Known to be highly secretive and very solitary creatures, there is one time of year that bobcats are on the prowl, seeking company. During mating season, male bobcats begin to travel more within and outside the boundary of their territories in search of the perfect mate. Although sightings are always rare, mating season is the time of year that they are most likely to occur. The mating call of the bobcat sounds eerily similar to the sound of a woman screaming or moaning in pain, and if heard, would certainly be an unsettling echo through the forest. Mating is possible year-round, but bobcat mating season peaks during certain times of the year. So, when are bobcats most likely to breed?
When is Bobcat Mating Season?
Bobcats mating season typically peaks from December to May, but varies depending on climate and location, and may occur year-round. Female bobcats are seasonally polyestrous, meaning that within the mating season they will experience more than one estrous cycle, or period of receptivity to mating. They are typically in heat, or estrous, for 5 to 10 days at a time.
Female bobcats are called queens, while the males are toms. While the tomcat is always ready for mating, the queen will only be available during estrus. Although solitary animals throughout most of the year, adult male bobcats typically begin traveling further to seek females to mate with in January and February. Females tend to outnumber males since the males travel further and are more often killed by trappers.
Bobcat Mating Strategy
These solitary felines do not form lasting pair bonds. Bobcats are polygynous, meaning that one male will mate with multiple females during mating season. Female bobcats are spontaneous ovulators, meaning their ovulation occurs spontaneously due to sunlight and other environmental factors and does not need to be stimulated by mating, as is the case for domestic cats, who are induced ovulators. Bobcat estrous cycles usually peak during February and March.
Toms must mate with as many queens as possible during this window in order to maximize reproductive success. Males reach sexual maturity at 1.5 to 2 years of age. Female bobcats sexually mature at 1 year and begin to breed during their 2nd year. Bobcats are thought to continue to breed throughout their lives, until death.
Bobcat Mating Season Behavior
As already discussed, male bobcat behavior changes during mating season as they begin to travel further than their normal range in order to find mates. Female bobcats leave scent markings for the males to follow. Scent markings are left by rubbing on scent posts or by depositing urine. Males are then able to track down receptive females to breed with. Yowls, screeches and other vocalizations are more common during this time as bobcats search for a mate. Fights between males in competition are not uncommon and can be loud and ferocious.
A male bobcat is either clearly welcomed or aggressively fought off by the female he approaches, depending on her state of receptivity. When receptive, she’ll become highly vocal, arch her back and circle about the male. The two engage in play behavior at this point throwing themselves at one another and chasing. Eventually, the pair will mate. This only lasts about five minutes. What they lack in mating duration, bobcats make up for in frequency. They mate often, up to 16 times a day for several consecutive days. When they’re done copulating the male leaves. Males, who usually go off to find another female to mate with, do not participate in the rearing of the young or the protection of the pregnant female. Female bobcats, fierce and independent, seek a safe place to birth and raise their young on their own.
Pregnancy and Birth
Dens of pregnant bobcats are chosen to offer maximum protection, so rocky caves are preferred. However, hollow trees, logs or earthen dens that have been abandoned by other animals, are also used. Although males may occasionally visit the female’s den, they do not typically provide any care. Once pregnant, female bobcats have a 60-70 day gestation period, an average 63 days, before giving birth to their young.
Since most mating occurs from December through February, most bobcats will give birth between March and May. The female bobcats will raise their young for a period of roughly 9 months. The young will go off on their own just as the mother prepares to mate the next season. Although this is the most typical mating schedule, pregnant bobcats can be seen throughout the year, and while most raise one litter per year, some females may raise two. In captivity, some females will have three litters in one year.
Raising the Young
An average litter of bobcat kittens is three, but one to six may be born at one time. Bobcat babies are typically about 8 inches long and weigh 8-13 ounces at birth. Their little blue eyes are sealed shut at first and only open after 9 or 10 days, meaning they are highly dependent on their mother for survival. As mammals, bobcat mothers nurse their young providing the nourishment of her milk.
Blue-eyed baby bobcat at birth, their eyes will gradually turn yellow over their first two months of life. They’re able to crawl at 3-4 weeks, when their mother will begin to transition them from only drinking her milk to eating small slivers of meat. At about 8 weeks of age they will be completely weaned and start to come out of the den. Mothers will then train young bobcats to stalk and kill their prey in a lengthy process. At 9-12 months old, the young bobcats will leave their mother to become independent and establish their own territories.
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