Eastern Bobcat

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					Eastern Bobcat
Lynx rufus rufus

                                  Two "wildcats" are found in Vermont, the eastern bobcat
                          (Lynx rufus rufus) and the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis
                          canadensis). The eastern bobcat is sometimes referred to as the bay lynx, while
                          the Canada lynx is referred to simply as the lynx. Despite the similarity in Latin
                          names, these cats are different species and each has a very different population
                          status in Vermont. The eastern bobcat is still common throughout most of the
                          state, even though it is rarely seen. The main reasons for the lack of bobcat
                          sightings are twofold; it is solitary by nature and it is crepuscular, or mostly active
                          at dawn and dusk. The Canada lynx on the other hand, is nearly extinct in
                          Vermont, if it occurs at all, and is on Vermont's Endangered Species list. It
                          requires large tracts of deep, fluffy snow with abundant snowshoe hare
                          populations in order to compete with the more adaptable bobcat.

                             Vermont Wildlife Fact Sheet

Physical Description                  bobcat, bay referring to a reddish-            The feet of the bobcat are
                                      brown coloration. This color is        well furred, and lightly spotted.
        Bobcats are somewhat          darker than the bobcat's usual         Its footprints are nearly round like
larger than a big housecat,           coloration. The bobcat's coat          those of a domestic cat. Tracks of
averaging 15 to 20 pounds.            changes color depending on the         a young bobcat can easily be
Though extremely rare, some           season and habitat conditions in       confused with those left by a
larger males have weighed             its environment. In summer, the        roaming housecat. An adult
between 40 and 46 pounds, with        bobcat has a relatively light coat     housecat's prints, however, are
the record held in Jackson, New       of reddish brown, mixed with           much smaller than those left
Hampshire at 52 pounds. In            gray and yellow. This coloration       behind by an adult bobcat. The
general, males will weigh more        is often referred to as "tawny". In    Canada lynx’s considerably larger
than females.                         winter, the bobcat's short dense       footprint allows it to stay on top
        The bobcat's short            fur is noticeably grayer. In           of deep fluffy snow to hunt.
"bobbed" tail is probably             relation to habitat conditions, a               All cats have retractable
responsible for its common name.      bobcat that lives primarily in a       claws, which pivot up into
The tail is white in color on the     hardwood forest tends to have a        recesses of the soft padded toes
underside and has black bands on      darker coat.                           for normal and very quiet
top. A broad black band marks                 The bobcat's ears are a        travelling. The needle sharp
the tip of the tail. The bobcat's     distinctive feature. The back of       curved claws are on ready call,
belly and legs are heavily spotted    the ear is black except for a large,   and can be brought into
in black. In sharp contrast to the    white, triangular patch in the         immediate action by special
white of the muzzle, black streaks    center. The inside of the ear is       muscles. Claw marks sometimes
radiate out from its face on its      white and well furred. There is a      show if the cat has taken off on a
long cheek fur. Noticeable black      stark contrast on the edge of the      long leap or climbed a tree. They
lines appear in a symmetrical         ear where the jet-black from the       may also show on a prey victim
pattern on the top of its head with   back of the ear meets the white of     the bobcat has taken. When
less noticeable lines found also on   the inside. The tip of the ear may     taking on a larger animal, the
the sides of its body.                have a short dense tuft of longer      bobcat will hold the larger animal
        "Bay lynx" is thought to      black hair on it, or this feature      with its sharp claws on the front
refer to the coat color of the        may be totally absent.                 feet while raking it with its back
                                                                                               Bobcat Fact Sheet 1
claws. Bobcats generally only          kittens stay huddled together. At
take on larger animals if they are     feeding time they mew and crawl        Food Items
forced to fight or during periods      over each other in search of the
of severe hunger.                      female who provides them with                  Bobcats feed on mice,
                                       milk. When not feeding, they           vole, rats, chipmunks, squirrels,
Life Cycle                             sleep. Their activity level            snowshoe hares, cottontail
                                       increases as they age, and they        rabbits, birds, and deer. White
         Mating usually occurs in      spend much of their time playing       tailed deer are an important food
late March or early April. Male        in the den by the time they are        source for northern bobcats in the
bobcats reach sexual maturity at       three weeks old.                       winter when snow depths allow
the age of two years old and                    The coat that the kittens'    for easier predation. Throughout
females at the age of one. After       are born with lasts only about two     the year, bobcats are opportunists
mating, the males and females          months and then begins to look         and will take almost any small
separate until the next breeding       like that of the adults. The kittens   animal. In times when food is
period. Bobcats are polygamous;        are usually weaned at this time        scarce, bobcats will eat the
the male will mate with more than      and they begin to venture outside      carcasses of dead animals, known
one female during the breeding         the den. They are curious about        as carion.
season.                                their new surroundings and
         Den selection and care of     investigate everything when not        Habits & Habitat
the young are left up to the           playing. By midsummer, the
females. Bobcats are resourceful       kittens travel on short trips with             The eastern bobcat can be
and intelligent have adapted to a      the female. They venture further       found in a variety of habitats
wide variety of habitats. Den          from the den on their own and          including coniferous forests, bogs
sites must provide protection and      may begin "camping" in new             or swamps, and partially forested
a food supply for the young.           temporary dens as they                 mountain areas. Particularly in
Occasionally, bobcats will use an      accompany the female on hunting        the northeast, rocky ledges are
abandoned building as a den site.      training sessions.                     important features to its habitat,
Natural den sites include rock                  The bobcat kittens have a     as courtship rituals and denning
crevices, holes in the ground, and     lot to learn to become proficient      often occur around them. Some
fallen trees. In Vermont, most         enough to survive. Being alert is      factors in the bobcat's selection of
dens are found in crevices of          instinctive, yet the use of these      habitat seem to be prey abundance
mountainside ledges and                instincts is either taught or          and cover. For foraging, the
occasionally under turned over         learned through mistakes. This         preferred habitat is semi open
stumps or blown down trees. The        training is done by the female and     areas to forested swamps.
den is simply a dry, protected         may last into early winter. Tracks     Recently logged areas and farms
space large enough to                  of two or more bobcats represent       often provide food and cover for
accommodate the female and her         a family group, as adult bobcats       the bobcat's prey species. The
kittens for the short time they will   are not social and tolerate the        bobcat frequently chooses rock
use it.                                presence of the opposite sex only      features for a den site but may
         The gestation period (time    during the breeding season.            also use a stump or thicket.
between fertilization to birth) is     When breeding season starts, the               The bobcat likes to
about 60 days. Thus, the well-         previous years' kittens are on their   wander. It is a crepuscular, most
spotted kittens are born generally     own. The young adult bobcats           active during dawn and dusk
in late May or early June. In New      must find their own territory. The     hours. It not only travels on the
England, the average litter size is    home range is reserved by the          ground, but will also wade and
three kittens. They are born with      females for the new litter of          swim. The bobcat is excellent at
fur and their eyes are sealed,         kittens. Females will switch           climbing and likes to nap in the
similar to domestic cats. The          home ranges if the old one fails to    shade of a large limb. Trees also
eyes open in a week to ten days.       meet their needs.                      provide a means of escape. When
For the first two weeks, the                                                  tracking a bobcat, they often go
                                                                                                Bobcat Fact Sheet 2
out of their way to walk on              mountain lion in those regions of      the requirements of this species so
horizontal poles or logs that are        Vermont where deep, fluffy snow        it can be conserved for future
well off the ground. When it has         conditions were common. It is          generations of Vermonters.
completed its tree walk, the             possible, therefore, that fewer
bobcat will return to its earlier        bobcats existed in Vermont before      History
line of travel.                          the settlers arrived than are here
         The bobcat jumps at or          today.                                         The arrival of the
gives short chase to nearly any                  By the late 1800's,            European settlers brought about
moving thing at close range,             unregulated hunting and habitat        significant changes in the
whether for food or fun. Like a          changes drove many of the              environment. In Vermont, the
domestic cat, it will stalk, sit, and    bobcats' competitors to the point      extirpation of the wolf, mountain
then stalk again towards the prey.       of extirpation and bobcat numbers      lion, and fisher left a predator
The bobcat is not known for long,        increased as a result. From the        void that was quickly filled by the
active chases, preferring only to        1930's through the 1950's, the         bobcat. In addition, there was a
run short distances. A bobcat's          bobcat population peaked,              greater abundance of prey species,
eyes and ears are its greatest           mirroring the high deer                such as deer and snowshoe hare,
assets. It will poke and smell           population that existed in             resulting from huge acres of
under logs to disrupt chipmunks,         Vermont at the time. Throughout        brushy habitat created as farms
mice, and other prey that might be       this period the bounty on bobcats      reverted to forestland. The lack
hiding there. The bobcat does not        resulted an annual take of 200-        of competition, coupled with the
have the sense of smell required         300 animals. However, as the           increase in food availability, set
to follow a scent trail. Many tales      deer population declined in the        the stage for increases in bobcat
tell of the bobcat's ferocity, this is   1970's, and as other predators         numbers throughout the first half
largely untrue. A bobcat will            such as the coyote and fisher          of the century.
sometimes attempt to bluff a             arrived or were reintroduced, the              During this period there
larger animal or human, however          bobcat population began to             was a bounty on the bobcat. In
it sometimes trusts its bluff too        decline to the relatively stable       1856, the bobcat (listed as the bay
much.                                    level that exists today. It is         lynx) was added to the bounty law
                                         unlikely that bobcat numbers will      by the legislature. Bobcats were
Abundance                                ever return to those that existed in   hunted for a bounty until 1971.
                                         the mid 1900's due to the present      The first regulated season on
        Although it is unclear           level of competition from other        bobcats began in 1976. Today
what the status of the bobcat            predators.                             bobcats again find themselves
population was in Vermont prior                  It is difficult to estimate    competing with other predators
to European settlement, we know          the current size of the bobcat         for food and space. The expansion
that throughout the 1500s, 1600s,        population in Vermont. However,        of coyotes into Vermont and the
and 1700s bobcats had to compete         recent work is being done through      return of the fisher have made life
the wolf, mountain lion, fisher,         a cooperative effort between the       for the bobcat more challenging
and marten. In addition,                 Vermont Fish & Wildlife                and perhaps more similar to the
throughout the 1500s-1800s the           Department and the University of       earlier centuries when wolves and
climate was much more severe in          Vermont to further ascertain           mountain lions were around. For
New England than it is now. In           information on Vermont's bobcat        example, today, a deer killed in
fact, 300 years ago Valley Forge,        population. Biologists and             the winter often can no longer be
Pennsylvania had weather                 researchers have collected more        cached by bobcats for days at a
conditions similar to those              than 100 DNA samples to gain a         time. Within hours, other
experienced in Quebec, Canada            better understanding of the            predators and scavengers arrive to
today. Because the bobcat is at          population's size and genetic          feed.
the northern edge of its range, it is    structure. Through continued                   Survival through the
unlikely that it was able to             research like this, biologists can     snowy winter periods requires
compete effectively with lynx and        have a greater understanding of        more work and energy
                                                                                                  Bobcat Fact Sheet 3
expenditure than in those decades            The focus of current
when the bobcat was ‘top cat.’       bobcat management efforts is on
However, Vermont’s bobcat            the collection of harvest and
population is stable and well        biological data to better monitor
distributed throughout the state,    and protect the species as well as,
but it is also quite likely, that    efforts to identify and conserve
there are fewer bobcats in           important bobcat habitat. The
Vermont today than there were in     bobcat prefers a variety of
the early part of the 20th century   habitats, ranging from forests to
(1930s through 1970s).               swamps to mountainous regions.
                                     To enhance the quality of this
                                     habitat, a range of cover types
Resource Utilization                 should be available and should
                                     include rocky cliffs, optimum
         Bobcats, like most          habitat for common prey species,
predators, had a negative            and preferably with early to mid
reputation and, as a result, were    successional species. Emphasis is
persecuted. In recent Vermont        placed on providing connections
history, a ten-dollar bounty was     or corridors between areas of core
still being paid for killing a       habitat with feeding areas.
bobcat. This was repealed in         Recently forested areas can
1971. From 1971 to 1976,             provide excellent habitat, as prey
bobcats could be shot or trapped     populations increase with the
all year long. In 1976, a hunting    opening of the forest canopy. In
and trapping season was created      addition, the maintenance and
to limit the taking of bobcats.      conservation of undeveloped
The seasons usually run from late    areas can also be a useful
October to late February.            management practice for bobcats.
However, these hunting and
trapping seasons have been
further restricted depending on      Illustration by Bob Hines - USFWS
the current health of the bobcat

Management Efforts
         There is a conservative
hunting and trapping season that
is monitored closely and is not
detrimental to the bobcat's
population. Annually, an average
of 20 to 30 bobcats are taken,
including incidentals from road
kills or other accident. Fewer
animals tend to be harvested in
years where the population may
already be stressed due to
circumstances such as severe
winter conditions.

                                                                           Bobcat Fact Sheet 4

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