One of the greatest things about living in Idaho is the wide range of wildlife that can be seen at any time when you take a step outside your front door. As Idaho’s human population grows, the interface between the untamed and our urban communities also expands. Most of the time these interactions are quiet, memorable moments like seeing the mule deer walk by with her spotted fawns, or catching a glimpse of an osprey as it dives to snatch its next meal of fish. Sometimes we observe the more rare animals which can leave us with some concern, like a bobcat.
Bobcats are common, but reclusive in nature. They don’t often come out in daylight hours as they are most active at night. The rocky canyons with mixed riparian and wooded areas nearby make Boise an ideal habitat for the bobcat. This wild cat varies in color from light brown to grey with black spots and stripes on its back and sides. The cat has rather large cheek tufts, with a white belly. The tail is a giveaway as it is “bobbed” short and is black tipped on the topside, white on the bottom. A full grown bobcat can weight up to 20 pounds, but most are smaller in size, and are usually around 16 to 20 inches tall at the back.
A bobcat sighting can be concerning at first with the thoughts of chance encounters with children and pets. However, a bobcat’s diet primarily consists of rodents, rabbits and small birds like quail. One should take care if they do have pets like small dogs, chickens, rabbits and ducks. To avoid any confrontations it is best to keep all pets inside from dusk to dawn and protect outside pets with enclosures that have a protective roof. Motion activated lights and noise devices have been used with good success to keep a variety of animals, including bobcats, out of yards.
Because bobcat sightings are usually brief, fleeting interactions as they run away, they can sometimes be misidentified as mountain lions. The easiest way to tell the two apart is the tail and general size. A mountain lion will have a full length tail 2 to 3 feet long, and they will weigh between 90 and 180 pounds, many times larger than a bobcat. Mountain lion sightings do occur, but are much less frequent than bobcats in the Boise area.
It is not necessary to report a normal bobcat sighting to Idaho Department of Fish and Game. If the bobcat exhibits unusual behavior, acts aggressive or unafraid when attempts are made to scare the animal away, or one does attack a small pet, a phone call can be made to the nearest Idaho Fish and Game office to make a report. If you would like to report a normal bobcat sighting, a report can be made at the Idaho Fish and Game wildlife observation page using the following link. https://idfg.idaho.gov/species/observations/add
If landowners are hoping to avoid having bobcats around their property, there are a few things that will help reduce the chances of having an encounter.
- Keep landscaping more open, and reduce the amount of underbrush and overgrown plants. This will remove the spots bobcats will tend to hide and sleep during the day, and hunt at night
- Avoid using bird seed and bird feeders. Since the main food source for bobcats are birds and small rodents, placing bird feed will increase the odds of seeing a bobcat as well
- If it is allowed in your community, use motion activated animal deterrents such as lights or noise makers around the exterior of the property to deter wildlife from entering
Bobcats are listed as a furbearer species in Idaho and have regulated harvest seasons for hunting and trapping. Harvesting a bobcat outside of the designated season, harvesting them without the appropriate hunting or trapping license, or using unlawful methods to harvest a bobcat is a crime. All harvested bobcats in Idaho must be brought in to Idaho Fish and Game to be checked and pelt tagged in within 10 days of the close of the bobcat harvest season.
For more information about bobcats and many other species of wildlife in our state, please visit the following links on Idaho Fish and Game website.