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General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Bobcats are secretive, shy, solitary, and seldom seen in the wild. They are active during the day but prefer twilight, dawn or night hours. Bobcats tend to travel well worn animal trails, logging roads, and other paths. They use their acute vision and hearing for locating enemies a nd prey.
Bobcats do not form lasting bonds. Mating can occur between most adult animals. In Wyoming, female bobcats reach sexual maturity within their first year but males are not sexually mature until their second year. Nationwide, breeding can occur from January to June. In Wyoming, breeding typically begins in February and the first estrus cycle in Mid March. The gestation period in bobcats ranges from 50 to 70 days, averaging 62 days.
Nationwide, young are born from March to July, with litters as late as October. The breeding season may be affected by latitude, altitude, and longitude, as well as by characteristics of each bobcat population. In Wyoming, birth peak mid-May to mid-June and can occur as late as August or September. These late litters may be from recycling or late cycling females, probably yearlings. In Utah, births may peak in April or May. In Arkansas, births may peak as early as March.
Bobcats weight about 300g at birth. Litters contain 2-4 kittens. Kittens nurse for about 60 days and may accompany their mother through their first winter. Although young bobcats grow very quickly during their first 6 months, males may not be fully grown until 1 1/2 years of age and females until 2 year of age. Bobcats may live for at least 12 months in the wild.
Bobcats reach densities of about 1 per 1/4 square mile on some of the Gulf Coast islands of the southeastern United States. Densities vary from about 1 per 1/2 square mile in the coastal plains to about 1 cat per 4 square miles in portions of the Appalachian foothills. Mid-Atlantic and midwestern states usually have scarce populations of bobcats.
The social organization and home range of bobcats can vary with climate, habitat type, availability of food and predators. Bobcats are typically territorial and will maintain the same territory throughout their lives. One study shows home ranges in southern Texas to be as small as 5/8 square mile. Another study shows that individual bobcats in southeastern Idaho maintain home ranges from 2/5 square miles to 42/5 square miles during a year. Females and yearlings with newly established territories tend to have smaller and more exclusive ranges than males. Females also tend to use all parts of their range more intensively than adult males.
Bobcats commonly move 1 to 4 miles each day. One study found that bobcats in Wyoming moved 3 to 7.5 miles each day. Transient animals can move much greater distances; for example, a juvenile in one study moved 99 miles.
Adult bobcats are usually found separately except during the breeding season. Kittens may be seen with their mothers in late summer through winter. An Idaho study found adult bobcats and kittens in den sites during periods of extreme cold and snow. Females with kittens less than 4 months old generally avoid males because they kill kittens.
In Canada and the western United States, bobcat population levels tend to follow prey densities. Some biologists believe that coyote predation restricts bobcat numbers. Unfortunately, not enough is known about the relative importance of factors such as littler size, kitten survival, adults sex ratios, and survival rates to predict changes in local bobcat populations. Also, relatively low densities and variable trapping success hinder researchers from easily predicting changes in populations.
Since the late 1970’s, state games agencies have been tagging bobcat pelts harvested in their states. Information from these pelts is being used to estimate bobcat population trends and factors that contribute to those changes.
Damage and Damage Identifcation
Bobcats are opportunistic predators, feeding on poultry, sheep, goats, house cats, small dogs, exotic birds and game animals and rarely, calves. Bobcats can easily kill domestic and wild turkeys, usually by climbing into their night roosts. In some areas, bobcats can prevent the successful introduction and establishment of wild turkeys or can deplete existing populations.
Bobcats leave a variety of signs. Bobcat tracks are about 2 to 3 inches in diameter and resemble those of a house cat. Their walking stride length between tracks is about 7 inches.
Carcasses of bobcat kills are often distinguishable from those of cougar, coyote, or fox. Bobcats leave claw marks on t he backs or shoulders of adult deer or antelope. On large carcasses, bobcats usually open an area just behind the ribs and begin feeding on the viscera. Sometimes feeding starts at the neck, shoulders or hindquarters. Bobcats and cougar leave clean cut edges of tissue or bone while coyotes leave ragged edges where they feed.
Bobcats bite the skull, neck or throat of small prey like lambs, kids or fawns and leave claw marks on their sides, back and shoulders. A single bite to the throat, just behind the victims jaws, leaves canine teeth marks 3/4 to 1 inch apart.
Carcasses that are rabbit size or smaller may be entirely consumed at one feeding. Bobcats may return several times to feed on large carcasses.
Bobcats, like cougars, often attempt to cover unconsumed remains of kills by scratching leaves, dirt, or snow over them. bobcats reach out about 15 inches in raking up debris to cover their kills, while cougars may reach out 24 inches.
Bobcats also leave signs at den sites. Young kittens attempt to cover their feces at their dens. Females with young kittens may mark prominent points around dens sites with their feces. Adult bobcats leave conspicuous feces along frequently traveled rocky ridges or other trails. These are sometimes used as territorial markings at boundaries.
Adult bobcats also mark trail or cave entrances with urine. This is sprayed on rocks, bushes, or snow banks. Bobcats may leave claw marks, urine or feces scent posts by scraping with their hind feet. These marks are 10 to12 inches long by 1/2 inch wide.
Bobcats also occasionally squirt a pasty substance from their anal glands to mark areas. The color of this substance is white to light yellow in young bobcats but is darker in older bobcats.