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Why Bobcats Are So Fierce

These elusive felines are shy, territorial, ferocious — and altogether fascinating.

by Reed Sparling
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Extremely shy and secretive, bobcats are one of the hardest mammals to spot in the Hudson Valley. But with bare trees and perhaps a blanket of snow, your chances improve of glimpsing one of these beautiful creatures that resemble a house cat on steroids (minus the long tail). As you continue keeping an eye out for Lynx rufus, check out these wild facts about them.

Bobcat resting incognito. (Photo: Len Blumin / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

The stubby (“bobbed”) tail, from which bobcats derive their name, is the result of a genetic mutation. Biologists aren’t sure about the reason for the mutation; it doesn’t seem to have helped or hurt bobcats’ chances of survival.

Bobcats feed primarily on small mammals — rabbits, mice, moles, and squirrels. But if they are very hungry and small prey is scarce (especially during a cold winter), they’re capable of hunting down deer 10 times their weight. They kill the animal by jumping on its back and biting through its neck. 

Bobcat on the prowl. (Photo: dbarronoss / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Bobcats are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active in low-light conditions, around dawn and dusk. In between, they take “cat naps.” A prowling bobcat will travel up to four miles in search of prey. 

Bobcats can leap up to 10 feet and jump almost as high. In addition, they’re excellent rock climbers, can scale trees, and (unlike most house cats) are very adept at swimming.

Bobcat lying low in a hollow tree trunk. (Photo: Valerie / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

Local Indigenous peoples hunted bobcats for food and fur. Elsewhere around the country, the animals are denigrated by some Indigenous tribes and revered by others. The Hopi in the Southwest consider them greedy and selfish; Hopi men who treat women cruelly are called bobcats. To the Pawnee people, today based primarily in Oklahoma, the creatures have celestial associations. For many years, babies born to Pawnee parents were wrapped in bobcat furs, to bestow a blessing from the stars.

Bobcats in New York once had wildcat company — Canada Lynx and Eastern cougars. Lynx may have been present in the state only during periods of migration; today, they venture no farther south than Maine. Cougars, which weigh up to 225 pounds (as opposed to a 35-pound maximum for bobcats), most definitely resided in New York, but they were hunted to extinction here by the early 1900s.

A bobcat spotted in winter in the Hudson Valley. (Photo: Harry J. Gorman)

Bobcats are territorial creatures. A male bobcat will confine himself to a “home” range of about 30 square miles, as opposed to five square miles for females. They mark their territories by posting what amount to “no trespassing” scent-signs (urine and feces). While the ranges of male bobcats occasionally overlap, females refuse to share their spaces with others of the same sex.

They’re solitary animals, only getting together with others to mate. While male bobcats will breed with many females, the females typically have a single mate. During breeding season, the males sometimes emit a piercing scream that can be heard for miles.

A bobcat spotted at Peach Hill Park, Poughkeepsie. (Photo: Scenic Hudson)

Bobcats are blind and helpless at birth. When born in April or May, usually in a litter of one to four kittens, they stay put with their mother in a secluded den — perhaps a rock crevice, brush pile, or hollowed-out tree that she has lined with grass and leaves. The young begin leaving the den to hunt around one month old, but usually remain with their mom through the first winter. The kittens’ biggest threat while out in the open comes from foxes, owls, and adult male bobcats. Infanticide is relatively common — male bobcats will kill kittens apparently to get their mother to go back into heat so he can spread his genes.

Reed Sparling is a staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, and currently co-edits the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.

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Hudson Valley Viewfinder is a collaborative, community digital magazine sharing what inspires us about the beautiful Hudson Valley. We publish original stories and multimedia content about all things sustainable in the region along the Hudson River — including agriculture, science, wildlife, outdoor recreation, green transportation, environmental justice, and more.

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
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