University of Illinois Extension

Wildlife Directory

Bobcat (rufus)

Lynx
Bobcat (Lynx rufus). Photo courtesy of Mike Jeffords, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Did You Know?

  • Bobcats were almost eliminated from Illinois by the mid 1900’s, but now are found statewide.
  • Bobcats were also known as Felis rufus.

Description and Identification

Bobcats belong to the Felidae family. They are approximately 2 ¼ to 3 ½ feet in length, including the tail, and can be up to 2 feet high at the shoulder. Adult males can weigh up to 40 pounds but average 22 pounds; adult females are smaller and weigh slightly less. Bobcats have yellowish to reddish brown fur with black spots and streaks throughout. In winter, the fur tends to be more grayish-brown. The fur on the underparts is white with dark spots. Bobcats have a ruff of fur extending from the ear to the lower jaw, tufted ears (usually), long legs, and a short tail (4 to 6 inches). The tail is whitish underneath and brown above with dark bands and ending in black with a white tip. Bobcats have 5 toes on the front feet and 4 toes on the rear feet.

Tracks

Bobcat tracks are round and do not have claw marks. Front prints average 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ inches long, with rear prints slightly smaller.

Droppings

Bobcat scat may contain fur but not bones; the scat tends to be highly segmented. It is common for bobcats to cover their scat. They also make scrapes near dens or along trails where scat is left uncovered to help mark the bobcat’s territory.

Habitat

Bobcats prefer forest with a dense understory. Wooded habitat is used for cover and denning sites, while forest edges and fields are used for hunting prey.

Distribution and Abundance

Bobcat (Lynx rufus). Photo courtesy of Mike Jeffords, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Bobcats were almost extirpated from Illinois by the mid 1900s. They were protected as a threatened species in Illinois from 1977 to 1999. Today, they can be found throughout Illinois but are more common in the southern third of the state.

Bobcats are still protected from hunting and trapping in Illinois. Bobcats are thriving in southern Illinois. A study by Southern Illinois University estimated that about 2,200 bobcats existed south of Interstate 64 during 2000. This grew to about 3,200 bobcats during 2009. Numbers of bobcats continue to grow elsewhere in the state, especially along major rivers.

Bobcat home ranges can be quite large. A study conducted in southern Illinois reported annual home ranges of 7 ½ to 20 and 3 ½ to 6 square miles for male and female bobcats, respectively.

Reproduction

Breeding takes place in January through June, with the peak in February and March. Gestation is approximately 60 days. Bobcats have one litter each year with an average of 2 to 3 kittens per litter. The kittens have spotted grayish-brown fur and their eyes open when they are about 9 to 11 days old. They are weaned by the time they are 2 months old but stay with the female until at least the fall of their first year. Only the female provides for the young. Females begin breeding at 1 to 2 years of age, while males do not breed until their second year.

Food

Bobcats are classified as carnivores. They feed mainly on rabbits, mice, voles and squirrels, but will also eat many other species such as muskrat and opossum. They are also known to consume birds, frogs, insects, fish and snakes. Occasionally an individual may take poultry.

Bobcats will also kill deer. Fawns and injured or sick deer are prey for bobcats, but they are also capable of killing healthy, adult deer. They can ambush a deer when it is resting in its bed or attack during periods of deep snow. Large prey are often covered (cached) to protect the carcass from scavengers.

Behavior

Bobcats are typically quiet animals, but occasionally growl or make high- pitched screams. During the breeding season they may also vocalize using squalls, howls, meows, and yowls. Male bobcats are solitary animals; the young of the year stay with the females from spring until fall. Bobcats are active from a few hours before sunset until dawn.

Damage Prevention and Control Measures

Bobcats sometimes take poultry or small animals.

Habitat modification

Control rabbit and small mammal populations. Keep the area cleared of brush or other cover.

Exclusion

Bobcats are good climbers, so fences are not very effective in keeping them out. To protect poultry make sure that enclosures have wire overhead. Providing a shed or other solid enclosure will help protect poultry better than a wire enclosure. All doors or other openings should be shut at night.

Repellents and Frightening Devices
  • There are currently no approved repellents for bobcats in Illinois.
  • Frightening devices such as flashing lights, blaring music, or dogs may temporarily discourage bobcats from using an area.
Removal

If a bobcat is taking poultry or causing other problems they may be trapped and removed by individuals with the appropriate permit from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) district wildlife biologist. If you want to hire someone to remove the bobcat contact a nuisance wildlife control operator.

Public Health Concerns

Bobcats can be carriers of feline distemper and rabies. Feline distemper is not known to be transmittable to humans. Rabies can be transmitted to humans and is generally fatal if not treated quickly.

Ecological Role

Bobcats help control small mammal populations.

Legal Status

In Illinois, bobcats are protected as Furbearers. If a bobcat is causing a problem contact an IDNR district wildlife biologist. Bobcats may be removed under authority of special permits when they are causing damage, but are otherwise protected by continuous closed seasons.