Bobcats maintain well defined home ranges that vary in size depending on prey abundance, season, climate, and the sex of the individual. Male bobcats maintain larger home ranges than females and it is not uncommon for individual animals to travel up to four miles daily. Both male and female bobcats use scent marking to mark well used trails and den sites. Their use of scent is thought to help individual animals avoid direct contact with each other as they move within their home ranges.
Bobcats can be active day or night, but tend to exhibit crepuscular (dawn and dusk) activity. Their activity peaks three hours before sunset until midnight and again between one hour before and four hours after sunrise. They remain active year round and do not hibernate.
Breeding & Offspring
Bobcats breed from February through March. They are polygamous and do not form lasting pair bonds. The young are born after a 62 day gestation period sometime in April or May. Female bobcats produce one litter each year consisting of 1-4 kittens, with an average litter size of 2. The female is the exclusive provider given that the male bobcat does not participate in the raising of the young.
The kittens are born in a den lined with dried grass, leaves, moss, and other soft vegetation that the female scrapes into the den. Dens are located in rock crevices, under rocky ledges, in caves, in brush piles, or in hollow trees, stumps, or logs. Females may use the same den sites for several years in a row.
At birth the kittens are blind and helpless, but have already developed a thick coat of spotted fur. The female nurses the kittens until they reach two months of age. At one month of age the young begin taking solid food and venturing from the den. The young remain with the adult female until they are full grown, usually through their first fall or winter.
Female bobcats reach sexual maturity at one year of age although they do not typically produce their first litter until two years of age. Male bobcats do not reach sexual maturity until two years of age.
Bobcats live an average of twelve years in the wild and females continue to produce one litter per year until death. Although some young fall prey to owls, coyotes, and adult male bobcats, the number one mortality factor affecting the survival of both kittens and juvenile bobcats is related to food abundance.
In the past the bobcat was viewed as both a varmint and predator. Until 1968 it was legal to hunt bobcat year round and a bounty was paid to anyone harvesting a bobcat. In 1969, Massachusetts was the first state in the northeast to reclassify the bobcat as a game animal for which a regulated hunting season was established in 1971. Bobcats are an important natural resource in Massachusetts and are classified as a furbearer species for which an established trapping and hunting season and management program exists. Recent studies in New England indicate that bobcat populations have been rising. Compared to many other wildlife species bobcats rarely cause conflicts with human activities. Occasionally a bobcat may kill livestock but it is not a significant problem in Massachusetts.
Bobcats are proficient climbers and will climb trees to rest, chase prey, or escape from predators (chiefly domestic dogs). Like domestic cats, bobcats try to avoid water whenever possible but when forced to flee to water they can swim quite well. Bobcats are well adapted to a wide variety of habitat types. They can be found using mountainous areas with rocky ledges, hardwood forests, swamps, bogs, and brushy areas close to fields. Bobcats are well capable of dealing with human influences but tend to avoid areas with extensive agriculturally cleared lands that eliminate other habitat types. Bobcats can be classified as common in central and western Massachusetts, present in northeastern Massachusetts, and rare to absent in southeastern Massachusetts. It is thought that one of the limiting factors to bobcat expansion is the absence of suitable rocky ledges that provide cover and den sites in certain areas of the state.
Bobcats are classified as carnivores. They hunt by stalking (creeping from cover to cover) prey until they are close enough to pounce or they may wait on a trail or in a tree to ambush prey as it passes by, they may also run down their prey over short distances. Although bobcats have a fairly good sense of smell, they rely primarily on their keen eyesight and hearing to detect both prey and danger. They most commonly prey on medium sized animals such as rabbits and hares but will eat mice, squirrels, skunk, opossum, muskrat, birds, snakes, and other available items. Occasionally bobcats will prey upon larger animals such as deer but this is generally when other food items are scarce and only sick, injured, young or very old animals are likely to be killed. When food is plentiful, bobcats will cache the excess by covering it with leaves, grass or snow and return to feed off of it repeatedly.