Reprinted with permission from the DFW wildlife Coalition
Please visit their site for further wildlife feature articles and information
Last Updated: Spring 2008
The Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
by Kathy Milacek
Bobcats are 2-3 times larger than the typical domestic cat, but are much smaller than mountain lions (although people often mistake them for either). They are very common across the entire United States but are rarely seen in our cities because of their shy, solitary, reclusive nature. Bobcats belong to the lynx family, and are typically 20-40 lbs. Their coat tends to be a light brownish-blonde, with dark spots on the flanks, legs, and side. Other distinguishing features are their tufted, pointed ears with large, black spots on the backside, short bobbed tails (4-6 inches in length) and their rear legs being disproportionately longer than their front legs.
What Do Bobcats Eat?
Bobcats eat a variety of animal species, including mice, rats, squirrels, chickens, small fawns, wild birds, feral cats, cottontail and rabbits. It’s very unlikely, but possible, that free-roaming cats or small dogs left outside unattended might be taken as well.
Bobcats are thriving in the DFW Metroplex, and have for many years.
Locally, they tend to breed in February, having a litter of 2-3 kittens
in April. Their eyes open around 10 days of age, and the mother takes
care of her kittens by herself.
Many people accidentally, and unknowingly, encourage wild animals,
including bobcats, to live near their homes by leaving pet food outside,
not picking up fallen fruit from trees, leaving free-roaming pets outside,
leaving overflowing bird seed on the ground to attract many rodents and
mammals, and leaving wood piles and dense vegetation which harbor
hiding places for wildlife.
Most urban wildlife are “opportunists” and many are “omnivores” meaning most urban wildlife will eat about anything (animal or vegetable matter) and will take food that is easiest to get. If pet food is left outside, or inside the garage with a pet door entrance, this is easier to get every night than hunting down rodents.
What Do Bobcats Look Like?
Bobcats are sometimes mistaken for mountain lions – but they look quite different. Mountain lions are much larger, and have a long (not bobbed) tail as the following pictures show. The bobcat silhouette (front) below shows the relative size of a bobcat to a mountain lion. Adult mountain lion body length: 4-6 feet; Bobcat: 2-3 feet.
Body length: 4-6 feet
Tail: 30-36 inches (2.5-3 feet)
Height at shoulder: 25-30 inches
Weight: 70-170 pounds
Link to Texas Parks & Wildlife for more
Body length: 2-3 feet
Tail: 4-6 inches
Height at shoulder: 12-18 inches
Weight: 15-30 pounds
Link to Texas Parks & Wildlife for more
What function do bobcats provide in our cities?
Many ecology studies show that predatory wildlife, including bobcats, exist to preserve the balance of nature. They do help to keep rodent populations in check. In the past, some cities have attempted to eradicate predators and there have instead been increases in rodent populations, and related rodent-borne diseases. The ways of nature can sometimes seem cruel to us, but many prey and rodent species would overrun urban areas, damaging crops and vegetation, if the populations of predator species did not keep them in check. As well, bobcats and other predators, eat dead wildlife in our urban areas – and so provide us with free waste removal services.
Why can’t animal control just come out to trap and relocate bobcats to the country?
There are many reasons why trapping and removal is not a long-term, viable solution. For instance:
- Texas Department of Health prohibits the relocation of some predatory wildlife species due todisease transmission.
- Most DFW Metroplex animal control agencies were originally created to deal with problems arising from stray dogs and cats, and to enforce laws pertaining to them. Wildlife is often only included in their scope of services to a very small degree.
- If you take an urban wild animal and move it to the “country” far from the city, it would most likely be attacked and injured if not killed by other predators, which may have already established territory.
- If there is a litter of young kittens, it’s difficult to trap and remove the entire family. If only the mother is trapped and removed, the kittens are left behind to die of dehydration and starvation.
- A wild animal that lives within the boundaries of a city and has been raised in, and lived its life, mainly as a scavenger may not have adequate hunting skills, and therefore may not be able to survive without the opportunistic foraging of outdoor pet food, rodents, backyard fruit, vegetables, and trash of its urban upbringing. Wildlife studies have shown that urban wildlife learn survival skills for urban living, and country wildlife learn survival skills for country living – and they both do best when left in the environment they have survival skills to cope with.
- Wildlife disease is another factor. Wild predators in urban settings may have been exposed to diseases associated with domestic pets, which could be transmitted to other wildlife that normally never would have been exposed.
- Trapping and removing animals has done nothing to correct the human equation. The cycle will continually repeat itself, at great cost to the community, if people fail to change their own habits and environments.
- Trapping is an indiscriminate process, and many times more wrong animals are trapped then the intended animal. Also, oftentimes during the spring and summer, wildlife trapped may be a parent that has immature young that will die a cruel and lingering death by dehydration and starvation if their parent does not return.
- Removing wildlife from its territory doesn’t solve the problem, especially if the root cause of the problem is still there, i.e. attractants that will attract other wildlife, holes that allow access into the attic or under decks. Trapping and removal is a reactive, rather then proactive, approach. The belief that the solution is to remove the wildlife is like the belief that if you moved out of your home no one would move in.
- Some laws (depending on species and/or city) require that trapped wildlife be euthanized.
I’ve seen a bobcat in my neighborhood. I’m worried about my children. Do bobcats attack people?
Bobcat attacks are virtually unknown, but no one should ever be attempting to touch or handle a wild bobcat or kittens. Bobcats weigh between 15-30 pounds, which makes them a small-to-medium sized carnivore. Coyotes weigh slightly more, but are under 40 pounds in the DFW Metroplex area. Carnivore biology studies show that carnivores under 40 pounds take prey “much smaller” than themselves.
In the U.S. there are approximately 3-5 million people attacked by domestic dogs every year, averaging 20 deaths per year. A child is much more likely to get hurt by a domestic dog than a bobcat – or a coyote. In fact, statistics prove that your family dog or your neighbor’s dog is a hundred times more likely to kill someone than a coyote or bobcat.
I’m worried about my pets. How can I protect them from bobcats or coyotes?
- Always walk your dog on a leash.
- Always keep pets vaccinated as some wildlife are susceptible to diseases transmissible to dogs and cats, i.e. feline panleukopenia (feline parvo), canine distemper and rabies.
- Take steps to ensure you are not attracting predators to your yard – clean up brushy areas or woodpiles and remove any food sources.
- Do not allow cats to be free-roaming outdoors. Some cities have laws against free-roaming cats. Cats prey on many wildlife species, i.e. songbirds, face many dangers outside, and can attract predatory wildlife to your yard.
- Avoid bushy areas or paths near abandoned properties.
- If you notice a coyote or bobcat in your area, never let it go by without scaring it. Yell or clap loudly to scare wildlife away, carry something with you to make noise, i.e., an air horn, or something to throw, i.e., a rock or baseball.
- In the long run it’s much safer for us, our pets, and the wildlife as well – if they remain fearful of humans.
- Never encourage or allow your pet to interact or “play” with wildlife.
- Make sure your fence is in good repair.
- Do not leave pets unattended outdoors if possible.
- Remove food sources, i.e., fallen fruit, food refuse, pet food.
- Small mammals, i.e., opossums, raccoons, and skunks are not a threat to domestic pets. In fact, it is usually the other way around, as they are often the victims of dog attacks.
Is it okay for me to put out food for wildlife?
No, except for feeding birds and squirrels, deliberately feeding wildlife puts you, your pets, your neighbors, and even the wildlife at risk. Observing wildlife is a wonderful way to interact with nature, however, the experience can turn unpleasant or even dangerous when well-meaning people feed wildlife. Intentional feeding can make wildlife unnaturally bold, and this is the opposite of what we need to be doing with urban wildlife to avoid conflicts – keeping them fearful of humans. Feeding of wildlife may seem like a positive way to interact with wildlife, but what often starts out as three cute juvenile opossums later turns into twenty raccoons, ten opossums, and five feral cats. This creates an unnatural situation in which wildlife become less fearful of humans, get habituated to a free handout, can spread disease to each other as they eat in close contact, can attract other predatory wildlife to the feeding activity location, and can cause conflict with neighbors who do not appreciate the nightly wildlife buffet line going through their yard. So, it is only a matter of time before feeding them does more harm than good. Feeding wildlife is highly discouraged, and illegal in some cities. Wildlife can become too comfortable, and lose fear, of humans, if food is intentionally provided for them. Wildlife that lose their fear of humans can become dangerous to the feeder, and also to the surrounding residents. Often, this results in conflict that ends with the wildlife being trapped and euthanized because of the fear they represent to the community once they lose their fear of humans, or begin to feed in large numbers. Also, feeding wildlife encourages them to reproduce to greater numbers than the habitat can normally support. For all these reasons, and for the public and wildlife’s long-term safety, no one should be intentionally feeding wildlife. If you have been feeding and need to stop, it’s best to gradually reduce the amount of feeding over a period of a month. In this way, wildlife that have become accustomed to an unlimited, easy food source can gradually disperse and locate other food sources.
What can I do to discourage bobcats from my yard?
Bobcats are quiet, shy and reclusive – usually seen by themselves or a female with kittens. They are typically easy to persuade to leave. We recommend the use of deterrents and adjustments around the exterior of your home (all endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States) for making your yard and home less inviting to wildlife. Try these tactics:
- Use noise and/or motion-activated deterrents to make a bobcat uncomfortable.
- Try an air horn, motion-activated sprinkler, bang pot lids together, or put a radio outside set to a news or talk channel.
- Clear any excess vegetation to remove secluded hiding spots.
- Do not leave pet food or water outside when your pet is indoors.
- Pick fruit from trees as soon as it ripens and pick up all fallen fruit.
- If you feed the birds or squirrels, ensure there is no overflowing bird seed on the ground to attract rodents at night. Or, restrict feeding. Bobcats are attracted to many of the small animals that come to our yards.
- Use fencing to deter bobcats. Fencing must be at least six feet tall with the bottom extending 6-12 inches below ground level. Add an angle at the top facing outward at 45 degrees and 16 inches wide.
- Do not leave small pets outdoors unattended or in a poorly-enclosed yard.
- If you have chickens or fowl, ensure they are put up at night.
In conclusion, urban sprawl in the DFW Metroplex continues, and our very presence assures wildlife what they need to survive and thrive – an urban ecosystem with plenty of food, water, and shelter. So, we need to be responsible for our human behavior. We’re here to stay! So is the wildlife! Conflicts between us will continue, yet we can do a lot to reduce these conflicts.
Just as wildlife can be attracted to your yard by accidentally leaving pet food outside, or overflowing bird feeders – there are also ways to deter them from your yard.
Changing the behavior of wildlife by using deterrents, scare tactics, exclusion methods, and other negative interactions with humans is one way to change their environment so they have to change their behavior in the way we want. These methods teach wildlife to avoid close contact with your home, reduces those factors that attract them to your yard, and keep wildlife “wild”. Wildlife that is fearful of humans is safer for us all in the long run.
Contact the DFW Wildlife Coalition volunteer-operated hotline and speak to a volunteer for more information about what you and your neighborhood can do. 972-234-WILD (9453)