The bobcat is the most common of Minnesota's three native wildcat species (the others are the cougar and Canada lynx). About 2,000 bobcats live in northern Minnesota. Few humans ever see a bobcat in the wild.
The bobcat appears smaller and more slender than the lynx. It has shorter ear tufts, smaller less furry feet, and the tip of its tail is black only on the top. It is not gifted with tremendous speed or a keen nose. Rather, it depends upon sharp eyesight and stealth to locate and stalk its prey. After getting close, it springs and seizes its victim with needle-sharp claws and teeth.
General description: A medium-sized animal with a very short "bob" (which means cut short) tail, with light brown or gray fur on the top and white fur, often with black spots, on the belly.
Length: Adults are 26 to 36 inches long, plus a 4- to 7-inch tail.
Weight: Adult females weigh 20 to 25 pounds, and adult males about 30 pounds.
Color: Brown or gray on top, white on the belly often with black spots.
Baby bobcats are usually born during late March through May in a litter of 2 to 4 kittens. Sometimes they are born as late as September. Dens are often in a brush pile or fallen hollow tree and are lined with moss and leaves before the female gives birth. Kittens stay with their mother for nearly one year before moving on to find their own home range.
The bobcat eats a wide range of small and medium-sized prey including mice, snowshoe hares, squirrels, birds, and white-tailed deer fawns. The bobcat can kill an adult deer by pouncing on the deer's neck from an over-hanging tree limb and piercing the jugular vein in the deer's neck with its teeth.
Other predator species such as the fisher and coyote may compete with the bobcat for food and habitat and sometimes will kill a bobcat. A bobcat will also kill a fisher or coyote, if given the chance.
Habitat and range
Bobcats used to live across Minnesota, but now they are seldom seen in southern Minnesota. They are most common in woodlands of north-central and northeastern counties. Bobcats appear more adaptable to changing land use than does the more reclusive lynx. They prefer habitat that has lots of prey, such as young aspen forests and cedar swamps, where deer congregate in winter.
Population and management
The bobcat is a valuable furbearer and is both trapped and hunted--usually with hounds--for its fur. A designated game animal, it may be taken only during prescribed seasons.
The bobcat is named for its "bob" tail, which looks as though it has been cut off at about 5 inches long. It easily climbs trees, and sometimes catches and eats porcupines which also climb trees.