Keep Me Wild: Bobcat

Description and Identification

The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a medium sized member of the North American wild cat family. This charismatic feline generally weighs between 12 and 40 pounds. Although females are considerably smaller at 8 to 30 pounds. It can usually be identified at a distance by its short (4-6") bobbed tail and its round face with pointed ears. At close distances, dark, transverse bars on the tail and prominent white dots on the upper back side of the ears are usually visible. The chest and outside of the legs are covered with brownish to light gray fur with black spots and bars. The tip of the tail is black on top, but white on the underside. They have short ear tufts and ruffs of hair on the side of the head giving the appearance of sideburns.

Habitat and Home Range

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


Largely carnivorous, bobcats prey upon a variety of animals, including rabbits, rodents, wood rats, porcupines, raccoons, deer fawns, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. Prey are usually stalked or ambushed from the ground, trees, logs, or rocks. Bobcats sometimes consume plant materials (mostly fruits and grass).

Behavior and Family Structure

Bobcats are generally secretive and solitary. Males and females only associate for the brief time required for courtship and mating. A litter of about 3 kittens is typically born between April and July in dens found in caves or hollow logs or trees. Young disperse at around 8 months old. Although, generally most active at night and during twilight hours, it is not unusual to see them during daytime.

Ecological Role

Scientists maintain that the presence of bobcats are important to the health and biodiversity of an ecosystem. Bobcats are a native California species and fill a niche within the wildlife community it inhabits. The bobcat eats rodents and other small mammals which aids in maintaining plant diversity. Soils are enriched by nutrients fed upon carcasses provide. Birds rely on worms and insects in carcasses.

Preventing Problems with Bobcats

Bobcats are by nature wary of people and may not pose a significant threat to human safety. However, unprotected pets and livestock may be at risk. If you live near or where bobcats and other wildlife also live, prevention is key in reducing human-wildlife conflict and preventing the loss of pets and livestock.

Never feed wildlife

  • Feeding squirrels, birds and other wildlife can attract bobcats to your property.
  • Feeding wildlife contributes to the spread of disease among animals that concentrate in an area because of the feeding.
  • Human food is not a natural food source for wildlife and can sometimes harm them.
  • Wildlife may lose natural wariness of humans and become destructive to property.

Remove all potential food sources

Keep pet food and water indoors. Bird feeders attract rodents and in turn rodents attract bobcat and other predators to your property.

Secure pets and livestock

Outdoor cats and small dogs are easy prey for bobcat.

  • Bring dogs and cats in at night.
  • Keep watch on dogs turned out in the yard for potty breaks after dark.
  • Properly pen chickens and livestock in quarters inaccessible to predators.
  • Do not leave small domestic pets unattended outdoors.

Legal Status

Bobcats are a native California species (classified as nongame) and as of January 1, 2020 may no longer be hunted in California.  Effective 2015 bobcat can no longer be trapped for their fur in California. Bobcats that are harassing or killing pets and livestock, may be killed by the landowner or agent under the authority of a depredation permit. The killing of a bobcat in defense of property or self defense, or defense of another should be reasonable and justified. A person taking such action must have reasonable belief that the bobcat poses a threat of serious physical harm, that this harm is imminent, and the action is the only reasonable available means to prevent that harm.


If you have questions or need help, link opens in new windowcontact your local Fish and Wildlife office (PDF)

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Additional Resources

Is it Really a Bobcat?

illustration of bobcat size compared to other cat species.
(CDFW artwork by Sarah Guerere)

Bobcats are sometimes confused with other cat species. Once you know what to look for, it is easy to identify them.

  • Bobcats are only one quarter to less than one half the size of mountain lion.
  • Bobcats are generally two or three times as large as a domestic house cat and more muscular and full in the body.
  • The bobcat’s tail is “bobbed” in appearance (4 to 6”) and much shorter than the tail of mountain lion and most domestic cats.