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Wildlife Species Guide

Bobcat

Wildlife Species Guide | Furbearers Guide | Description |Tracks
Hunting & Trapping | Future | Literature

Description

Listen to an Outdoor Nebraska Radio Interview on Bobcats with Sam Wilson
         (1-21-2011)

Although the bobcat is secretive as most wild felines, increasingly frequent sightings and harvest data tell a surprising story of population growth.

Bobcats are found in a wide variety of habitats, including mixed forests, forest edges, broken country with rocky ledges and wooded river bottoms. BobcatDensities seem to have increased particularly in the south and southeast of the state, while populations in the west do not show the same intensive growth. Adults weigh 15 to 35 pounds, males are generally heavier than females. The bobcat is named after its short tail. Pelt color and pattern is quite variable, however, a brownish-reddish color with darker spots is most common.

Breeding season usually peaks in late winter and 1-5 kittens are born after a 50-60 day gestation period. Although kittens are weaned at about 2 months of age, they will stay with their mother until their first fall or even longer.
Bobcats hunt mainly at dusk, dawn and throughout the night. While cottontail rabbits are heavily preyed upon, a variety of small mammals and birds are also taken. As many other wild felines, bobcats often cache their prey by covering it with snow or surounding litter.



Bobcats will also occasionally prey on deer. The bite size and spacing of bobcat canines (partial skull shown for comparison). The deer in the image was killed in June 2001, near Ponca State Park in northeastern Nebraska. Image to the left shows bite marks behind the left ear of a white tailed deer

Many people are not aware that bobcats can and will take healthy adult deer. Generally, deer are suffocated by crushing the trachea, but occasionally a bobcat can penetrate behind the skull and sever the spinal cord with its canines.
Bobcats are capable swimmers and will occasionally take to water.



Track comparisons

Bobcat
Coyote

Bobcat front tracks are 1 7/8" to 2 1/2" long and 1 7/8" to 2 5/8" wide. Claws typically do not register because they are retracted. Claw marks are usually (but not always) visible in coyote and dog tracks. The heal pad in cat tracks has two lobes in the front and three lobes in the back, while dog and coyote tracks show only one lobe in the front and two lobes in the back. Domestic cat tracks are generally much smaller than bobcat tracks.

Hunting and Trapping

Harvest records collected over the past 60 years have provided most of the data indicating the population increase. Since 1988, bobcats hunted or trapped needed to be tagged to meet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) requirement. This does not only serve as an aid to prevent the sale and export of similar species (such as the endangered ocelot), but also yields important information about every bobcat killed in Nebraska.
harvest chart

While from 1941 through 1989 less than 90 bobcats on average were taken per year, the harvest numbers picked up in 1990 and have been over 1,000 per year since 2003 with a high of 1,604 during the 2006 season. During the 2000/2001 fur harvest season, 640 bobcats were taken by hunters and trappers in Nebraska, and this occurred despite continuously low pelt prices on any wild fur.

Bobcats, are the only other resident large predator in the state besides coyotes and gain recognition from trappers and hunters every year.

Future

The steady increase in the Nebraska bobcat population may be attributed to a number of factors. A combination of habitat and prey increase associated with the start and growth of the CRP program may be one of these factors. The series of mild winters experienced during the past decade, which resulted in good body condition and high juvenile survival, may have also contributed to the rebound. Whatever the reasons for this species' recovery may be, it is a welcome break in a time of general nation- and worldwide decline of wild cat species. Continued monitoring of the harvest and additional surveys to monitor population and reproduction will be necessary to ensure that we are not simply experiencing a temporary rebound, but a permanently healthy population.

All photos are © Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Literature

Higgins, K.F., Dowd Stukel. E., Goulet, J.M. and D.C. Backlund. 2000. Wildl mammals of South Dakota. South Dakota Department of game, Fish and Parks.

Jones, J.K. Jr.1964. Distribution and Taxonomy of Mammals of Nebraska. University of Kansas Publications. Museum of Natural History. 36:299-302.

McCord, C.M. and J.E. Cardoza. 1982. Bobcat and Lynx. In: Wild Mammals of North America. Biology, Management, and Economics. Johns Hopkins Unversity Press. Baltimore.

Rezendes, P. 1992. Tracking and the Art of Seing. How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign. Camden House Publishing, Inc., Charlotte, Vermont.

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