Wild Cats in Wisconsin

Bobcat standing on a log

Are there wild cats in Wisconsin? Yes, there are. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, there are three species of wild cats native to Wisconsin. They are the mountain lion, the Canada lynx, and the bobcat. However, at this time, only bobcats are known to have a stable population within the state.

Bobcats in Wisconsin (Lynx rufus)

The bobcat, which is also known as the red lynx, or the bay lynx, is the most common wild cat in North America. Biologists believe that both the bobcat and the Canada lynx are descendants of the Eurasian lynx whose ancestors crossed into North America via the Bearing Sea land bridge.

Unless you count feral cats, bobcats are the only wild cat species with a breeding population in Wisconsin. The population of bobcats in Northern Wisconsin is around 3500 animals. Wisconsin Division of Natural Resources officials say bobcat sightings in southern Wisconsin have been on the rise in recent years. They believe the population is expanding. However, they don’t have a solid estimate of what the bobcat population in the south is at this time.

Where do Bobcats Live?

Bobcats reside only in North America. Their range begins in southern Canada and then extends south through most of the United States and down into central Mexico.

In New Hampshire, bobcats live in most areas of the state. People rarely see them, though, because they are mostly a nocturnal or crepuscular animal.

Compared to Canada lynx, which thrive in deep snow country, bobcats struggle more in the snow due to the fact that they cannot walk on top of it like lynx can. A lynx’s oversized feet function like snowshoes keeping it on the snow’s surface. On the other hand, compared to lynx, bobcats have small feet that tend to sink into the snow. If the snow is too deep and powdery, it reduces their mobility along with their ability to catch prey.

Other than their inability to cope with deep snow, bobcats are pretty versatile and tend to utilize all the different habitats within their range. You can find bobcat populations anywhere, from areas with coniferous forests to swamps and semi-forested mountain areas. You’ll even find them in agricultural areas and or urban areas.

Bobcats often use rock crevices as den sites but may also den in the cavity beneath an overturned stump or beneath a blown-down tree,

What do Bobcats Look Like?

Adult bobcats are slightly smaller than adult Canada lynx.

A bobcat is 2 to 3 feet long and weighs about 15 to 35 pounds. Adult male bobcats are quite a bit larger than adult females.

These animals have a “bobbed,” short tail with black bands on their upper surface. Their tail also has a black tip on its upper surface but not the back. Their fur is usually gray to brown, with mottled dark spots interspersed with black lines on their bodies. They also have black stripes on their inner forelegs and tail.

From a side view, you will notice that a bobcat is slightly higher at the rump than at the shoulders. Bobcats and lynx have long hind legs in proportion to their forelegs.

Bobcats have black-tufted, proportionately large ears. In other words, they have short ear tufts of hair that poke up above their ears that are black at the tips. The backs of their ears, below the black tips, are black. In the center of the black of each ear, they have a single white spot. This gives the impression of a false eye on the back of each ear.

They also have a whiskered face that seems broader due to their long ruffled facial hair and whiskers. Their eyes are yellow with round black pupils.

In 2020, film footage of a rare black bobcat was taken near Danville, Vermont. See, These melanistic bobcats have all the markings that non-melanistic ones do. They manifest as darker black spots on top of lighter black or dark grey.

What do Bobcats Eat?

Bobcats are small animals compared to some of the prey they take on. Lucky for them, they are aggressive, tough predators. At times, particularly during the winter, they take down relatively larger prey such as deer. However, their regular diets mainly consist of small prey species such as rabbits, small rodents, reptiles, birds, and carrion. When they move in close to a human residential area, their menu might occasionally also include small pets or agricultural animals such as goats or chickens.

They even prey on venomous snakes when the opportunity arises despite not being immune to the venom. They accomplish this by using their quickness to pin the snake’s head down with a paw, after which they dispatch the snake with a quick bite to its spine behind the head. Wisconsin has two venomous snakes. The Timber Rattlesnake and the Eastern Massasauga. See

Reproduction and Life Cycle for Bobcats in Wisconsin

Bobcats mate anywhere in February and March. During the breeding season, a male bobcat may mate with multiple females. If they successfully mate, the gestation period for bobcats is 60 days.

After breeding, the male and female go their separate ways. The female takes all responsibility for the selection of a den site and the rearing of the young. Females generally give birth between late April and early May. See

In Wisconsin, the average bobcat litter size is 2 kittens. See Bobcat kittens are born with their eyes sealed, just like domestic cats are. However, their eyes will open when they are a week to 10 days old. By the time they are 2 months old, they will have replaced their spotted baby fur with a haircoat similar to what their parents have.

By mid-July, the kittens begin to venture out with their mothers to fine-tune their survival skills. Their training may last into the early winter. By mid-winter, the kittens strike out on their own.

Female bobcats reach sexual maturity at 1 year of age, while males reach sexual maturity at age 2.

In the wild, the average life span of a bobcat is 7 to 10 years. See

Canada Lynx
Canada Lynx

Are There Canada Lynx in Wisconsin? (Lynx canadensis)

Canada Lynx are very uncommon in Wisconsin, and there likely aren’t currently any breeding populations within the state.

When lynx are occasionally sighted in Wisconsin, they likely have come over the border from Minnesota or into the northern part of the state from Michigan’s upper peninsula. If conditions are right, it’s possible for them to come from as far away as Canada. Canada Lynx populations are closely connected to the boom-and-bust cycles of snow-shoe hare populations. When snow-shoe hare populations crash, sometimes Canada lynx are forced to travel 100s of miles in search of alternative food sources.

Where do Canada Lynx Live?

Canada lynx favor the boreal forest in the mountainous regions of Canada, the northern United States, and the southern Rockies. The U.S. states that have Canada lynx are Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Canada Lynx Characteristics

What does a Canadian lynx look like? Canada Lynx are beautiful animals. They share a lot of physical similarities with their close relative, the bobcat. But the two also share some differences. First of all, lynx are slightly larger than bobcats. Adult lynx are up to 35 1/2 inches (90 cm) long and 26 inches (65 cm) tall. Additionally, they weigh up to 37 and a half pounds (17 kg).

Lynx have stubby tails. While the tail of a bobcat is short or “bobbed,” a lynx’s tail is shorter still. They don’t have the black bands on the top side of their tails that bobcats have. However, they do have a completely black-tipped tail. The black tip on a lynx’s tail surrounds the entirety of the tail as if the tail had been dipped in black paint. On the other hand, a bobcat’s black tip is only on the top side of the tail.

Canada Lynx have long thick grey fur in the winter. By summertime, they have shed their grey fur and have a thinner, shorter reddish-brown fur coat instead. Their color is more uniform than that of bobcats. While bobcats have black spots and mottled coloration over their entire body, Lynx are solid tan except for some mottled darker brown spots on their legs.

Canadian Lynx have triangular pointed ears with black backs and long tufts of black hair on the tips. The hair tufts are much longer than a bobcat’s. They also have drooping flared facial ruff of white hair on the sides of their face beneath their chin.

Their eyes are green with round black pupils.

Lynx have long legs in proportion to their bodies. Interestingly, they have slightly longer legs in the rear than in the front. This gives their body a peculiar, downhill-sloped appearance.

Canadian Lynx have evolved to prey on snowshoe hares. They have almost comical-looking oversized fur-covered paws. They put their larger feet to good use. Their large paws function like snowshoes, allowing them to travel and hunt on top of the snow. Canadian lynx feet can keep almost twice as much weight from sinking into the snow as those of a bobcat. This is why they range over the deep snow country of northern Canada while bobcats do not.

Reproductive Behavior and Life Cycle for Canadian Lynx

Breeding season for the Canadian Lynx begins in late February and goes to early April. Lynx females are mono estrus, meaning they have one estrus cycle per year. Females mate with only one male and are in heat from 1 to 10 days. On the other hand, males may mate with multiple females.

Reproduction in Canadian Lynx is directly affected by the abundance or lack of their prey animals. If they successfully mate, their gestation period lasts 56 to 70 days.

The pregnant female will typically make a maternal den beneath rock ledges, a fallen log, in the root tangle of a fallen log, or a thick tangle of brush.

Lynx kittens are sightless for the first two weeks of their life. By the time they’re 5 weeks old, they’ll be big enough to leave the den. Their mothers wean them when they’re around 10 weeks old, and at 10 months, they’ll go out on their own. Source

Female Lynx are sexually mature at 10 months old, but they generally don’t come into heat for at least another year. However, in periods of prey abundance, yearling females will breed and give birth.

Male Lynx reach maturity at around 33 months of age.

The lifespan of a Canadian lynx is somewhere between 10 and 20 years in the wild. They can live over 20 years in captivity. See

What do Canada Lynx eat?

Mice, squirrels, ptarmigan, grouse, ducks, deer, Dall sheep, and caribou make up a portion of a Canadian lynx’s diet in regions where these prey animals are available. However, over most of their range, their preferred food is snowshoe hares.

Lynx and Snowshoe Hare

The Canada lynx is very dependent on snowshoe hares as a food source. In some areas, hares comprise 75% of their total diet. In fact, their population density is directly correlated with the snowshoe hare population.

Canadian and Alaskan Canadian Lynx and snowshoe hares go through what is known as the Lynx-Snowshoe Hare Cycle. When food sources are abundant for hares, their population increases very rapidly since they can have several litters per year. When hare populations are at their peak, there can be as many as 1500 animals per square kilometer (3913 per square mile). At this time, the population of Lynx and other predators are also at their peaks.

Mountain Lion standing on a rock
Mountain Lion

Are There Mountain Lions in Wisconsin? (Puma concolor)

Because they are dispersed over a wide geographic area mountain lions have many regional names, such as cougar, panther, painter, and American lion.

Mountain lions are the largest wild cat native to Wisconsin. They were once common in the state. However, according to the Wisconsin DNR, they are currently expatriated from the state. Their population fell victim to habitat destruction and overhunting. The last known native cougar in Wisconsin was killed in 1908.

There are occasional reports of cougars in Wisconsin. Nonetheless, these are attributed to young male mountain lions dispersing from expanding breeding populations in states further west.

Where are Mountain Lions Typically Found?

Mountain lions live on all three of the American continents. Their range begins in Canada’s Yukon territory and extends south through parts of North America, Central America, and South America to the southern tip of Argentina.

In Canada, the biggest populations of them are in British Columbia and Alberta. On the other hand, in the United States, they mainly live in the western states and Florida in the southeast. In Florida, the mountain lion is called the Florida panther.

What do mountain Lions Look Like?

You might be wondering what mountain lions look like with all the cougar sightings being reported out there.

The mountain lion is a large cat that is native to North America, Central America, and South America. To visualize what a mountain lion looks like, picture a giant house cat with short tan hair. Mountain lions are much larger than domestic cats, though. An average house cat weighs around 10 pounds, while male mountain lions can weigh over 200 pounds.

These animals have lean, muscular bodies, rounded heads, and upright ears that are oval at the tip. Another characteristic of the mountain lion is its thick long tail, which accounts for almost one-third of its entire length. Their long tail helps them keep balanced as they navigate through uneven terrain.

Mountain lions have a light brown coat of short, coarse hair over most of their body. The area around their nose, the tip of their tail, and the tips of their ears are black. Their belly, the area above their upper lip, below their lower lip, and their chin are all white. They also have a sprinkling of dark hair on their backs. There are some coat color variances between different geographic locations.

What do Mountain Lions Eat?

Mountain lions are opportunistic predators that hunt mostly nocturnally, stalking their prey, mainly deer, from behind. In Wisconsin, this would be white-tailed deer.

On average, a mountain lion kills a deer once a week. Additionally, they consume elk, feral horses, coyotes, raccoons, birds, rats, feral pigs, porcupines, skunks, snakes, and small pets, domestic livestock, and literally any other native wild animals they can catch.

Transient Mountain Lions from Western States

Verified sightings of cougars in Wisconsin are rare but not unheard of. In fact, according to the Wisconsin State Department of Natural Resources, the state has had 85 verified mountain lion sightings from January 1st, 2017, through October 2022. See These are the sightings that are verified by a DNR biologist. Supporting evidence might consist of a trail camera photo with details of the exact location or something more physical such as tracks, scat, or hair samples.

Wisconsin mountain lion map

Wildlife biologists with the WDNR attribute all of these sightings to transient animals from western cougar populations. Transient cougars have been known to travel long distances from the breeding population that they originated from. These big cats are territorial. Mountain lions patrol and use scent markings to post their home ranges which are up to 100 square miles. What’s more, adult males fight to the death sometimes to settle territorial disputes.

Getting back to transient mountain lions, sometimes sub-adult males travel great distances in search of a new home range. In 1 documented case, back in 2011, a young male traveled over 1500 miles from South Dakota to be struck by a car and killed in Connecticut.

So, could there be mountain lions in Wisconsin? The answer is yes, but if you see one, it might just be passing through the state.

Do Mountain Lions Ever Harm Humans?

I’ve taken much of the following section from another one of my blog posts entitled “Are Mountain Lions Dangerous?” Found here.

Fatal mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. In fact, there are only 20 records of fatal mountain lion attacks on humans in all of North America in the last 100 years. Don’t let that fact lull you into a complete sense of false security, though. There have been many more mountain lion attacks over the years that didn’t result in a fatality. Mountain lions are, in fact, dangerous.

A mountain lion is a formidably tough wild predatory animal. They can run 40 to 50 miles per hour for short bursts. Additionally, they can leap 18 feet vertically and 40 feet horizontally to catch their prey. These ninja-like predators typically stalk their prey from behind and then leap on an animal’s back. They then crush their cervical spine or larynx with their powerful jaws. They have a bite force of 750 pounds per square inch.

Some Factors That Cause Mountain Lions to Attack Humans

The majority of the time, mountain lions use their ghost-like skills to avoid human contact. On rare occasions, though, they attack humans. Below are a few of the reasons why.

  • If the cougar has an injury or some sort of impairment that prevents it from killing its normal prey, it’ll be more likely to look at a person as potential prey.
  • Male mountain lions engage in fights for territory. Some of their battles are to the death. A percentage of cougar attacks on humans are perpetrated by hungry semi-juvenile toms that have been kicked out of territories with a more abundant food supply.
  • Scientific data suggests that mountain lions that were orphaned at a young age are more likely to attack humans. This is possibly because they missed the part of their training where their mothers taught them that humans are to be feared.

If a Mountain Lion is Stalking You

  • Never run away. According to a Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals, those who try to run away when they encounter a mountain lion put themselves at greater risk of sustaining serious injuries and even death. Running away triggers a lion’s instinct to chase. 
  • Stay as calm as you can. Panic is your enemy. In a survival situation such as this, a cool head will put you at a better advantage.
  • Speak firmly in a loud voice but avoid a high-pitched tone or screaming
  • You need to hold your ground when the cat is coming towards you and slowly back away when it pauses its approach
  • Stand upright. Avoid bending over or crouching down as much as possible, as this puts you in the vulnerable position of appearing like a small, four-legged animal that can easily become prey.
  • Open your jacket if you’re wearing one to appear larger. and wave your arms slowly to give yourself the appearance of having as much size as possible as you back away slowly. You can also throw stones, sticks, or other objects at the lion.
  • If you’re walking with a child, pick them up and hold them in your arms.

If you’ve done all the above, there’s still that small chance that you’ll still be attacked by the mountain lion. You need to be mentally prepared for this. At this point, do not panic and freeze up. In order to survive, you’ll need to fight back with as much aggression as you can muster.

Historical accounts show that people have successfully fought mountain lions off with their bare hands, sticks, rocks, garden tools, or any other weapon within reach. You already have a ready-made weapon if you’re using a walking stick. Target sensitive areas such as the eyes and nose, and hit as hard as you can! You should also try to remain standing if possible. You’ll lose some of your advantage on the ground. If you get knocked down, try as hard as possible to protect your neck and head as you continue to fight back.

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