Updated: Approximately 166 attendees tuned-in to master wildlife conservationist Paul Colburn’s presentation on the bobcat’s natural history in Connecticut. Even if you thought you knew everything about bobcats, Paul quickly demonstrated how much more there was to learn and what researchers still are learning about this amazing cat.
Bobcats are Connecticut’s only breeding wildcat. They’re solitary creatures except when mating or raising their young, and are seen rarely because they’re most active before dawn and just after dusk. Bobcats are serially monogamous and breed in February/March, with 1-4 kittens born in April. Helpless at birth, they’ll nurse for 69 days and stay with their mother until the next spring. If they survive to adulthood, they can live 5-7 years, sometimes as long as 12.
They punch way above their weight when it comes to hunting and can bring down a 150-pound deer, even though the bobcat is only 2-3 times larger than a domestic cat! They’re very patient hunters and rely on a thick under-story in their preferred habitat of mixed forests with wetlands to stalk their prey. They’ve been known to go into the water after food. A bobcat can leap a 7 foot fence from a dead stop and will use its eyesight and ears more than smell when it comes to hunting. They’re carnivores and eat a broad range of species from rabbits – which make up the bulk of their diet – to squirrels, birds, muskrat, small rodents, beaver, porcupine, and mink. That headless rabbit you saw half-buried under leaves by the side of the trail was probably cached there to keep it fresh and safe from other predators, and it’s likely watching you from a safe distance! Bobcats are also known to fancy the odd domestic cat or fowl.
Once thought a threat to agricultural animals and hunted for their fur, they were slaughtered almost to extinction. Hunting was banned in 1972, and it’s estimated there now are ~1,000 in the state. They continue to flourish, although their population fluctuates with the abundance of prey. They’re believed to have a range of 8-29 square miles, and research shows they’re comfortable in urban and suburban environments as well as the rugged, more isolated terrain of their traditional habitat. They don’t have too many predators once grown, but young can be taken by Great Horned Owls, coyotes, and adult male bobcats. They can – rarely – contract rabies, so any bobcat behaving abnormally or aggressively should be reported to DEEP.
There is a lot of research going on at DEEP on bobcats, and the Farmington River Valley is a focus area. The public is encouraged to report sightings (including roadkill) so DEEP can learn more about their diet, home range, size, mortality rates, reproductive rates, and juvenile survival. For details, visit DEEP’s bobcat page. To view bobcats in action, visit WLT’s YouTube Channel for a recommended video, The Mystery and Magic of Bobcats.