats, low density of snowshoe hares, and variable quality of habitat through time. Concerns about the persistence of Maine's lynx population prompted its listing as a species of special concern in 1997. In April of 2000, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) listed it as a Threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Bobcats and lynx do not vary significantly in weight, although bobcats appear smaller because they have noticeably shorter legs. The feet and the tail are the best features to use when comparing the two species. Bobcats have smaller feet and the tail is not completely black-tipped – it is white underneath. Both animals have tufts of black hairs at the tops of their ears, but those of the bobcat are significantly smaller. A bobcat's tail (ranging from five to eight inches and averaging six and a half inches) is two inches longer than that of the lynx. Bobcats have two other distinguishing features: Their hind legs are much darker (dark brown to almost black) than any other part of their body and the backs of their ears have black rims with a white spot in the center. (Fig. 5)

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Viewing Bobcats

In undisturbed areas, bobcats hunt at dawn or dusk if prey is available, but they can be active any time of day. These cats typically limit their activity in areas occupied by humans to evening hours. (In dim light, bobcats see up to six times better than humans) People rarely see bobcats because of the animal's elusive nature and caution around humans.

Bobcats travel in predictable patterns along logging roads, snowmobile trails, and trails made by other animals to move between resting, food, and hunting areas. Evidence of a bobcat's presence may include tracks in snow or mud, droppings, signs of feeding, and claw marks on tree trunks.

Tracks

Figure 6

The print is easily distinguished (Fig. 6). It is generally twice the size of a domestic cat's print and loosely resembles that of a coyote or dog but is more rounded and lacks visible toe nails. There are four toes. At greater speeds the toes of the front foot spread more easily than those of the hind foot, which has a smaller ball pad. Fine, muddy silt leaves the clearest tracks. Although similar in appearance to other cat tracks, bobcat tracks (at about two inches in diameter) are considerably smaller than those of cougar or lynx and twice the size of house cats. Members of the dog family leave claw marks; felines do not.

Droppings

Bobcat Droppings - Photo by: Russel Link

Figure 7: Photo Credit - Russell Link

Bobcats generally cover their droppings with loose soil, snow, leaves or other material. (Fig. 7)

Bobcat droppings typically resemble those of most species in the dog and cat families, though like other members of the cat family, their scat has blunt ends and more constricted segments.

Feeding areas (caches)

Bobcats will eat from the carcass of a large mammal, covering the carcass and frequently returning to feed on it. As it is smaller than a cougar, a bobcat only reaches out 15 inches to rake up debris to cover the food cache. These marks, and the bobcat's much smaller tracks, help distinguish between bobcat, lynx, and cougar caches.

Scratching posts

Black Bear Markings - Courtesy of: Virtual Dirt Time

Figure 8: Photo Credit - VDT

Like domestic house cats that scratch furniture, bobcats mark their territory boundaries by leaving claw marks on trees, stumps, and occasionally fence posts. (Fig. 8 from Virtual Dirt Time) Bobcat scratches are normally two to three feet above the ground, while domestic cat scratches are about one and a half to two above the ground.

Calls

Although bobcats rarely vocalize, they yowl and hiss during the mating season, especially when males are competing for a receptive female. These wails have been likened to a child crying, a woman screaming, or someone screeching in terrible pain.

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Preventing Conflicts

It is probably rare for bobcats to kill domestic animals, and the act would generally be a random and one-time event. Should there be a pattern, however, homeowners can use some management strategies to minimize conflicts:

Don't feed wildlife.

Feeding wild animals – deer, domestic cats gone wild, and other mammals draws not only those animals but also predators: Predators follow prey.

Prevent the buildup of bird seed, suet, and other feeder foods under bird feeders.

Bobcats are attracted to the many birds and rodents that come to feeders.

Feed dogs and cats indoors and clean up after them.

Clean up after pets if you feed outside. If you must feed outside, do so in the morning or midday. Pick up food and water bowls, leftovers, and spilled food as soon as pets have finished eating. Water, pet food and droppings attract small mammals that may, in turn, attract bobcats.

Keep dogs and cats indoors, especially from dusk to dawn.

Small dogs and cats that are left outside may become prey for bobcats, which have been documented attacking dogs up to cocker-spaniel in size.

Enclose poultry (chickens, ducks, and turkeys) in a secure outdoor pen and house:

Bobcats may eat poultry if these animals are available.

Note: Other predators, including coyotes, foxes, skunks, raccoons, feral cats, dogs, opossums, weasels, hawks, and large owls will also kill poultry.

To prevent bobcats from accessing birds in their night roosts, equip poultry houses with well-fitted doors.

To prevent access during the day, enclose outdoor pens completely with one-inch chicken wire placed over a sturdy wooden framework. Overlap and securely wire all seams on top to prevent bobcats from forcing their way in by using their weight and claws.

Bobcats can climb, so wooden fence posts or nearby structures can give the animal access to a pen.

Bobcats also have the ability to jump fences six feet or more in height. Use woven wire or a hot wire overhead if necessary. (Fig. 9)

Use an electric fence to help control bobcats in unwanted areas - Drawing by: Jenifer Rees

Figure 9: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Install predator guards where bobcats can climb trees to gain access into areas - Drawing by: Jenifer Rees

Figure 10: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Install two electrified wires, 12 and 18 inches above ground, on existing fence posts, poultry pen supports, and other structures using the proper insulators. A single strand of wire may be sufficient, but two wires will provide added insurance against an animal climbing. Run one or two electrified wires near the top of the fence to prevent bobcats from entering the pen if they jump the lower hot wires and make the climb. Electric fence can be purchased from the USDA Wildlife Service office on a payment plan. (Fig. 9)

Install a predator guard in areas where bobcats can climb a tree to gain access to poultry or other animals. Make sure that the guard is at least six feet height. (Fig. 10)

Keep livestock and small animals that live outdoors confined in secure pens during periods of vulnerability.

All animals should be confined from dusk to dawn. During birthing season, keep young and vulnerable animals confined at all times. Do not use remote pastures or holding areas, especially when there has been a recent predator attack. Remove any sick and injured animals immediately. Ensure that young animals have a healthy diet so that they are strong and less vulnerable to predators. Temporary or portable fencing keeps livestock together so that they can be guarded more effectively.

Livestock producers have discovered that scare devices, such as bright lights, motion detectors connected to recordings of barking dogs, or radios will deter bobcats. Over time, however, the animals can become accustomed to these devices, which then become less of a deterrent.

For a large property with livestock, consider using a guard animal.

Specialty breeds of dogs can defend livestock, as can donkeys and llamas. As with any guard animal, pros and cons exist. Consult a reputable breeder who knows the animal will be used to guard livestock. Some breeders offer guarantees, including a replacement if an animal fails to perform as expected.

Do not use repellents, fumigants, or toxicants. None of these chemicals is currently registered for bobcats.

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Trapping

During the season, bobcats can be trapped by a licensed trapper. For information on trapping regulations and season dates, see the current trapping information booklet (available at all regional offices and online) published by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Trapping and relocating a bobcat seems an appealing method of resolving people/wildlife conflicts because the strategy is seen as giving the "problem animal" a second chance in a new home. Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is quite different. Bobcats typically try to return to their original territory, often getting hit by a car or killed by a predator in the process. If they remain in the new area and that area already has an adequate bobcat population, they may get into lethal fights with resident animals. Even if the offending animal does not return, another bobcat could cause similar conflicts. The more effective strategy is to make the site less attractive to an animal.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) offices receive hundreds of reports of bobcat and other wildlife sightings each year. Due to time constraints, game wardens will only respond on-site when there is a threat to public safety. Department staff have found the above recommendations for securing or removing food attractants to be most effective and timely in resolving conflicts with most wildlife including bobcats.

When necessary, MDIFW will call on the help of private, authorized contractors who have skills and training in the capture and handling of wildlife species, including bobcats. Typically these individuals are referred to as ADC (Animal Damage Control) agents or simply "trappers." There are approximately 180 ADC agents in Maine. Although these individuals must be authorized through MDIFW and conform to the department's regulations, they are not state employees. Instead, they operate as private enterprises and set their own fees. Contact your MDIFW Regional Office for names of companies or individuals that specialize in wildlife control work in your area. Some companies may also be listed under "Pest Control" in the phone directory. Be sure to confirm that the company is an authorized ADC agent.

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Legal Status

Bobcats are classified as big game animals. A hunting license and an open season are required to hunt them.

If a bobcat is causing damage or is a nuisance, consult Maine's laws on this subject.

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Additional Information

Books

New England Wildlife, Habitat, Natural History, and Distribution
Written by: Richard DeGraff, and Mariko Yamasaki
University Press of New England, 2001.
(Available from: www.upne.com)

Internet Resources

Adapted from: "Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest"
(see Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Written by: Russell Link, Wildlife Biologist, Email Russel Link, with assistance from WDFW Biologists Rich Beausoleil and Rocky Spencer

Design and layout: Peggy Ushakoff, ITT2

Illustrations: As credited

Copyright 2007 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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