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Bobcat

Overview

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a species that is native to Ohio, and one of seven wild cat species found in North America. Domestic cats belong to the same family, Felidae, as the bobcat. Prior to settlement, bobcats were common throughout Ohio, but were extirpated from the state in 1850. They began to repopulate Ohio in the Mid-1900s. Since then, this cat has been sighted more often every year and is returning "home" to Ohio.

Download Ohio Wildlife Field Guides

Description

The bobcat has short, dense, soft fur. Their coat color varies to include light gray, yellowish brown, buff, brown, and reddish brown on the upper parts of the body. The fur on the middle of the back is frequently darker than that on the sides. Under parts and the inside of the legs are generally whitish colors with dark spots or bars. The back of the bobcat's ears are black with white spots. The top of the tip of the ears are black; on the lynx, a cousin of the bobcat, the entire tip of the ear is black. The bobcat's tail is also black.

Reproduction

Breeding may occur at anytime throughout the year; mostly it occurs from December through May. The gestation period lasts about 63 days. When available, the female will use an area of rock outcroppings as a natal den. The young are born helpless and are dependent on the mother. At birth, the bobcat is completely furred with its eyes closed. Young bobcats' eyes will open in 3 to 11 days, 10 days is typical. Litters range from 1 to 6 kittens; 2+ is average. Bobcats typically have one litter per year, but will produce a second if the first is lost. The young are fully weaned at eight weeks and they will disperse and begin life on their own in the fall and late winter.

Habitat & Behavior

Generally, the bobcat is a solitary animal, territorial and elusive by nature. Adult females have an extremely low tolerance for other adult females in their home range. The males of this species are more tolerant of another male within the home range.

Bobcats generally lie in wait for their prey, pouncing when an animal comes near. Prey pursuit rarely extends more than 60 feet. Bobcats are carnivores and will consume a wide variety of insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals. Rabbits and, in northern latitudes, white-tailed deer are important components of the bobcat's diet.

Research & Surveys

Bobcat Population Status Report [pdf]

2017 Update

This species occurs in the forests of eastern Ohio. The Division of Wildlife received reports of almost 500 verified sightings in 2017. Verified includes road-killed, incidentally trapped, or photographed bobcats. Because of the large amount of unoccupied, suitable forested habitat available in eastern Ohio, bobcat sightings are expected to continue to increase in future years as the population increases in abundance and distribution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How likely are you to see a bobcat in the wild?
A: It is very unlikely to see a bobcat in the wild. They are very elusive and they are also nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning active at dusk and dawn. Those are the best times to try to catch a glimpse of one.

Q: Will the range of one male bobcat overlap with another?
A: Male bobcats establish large home ranges that overlap with multiple females and occasionally overlap with the ranges of other males.

Q: Do bobcats eat other cats?
A: They can, but it is unusual. They prefer easier prey.

Q: Do bobcats purr?
A: Yes, they do!

Q: How is the wild turkey population in Ohio impacted by bobcats?
A: At present we have no evidence which suggests bobcats have much of an impact (positive or negative) on turkey populations in Ohio. Bobcats rarely prey on turkeys or other birds. In fact, a study in Ohio found the remains of birds, in general, were present in the stomachs of only 5% of road-killed bobcats. More commonly, bobcats will consume other turkey predators like opossums, however, this is also unlikely to occur at high enough rates to have a large-scale impact on turkey populations.

Q: How defensive are bobcats toward each other?
A: Bobcats are solitary animals and will establish individual home ranges, however, those home ranges may overlap with ranges of other bobcats. Mostly, bobcats will avoid each other by marking their territories with scrapes, urine, and feces. However, aggressive physical encounters may occur, most commonly between 2 males around the breeding season.

Q: How big is a bobcat footprint?
A: Between 1.5 and 3 inches wide and long.

Q: What controls the bobcat population?
A: The density of a bobcat population will vary based on the number of resources (prey and habitat) available in a given area, and the amount of mortality that occurs. Potential causes of mortality for bobcats include disease, predation, starvation, injury, and human-induced mortality such as roadkill, poisoning, poaching, and legal harvest (where permitted).

Q: When do bobcats have their kittens?
A: Breeding may occur at any time throughout the year, however it mainly occurs in February and March. The gestation period lasts about 63 days and the majority of kittens are born in April or May.

Q: What can we do to help bobcats? What are groups like the ODNR doing?
A: We're working to improve habitat across the state and to educate people about our native wildlife. You can help improve habitat by planting and preserving native plant species. You can also help our biologists track bobcats and other species by reporting your sightings online.

Q: Do bobcats like water?
A: Bobcats are good swimmers and will enter the water to cross rivers and streams.

Q: How many litters do bobcats have per year?
A: Bobcats usually have just one litter. Humans should not interact with bobcat kittens, leave wildlife in the wild.

Q: Do bobcats migrate?
A: Bobcats do not migrate, but as young adults, they may disperse a long distance from the area where they were born in order to establish their own home range.

Q: Can bobcats be hunted or trapped in Ohio? 
A: Bobcats cannot be hunted or trapped in Ohio. 

Q: Are bobcats likely to attack humans?
A: No, they are not.

Q: How do you determine the sex of a bobcat?
A: It is difficult to determine the sex of a bobcat from afar, but generally male bobcats are larger and heavier than females.