Description: The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is a yellowish-brown or reddish-brown (more gray in winter) color with indistinct dark spotting and streaks along its body. The species gets its common name from its characteristic stubby, or “bobbed,” tail. The tail is 4-7 inches in length with 2 or 3 black bars, while the underside is white. Their upper legs have dark horizontal bands. The face has thin, black lines stretching onto a broad cheek ruff and have tufted ears.
The species is sexually dimorphic with males having larger bodyweights and physical size than females. Bobcats stand 19-22 inches at the shoulder and 28-49 inches in length on average. Male bobcats in New Hampshire average 27 pounds while females average 17. The largest recorded body weight (51-pound male) occurred in Pittsburg NH in 1927. More recently, during the fall of 2017 a road-killed male bobcat was recovered from Tuftonboro, NH and weighed in at 45 pounds.
Life Span: Bobcat are reported to have an average life span 2-5 years in the wild with a low number of individuals living up to 15 years. Age data recorded from bobcat collected in NH supports these reported ages. A female bobcat recovered in Hebron NH was aged at 13 years in 2012 while a male bobcat from Stoddard NH aged at 14 years during 2018. It is reported bobcat can live up to 32 years when held in captivity
Range and Distribution: Bobcats are distributed from coast to coast in the US and from southern Canada to Mexico through 12 subspecies. The subspecies occupying New Hampshire is known as Lynx rufus gigas. Bobcat are commonly confused with the Canada lynx given the overlapping historic range of both species in certain areas of northern US and southern Canadian regions. Bobcat have expanded their range and population throughout the United States over the last decade. Bobcat populations are found throughout New England though Rhode Island is considered to have a lowest population of the region.
In New Hampshire, bobcats are thought to historically have had the greatest presence in the southwest corner of the state. Today, sighting data and roadkill recoveries indicate bobcat reside in all New Hampshire counties. Based on observation reports occurring over the previous 20 years, bobcat numbers appear to have increased in New Hampshire. Genetic research conducted at the University of New Hampshire indicates bobcat in New Hampshire have greater genetic diversity today versus the 1950-1960s era.
Habits and Habitat: Bobcats live in scrubby or broken forests (hardwood, coniferous, or mixed), swamps, farmland, semi-deserts, scrubland, and rocky or bushy arid lands. Their home ranges vary in size depending on sex, season and prey distribution and abundance. Bobcats mark their territory with urine, feces, anal gland scent, and scrapes on physical markers, such as trees. Individuals have one natal den and other auxiliary dens for protection located throughout their home ranges. Dens can be found in caves, hollow logs, brush piles, rock ledges, or stumps.
Bobcats are ambush predators that frequent wildlife paths to prey on rodents to white tailed deer. Their diet includes mice, squirrels, woodchucks, moles, shrews, raccoons, foxes, domestic cats, grouse, various bird species, reptiles, porcupines and skunks. The bobcat is capable of fasting during periods of limited food availability, though take advantage of environmental conditions, such as winter snow depth during these times, to kill large prey, such as deer, turkey and potentially livestock.
Adult bobcats are solitary except during mating periods. Males are sexually active year-round, but females are typically in heat in February and March. A female and dominant male may mate several times after a series of "chases," and the female may mate with other males in his absence. Bobcats have a gestation period of 2 months and females give birth to a litter between late April and early May. Litters average 2-3 young, known as kittens, though literature reports birth rates can vary from 1-7 young. Bobcat young begin exploring their habitat at one month and are weaned at two months. By fall young are hunting individually though stay with their mother until one year of age. Bobcats are vocal when threatened or during mating season. When in danger, a bobcat will emit a deep growl. The species is loudest when yowling during breeding season.
Management: During the 1800s bobcat were recognized as a predator of livestock which brought on bounties in 1809 and continued until 1973. By the 1970s, bobcat populations had decreased, bounties were removed, and structured hunting and trapping seasons were enacted. These structured seasons fluctuated from open to closed during the late 1970s while remaining monitored and open during the 1980s. In 1989, Fish and Game closed the bobcat hunting and trapping seasons due to concern over bobcat population status. These seasons remain closed in New Hampshire. Regulated harvest of bobcats continues in Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont allowing those states an efficient means to monitor bobcat populations over time. These states regulated seasons demonstrate harvest does not cause harm to bobcat populations.
Habitat connectivity, habitat quality, and a diverse stable prey base appears to have facilitated a recovery of bobcats in our state. Anecdotal reports and observations in the late 1990s and early 2000s suggested a rebound in the bobcat population had occurred over the previous decade. The 2009 and 2010 solicitation of bobcat sightings, as well as home range data derived from bobcat research conducted in New Hampshire, indicates bobcat population recovery.
Today, bobcat sightings have become common, with observations being reported throughout the state. Severe winters can exert influence on bobcat status, since bobcats are modestly adapted to deal with the presence of prolonged deep snow. Future conservation efforts will likely continue to include protection of critical bobcat habitat including large unfragmented tracts. Large tracts offer diverse habitat structures along with connectivity. The combination of these habitats reduce likelihood of bobcat/car collisions which are the greatest known mortality factor for bobcat in New Hampshire.
What's the Difference Between Bobcats and Canada Lynx?
Excerpted from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife website.
Bobcats and lynx do not vary significantly in weight, although bobcats appear smaller because they have shorter legs, smaller feet, and a comparatively robust body. The feet, tail, and ear tuft length are the best distinguishing features when comparing species. Bobcats have smaller feet and the tail is not completely black-tipped -- it is white underneath and often the white wraps onto the tail tip.
Both animals have tufts of black hairs at the tops of their ears, however bobcat tufts rarely extend more than 1/2-inch while lynx ear tufts are 3/4-inch or slightly longer. A bobcat's tail (ranging from five to eight inches and averaging six and a half inches) is two inches longer than that of the lynx. Bobcats have two other distinguishing features: Their hind lower legs are much darker (dark brown to almost black) than any other part of their body and the backs of their ears have black rims with a prominent white spot in the center.
Bobcat Research: New Hampshire Fish & Game partnered with the University of New Hampshire initiating a comprehensive bobcat study with on the ground work starting in the fall of 2009. Distribution, population abundance, habitat use, habitat connectivity, and methods to index populations were studied. This comprehensive research project was completed December 2014 and has provided a wealth of knowledge about bobcats in New Hampshire. Bobcat research and management in New Hampshire is funded in part by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act.