Bobcats live throughout our state, although they are much more common in the southern counties of Illinois. No matter where they live, they are masters of social distancing. They avoid areas populated by people and live most of their lives as solitary hunters.
They can adapt to a variety of locations. In our area, they inhabit edges of multiple habitats: a forest nearby for sleeping and raising kittens and prairies, disturbed areas, or even agricultural fields for their hunting grounds.
Bobcats are named for their short, “bobbed” tails. They are about twice the size of a house cat, but their size can vary quite a bit. As adults, the males are larger than females. Their color can also vary, from light orangish-brown to dark gray. All bobcats have white underbellies and are covered in black spots that help them camouflage. They also all have little black tufts of fur at the tips of their ears.
Bobcats are strict carnivores. They will eat a variety of animals, but their preferred food is mammals. Like all cats, they have sharp senses of sight, smell and hearing. They hunt in different ways. Sometimes they track and stalk their prey. Sometimes they patiently wait for their prey to pass by before attacking. They can run as fast as 30 miles per hour and can leap 10 feet when pouncing on their food.
Bobcats hunt alone. They claim large territories, marking the borders with urine, feces and scents from special glands. A male and female will get to together to mate, usually in the spring, but they do not stay together or meet up again. The female will find a hollow tree, fallen log or rock crevices to make a den for her young.
After about two months, a litter of usually one to four kittens is born. Kittens open their eyes after 10 days, start venturing outside after one month and are weaned from their mothers’ milk after two months. By six months they are usually independent. Bobcats will mate starting at two years old and have a litter every year after. In the wild, they can live up to 15 years, but eight years is more common.
Kittens are at risk of being attacked by predators, including owls, foxes and coyotes. But adult bobcats are at the top of the food chain. They were once killed for sport, their fur or to protect farm animals. Now their biggest threat is vehicles, and they are often found as roadkill.
Bobcats look a lot like their cousins from the north, the Canadian lynx. However, the lynx has extra-large and furry feet because they have adapted to areas with heavy snowfall. The clever bobcat will follow deer paths, tire tracks or plowed roads to avoid walking in the deep snow.
How do you know you are looking at a bobcat footprint? The pad of a bobcat’s foot is much larger compared to the toes, and because cats have retractable claws there is never a claw mark.
Although bobcats are alone most often, they can communicate through a variety of sounds. They meow, growl, snarl, yowl, scream, squall, caterwaul and hiss. So while you are keeping physical distance from so many people you love and care about, channel the bobcat. Remember, we have many ways to communicate as well.
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