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Bobcat

Scientific Name: Lynx rufus

BobcatNew York State Bobcat Management Plan

The Management Plan for Bobcat in New York State, 2012-2017 (PDF, 1.18 MB) was completed in October 2012. The plan provides direction and oversight for sustaining or enhancing the abundance, enjoyment and utilization of bobcats throughout New York State. The plan provides for the continued trapping and hunting of bobcats, and proposes new or expanded seasons in some areas, while also improving monitoring programs to ensure that the population remains at or above its current level in New York State.

A draft of the Bobcat Management Plan was available for public review and comment from January 18 through February 16, 2012. DEC received comments from more than 1,500 individuals and organizations and all of the input received was considered in the development of the final plan. See Summary of and Responses to Public Comments on the Draft Bobcat Management Plan, May 2012 (PDF, 445 KB) to review the comments submitted and DEC's response.

The Bobcat Management Plan formed the basis for regulatory changes to provide additional, sustainable bobcat harvest opportunities in many areas of the state, and standardize hunting and trapping season dates in areas where bobcat harvest opportunities already exist. The regulatory proposal to implement these changes was published on February 20, 2013, and during the 45-day public comment period the department received comments from over 400 individuals. See the Assessment of Public Comment (PDF) (30 kB) to view a summary of the comments submitted and DEC's response.

Description

Bobcat are about twice the size of a domestic cat and usually smaller than the Canada lynx. Their fur is dense, short, and soft and is generally shorter and more reddish in the summer and longer and more gray in the winter. Spotting occurs in some bobcats and is faded in others. The face has notable long hairs along the cheeks and black tufts at the tops of each ear.

Males are, on average, one-third larger than females. Both sexes can be greater than 30 pounds; however, averages for males and females are 21 and 14 pounds, respectively. Body length for males is 34 inches and 30 inches for females. Tail length is usually between 5 and 6 inches for both sexes.

Sometimes sightings of bobcat are confused with Canada lynx. Bobcat can be easily distinguished from lynx by the absence of the huge, seemingly oversized paws and a black-tipped tail that are characteristic of the lynx. Bobcats have paws that are proportional to their body size, and their tail is black spotted. Lynx tracks are roughly twice the size of that of a bobcat. DEC attempted a lynx restoration program in the Adirondacks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the animals released there dispersed far and wide and a resident breeding population was never established. Currently, the lynx is considered extirpated in New York because there is no evidence of any remnant population of resident animals.

Distribution and Habitat

Based on surveys from the late 1970s, bobcat occupied 13,500 square miles (a little more than one-quarter) of New York. There were three population centers: (1) Adirondack, (2) Catskill, and (3) Taconic regions. The Adirondack Study area had about 5 bobcats for every 100 square miles of area, while the Catskill area had about 16 bobcats for every 100 square miles of area. Bobcats also occur occasionally in many areas of western New York (and probably breed there).

The most critical features of bobcat habitat are places for refuge and protection, such as ledges. Bobcat often use rocky ledges and rock piles for shelter, breeding, and raising young. Brush piles, hollow trees, and logs are other good structures for resting and dens. Evergreen bogs and swamps, and other secluded places also fill the bobcat's requirement for refuge and protection.

Bobcat usually are not present where there are continuous human population centers; however, they can use patches of habitat if the patches are not completely isolated by urban development.

Food and Feeding

Research in the late 1970s found that white-tailed deer, rabbit, and hare are the most common items in the diet of bobcat in New York. They eat deer more often during the winter than other times of the year and will store or cache carcasses for future use. Deer can be a valuable prey item in areas of deep snow because one carcass can last for several weeks. Opportunistic prey items include birds, squirrels, meadow voles, and road kill.

Behavior

Bobcat are solitary animals and may be active at any time, day or night. Males have larger home ranges than females, and they travel greater distances on a daily basis. The average home range of a male in the Adirondacks is 136 square miles. The average female home range is 33 square miles. In the Catskills, the average male home range is 14 square miles, while the female average is 12 square miles. Home ranges are smaller in areas of good habitat than in areas of poor habitat.

Bobcat will use multiple strategies while hunting. They may approach stealthily, using any form of cover available between them and their prey, attempting to get close enough to pounce and strike. They may also use an ambush technique where they will sit and wait for prey to pass by, thereby affording them the opportunity to strike undetected. Smaller prey items such as mice and birds are consumed whole. Larger animals taken and stored are eaten in the position they lay, and can be identified as a bobcat cache by the upper parts being consumed, while the portion of the cache in contact with the ground may be untouched.

Scent marking using feces, urine, and scrapes of fluid from their anal glands have all been documented as ways they mark territory, and are commonly found on the underside of leaning trees, logs, shelter rocks, or stumps.

Reproduction

Bobcats begin to breed between mid-January and early February. Some researchers found breeding activities continuing into July. Females can reproduce in their first year, while males breed in their second year and likely mate with more than one female. Courtship activities may include chasing, ambushing, and what appears to be fighting.

The average gestation period for a litter is 62 days, but varies from 50 to 70 days. Most litters are born in April and May, ranging from March through July. Young are born in a dry, well hidden den, usually found within natural rocky areas and caves where available, and the female will likely have numerous auxiliary dens which they will use to aid in raising their young. Females raise one litter of 1-5 kittens alone. Kittens are able to accompany their mother away from the den by their third month, and disperse prior to the birth of the following year's litter.

Predators, Parasites and Disease

Bobcat kittens are killed by foxes, owls, and adult male bobcats. Adults may be injured or killed by their prey animals. The most common cause of death for kittens and juveniles is low food supply. It is not uncommon for an adult to die of starvation, especially during severe winters.

The importance of disease to wild bobcat populations is not well known. Some researchers have suggested that diseases carried by raccoons and feral cats may be an important mortality factor for bobcats. Twelve infectious diseases have been documented in wild bobcat. These diseases include rabies, feline distemper, and feline leukemia. They also carry a variety of parasites including tapeworms, roundworms, and others that are common in their prey species.

Management

A 1983 publication reports that 47 states in the U.S. had bobcat within their boundaries at that time. Thirteen states had a policy of total protection (no harvest). Thirty states had hunting seasons, while 32 had trapping seasons. Three states, Wyoming, Texas, and North Dakota, allowed year-round harvest.

Many northern New York counties paid bounties on bobcat before 1971. The New York State Legislature passed a law ending the payment of bounties in 1971.

In 1973, a group of 75 countries (including the U.S.) developed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty. CITES made it illegal to export pelts of endangered spotted cats such as cheetah, leopard, and ocelot. The treaty also included a list of species that had the potential to be affected negatively by the export ban. Bobcat are on this list because they are a spotted cat, and possibly an alternative for the banned pelts.

Although the federal government, under CITES, controls export of bobcat pelts, the states are responsible for management. Bobcat were unprotected in New York until the Legislature gave DEC the authority to set open seasons in 1976. The Department closed a large portion of the state to bobcat harvest after 1976, and started a pelt tagging system to track bobcat harvested by hunters or trappers in some areas with open seasons beginning in 1977. Hunting has been the dominant harvest method since the 1988-89 season. This is likely due to declining pelt prices and the resultant decrease in licensed trappers.

Although the status of bobcat in New York is stable, the Bureau of Wildlife will continue monitoring bobcat populations to determine whether any important changes occur. Wildlife biologists are developing a "sighting index" based on observations of bobcats by volunteer bowhunters, or you can report bobcat sightings by filling out a Bobcat Observation Report (see "Important Links" above in the right-hand column). This information, along with harvest statistics, provides the primary tools for assessing bobcat population trends.