Bobcat

Bobcat resting in den
Bobcat standing on rock
Adult bobcat looking over shoulder
Bobcat female with kitten

Introduction

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife strives for an integrated approach to applied management and conservation of bobcats throughout the state. Bobcats are a native species in California. They fill an important niche in the ecosystem and contribute to healthy biodiversity throughout the state. Presently, the statewide population is estimated to be between 70,000-100,000 bobcats.

Conservation and Management

The Department was tasked by the State Legislature to conduct a statewide population assessment of bobcats (Lynx rufus). Officially known as the California Statewide Bobcat Population Monitoring Project, this two-year study ends June 30, 2022. A statewide bobcat management plan (Plan) will be developed and completed by January 2025 based on data collected from this effort.

The Plan will cover all aspects of bobcat management including:

  • Demographic information
  • Population health
  • Conservation and management needs
  • Effects of habitat loss, wildfire, drought, and human-wildlife interactions

Science and Research

The Department seeks to improve understanding of bobcats in California specific to: 1) population monitoring; 2) species health; and human-bobcat interactions. CDFW continues working to better understand the complexities and capabilities of this native species. Research is vital to applying an adaptive approach to managing their population.

Bobcat Biology

Appearance

Bobcats are small to medium-sized cats with muscular bodies, distinct markings, and a short bobbed tail (4-6"). Adult bobcats generally weigh between 12 and 25 pounds. Females are much smaller than males. Bobcats are sometimes confused with other cat species. Once you know what to look for, it is easy to identify them.Size comparison of cat species

Bobcats have round face with ruffs of fur on the side of the head giving the appearance of sideburns. They have pointed ears and short ear tufts with prominent white dots on the back of the ears. Their body is covered in brown to light gray fur with black spots and bars, and the tip of the tail is black on top and white on the underside.

  • Bobcats are approximately one quarter the size of mountain lion.
  • Bobcats are generally two to three times as large as a domestic house cat with a more muscular body.
  • Bobcat tails are “bobbed” in appearance and much shorter than the tail of mountain lion or domestic cat.

Diet

Bobcats are mostly carnivorous. Their diet consists of a variety of animals, such as rabbits, rodents, wood rats, porcupines, raccoons, deer fawns, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Bobcats will stalk or ambush their prey from the ground, trees, logs, or rocks. They sometimes consume plant materials such as grass. Bobcats will also opportunistically hunt pets or small livestock such as chickens if those animals are not kept in a secure enclosure at night.

Reproduction

Males and females only associate for the brief time required for courtship and mating. Females usually have a litter of 3 kittens born between April and July. They give birth in dens found in caves, hollow logs or trees. Young bobcats disperse at around 8 months old.

Bobcat Behavior

Bobcats are known to be solitary and elusive. They avoid people. Bobcats are generally most active at night and during twilight hours, though it is not unusual to see them during daytime. Bobcat climbing off rockBobcats do not pose a threat to public safety, but may attempt to hunt an outdoor pet or small livestock if those animals are not securely enclosed at night.

Habitat and Range

Bobcats can be found in diverse habitats throughout most of California. Suitable bobcat habitat can include chaparral vegetation types, the brushy stages of low and mid-elevation conifer, oak, pinyon-juniper woodlands and forests, to riparian and desert environments. Bobcats prefer areas with dense brush cover and will use cavities in rocks, snags logs, and stumps for cover and denning.

Current Research

The two-year California Statewide Bobcat Population Monitoring Project was first implemented July 1, 2021 and will end June 30, 2022. A Bobcat Management Oversight Group (BOMOG) was formed comprised of key staff from around the state. Next, a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) was formed comprised of various subject matter experts and researchers within CDFW to help implement the study. The study has used an integrated approach to collect robust data to monitor the bobcat population in California, including the following methods:

  • Collecting scat samples for fecal DNA analysis to identify individual animals and estimate population size via a capture/recapture model.
  • Collecting camera data at 48 study areas around the state using nearly 500 motion-activated cameras at any given time.
  • Each study area is 40 square km (approx. 15 square miles) with 80 motion-activated cameras recording images for six weeks before cameras are moved to the next study area.
  • Images are stored in Wildlife Insights, a cloud-based platform, using machine learning to identify animals in camera trap images from each study area.

Laws and Regulations

Effective January 1, 2020, a bobcat hunting ban took effect in California. Trapping bobcats for their fur is also banned in California. Bobcats that are harassing or killing pets and livestock, may be taken by the landowner or agent under the authority of a depredation permit issued by CDFW. Below are some, but not all Fish and Game Code (FGC) laws and Title 14 California Code of Regulations (CCR) relevant to bobcats.

Potential Conflict and Depredation

Bobcats are by nature wary of people and pose little threat to public safety or human health. However, unprotected pets and livestock may be at risk. Prevention is key to reducing human-wildlife conflict and preventing potential loss of pets or small livestock. To learn more, visit the Human-Wildlife Conflicts Program.

Remember!

  • Feeding squirrels, birds or other wildlife can attract bobcats to your property.
  • Remove potential attractants - Keep pet food and water indoors.
  • Do not leave small pets unattended outdoors - Bring dogs and cats in at night.
  • Properly pen small livestock and chickens in secure enclosures - Especially at night.