Of all the wildlife that calls the Adirondacks home, one of the most charismatic and elusive is the bobcat. Named for its relatively short or “bobbed” tail, the bobcat is a medium-sized felid in the genus Lynx. Males are typically larger than females, weighing 15 to 40lbs while females are between 8 and 33lbs. Their pelage, or fur, is short and dense with varying coloration. Coat color ranges from yellowish, to reddish brown, with black or dark brown streaks or spots, with a lighter, whitish underside. Bobcats also have notable black ear tufts, ruffs of fur on either side of the face, and distinct white spots on the back of the ears.
Commonly confused with their larger relatives, the American lynx, there are minute differences between the two species. First, the bobcat has a relatively longer tail and relatively shorter ear tufts. Also, the tip of the tail (the top 6 inches) is black on top and white on the bottom, whereas the tip of a lynx tail is completely black.
Historically, bobcats ranged throughout all of the lower 48 states, southern Canada, and northern Mexico. Its population has been drastically reduced in the Mississippi valley, Ohio valley, and southern Great Lakes region. Bobcats are known to occur in nearly every habitat throughout their range. Adaptations such as large paws with dense fur which act like snowshoes and webbing between the toes, ideal for swimming, allow for this wide variety of habitat selection. Native to forests, swamps, deserts, and mountains, they are the most widely distributed cat in North America. Home range choice typically depends on food availability. Bobcats are primarily nocturnal hunters, however they can be active at all times of the day. They mainly prey on small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels, rats, and mice, however because they are opportunistic hunters, they will also eat insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians.
Bobcats are extremely territorial and solitary animals. Females will establish territories of about 5 square miles, while males have larger territories, around twice the size, which overlap with more than one female’s territory. These areas are maintained by scent marking with urine, scat, or secretions from anal glands. Females will create several dens in hollow logs or trees, brush piles or old beaver dams, for raising young. Bobcats breed during the winter months, and immediately after breeding, the male and female separate. About two and a half months after breeding, the female has 1 to 4 young, which will be raised solely by the female until they are left on their own the following fall. The young bobcats may remain together for the winter months to increase chances of survival but soon become solitary with their own established territories. The solitary lifestyle of bobcats reduces the chances of large die-offs from disease or parasites.The main threat to the population is human disturbance, hunting and trapping. The bobcat is currently listed as a species of least concern on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. In 1973, a group of 75 countries created and signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty which banned the illegal trading of pelts of large endangered cats. Although not endangered at the time, the bobcat was included on the list due to the potential threat of pelts being harvested to replace those which were banned. There is an open season for hunting and trapping bobcats in New York State, although harvest numbers have gone down due to a decline in pelt prices since the 1970’s. The state still monitors the population using a “sighting index” to ensure that the population remains stable.
Wondering if there’s a bobcat in your backyard?
Due to their elusive nature, it is easiest to detect bobcats through signs. Tracks of the bobcat are slightly larger than a silver dollar, with two lobes at the front of the pad, and four toe prints. Although there are 5 toes on the front paws, only 4 will appear in the track because the fifth toe is slightly raised. The track can be distinguished from a dog, coyote, or wolf because it will lack claw marks, since like most felids, bobcats have sharp retractable claws. Traces of bobcats can also be seen on trees where claw marks indicate their territory. Scat is more difficult to use in detecting a bobcat since they cover up their scat to remove evidence of their presence.
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Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center
Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 555, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
Cell Phones: 914-715-7620 or 914-772-5983
Office Phone: 518-946-2428
Email us: info@AdirondackWildlife.org