What has a stubby "bobbed" tail, sideburns, spiky ear hair and gets called lots of names? It's the bobcat, one of two large felines (cats) found in Wisconsin and the most common in North America. Imagine a cat twice the size of your house cat weighing about 20 pounds with large ears that have pointed tufts of hair at the ends. The bobcat has an orange-tan pelt with black stripes on the face and spots on the body. The top of the tail is black with a white underside. Bobcats have a white chest and belly, but the belly is heavily spotted. These spots and the color of their coat helps camouflage the bobcat in the thick underbrush.
Wisconsin's bobcats have been given many common names over the years like: wildcat, bay lynx, lynx cat, and red lynx. The bobcat can be confused with the real lynx. They can be hard to tell apart. The bobcat has irregular dark markings only on the top half of their tail and they have shorter tufts of hair on their ears. The tracks of the bobcat are also just slightly larger than a house cat, but the lynx's tracks are more than 4 inches across.
The snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit are the major prey of Wisconsin bobcats. These cats will look for sick, injured, very young or old white-tailed deer if a rabbit meal isn't easily available. They also like larger mammals for a meal like the porcupine, squirrel, and wood chuck. They'll chase and eat smaller animals such as mice, voles, shrews, reptiles, birds and even insects. Most of all the bobcat specializes in taking larger, rabbit-sized prey.
Thick forested areas of northern Wisconsin are home to the bobcat. They like alder thickets and coniferous swamps with black spruce, white cedar, or balsam fir trees especially. In the southern part of the bobcat's range, they prefer upland areas when conifer swamps aren't found. Male bobcats cruise a 25 square mile area and females only 15 miles in range. Fights can be prevented between bobcats since they mark their territory boundaries with feces, urine, and gland secretions. Young bobcats may wander as much as 100 miles across the land to find an unoccupied territory to make their home. They have their fist litter of 2-3 kittens when they are 2 years old. Kittens are born between April and July in dens found in caves, rock crevices, or hollow logs or trees. The den is carefully lined with dry leaves, moss, or grass formed into a shallow depression. Kittens weigh 10-12 ounces at birth and are fully furred with their eyes closed at first. After 10 days the kittens can see and they will eat and gain up to .4 ounces per day. At 4 weeks old, they will leave the den and eat solid foods caught by their mother. The kitten's survival depends mostly on how plentiful the food source is.
Bobcats are on the move during twilight hours of sunrise and sunset during the summer, but they spend time hunting on winter days. Each week they travel around 2.6 miles along logging roads, railways, and trails made by other animals to move between resting areas, food sources, or hunting areas. Bobcats do have to beware of predators like hawks, owls, and eagles that prey on their young kittens, or coyotes that eat the bobcat's food out of the same area.
Historically in Wisconsin, bobcats were abundant, but logging and settlement pushed them further south to find large coniferous forests. They were also though to be a threat to livestock by early settlers, and they were killed without restriction for sport and for a "bounty" or payment. The first move to protect the bobcat happened in 1970, when hunting regulations were established. Today, bobcat populations are kept in check by management and regulated hunting.