What Do Bobcats Eat?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: November 2, 2021
Image Credit iStock.com/Anita Elder Design
Share this post on:

Beautiful, elusive bobcats have a massive range that extends throughout the United States, Canada, and central Mexico. This nocturnal hunter is a successful predator, but what are a bobcat’s favorite meals? Read on to learn about what bobcats eat.

What Is a Bobcat?

Bobcats eat squirrels, birds, rats, and rabbits.

A-Z-Animals.com

A bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a small member of the Lynx family. It is the most common wild cat in North America. It resembles its cousin the Canada lynx. It has the same pointed, furred ears, but it is much smaller. The average bobcat weighs from 13 to 40 pounds, and males are larger than females.

You can find these wild cats in almost every state of the United States, but it’s hard to spot them because these predators are excellent at hiding from human view. They have adapted to survive in arid deserts, temperate forests, subtropical forests, and snowy mountain regions. These hardy, adaptable cats vary their diet according to what is available in their environment.

What Does a Bobcat Eat?

As an obligate carnivore and a skilled hunter, it eats smaller mammals and birds. It prefers rabbits and hares, but it will hunt and eat larger animals if its preferred food isn’t available. As a result, its diet depends largely on what is around and is easy for a bobcat to hunt.

In the New England states, snowshoe hares are their primary food source. A study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that bobcats in Maine primarily hunted snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus). This study found that up to 76% of the cats in the region ate these hares, which were abundant in the region.

The researchers also found that these animals preferred to hunt in so-called dense understories, which are forested areas that have high numbers of hardwood trees.

Bobcat Diet in Snowy Regions

Another study examined the effects of deep winter snows and food scarcity on bobcat diets.

This study found that wild cats in snowy regions mostly eat the following animals:

Cotton rats (Sigmodon hispidus) are large rodents that live in most of the western and central United States.

Mountain Ranges

In the Pacific Northwest, bobcats have shown how well they adapt to different environments. In 1988, researchers studied the hunting and eating habits of bobcats in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains.

These were the primary foods they ate.

  • Snowshoe hares: 30% of bobcats ate them.
  • Black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus): 22% ate them.
  • Mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa): 12% ate beavers.
  • Rodents and moles: The range of bobcats eating them went from 9% in winter to 37% in spring.
  • Birds: These were eaten by 10% and were mostly grouse.

The researchers found that the bobcats’ diet changed in the spring and summer. During warmer months, for instance, they were more likely to eat beavers and rodents. Of these rodents, squirrels were the animals they ate most often.

“The variety of prey identified in the bobcat diet increased from 17 during the winter to 35 during the spring,” they observed. “The second greatest change in bobcat diets between successive seasons occurred between summer and fall.” During the change to fall weather, the wild cats ate more hare, deer, and rodents, and they decreased their hunting of beavers, mice, and birds.

Desert Diet

Bobcats also live in desert climates. What do they eat there?

A study of their hunting habits in desert regions followed bobcats living in the Chihuahua Desert of Mexico. This is a dry, rocky region where bobcats are the only wild cat and largest predator. In this area, they showed a strong preference for rabbits over other available prey. These bobcats also ate rock squirrels, mice, raccoons, and lizards.

Although farmers in the area were fearful that bobcats would eat their sheep and goats, there was no evidence that bobcats had eaten any livestock. These wild cats have shown they can survive in almost any environment that has a good supply of small mammals and birds.

A Complete List of Top 10 Foods Bobcats Eat

Bobcats are most active at dawn and dusk.

iStock.com/twildlife

How Do They Hunt for Their Prey?

Like most felines, they are most active at dawn and dusk. When the light is low, they come out of their dens to stalk their prey. They usually wake up before sunset, hunt, and then go to sleep. Before dawn, they are up and hunting again.

Bobcats use ambush techniques to catch their prey. They have sharp hearing and sight, even in low light. They repeatedly cross through their chosen territory listening and watching for small animals. When it hears or sees something, the bobcat will freeze into position and wait for the animal to appear from the grass or shrubs. The bobcat pounces on the animal, pins it with a paw, and bites the prey’s neck.

Are They Good Hunters?

Bobcats are excellent hunters. They can even hunt and kill animals much larger than they are. When they kill deer, they leap onto the deer’s back from a tree and bite its throat. Bobcats mostly hunt fawns, but they have been known to kill adults when their preferred prey is scarce.

They prefer to hunt smaller game, however, and their favorites are rabbits and hares.

Next Up:

Share this post on:
About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the bobcat an herbivore, carnivore or omnivore?

It is a carnivore. It eats rabbits, mice, squirrels, and other small mammals.

Do they have any predators?

An adult bobcat has few predators, but owls, foxes, and coyotes often hunt bobcat babies. However, bobcats are popular targets of hunting for the fur trade. Bobcat hunting is legal in several states and Canada, and trophy hunting of bobcats is legal in Mexico. All these countries strictly regulate the hunts, and bobcats are a protected species in about 10 states.

Are bobcats endangered?

They are not endangered. They are listed as a species of “least concern” for conservation status. Habitat destruction and other environmental factors, however, have damaged bobcat populations in some areas.

In the Florida Everglades, for instance, introduced Burmese pythons have become a major problem. These invasive snakes can grow large enough to eat deer, alligators, and at least one bobcat.

Even more concerning, these snakes regularly eat the small mammals and rodents that bobcats depend on for survival. Their presence has harmed populations of endangered animals and decimated the populations of deer, bobcats, raccoons, rabbits, and shorebirds. They have wiped out opossums and foxes.

To control these invasive snakes, Florida’s government has hired teams of professional snake hunters. The state holds a yearly Python Challenge that awards cash prizes to the hunters who catch the most pythons.

Do bobcats live in every U.S. state?

They have colonies in every state except Delaware. They may pass through the state on their hunting trips, but they don’t live there.

More from A-Z Animals