Bobcat Lynx rufus (Felis rufus)
Adult male bobcat in Bow, NH; photo courtesy of Diane Lowe.
The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is a yellowish-brown or reddish-brown (more gray in winter) color with indistinct dark spotting and streaks along its body. The species gets its common name from its characteristic stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The tail is only 4-7 inches in length with 2 or 3 black bars and a black tip above, while the underside is pale or white. Their upper legs have dark horizontal bands. The face has thin, black lines stretching onto broad cheek ruff and their ears are tufted. Males are larger than females and bobcats stand 19-22 inches at the shoulder and 28-49 inches in length on average. They typically weigh between 15-35 pounds.
New Hampshire Fish & Game partnered with the University of New Hampshire initiating a comprehensive bobcat study with on the ground work starting in the fall of 2009. Distribution, population abundance, habitat use, habitat connectivity, and methods to index populations were studied. This comprehensive research project was completed December 2014 and has provided a wealth of knowledge about bobcats in New Hampshire. More information, including Theses, can be found at the following website: http://mlitvaitis.unh.edu/Research/BobcatWeb/bobcats.htm. Wildlife research in New Hampshire is funded in part by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.
Range and Distribution
Bobcats are distributed from coast to coast in the US and from southern Canada to Mexico. Commonly confused with the Canada lynx, which is not known to breed in NH, the bobcat shares an overlapping historic range with its neighbor species in northern US and southern Canadian regions. Bobcat populations have expanded their range and population throughout the United States over the last decade. Bobcat populations are found throughout New England. Rhode Island is considered to have a lowest population. In New Hampshire, bobcats are thought to have had a historic presence in the southwest corner of the state. Sighting data and roadkill losses indicate that bobcats now reside in all New Hampshire counties. Based on observation reports, bobcat numbers appear to have increased in New Hampshire over the last 20 years.
Habits and Habitat
Bobcats live in scrubby or broken forests (hardwood, coniferous or mixed), swamps, farmland, semi-deserts, scrubland, and rocky or bushy arid lands. Their home ranges vary in size depending on sex, season and prey distribution and abundance. Bobcats mark their territory with urine, feces, anal gland scent, and scrapes on physical markers, such as trees. Individuals have one natal den and other auxiliary dens for protection located throughout their home ranges. Dens can be found in caves, hollow logs, brush piles, rock ledges, or stumps.
Bobcats are predators that usually follow consistent hunting paths to prey on snowshoe hares and cottontails. However, their diet also includes mice, squirrels, woodchucks, moles, shrews, raccoons, foxes, domestic cats, grouse and other birds, reptiles, porcupines and skunks. The bobcat is capable of fasting during periods of limited food availability, but will occasionally kill large prey, such as deer and livestock, during harsh conditions.
Bobcats are solitary except during mating periods. Males are sexually active year-round, but females are typically only in heat in February and March. A female and dominant male may mate several times after a series of “chases,” but the female may also mate with other males in his absence. Bobcats have a gestation period of 2 months and females give birth to a litter between late April and early May. Litters can range from 1-7 young, but are usually only 2 or 3. The young begin exploring at one month and are weaned at two months. They hunt individually by fall, but stay with their mother until they are one year old. Bobcats are mostly vocal when threatened or during mating season. When in danger, a bobcat will cry out in a short, deep "cough-bark." However, the species is loudest when it yowls during breeding season. In normal conditions, the bobcat’s sound is often compared to a domestic cat.
In New Hampshire, unregulated harvest of bobcats was common for nearly 200 years. Bounties began in 1809 and continued until 1973. By the 1970s, bobcat populations had plummeted and only a few heavily restricted licenses were issued in a limited annual hunting season. In 1989, Fish and Game closed the bobcat hunting and trapping seasons due to concern over bobcat population status. These seasons remain closed in New Hampshire. Regulated harvest of bobcats is allowed in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.
Protection afforded by the Department’s 1989 closure, coupled with the apparent benefits to bobcats of a thriving turkey population and a healthy deer population, appears to have facilitated a recovery of bobcats in our state. Anecdotal reports and observations in the late 1990s and early 2000s suggested a rebound in the bobcat population had occurred over the previous decade. The 2009 and 2010 solicitation of bobcat sightings, as well as capture data resulting from a newly initiated bobcat research study, offers preliminary data in support of a bobcat population recovery.
Today, bobcat sightings have become relatively common, with observations being reported from throughout the state. That said, we should not lose sight of the fact that severe winters can exert notable influence on bobcat status, since bobcats are only modestly adapted to deal with the presence of prolonged deep snow. Future conservation efforts will likely continue to include the protection of critical bobcat habitat including large unfragmented tracts, which, among other things, helps reduce bobcat exposure to car collisions, which constitute a significant source of mortality, particularly in southern New Hampshire.
Written by Kat Bagley, Public Affairs Intern, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.