While getting the mail at twilight recently, I was treated to a rare sight…a Bobcat (Lynx rufus)! It crossed the middle of the road about 25 yards (23 meters) away and stopped to stare at me. I heard cars approaching and didn’t want it to be hit, so I walked briskly toward the cat and it ran off into the woods. Some cats have learned to look both ways before crossing roads. Even so, car strikes are one of the leading causes of Bobcat mortality.
During the 1800s, Bobcats were rarely seen. Populations were probably quite low because of the widespread clearing of New England forests for sheep farms and charcoal production. Connecticut had a state bounty on these cats until as recently as 1971, but hunting and trapping seasons were discontinued over concerns that the species was facing extirpation. In 1972 the Bobcat was listed in Connecticut as a protected furbearer. As the forests grew back and hunting pressure abated, Bobcat populations have gradually rebounded.
Bobcats are medium-sized, stout-bodied felines about two to three times the size of a domestic cat. Males usually weigh from 18 to 35 pounds (8 to 16 kilograms) and are 32 to 37 inches (81 to 94 centimeters) long. Females are smaller at 15 to 30 pounds (7 to 14 kilograms) and 28 to 32 inches (71 to 81 centimeters) long. These cats are gray to tan on their sides, with faint black spots. Bobcats are named for their short “bobbed” tail.
Bobcats are polygamous (have more than one mate) and do not form lasting pair bonds. They mate in February and March and females raise the young, giving birth to one to four kits in April. Dens are located under fallen trees, in caves, on ledges, and in hollow logs.
For the past few years, Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wildlife biologists have been studying Bobcats using radio telemetry. Cats are trapped, anesthetized, and fitted with GPS collars. Biologists had questions about Bobcat movement and home ranges as well as food preferences—and have discovered some surprising things. One female made a den next to an interstate. Bobcats are often hunting in woods near houses, but are so quiet that they are rarely seen.
By examining the stomach contents of road-killed animals, Connecticut DEEP biologists have found that Bobcats prey mostly on the Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), and American Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). Bobcats also hunt woodchucks, chipmunks, mice, voles, White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus—usually old, sick, or young animals), birds, insects, and reptiles. On occasion, they may also take small livestock and poultry, as well as unsupervised house cats. Other than making them potential Bobcat prey, it is never a good idea to let pet cats roam outside where they can contract the deadly feline leukemia virus. In the United States, free-roaming domestic cats kill up to 3.7 billion songbirds each year. Do Bobcats attack humans? Attacks on people are extremely uncommon and Bobcats rarely carry rabies. Bobcats should not be harmed.
In the last few years more people have reported Bobcat sightings. Despite increased development, populations in Connecticut now seem to be holding their own. Bobcats are very adaptable to living in a variety of habitats. They like mixed hardwood–coniferous forests, but seem to prefer younger forests with wetlands and brushy areas, or brushy woodlands with nearby fields.
Increasing urbanization, however, is fragmenting habitats. Bobcats in New England have a home range of 8 to 20 square miles (20 to 52 square kilometers). But animals in these fragments often are the most restricted in their movements, resulting in reduced natural genetic diversity. Preserving open space and providing wildlife corridors that connect available habitats are key to having these majestic animals with us for generations to come.