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By Tim Hauserman
Seeing a bobcat in the Tahoe region is a rare treat. Just recently I saw one crossing Sequoia Avenue near Sunnyside. It was just 50 yards away, and at first I thought it was a small dog, but soon realized it had the unique coloration, sleek cat body type and bobbed tail of a bobcat. It quickly leaped over a seven foot high fence and headed through the grounds of a lakefront estate towards the shore. Bobcats are sleek and well camouflaged, so this was only the third I’d seen during many years of wondering around in the Tahoe woods. Winter is actually the best time to see a bobcat as the limited availability of food makes them head into our neighborhoods to seek unsuspecting prey.
Bobcats are about twice as large as domestic cat, and considerably smaller then a mountain lion. They have a gray to brown coat, black tufted ears and a whiskered face. It gets its name from the short, bobbed tail. They are a member of the Lynx genius, but are considerably smaller and have smaller ears than the Canadian Lynx, which isn’t seen in the Sierra Nevada.
It’s an adaptable predator whose favorite meal is rabbit or hare, but it will also eat small rodents, deer and a variety of birds, including geese. Given the overabundance of Canadian geese along the shore of Lake Tahoe, perhaps that is what the bobcat I saw was seeking by heading down to the beach. While they can eat a wide variety of foods, the health of the bobcat population is largely determined by the number of their favorite prey available in their territory. Bobcats are solo hunters, thus coyotes, who often hunt in groups have an advantage over bobcats if they live in the same area.
Bobcats are crepuscular, meaning they are active a few hours before sunset until a few hours into the dark, and then before dawn to a few hours after sunrise. They usually keep one main den, but have a few outposts along their territorial boundaries to rest between hunting sessions.
Bobcats usually only live about seven years, with more than 10 years being quite rare. Both the males and females usually mate with more then one other bobcat each season, and the female raises the kittens on their own.
Hopefully, you will have the opportunity to catch a bobcat on your adventures around Tahoe. Every time I’ve seen one it has been a quick glimpse as they jumped over a fence or ran through the forest, but it was always a powerful experience to see these amazingly beautiful small predators.