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Keeping track of the bobcat

Tin Mountain Conservation Center Nature Corner

Bobcat in winter. Andrew Thompson Photo. (click for larger version)
February 04, 2010
Bobcats' distinct tawny brown and red splotched summer coat, thicker gray winter pelage, and black-tipped ear tufts are distinctive characteristics; however, their most discerning characteristic is a bobbed tail with black bars and white below.

Although not a long-distance runner, bobcats can attain speeds of 30 mph for short distances and leap up to ten feet. As perfect walkers, they place their back feet into their front foot tracks, thereby expending less energy in snow and making little noise on dry leaves and twigs. The round five-toed track without visible claw marks is easily recognized in snow and mud. Since their short legs and small feet are not well suited for hunting in deep snow, many young bobcats and some adults will not survive tough, snowy winters.

Like all cats, bobcats have sharp, retractable claws that are well suited for climbing and catching, long canine teeth to stab, and scissor-sharp back teeth to cut through meat and hide. Their shoulder blades are unattached to the main skeleton and held in place by strong ligaments and muscles, allowing superb flexibility at any speed. Its many vertebrae contribute to excellent mobility, and the forelegs and intricate wrists allow for exceptional dexterity in walking on ledges and retrieving prey. The domestic cat skeleton is nearly identical to that of all big cats in shape and proportion, therefore, observing domestic cat movements provides direct insight about the movement of the bobcats.

An opportunist, loner, and strict carnivore, bobcats prey mainly upon snowshoe hares, squirrels, mice, and game birds, including wild turkey and grouse. In times of plenty, they leave food behind that is quickly consumed by scavengers; however, they bury and save larger kills like deer when prey is scarce. Bobcats are adaptable and can live in varied habitats including forests, mountains, swamps, and even deserts.

About one million bobcats live in the United States, and in some areas, they are considered endangered while other populations are stable and thriving. Of the three wildcats once native to New Hampshire, bobcats are the only one that remains. The mountain lion was extirpated in 1853, and lynx populations became unsustainable in the 1950s. Although bobcat populations dwindled in the 1970s, closing hunting and trapping in 1989, as well as other conservation efforts, have resulted in a stable or slightly increased population level today.

The University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department are working on a four-year collaborative project to help understand the population, movement and habitat linkages of bobcats in the Granite State. Initially focused in southwestern New Hampshire, bobcats are collar-mounted with GPS and cell phone technologies, allowing researchers to study bobcat movement. Since GPS-based locations are precise within a few feet, home range and habitat use will be pinpointed and characterized to help conservation efforts protect remaining forest landholdings where viable populations of bobcats can persist.

During a phone interview this week with Derek Broman, a MS graduate student in Wildlife Ecology at U.N.H. and experienced bobcat handler working on the Granite State Bobcat Project, Broman stated, "The members of the project are looking for healthy, well established adult cat residents to collar, both male and female. Females are the sex of choice because they rear kittens and their preference for cover is more selective. Since a male does not need to provide care for his young and is responsible mainly for himself, his behavior is more do what he wants, idle and carefree."

According to Derek, "The first bobcat was collared in November, 2009 and the most recent on January 19. To date, three males and one female are collared. Adults are determined by weight, coloring and condition of canine and gums. A tooth of each cat is extracted for identification and DNA sampling."

Approximately a total of 12 bobcats will be collared by the end of March. The results of the project will provide the state with population data, and will benefit research on bobcat seasonal behavior, ecosystem relationships, habitat preference and travel corridor use.

The Tin Mountain Conservation Nature Learning Center library in Albany provides a great resource where you can find tracking books, field guides and animal mounts that can aid you in identifying bobcat tracks, scat and body features. Those wishing to help with the Granite State Bobcat Project can report bobcat sightings and signs to john@unh.edu. To keep posted on the Granite State Bobcat Project, visit: http://www.nre.unh.edu/faculty/litvaitis/Research/BobcatWeb/bobcats.htm. When reporting your sighting, include your name, location of sighting, date and time, township, exact location of sighting, and detail of observation. s

Article written by TMCC PR/Communications Manager Donna Marie Dolan. Comments welcome: ddolan@tinmountain.org.


Bobcats are predators, rarely prey.

Bobcats mate in February and March.

Females' home range is about 12 square miles; males around 36.

Kittens are dependent on their moms for 9 to 10 months.

A bobcat marks its home range with urine, feces, and clawing of prominent trees in the area.

Bobcats seek shelter and rest areas on ledges and in rock features, hollow trees and logs and brush and pile; they have been known to use underground dens during harsh winters.

The average life span for most bobcats in the wild is 2 to 5 years; some individuals can live up to 15.

Martin Lord & Osman
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