California Nature

Learn about California's beautiful and unique nature.

California Bobcats
close up of a California bobcatThe bobcat (Lynx rufus) is equipped with razor-sharp claws, needle-like teeth, and the strength to make good use of these weapons. About the size of a medium-sized dog, male bobcats average 39 inches in length and weigh about 24 pounds, while females are closer to 36 inches in length and 15 pounds in weight.

The bobcat is so named because of it's 'bobbed' tails, which are usually 5-6 inches, although tails as long as eighteen inches have been recorded! The false perception that the bobcat has hardly any tail has given rise to many people thinking they have seen a panther when they have, in fact, seen a bobcat.

The bobcat fur is short, soft, and dense. Its color is dark brown with black spots and bars most visible along the sides and legs. The backs of the bobcat ears are white with a black outline. Their underparts are generally white. Like all cats, a bobcat, using its whiskers like fingertips, can "feel" prey in complete darkness, for instance in a rodent burrow. If a cat's whiskers "touch a mouse, it reacts with the speed and precision of a mousetrap.

Bobcats are territorial and solitary. Bobcats of the same sex do not share the same home range. A male bobcat will not allow another male to use its home range. Likewise, a female bobcat will not tolerate another female within her range. However, there is some overlap in range boundaries between same-sexed neighbors. The degree of overlap varies from area to area and by sex. Males do allow females to use their ranges and vice-versa. Because of this territorial behavior, bobcat property is partitioned in much the same way as humans own and occupy property.

The bobcat is equally at home ranging from the dense chaparral of southern California, to the forests of British Columbia, to the citrus groves of central Florida, and to the swampy forests of the Gulf Coast. Like many animals, the bobcat especially favors the environmentally rich "ecotones," or transitional zones between habitat types, for instance, a juncture of woodlands and grasslands or of old growth and new growth.

Bobcats have a territorial range of five or six square miles and generally cover their territory in a slow, careful fashion. Home ranges are elliptical in shape and boundaries often follow roads, streams, or other natural contours. Boundaries, as well as range sizes, do shift seasonally. For instance, male bobcats tend to expand their boundaries during the breeding season in order to maximize the opportunities to find a mate. When rearing young kittens, female bobcats often appear to use less area because of the need to tend to their litter.

California bobcat roaming for foodBobcats have retractable claws like house cats. This is a good way to tell the difference between a bobcat track and that of a dog since they are similar in size. Bobcats put their back feet in the same place where their front feet stepped so as not to disrupt the surroundings any more than necessary. An extremely efficient hunter, the bobcat, like most felines, hunts by sight and usually at night.

Like most carnivores, bobcats possess teeth which are specialized for the acquisition and consumption for prey. The bobcats teeth are extremely effective in severing the spinal cord of small prey or delivering severe puncture wounds to a person or an attacking animal. Bobcats will eat just about anything that moves, but mammals are by far the most important group of prey animals. In California, the cottontail, marsh rabbit, cotton rat, and an occasional young white-tailed deer are the primary prey species. By feeding on these animals, the bobcat provides a necessary control on their populations. Since California is also an important wintering habitat for migrating birds, the bobcat’s winter diet reflects this abundance and includes ground-dwelling birds such as towhees, robins, catbirds and thrashers.

In California, bobcats breed from August to March with the peak in February and March. Courtship and mating usually last one to two days. During this time, the male and female bobcat will travel, hunt, and eat together. Except when adults come together to mate, or when a female is raising kittens, each bobcat remains alone throughout its life.

The average litter size is two to three kittens, and they are born after a gestation period of 50 to 60 days. The bobcat kitten's fur is spotted when they are born and as they get older the spots fade into light black streaks. The kittens eyes do not open until about nine days old. The young are weaned in about two months. From about five months on, the dam, or mother bobcat, will teach her kittens how to hunt for food. From eight to eleven months of age, the dam will abandon her kittens or evict them from her home range. Unlike most other cats, a bobcat takes readily to water, sometimes attacking prey such as beaver in the shallows.

Most Californians may never see a bobcat, though the fringes of suburbia continue to move ever closer to its habitat. Swift and secretive, hunting mostly at night, bobcats are the most discreet of neighbors and an integral part of California’s wildlife community. The most common predator of the adult bobcat is man. Hunters are allowed to hunt bobcats in some areas. Mountain Lions and Wolves are also predators. The bobcat kittens have other predators including owls, eagles, coyotes and foxes.

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