Menu

Close

Mammals

Bobcat
(Lynx rufus)

Photo: Mike Jeffords
Bobcat sleeping in a tree.

Did You Know?

  • Bobcats were almost eliminated from Illinois by the mid 1900’s, but they are now are found statewide.
  • Bobcats were also known as Felis rufus.

Click to expand.

Positive Benefits

Bobcats are fierce predators and so they keep local populations of mice, voles, rabbits and other small mammals under control, which benefits the plant community.

Click to expand.

Description & Identification

Bobcats belong to the Felidae family. They are approximately 2 ¼ to 3 ½ feet in length, including the tail, and can be up to 2 feet high at the shoulder.

Photo: Michael Jeffords
Bobcat sitting in the snow.
Bobcats are sometimes misidentified as mountain lions, but they are much smaller and have short tails.

Adult males can weigh up to 40 pounds but average 22 pounds; adult females are smaller and weigh slightly less.

Bobcats have yellowish to reddish brown fur with black spots and streaks throughout. In winter, the fur tends to be more grayish-brown. The fur on the underparts is white with dark spots.

Bobcats have a ruff of fur extending from the ear to the lower jaw, tufted ears (usually), long legs and a short tail (4 to 6 inches). The tail is whitish underneath and brown above with dark bands and ending in black with a white tip.

Bobcats have 5 toes on the front feet and 4 toes on the rear feet.

Click to expand.

Size Comparison

Illustrator: Lynn Smith
Man and bobcat illustration
Size comparison of a six-foot tall man and a bobcat.

 

Click to expand.

Signs: Tracks & Scat

Photo: Jared Duquette

 

Bobcat tracks are round and do not have claw marks. Front prints average 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ inches long, with rear prints slightly smaller.

Bobcat scat may contain fur but not bones; the scat tends to be highly segmented. It is common for bobcats to cover their scat. They also make scrapes near dens or along trails where scat is left uncovered to help mark the bobcat’s territory.

Click to expand.

Distribution & Abundance

Photo: Jared Duquette
This bobcat has ear tags which helps researchers identify it.
This bobcat has ear tags that allow researchers to identify it.

Bobcats were almost extirpated from Illinois by the mid 1900s. They were protected as a threatened species in Illinois from 1977 to 1999. Today, they can be found throughout Illinois but are more common in the southern third of the state. Bobcat home ranges can be quite large. A study conducted in southern Illinois reported annual home ranges of 7 ½ to 20 and 3 ½ to 6 square miles for male and female bobcats, respectively.

Due to the expansion and increasing abundance of bobcats in Illinois, a regulated bobcat season was initiated in 2016. Bobcat harvest is regulated by the IDNR to maintain a healthy population that offers opportunities for hunters and trappers but ensures a stable or growing population. The bobcat population is anticipated to continue growing throughout the state, especially along major rivers and forested areas.

Click to expand.

Behavior & Ecological Role

Bobcats are typically quiet animals, but occasionally growl or make high-pitched screams. During the breeding season they may also vocalize using squalls, howls, meows and yowls. Male bobcats are solitary animals; the young of the year stay with the females from spring until fall. Bobcats are active from a few hours before sunset until dawn.

Bobcats help control small mammal populations.

Click to expand.

Diseases & Public Health

Bobcats can be carriers of feline distemper and rabies. Feline distemper is not known to be transmittable to humans. Rabies can be transmitted to humans and is generally fatal if not treated quickly.

Click to expand.

Habitat & Food

Bobcats prefer forest with a dense understory. Wooded habitat is used for cover and denning sites, while forest edges and fields are used for hunting prey.

Bobcats are classified as carnivores. They feed mainly on rabbits, mice, voles and squirrels, but will also eat many other species such as muskrat and opossum. They are also known to consume birds, frogs, insects, fish and snakes. Occasionally an individual may take poultry.

Bobcats will also kill deer. Fawns and injured or sick deer are prey for bobcats, but they are also capable of killing healthy, adult deer. They can ambush a deer when it is resting in its bed or attack during periods of deep snow. Large prey are often covered (cached) to protect the carcass from scavengers.

Click to expand.

Reproduction & Longevity

Breeding takes place in January through June, with the peak in February and March. Gestation is approximately 60 days. Bobcats have one litter each year with an average of 2 to 3 kittens per litter. The kittens have spotted grayish-brown fur and their eyes open when they are about 9 to 11 days old. They are weaned by the time they are 2 months old but stay with the female until at least the fall of their first year. Only the female provides for the young. Females begin breeding at one to two years of age, while males do not breed until their second year.

Click to expand.

Damage Prevention & Control Measures

Habitat Modification

Control rabbit and small mammal populations. Keep the area cleared of brush or other cover.

Exclusion

Bobcats are good climbers, so fences are not very effective in keeping them out. To protect poultry make sure that enclosures have a roof or secure wire overhead. Providing a shed or other solid enclosure will help protect poultry better than a wire enclosure. All doors or other openings should be shut at night.

Repellents and Frightening Devices

There are currently no approved repellents for bobcats in Illinois.

Frightening devices such as flashing lights, blaring music or dogs may temporarily discourage bobcats from using an area. However, once the bobcat learns that these pose no threat, they will no longer keep the animal away.

Removal

If a bobcat is taking poultry or causing other problems they may be trapped and removed by individuals with a PERMIT from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist. If you want to hire someone to remove the bobcat contact a nuisance wildlife control operator.

Click to expand.