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Bobcat (Lynx rufus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Activity Patterns

Active day and night

(Flores-Morales et al. 2019)

  • Most active during early-to-late morning and at dusk; coincides with prey activity (e.g., rabbits) (Miller and Speake 1979; Anderson 1987; Thornton et al. 2004; Elizalde-Arellano et al. 2012; Rockhill et al. 2013; Jennings 2017)
    • Sometimes also active at night and during the day
  • Typically, more nocturnal in areas of human disturbance (e.g., George and Crooks 2006)
    • Some studies show no difference in day–night activity in urban areas (Riley et al. 2003; Young, Golla, Draper, et al. 2019)

Rest shelters

  • Rocky ledges preferred for protection and concealment (Anderson 1987)
    • Also used as breeding dens
  • Daily resting sites
    • Often located on steep, rocky slopes among rocks, brush, or in abandoned burrows (Rollings 1945; Bailey 1974; Anderson 1990)
    • Also hollow log or under tree stump (Banfield 1974)
  • Remain in rest shelters during storms (Rollings 1945)
    • Active during light rain or snow (Yoakum 1964)
  • Use different shelters within home range (Hall 1981)
    • Do not use same shelter each day

Movements and Dispersal

Home range size

  • Male home ranges usually 2 to 3 times larger than females (Sunquist and Sunquist 2009a)
    • In the U.S., average home range size of males is 1.7 times larger than of females; reflects polygynous mating system (Ferguson et al. 2009)
    • In northern Mexico, Elizalde et al. (2012) report an average home range size similar to U.S. populations
  • In urban areas, home range of resident bobcats is small in size (Young, Golla, Draper, et al. 2019)
  • As begin to breed and defend territory, male home range size increases, whereas female home range size decreases (Conner et al. 1999; Sunquist and Sunquist 2009a)
    • Males search for mates and defend territory
    • Females rear young; stay near den

Home range area

  • Home range areas generally stable; space use shifts seasonally (Litvaitis et al. 1987; Lovallo and Anderson 1996; Nielsen and Woolf 2001)
    • If an individual dies or leaves, a non-resident bobcat replaces it and uses a similar home range area (land tenure system) (Bailey 1974; Miller and Speake 1979; Litvaitis et al. 1987; Lovallo and Anderson 1996; Benson et al. 2004)
  • Males and females maintain nearly exclusive core areas (e.g., Lawhead 1984; Lovallo and Anderson 1996; Nielsen and Woolf 2001)
  • Home range of a male typically overlaps home ranges of several females (Lawhead 1984; Nielsen and Woolf 2001), as well as other males (e.g., Bailey 1974; Lovallo and Anderson 1996)
  • Juveniles well tolerated within adult home ranges (Provost et al. 1973; McCord 1974a)
  • Female offspring may establish home ranges near their mother (e.g., Janečka et al. 2006), but ranges do not typically overlap (Lovallo and Anderson 1996)


  • As juveniles, females generally resident; males disperse (Janečka et al. 2006; Croteau et al. 2010; Johnson et al. 2010; Hughes et al. 2019)
    • Males disperse at about 12 to 18 months old (Sunquist and Sunquist 2009b; Johnson et al. 2010; Hughes et al. 2019)
      • Temporarily hold land areas for up to 2 months
  • Female neighbors likely related to one another (Croteau et al. 2010)
  • Living in urbanized areas may pose dispersal challenges (Kozakiewicz et al. 2019)
    • Juveniles may need to disperse longer distances
    • Freeways impede movements and act as home range borders (e.g., Riley et al. 2006)
      • Drive genetic isolation

Barriers to movement

  • Deep, soft snow (e.g., Matson 1948; McCord 1974a; Anderson 1987)
    • Logs, animal trails, roads and vehicle trails used more (McCord 1974a)
  • Also see “Habitat loss and fragmentation”

Social Behavior

Social organization

  • Adults solitary, except during breeding (Marston 1942; Bailey 1974)
  • Often defend territory from other bobcats, particularly individuals of same sex (Jennings 2017)
  • Females not tolerant of males outside of mating period (Provost et al. 1973)
    • Males sometimes travel with females during mating (e.g., Saunders 1963)
  • Social organization may vary (Anderson 1987)
    • Influenced by climate, habitat, food resources, and population density

Nonaggressive interactions

  • Uncommonly, temporary mixing of litters, mixing of juveniles and adults, or male near female with kittens (Ray et al. 2017)


Smell and scent marking

  • Leave scent marks by various behaviors (Young 1958; Bailey 1974; Winegarner and Winegarner 1982; Allen et al. 2015, except as noted):
    • Scraping with hind feet
    • Urine spraying
    • Fecal marking (Bailey 1974)
    • Anal gland secretions (McCord and Cardoza 1982)
      • Adult males produce thick brownish secretion
      • Adult females produce a thick yellowish secretion
    • Body rubbing
      • Uncommon
  • Frequently investigate olfactory signals left by other bobcats (Allen et al. 2015)
    • Territoriality may be based on familiarity with neighbors and less on establishing dominance through scent marking


  • Usually silent (Rollings 1945; Jackson 1961)
    • Produce loud calls during mating season (Young 1958)
  • When threatened, produce deep growls, hisses, and spitting noises (Rollings 1945; Provost et al. 1973)

Agonistic Behavior and Defense


  • Flee by running a short distance to hide in nearby rocks or climb a tree (Provost et al. 1973)
  • Aggressive if cornered (Young 1958; Hall 1981)


  • Fights avoided (e.g., Provost et al. 1973; Bailey 1974; Anderson 1987)
    • Use visual cues and scent marking to delimit territory boundaries
    • Female home ranges exclusive of each other
  • Aggressive interactions between males more common than between females (see Anderson 1987)

Other Behaviors

Tree clawing

  • Use bare tree trunks to stretch muscles, sharpen claws, and possibly communicate with other bobcats (Rollings 1945; Hall 1981)


  • Seek sunny areas (e.g., south-facing slopes) for warmth, especially in cold climates during winter (Mautz and Pekins 1989; Reed et al. 2017)

Interspecies Interactions


  • Bobcats co-occur with other predators—fox, coyote, mountain lion, ocelot, Canada lynx (e.g., Fedriani et al. 2000; Neale and Sacks 2001; Chamberlain and Leopold 2005; Hass 2009)
  • Some studies show that bobcats shift space use, habitat use, or diet to avoid competition/aggressive interactions with other predators (Koehler and Hornocker 1991; Thornton et al. 2004; Horne et al. 2009; Peers et al. 2013; Witczuk et al. 2015)
  • In some locations, may avoid or be displaced by coyotes (Robinson and Grand 1958; Henke and Bryant 1999; Wilson et al. 2010)
    • Coyotes considered a superior competitor (Anderson 1987; Bunnell et al. 2007)
    • Bobcats and coyotes may use same areas, if prey is scarce (Wilson et al. 2010)
    • Coyotes infrequently reported to kill bobcats (Fedriani et al. 2000)
  • Avoid areas where domestic dogs present (Lenth et al. 2008)
    • Implications for managing dog activities in natural areas

Relationship with humans

  • Bobcats generally cryptic; remain out of sight during the day (Hall 1981)
    • Most people not aware of their presence
  • Commonly enter neighborhoods, even in urban areas (e.g., Harrison 1998; Young, Golla, Broman, et al. 2019)
  • Presence considered problematic, where they take livestock (Young 1958; Sunquist and Sunquist 2002) or pets (Harrison 1998)
    • Only minor impact (Anderson 1987)
  • Public attitudes
    • Bobcats in residential areas generally viewed positively (Harrison 1998)
      • In one survey of homeowners, about 50% of respondents expressed curiosity about bobcats, whereas about 20% of respondents expressed some fear of bobcats
        • Those who were fearful may have confused bobcats for mountain lions (Puma concolor)
    • Growing public opposition to bobcat trapping (e.g., Slagle et al. 2019)
      • General preference for non-lethal forms of population management (Slagle et al. 2019) or humane harvest techniques (Woolf and Hurbert Jr 1998)
      • Little concern for bobcat protections prior to early 1970s (Woolf and Hurbert Jr 1998)
    • Generally, not persecuted as pest species (Nowell and Jackson 1996)
      • Exception: Mexican ranches, where alleged prey on sheep (Sunquist and Sunquist 2009a)


Jumping and climbing

  • Excellent climbers but spend most time on the ground (Hall 1981)
    • Trees used occasionally for resting, refuge, or while pursuing prey (Hall 1981)
  • Can leap at least 8 feet (Rollings 1945)


  • Mixed observations on degree of water affinity/aversion (Yoakum 1964; Anderson 1987)
    • Said to be “not fond of water” (like most cats) (Callahan 1947, as cited by Yoakum 1964; Hall 1981)
      • Seek dry places to cross streams, rather than wade through shallow water (Hall 1981)
    • Some individuals readily enter water (e.g., Yoakum 1964)
    • Sometimes swim, either to reach an area or escape from dogs (Young 1958)
  • Video: bobcat hunts in river

Bobcat Vocalizations


Two bobcats growl during a nighttime encounter.

Bobcats are usually silent but produce deep growls, hisses, and spitting noises when they defend territory or perceive a threat.

Bobcats are typically solitary, except during breeding.

Image credit: © Peter Sarachman. All rights reserved. Used with permission from the artist.

Image location: San Diego, California, USA

Soft Resting Place

Bobcat laying atop green plant

Bobcat resting sites include rocky slopes, brush, and abandoned burrows.

Bobcats prefer rocky ledges for protection and concealment.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

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