Field Guide to Mammals
of Southern California
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Bobcat (lynx rufus)
Common to uncommon, permanent resident throughout most of California. Use nearly all habitats and successional stages. Optimal habitats are brushy stages of low and mid-elevation conifer, oak, riparian, and pinyon-juniper forests, and all stages of chaparral.
The bobcat is one of three native cats in the Pacific region of the United States, along with the mountain lion and the Canadian lynx (Ingles 1965). It has a small head, heavy body, long legs and large, padded paws. Its fur is pale brown to reddish with black spots. The underparts are white. The tip of the tail is black above and white below. The white underside of the tail serves as a signal for its kittens to follow when the bobcat holds the tail curved up when hunting for food. The bobcat's sharp-pointed ears are tipped with dark, inconspicuous tufts. Compared to the Canadian lynx, the bobcat has shorter hindlimbs, smaller feet, and shorter ear tufts. Bobcats live 10-12 years in the wild, and up to 25 years in a zoo. It's a relatively small member of the cat family-the head and body measuring between 60-100 cm (24-40 inches) long, and the tail adding about another 20 cm (5 inches). Adult females weigh 6-9 kg (13-20 lbs) and adult males can weigh 9-13 kg (20-29 lbs).
The bobcat ranges from southern Canada to southern Mexico, and can be found throughout most of the United States. It inhabits a wide range of habitats, from rimrock and chaparral areas of the western United States to the swamps and forests the eastern United States. The bobcat dens in rock crevices, hollow logs, and thick brush.
Bobcats usually breed in winter (Young 1958, Gashwiler et al. 1961). Gestation period 60-70 days; most young probably born in spring in California. Litter size averaged 3.5 in Wyoming, 2.8 in Utah, and 2.5 in Arkansas; range = 1-7. One litter/yr. Females polyestrous. Females breed in first yr; males in second yr. Lactation continues about 60 days. Individuals may live 10-14 yr.
Mostly nocturnal, the bobcat is a solitary animal. It ranges usually within a two mile radius, but may wander as far as 25 to 50 miles. Like the mountain lion, it mates briefly and the females raise the cubs alone. The cubs leave their mother within a year to live on their own.
Diet and Foraging
Bobcats largely are carnivorous. They eat various lagomorphs, rodents, a few deer (mostly young fawns), and some birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. They also may consume substantial amounts of vegetation, mostly fruits and some grass (Provost et al. 1973, Fritts and Sealander 1978b). These cats stalk or ambush prey on the ground, from trees, or atop logs or rocks. Usually pursue prey for only a few leaps or bounds. May cache when prey abundant or too large to consume in 1 day.
Bailey, T. N. 1974. Social organization in a bobcat population. J. Wildl. Manage. 38:435-446.
Bailey, T. N. 1981. Factors of bobcat social organization and some management implications. Pages 984-1000 in J. A. Chapman and D. Pursley, eds. Worldwide Furbearer Conf. Procs. 3 vols. 2056pp.
Crowe, D. M. 1975. Aspects of ageing, growth, and reproduction of bobcats from Wyoming. J. Mammal. 56:177-198.
Fritts, S. H., and J. A. Sealander. 1978a. Reproductive biology and population characteristics of bobcats (Lynx rufus) in Arkansas. J. Mammal. 59:347-353.
Fritts, S. H., and J. A. Sealander. 1978b. Diets of bobcats in Arkansas with special reference to age and sex differences. J. Wildl. Manage. 42:533-539.
Gashwiler, J. S., W. L. Robinette, and O. W. Morris. 1961. Breeding habits of bobcats in Utah. J . Mammal. 42:76-84.
Jackson, H. H. T. 1961. Mammals of Wisconsin. Univ. Wisconsin Press, Madison. 504pp.
Lembeck, M. 1978. Bobcat study, San Diego County, California. Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, Sacramento. Project E-W-2, Study IV, Job 1.7. 22pp.
Nunley, G. L. 1978. Present and historical bobcat population trends in New Mexico and the west. Proc. Vertebr. Pest Conf. 8:177-184.
Provost, E. E., C. A. Nelson, and D. A. Marshall. 1973. Population dynamics and behavior in the bobcat. Pages 42-67 in R. L. Eaton, ed. The world's cats. vol. 1. Ecology and conservation. World Wildl. Safari, Winston, Or. 349pp.
Robinson, W. B. 1961. Population changes in carnivores in some coyote-control areas. J. Mammal. 42:510-515.
Young, S. P. 1958. The bobcat of North America. Wildl. Manage. Inst., Wash., DC. 193pp.
Zezulak, D. S. 1981. Northeastern California bobcat study. Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, Sacramento. Fed. Aid Wildl. Rest. Proj. W-54-R-12, Job IV-3. 19pp.
Zezulak, D. S., and R. G. Schwab. 1980. Bobcat biology in a Mojave Desert community. Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, Sacramento. Fed. Aid Wildl. Rest. Proj. W-54-R-12, Job IV-4. 25pp.
Information gathered from California DFG - California Interagency Wildlife Task Group