Bobcat, Lunx rufus


Bobcat (Photo: Len Blumin)

Bobcat (Photo: Len Blumin)

Bobcats vary in size along their continental range, larger animals occurring in the north and smaller animals in the south. They are generally between 1.5 to two feet (46 to 64 cm) tall at the shoulder and weigh between 10 and 40 pounds (4.5 to 18.2 kg). Their fur is buff to brown, sometimes with a reddish tinge, marked with spots and/or stripes of brown or black. The markings on the coat of bobcats allow for camouflage among rocks, brush and dense vegetation as it stalks its prey. Bobcats are more intensely colored above and lighter below. They have facial ruffs, ear tufts and white spots near the tips of their ears. Their short or “bobbed” tail—the reason behind their common name—is also white underneath. It is believed that the white underside of the tail and white spots on the earbacks allow young bobcats to locate their mother in low light or at a distance.


Bobcats prefer low to mid-range elevations, but have been observed at elevations as high as 11,500 feet (3,500 m). They are very adaptable and can live in a wide variety of habitats, including boreal coniferous and mixed forests in the north, bottomland hardwood forest and coastal swamp in the southeast, and desert and scrubland in the southwest. Ideal bobcat habitats typically have a large population of rabbits or rodents, dense cover and available den sites.


The majority of the world’s bobcats are found throughout the United States, but their range spans from much of Mexico north to the southern parts of Canada. They do not occur in most of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Missouri. They are absent in Delaware.

Range map:


The majority of the bobcat’s diet consists of rabbit and hares, with a smaller percentage of rodents, such as squirrels and mice. They also hunt small deer, snakes, lizards, and domestic animals such as dogs, cats, sheep, goats and poultry.

Social Structure:

Normally solitary, male and female bobcats will associate briefly for courtship and mating in the

Bobcat (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

Bobcat (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

early spring. Bobcat gestation lasts 60 to 70 days, after which a litter of one to six kittens is normally born. After they are weaned, female bobcats will bring her offspring meat and teach them to hunt. They will remain with their young for almost a year, at which point both adult and young will adapt a solitary lifestyle.  Urban bobcats have demonstrated a tendency to associate more closely than rural bobcats, and many zoos have successfully introduced bobcats into social groups.


Primarily terrestrial, bobcats are excellent climbers and can leap high enough to catch low-flying birds. They stalk their prey with unparalleled patience, and often travel from two to seven miles (3 to 11 km) in an evening, hunting and patrolling their territory. Bobcats can run up to 30 miles per hour, and will put their back feet in the same spots where their front feet stepped to reduce noise when hunting. Bobcats may be active during all hours of the day and night, but studies have consistently found peak crepuscular activity.

Bobcats communicate through scent, visual signals, and vocalizations. Scent marking occurs by urinating along travel routes, depositing feces in latrine sites, and scraping urine and/or feces along a trail. These marks also indicate that a specific den is being used by a female and her kittens, tells that a female is receptive to mating, or delineates a home range. Bobcats have a sophisticated form of land tenure, and by marking their specific territory, confrontations are kept at a minimum. Bobcats usually respect the prior rights of another bobcat.

Threats to Survival:

Bobcats are primarily threatened by habitat loss. Bobcats also compete for resources with coyotes in some areas, and are seen as pests when they prey upon livestock.

Legal Status:

The bobcat is considered to have an abundant population and wide range, thus qualifying it as a species of least concern according to IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. According to current studies, the population of bobcats appears to be stable.

Bobcat (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

Bobcat (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

Currently, bobcats are listed as a CITES Appendix II species, but are legally harvested for their fur in 38 states and seven Canadian provinces, as well as hunted for trophy in parts of Mexico. The United States has petitioned for the removal of bobcats from the CITES Appendix II protection list, but has been repeatedly rejected, most recently in 2010. Bobcats have been listed as an Appendix II protected species since 1977; they were placed on the list following a rise in the demand for bobcat fur in the 1960s and 70s. The United States government has deemed that hunting and fur trade is not having a detrimental impact on the population of bobcats, and as such they are petitioning for the CITES trade ban to be removed.

Zoo Programs:

The Bobcat Species Survival Plan (SSP) has three primary functions at this time: 1) to keep record of the captive population of bobcats in accredited facilities and non-accredited facilities that are willing to participate; 2) to facilitate placement of non-releasable bobcats that have been orphaned/injured (once rehabilitated) or confiscated from private parties into accredited zoos; and 3) support the educational and other needs of bobcat holding facilities. At this time, breeding recommendations are not being made for this population of animals. Institutions interested in acquiring or transferring their bobcats are always welcome to contact the SSP Coordinator; bobcats are placed in the order that zoos contact the SSP.


Bobcat SSP Coordinator & Studbook Keeper

Rebecca Stites, National Zoo


Although the federal government, under CITES, controls export of bobcat pelts, the states are responsible for management. In general, state agencies have developed a plan that regulates trapping and hunting of bobcats and monitoring programs to ensure that their local population of bobcats remains stable.