The Seldom Seen but Ubiquitous Bobcat

December 7, 2021

When I retrieved some of our video camera footage this week, I was pleased to see a lovely sleek bobcat walk past. It appeared to be stalking something up the creek. It has been a while since one of these wildcats has shown up on a camera, but pawprints along the roads tell me there are plenty of them in this valley. I have seen bobcats early in the morning stalking rodents in the pastures and heard them yowling in creek beds at dusk. One surprised me in the daylight chasing a rabbit out of some brush. I am not sure who was more shocked, the bobcat or myself, as it streaked past.

Every time I get the chance to see one of these elegant cats, I am struck by how wild they are, their expression not at all like a domestic cat, more like the look of a powerful and knowledgeable predator not to be trifled with.

The bobcat, Lynx rufus, is a medium sized member of the North American cat family and can weigh between 12 and 40 pounds, with females being smaller than the males. It has a short, bobbed tail with black or dark transverse bars and ears with large white dots on the upper back side. Each individual bobcat has a distinctive pattern of spots and stripes. This is unlike the Canada lynx, that has only spots. Lynxes are brownish to light gray overall and sometimes appear reddish.

Bobcats are found in every American state except Delaware and can be found in most habitats especially if there are brushy stands to hide in. Chapparal and riparian zones are their preferred territories. There are about 1 million bobcats in the United States, and as of January 2020 they can no longer be hunted or trapped for their pelts.

Bobcats are mostly carnivorous, preying upon rabbits, woodrats, squirrels, and gophers. They will also eat insects, fruit, grass, and amphibians. They are a key part of any healthy ecosystem, helping to maintain a biodiverse plant community by keeping rodents and other herbivores in check. The females maintain their own territory of 1 to 2 miles, only getting together with a male during mating season. Each year they have 1 to 8 kittens per litter depending on food availability.

Considering how many bobcats there are in our area they are seldom seen. I have heard about bobcats eating friends’ chickens during the day or possibly eating a domestic cat or two. For the most part they are elusive and stay out of human paths as much as possible. Having so many rodent issues around homesteads it’s good to know there are natural predators around. We are fortunate to have them in our valley.