by Filip Tkaczyk
Learning to know where bobcat habitat is found can help you know more about the most abundant wild cat in North America. Bobcats are short-tailed, highly adaptable and tough felines found in many parts of the United States and Canada.
Bobcats are adaptable felines that can be found in a wide variety of different habitat types. These include: deserts, sage-brush steppe, canyon lands, riparian woodlands, coniferous forests, broadleaf forests, chaparral, swamps and even suburban areas. All of these places are good bobcat habitat when they include good cover and plentiful prey.
Bobcats eat a wide variety of animals as prey, including: mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, hares, small birds, grouse, small reptiles and amphibians. Bobcats are strict carnivores, unlike wild canines and eat no vegetable matter as food.
When you are out exploring a natural area that is a likely bobcat habitat, keep an eye out for tracks and sign.
Tracks: the tracks of bobcats are asymmetrical, with 4 toes and metacarpal pad is bubble “m” shaped. The claws of bobcats, as in most cats, are retractable and generally do not show up in their tracks.
Fronts: 1 5/8 – 2 1/2 inches long by 1 3/8 – 2 5/8 inches wide. Overall front track tends to be larger and rounder than the rear.
Rears: 1 9/16 – 2 1/2 inches long by 1 3/16 – 2 5/8 inches wide. Overall rear tracks tend to be slightly smaller and more oval shaped than the front.
Scat: cylindrical, very compacted, strongly segmented. 7/16 – 1 inch in diameter and 3 to 9 inches long. Scats are often deposited in a scrape made by the hind feet.
Other sign: Scrapes tend to be 6 to 20 inches long by 3 to 7 1/2 inches wide. A close inspection of bobcat tracks can be used to determine the sex of the animal. For more information on this, please see: Bobcat Tracks Article.
Also, in the snow bobcats often leave marks called "sit-downs" where the animals stop and sat on its haunches. This is often done by hunting bobcats and lynxes, in areas where views of possible prey are good.
Similar tracks: Bobcat tracks can be mistaken for the tracks of a cougar, which have very similar tracks, though they are much larger, averaging 3 to 4 inches in diameter.
Knowing what makes good bobcat habitat and what kind of sign to look for in the landscape, will help you increase your chances of seeing these elusive wild cats. Also, learning to recognize their tracks will help you learn more about their natural history and their life in the wild.
For field-based training in tracking, check out the Wildlife Tracking Apprenticeship.
Further information on bobcats can be found here:
Resources: Elbroch 2003, Eder 2002, and Reid 2006.
Photo of a wild bobcat from a trail cam at Alderleaf Wilderness College.