Mammals: Bobcat

The two wildlife researchers were working up the Pipe towards the Yaak in Kootenai Country Montana when a camouflaged bobcat and her kittens crossed the trail about 120 feet in front of them. Wary and defensive, the mother shooed the kittens into a hollow log, jumped up and paced back and forth atop the log, never taking her eyes off the guys...

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The smallest of native cats in Northwest Montana is also known by several other names such as bay lynx, catamount, red lynx, and wildcat. Although the term lynx is used in various common names, the bobcat (Felis rufus) and the Canadian lynx (Felis lynx) are two distinct species. Rarely, a hybridization of bobcat and lynx occur in the wild and are referred to as lynx-cats. The most notable differences are that the bobcat’s feet are much smaller than those of the lynx, and lack the furry pads of the lynx. The short bob-tail of the bobcat has black fur surrounding only the top half of the tail, whereas the lynx has a solid black tail tip. Overall, the bobcat has a spottier appearance in contrast with generally lighter beige-gray fur of the lynx. Also, the lynx has a fuller facial ruff and beard, longer tufts of black hair on the ear tips, and a more stooped appearance due to longer back legs. Lynx rely heavily on snowshoe hare for prey, whereas bobcat are often more diverse in their diets.    

Bobcat will take mice, shrews, voles, deer and deer carrion, snowshoe hare, western cottontails, grouse, fisher, mink, swans, cranes, geese, eggs, insects and fish! Generally, bobcats weigh about 25 pounds on average, and are about 33 inches in length. However, in Kootenai Country Montana, bobcats may sometimes reach 45 pounds. These wildcats are habitat generalists, and utilize patchy areas of multiple age forests, shrublands, edge effects of wetlands, and natural rocky outcrops for denning.    

Catamounts have both great day and night vision, a good sense of smell, and sharp hearing. These cats may be active during all hours, but are primarily nocturnal and solitary. In winter, the bob-tailed cat will become somewhat more diurnal, or active during the day as their prey must maintain a more vigorous behavior during the daytime in colder months. Core ranges average about 64 square miles and are marked by feces, urine scent posts, and clawing trees. Dens are usually made in rocky outcrops, hollow logs, thickets or brush piles.    

Hunting methods of this opportunistic predator include stalking, and ambushing with a short, bullet like chase or pounce. At times, especially in winter these cats will utilize hunting beds and will lay, sit, crouch, or stand in still hunt methods for prey. When targets are spotted, they will pounce, grabbing prey with their retractable claws, biting the throat, or the back of the neck. In Kootenai Country Montana, nature in its most raw form is seldom gentle.    

(Author’s Note: Reference I.D. of Montana’s Furbearing Mammals, Frisina and Alt.-Bobcats are a regulated Montana Furbearer.)