Bobcats, like all felines, are strictly carnivorous, meaning they eat only meat. Bobcats prey on a wide range of animals from birds, fish, mice, and sometimes even deer. They are shy, feline predators that live in swamps, forests, and suburban woodlands in most parts of the United States.
Since they are medium-sized predators, bobcats can become prey to other animals. Bigger predators such as coyotes, foxes, wolves, mountain lions, birds of prey, and humans all go after these animals. Generally, bobcat kits are the most prone to predators in the wild.
While they’re still big cats, they’re prey! Read on to find out just why bobcats are prey to these 10 animals in the wild.
So, Just What The Heck Are Bobcats?
Bobcats are beautiful, medium-sized wild cats, about the size of a cocker spaniel. Their distinct bobbed tail, sideburn-like facial tufts, and darkly spotted back and legs separate them from other wild cat species, such as mountain lions, lynxes, and ocelots.
Despite their cat-like features, they are less than cuddly!
Their name comes from their short “bobbed” looking tails. Though sometimes they are called wildcats or swamp tigers.
Bobcats live for about 15 years in the wild. The first few years are the hardest to survive, as they learn how to become successful predators, as well as how to avoid larger predators. They are part of the circle of life and sometimes that means becoming the food.
If you are interested in learning more about these fascinating animals, the book Bobcats: Bob-tailed Cats of North America is a great place to start!
Why Bobcats Have So Many Predators
Bobcats have sharp claws and long canine teeth. In general, they are much bigger than many animals and can inflict much more damage than even the most feral of house cats!
Cats are one of the most successful mammalian predators. Bobcats are fierce felines and do not make for easy prey.
Mature and healthy bobcats are not the favored food for any predator. There is not much advantage to going after prey as fierce as bobcats, as their sharp claws and teeth could easily wound another predator.
However, when a bobcat becomes ill, gets hurt, or is too young or old to fend for itself, other predators will seize the opportunity for a meal.
So how do bobcats protect themselves from bigger predators?
Bobcats Are Nocturnal
Bobcats are colorblind and see the world in shades of gray. However, like other cats, they have excellent night vision because of their slit-shaped pupils. This causes more light to enter their eyes, allowing them to see clearly, even when under the cover of darkness.
While we can occasionally see bobcats during the day, especially during dusk and dawn, being more active at night keeps them safe from predators that usually search for food in the day.
Being nocturnal helps them avoid coyotes, mountain lions, and some birds of prey, like hawks and falcons.
Bobcats Have Camouflage
The scientific name for the bobcat is Lynx rufus. The word “rufus” is the Latin word meaning “red”. However, their soft fur comes in different colors, from dusky red to light gray.
The variances in coat color come down to season and geography.
In forested places, where bobcats have more shelter, their fur is reddish-brown. This is also true in summer.
The warm color helps them blend into the background foliage, especially in places where the sun casts speckled shadows through the canopy.
In more open and arid habitats, their fur shows more light brown and gray to help them blend into the environment. Likewise, they exhibit more grays in winter to help them blend into the fallen, dead leaves and exposed branches.
Their coloration helps to conceal them by providing camouflage in their local environment. Their dark spots on their legs and back further helps by breaking up their pattern, allowing them to hide.
This adaptation makes it easier for them to ambush their prey and hide from predators.
It’s no wonder bobcats are so elusive and hard to spot!
Bobcats Are Athletic
These medium-sized predators are athletic by nature.
To catch prey and escape other predators, bobcats reach impressive speeds. According to The Smithsonian, bobcats can sprint up to 30 mph! That’s faster than Usain Bolt, the fastest human ever recorded.
When bobcats run, you will notice a bobbing gait. This is because their muscular back legs are longer than their forelegs.
Bobcats are stalk and ambush predators. Their strong back legs mean they can pounce on their prey from 10 feet away. They also use their jumping skills to propel themselves across logs and streams.
While bobcats aren’t likely to be found in trees, their sturdy legs and claws lend them the ability to climb trees easily either in pursuit of prey or to avoid other predators.
Bobcats can even climb up trees and even mountainsides! Like house cats, bobcats display amazing feats of agility, balance, and speed.
Bobcats Can Swim
While most house cats have poor reputations when it comes to water, their bobcat cousins are quite comfortable in the water. Though fish usually only make up a small part of a bobcat’s diet, they catch fish that wander too close to the bank.
Bobcats have also been seen using floating logs to ferry across bodies of water. When threatened, bobcats will jump into the water and swim to the other side of the bank to evade the threat.
Bobcats are strong swimmers, and they can easily swim short distances across rivers, streams, and ponds.
Bobcats Are Loud
If camouflage and speed aren’t enough to shake off the threat, a bobcat will use vocalizations to scare off other animals.
Bobcats use screams, yowls, growls, and hisses as an intimidation technique. Their screams can be heard up to a mile away!
Bobcats Have Sharp Claws and Teeth
If all the above fail, bobcats are prepared to fight. These fierce predators can take down prey many times bigger than they are. Though rabbits make up the main part of their diet, bobcats have been known to take down deer, which are about 8 times the size of a bobcat.
Each paw is equipped with very sharp, retractable, and hooked claws. They have 18 claws in all – 5 claws each on their front feet and 4 claws each on their back feet. They also have 4 long, sharp canines which they use to sever the spinal cord of their prey.
Bobcats use their claws and teeth to take down prey and as defense mechanisms.
10 Animals That Eat Bobcats
Bobcats would prefer to stay out of sight. When that fails, they will usually run away from danger. If they cannot outrun the threat, bobcats will fight fiercely to defend themselves.
The risk is high for animals that are sick, injured, or old. Small bobcats kits are most vulnerable, as they must rely on their mother for food and safety, and they have not yet grown into their natural predator prowess.
Their natural prowling abilities make them formidable prey. Other predators do not actively go after bobcats specifically. However, when an opportunity arises, a successful predator will make a meal out of a bobcat if the threat of being harmed is low.
Read on to learn about the 10 predators that will eat bobcats!
Coyotes Prey on Bobcats
In places where humans are present, coyotes often search for prey at night. Though coyotes are omnivores that eat animals and plants, there is some overlap in their food preferences.
Bobcats and coyotes both predate heavily on small rodents and rabbits.
Since bobcats are also out at night, occasional run-ins are inevitable. Coyotes have an advantage against bobcats in their larger size and because coyotes often search for prey cooperatively.
Coyotes do not go out of their way to search for bobcats. However, a hungry pair of coyotes out searching or food could surround and dispatch an unfortunate bobcat.
If you’d like, you can learn more about coyote pack habits here!
Wolves are Predators of Bobcats
Wolves are found in the eastern United States from Alaska to New Mexico, and they are the largest of the non-domestic canines.
They are much larger and heavier than their coyote cousins. They can outweigh bobcats by over 100 pounds.
Wolves are very mobile, and packs are always on the prowl. They have an excellent sense of smell that allows them to track down prey from miles away. Lone wolves can take down large prey items such as moose. For a pack of wolves, any animal is potential prey.
Mountain Lions Are Predators To Bobcats
Being closely related does not keep you safe in the animal kingdom. Mountain lions, also known as cougars, are the much larger cousins to bobcats.
Because of their larger size, their prey is also larger. Mountain lions typically prey on large hoofed animals, such as elk, but they will also go after smaller animals that bobcats eat. This includes small mammals, such as rabbits and rodents.
Both bobcats and mountain lions cache their food. This means that after taking down the prey, they will move the carcass, if possible, and may also use dirt and leaf litter to cover it.
However, this cache often attracts other predators looking for an easy meal, which leads to predator conflicts.
While bobcat is not usually on the menu for mountain lions, a hungry mountain lion will seize any available opportunity for a meal. Disputes over food caches and habitat can also lead to the end for bobcats.
The much larger size of the mountain lion, equipped with all the same predator features, puts bobcats at a serious disadvantage.
Snakes Go After Bobcats
Snakes that are native to the United States are much too small to eat a bobcat. However, the invasive anacondas and pythons of Florida can make a meal out of anything they can find and fit in their mouths.
According to Flordia Museum, African pythons reach over 16 feet at maturity. Unsuspecting bobcats fall prey to these giant snakes!
A lot of times, however, bobcats are often caught going after python eggs where pythons then successfully defend their nest. To be honest, this one is a bit more 50/50 for who would win.
I’d lean a bit more towards the snakes taking the prize if it’s near their nest!
Male Bobcats Are Predators Of Bobcat Kits
Yeah, this one is a bit messed up but actually pretty common in the wildlife kingdom with multiple species.
Bobcats are solitary and only come together for mating. Males usually roam looking for food and females.
Males don’t use dens and will find temporary shelters under trees or on mountainsides. Females have smaller ranges, making their homes in dens, rock crevices, hollow logs, or other available shelters.
Females remain pregnant for about two months. Afterward, female bobcats give birth to a litter of 1 to 5 kits. Like house cats, these kits are born with their eyes closed and rely on their mother to take care of them.
The kits stay with their mother for up to a year, getting bigger and learning how to be successful predators. The mother guards her kits fiercely. Mother bobcats will not mate again until her kits venture off on their own.
Males do not take part in raising the young kits. However, males that find unguarded litters will eat the young. This act encourages females to mate again and ensures the male’s genetics are passed on to the next generation.
Though it shows a gruesome side of nature, this encourages genetic diversity, which increases a population’s ability to survive.
Foxes are Predators for Bobcat Kits
Foxes are omnivores with incredibly varied diets. They will eat anything from small mammals to berries to fungi. Foxes will also prey upon bobcat kits when the mothers are absent.
Mothers of most mammal species are fiercely protective of their young, and bobcats are no exception. However, providing food for their young requires bobcat mothers to leave their dens and their young.
Bobcat kits are too young and helpless to survive on their own. Foxes, with their keen senses and small size, have no difficulty entering dens that are not protected by the bobcat mothers.
Foxes are similar in size to bobcats (slightly smaller), so foxes do not prey on adult bobcats. Fighting a bobcat would cause injury or possibly the end for a fox. However, when a bobcat’s young are left unprotected, an opportunity arises for predators.
Birds of Prey Go After Bobcat Kits
Raptors are known for their binocular vision and the sharp talons they use to capture their prey. Bobcat kits and juveniles that wander too far from their mothers or cover are at risk of predation by birds of prey!
- Eagles are the largest of the raptors. Their usual prey includes small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Despite their large size, eagles are not big enough to attack a healthy adult bobcat. However, like most predators, they are very opportunistic and can prey on wounded adults or bobcat kits.
- Owls are large nocturnal birds. They usually prey on small mammals and birds. On rare occasions, great-horned owls have been known to select the family’s pet for dinner.
A young bobcat is the right size to get a hungry owl’s attention. Owls have fringed wing feathers that make them almost completely silent predators as they fly overhead, searching for prey.
- Peregrine Falcons are crow-sized falcons. They are known for their incredible, neck-breaking speed, holding the record for the fastest animal in the world with speeds over 200mph (245mph diving speed to be exact!)
They often search for predators in the twilight of the early mornings and evenings and prey on bats. Though they are small, their dive-bomb and dispatch technique is super effective.
Raptors are incredible birds of prey, but even with their sharp beaks and talons, they risk injury if they take on a healthy and mature bobcat.
Humans Go After Bobcats
Fur trapping has been a popular means of sport, revenue, and population control in the United States. Bobcats are sought after in many states for their soft, beautiful fur.
Occasionally bobcats may go after or harass livestock and deer populations, making them unpopular species among farmers and human predators.
Additionally, bobcats that live near humans follow roadways, especially during winter when snowfall impedes their normal movement.
During this time, bobcat mothers have a higher risk of getting hit by a car. There is also a risk of being trophied or being caught in a trap. This can leave infant bobcats vulnerable and open to humans.
What To Do If You See A Bobcat
Bobcats are normally very shy and elusive creatures, but sometimes they end up in areas near humans. We’ve established that bobcats are nature’s born predators when possible, so it is important to avoid a confrontation. But, on rare occasions, bobcats wander near our homes.
Usually, a bobcat is looking for food. This could be from pet food being left out or livestock and pets that are not put up. Other wild animals attract bobcats to backyards, such as rabbits, squirrels, and birds. Bobcats may also use man-made structures and overgrown shrubbery as shelter.
Sometimes older bobcat kits will accompany their mothers outside of the den. In these situations, the mother usually leaves the kits in a protected place and returns later to retrieve them. People have been injured by bobcat kits after mistaking them for regular house cats.
Never try to confront a bobcat on your own.
No matter how tame or even cute it may appear, it is still a wild animal. If loud noises don’t deter the bobcat, call your local game and wildlife department. Their trained staff will have the tools and knowledge to help you.
Luckily, bobcats are usually very skittish around humans, and simply making loud noises usually scares them off.
There are a few things you can do to make your yard less appealing and effectively keep them out of your yard.
- Clear away any vegetation that could provide a shelter or hiding spot.
- Keep pet food and water bowls put up when your pet is inside.
- Clear away excess seeds that have fallen from backyard bird feeders.
- To keep chickens and other backyard livestock and pets safe, consider installing a fence.
Bobcats are medium-sized feline assassins of nature, but nature has a way of turning the tables. Bobcats are sometimes prey and eaten by other animals, because of age, injury, or other ailments.
They are beautiful animals that are closely related to our house cats, but every bobcat that becomes prey has provided for the survival of another animal.
Now to recap.
Here are 10 of most common animals that prey on bobcats:
- Mountain lions
- Male bobcats
- Golden eagles
- Great horned owls
- Peregrine falcons
Good luck and hopefully you don’t run into a bobcat or any of its predators!
Fuller, T. K., Berendzen, S. L., Decker, T. A., & Cardoza, J. E. (1995). Survival and cause-specific mortality rates of adult bobcats (Lynx rufus). American Midland Naturalist, 404-408.
Kamler, J. F., & Gipson, P. S. (2004). Survival and Cause-Specific Mortality among Furbearers in a Protected Area. The American Midland Naturalist, 151(1), 27–34.
Koehler, G. (1987). The bobcat. Audubon Wildlife Report, 399-409.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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