Bobcat in the snow - Photo by John Seals
Bobcat in the snow – Photo by John Seals

The bobcat is the only native North American cat species that occurs today in New York State. In fact, the bobcat’s range covers most of the lower 48 states. “Most” is the operative word here, however; as we here in New York west of Syracuse are outside that range. 

Why then write about this species here? Because our Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) indicates that the bobcat is extending its range and we should keep an eye out for this possible addition to our regional fauna.

FINWR supports the programs and activities that go on at Iroquois NWR.
Click here to become a member!
Click here to donate!

Bobcats are felines 20-40 inches in length weighing up to 40 pounds, their size between that of a fox and a small coyote. They are best identified by their short, 4 to 8-inch tail, from which their name is derived. The tip of that tail is black above, white below. Their size and tail would in almost all cases distinguish them from non-native feral house cats.

Neither of my two experiences with bobcats occurred here in western New York. One trotted ahead of my car for almost a quarter mile as I drove slowly through a Florida game reserve before it finally veered off the road to disappear into a woodland. 

The other experience was quite different. A group of us had set up camp along the Finger Lakes Trail just west of the Catskills. We had sat around our campfire exchanging stories and were just about to head for our tents when a loud, heartrending scream came from the pine woods around us. I’m not sure I even moved but I felt as though I was winning the seated high jump record.

Bobcat walking through wildflowers. Photo courtesy of Grayson Smith, USFWS
Bobcat walking through wildflowers. Photo courtesy of Grayson Smith, USFWS

So keep an eye out for the possibility of another newcomer to our region. And be sure to report any sighting to the DEC.

I must qualify my claim in the first sentence of this note. Two other species that formerly occurred here, the cougar and Canada lynx, were extirpated in the 19th century; however, a wandering cougar (aka mountain lion or puma) was recorded in New York before it was killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011. Also, a few lynx have been reported wandering into the northern part of the state. An attempt to reestablish the lynx in the Adirondacks between 1989 and 1991 failed.