The Bobcat is a medium sized cat with a body up to about 4 feet in length. It has a mottled brown to gray body with black bars on the forelegs and a short, black-tipped tail only about 4 to 8 inches in length. Males weigh around 20 pounds but may get up to 40 pounds. Females are smaller, averaging about 15 pounds. The face has a wide appearance due to flaring tufts of hair at the sides of the jaws.
This cat enjoys a wide distribution from southern Canada throughout the United States and into Mexico. It does not fare as well in snow as the Canadian lynx, which outcompetes it in the colder areas of central and northern Canada. Bobcats may be found in a variety of habitats. While they prefer forests, they may also inhabit desert scrublands, rocky mountainous terrain, swampy areas, and even venture into urban environments. Nightly travel covers from two to seven miles along familiar pathways. Males have larger home ranges than females and a male’s range may overlap somewhat with those of other males. The Bobcat is a solitary animal and will mark and attempt to defend a hunting territory, scratching trees and depositing urine and feces to mark its presence. Several female ranges may be included within the range of a single male.
Bobcats hunt primarily in the twilight hours before dawn and after dusk, a crepuscular activity pattern. Preferred prey are rabbits, though Bobcats will also opportunistically take birds and eggs, rodents and even insects. During winter, when prey are more active during the day, the Bobcat will alter its hunting period to include more daylight hours. Bobcats employ hunting techniques that vary depending upon the size of prey. For smaller mammals and birds, the cat may wait until the animal comes near then pounce upon it. For larger prey a Bobcat may stalk it and then attack when it is near enough for a capture. Occasionally, larger animals may be taken, such as foxes, raccoons, and young deer. Domestic animals and livestock may also fall prey to Bobcats. The cats are capable of going without food for days but will gorge themselves when food is available, also scavenging on the kills of other predators.
A male may mate with several females, but the female raises her litter of one to six young alone. Young kits open their eyes at about 10 days in the natal cave or other refuge site. They become active and exploratory at about a month of age and at two months are weaned. They follow the female in her travels after 3-5 months. The male doesn’t participate in rearing the kittens.
Bobcat populations normally vary in proportion to abundance of prey, availability of suitable denning sites and vegetative cover for refuge, and ability to avoid predators. Bobcats have few serious predators, but individuals may be killed by mountain lions and wolves, and coyotes may take Bobcat juveniles. Golden eagles, large owls, foxes, bears and other large predators may also occasionally prey on Bobcats or their kittens. Hunting and vehicle mortality also contribute to Bobcat mortality. Bobcats harbor internal and external parasites, which may sometimes reduce the vigor of an individual and lead to increased chance of mortality from predation or extreme weather. Longevity is in the neighborhood of 7-10 years, with the oldest recorded wild individual reaching 16 years of age.
Population numbers are generally stable, despite hunting and encroachment of human activities and development into previously wildland habitats. Though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species does not consider the Bobcat population to be endangered, hunting and trapping are closely monitored and managed by region where local populations may be in decline. Because their large home ranges make Bobcats sensitive to habitat fragmentation due to road construction and development, large contiguous undisturbed lands are required for Bobcat population viability, and to reduce human-Bobcat conflicts.