Distribution & Abundance |
Habitat | Habits
| Foods |
Reproduction | Conservation
are about twice the size of a common house cat. They stand 20 to 23 inches high at
the shoulder and are 30 to 35 inches in length. Weights vary from 10 to 40 pounds.
Females average about one-third smaller than males. They get their name from a
short, bobbed tail that is about 5 to 6 1/2 inches in length. Small tufts of hair
extend from the tips of their ears, making them look pointed. A ruff of long fur
that extends along the cheekbones gives their face a full, rounded appearance.
The upper body is yellowish-gray to light brown with a sprinkling of black.
Their summer coats can have a reddish tinge, as indicated by their species name,
rufus, which is Latin for red. The belly and inner legs are whitish or yellowish
with black spots.
Distribution & Abundance
Bobcats were common and widespread in Illinois when the first European
settlers arrived. Habitat changes and unregulated harvest caused their numbers
to decline dramatically by the late 1800s. Bobcats were placed on the state's
first list of threatened species in December 1977.
Reports from hunters and trappers suggest that the bobcat's range and numbers
grew during the early 1990s. A study by the Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory at
Southern Illinois University confirmed this trend. As in the past, sightings
were concentrated in the southern third of the state, especially in Alexander,
Jackson, Johnson, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph and Union counties. Consistent
sightings from JoDaviess County suggested that another population occurred in
northwestern Illinois. Reports from other parts of the state were common enough
to suggest that bobcats existed at low densities along the Mississippi,
Illinois and Kaskaskia rivers. All in all, 71 of Illinois' 102 counties had at
least three reports of bobcat sightings, and 92 counties had at least one report.
Based on this study, bobcats were removed from the list of state threatened
species in 1999.
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.
For more information, go here: The Bobcat in Illinois | Bobcat Research Symposium Proceedings
Bobcats prefer large forested or wooded areas. Forest lands with immature
trees, thick underbrush, occasional clearings, cliffs and timbered swamps are
generally best. Common den sites include fallen trees, hollow logs or trees,
thickets, caves and rock piles. Some bobcats make their dens in abandoned or
little-used barns and buildings. Viewed by many as a "wilderness species," the
bobcat's shy, secretive habits allow it to live surprisingly close to people.
are most active at night, dusk and dawn. Daytime
movements are rare except during the breeding season and occasionally during
winter when food is scarce. They remain active all year long. While capable of
swimming, they avoid water. Bobcats are excellent climbers and use trees
for resting, observation and to escape enemies. Like domestic cats, they
sharpen their front claws on dead trees or other objects. Bobcats mark their
territories with droppings, urine and gland secretions to warn strangers to
Territories of the adult males studied in southern Illinois averaged about 8
square miles; those of adult females were about 3 square miles. Territories of both sexes overlap.
Illinois bobcats have a high survival rate once they reach a year old. They're
protected by closed hunting and trapping seasons. Most deaths are caused by
vehicles. Predation is rare, but kittens are killed occasionally by coyotes,
domestic dogs, hawks and owls.
Bobcats are curious animals, zig-zagging to investigate objects that catch their
attention. They usually move at a walk or trot. Dirt roads, railways and game
trails are common travel routes between hunting and resting places. Bobcats rely
heavily on their keen sight and hearing to locate prey. Their hunting strategies
are based on a wait-and-pounce or stalk-and-pounce approach. Prey that are
missed on the first pounce are seldom chased for more than a few yards.
Bobcats usually are quiet but can make low growls or high-pitched screams.
Squalls, howls, meows and yowls are sometimes heard during the mating season,
when they tend to be more vocal. Captive bobcats
have been known to purr. The same is probably true for wild ones.
Common foods include rabbits, squirrels, birds and rodents such as mice,
voles and rats. Bobcats gorge themselves when food is plentiful and may not
feed again for several days. They seldom return to eat from an old kill unless
food is scarce.
Mating peaks in February, but the season can last from early January through
June. Most litters arrive in late April or early May after a gestation period
(pregnancy) of 50 to 70 days. Litter sizes average two to three kittens.
Newborns weigh about 12 ounces and are 10 inches in length. They have spotted
fur and sharp claws. Their eyes open at 9 to 11 days of age. Not long after, the
kittens venture outside the den to play. They're weaned at about 2 months of
age, but most remain with their mother until fall or the next spring. Some
females are sexually mature and mate when they're 1 year old.
Maintaining and managing forest habitats are important conservation measures
for bobcats. In some cases, forests need complete protection because they're
located in key areas or provide homes for rare plants and animals. Illinois
nature preserves and natural areas help to meet this goal.
Cutting trees for timber, pulp and firewood is good for wildlife as long as it's
done responsibly. Sunlight is the key to the composition of the forest. Very
little sunlight reaches the ground in a mature stand of trees, which means that
grasses, wild raspberries and other sun-loving plants cannot grow here. As these
plants disappear, so do animals such as rodents and rabbits that depend on them
for food. Animals like bobcats that eat rodents and rabbits aren't far behind.