Bobcat or lynx? Here’s how you can tell
Both cats have ear tufts — but their tails will tell them apart
Since January there have been three photos of bobcats on the front page of the Vail Daily. Photos by Emily Kent, me, and Carole Schragen. Each time, I got phone calls and emails saying that the Vail Daily had a bad ID of the animals in the captions.
They did not. All were correctly identified as bobcats. The argument that people made was that the animals in the photos had ear tufts, so they were lynx, not bobcats. The reality is that both lynx and bobcats have ear tufts.
I have seen and photographed a number of bobcats. I have never photographed a lynx — in fact, I have never seen one.
The bobcat (Lynx rufus), also known as the red lynx has ear tufts. The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), also known as the gray ghost of the North, has ear tufts. Both animals are in the lynx family.
There are four species of lynx. Two in North America, the Canada lynx and the bobcat. In Europe you will find the Iberian lynx; and the Eurasian lynx.
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Identifying the Canada lynx and the American bobcat is not very straightforward. Part of the problem is “ers!” Bigger, smaller, longer, grayer, spottier, thicker. How do you know if they are not side by side for comparison??
There are a few characteristics that are absolute if you are at the right angle to see them. The most solid ID is the tail. Both have a bobbed tail. The tail of a bobcat is white on the underside with a black spot on the top and stripes on the tail. The lynx tail looks like it was dipped in black ink. The black is all the way around the tip of tail. Bobcats also have distinctive black bars and spots on their forelegs and faces. Spots and stripes are not so obvious on lynx.
The lynx tend to live in coniferous forests, like what is on Vail Pass, and rely almost entirely on snowshoe hares for prey. They will hunt medium-sized mammals and birds if hare numbers are small. Bobcats are generally found at lower elevations, like what is found around Avon and Edwards.
The “ers.” Bobcats are smaller, and have ear tufts, facial ruffs, (fur that forms a bow tie) and a longer tail. Lynx have much larger feet compared to the bobcat and look out of proportion to their body. That allows for easier movement in snow. Bobcats have shorter hair and the hair is redder. Lynx tend to appear grayer and have a stubbier tail.
For some great photos to help out, do a Google search for Canada Lynx and click on the “images” tab. Do the same for the American Bobcat.
Reintroduction efforts in Colorado for lynx began in the 1990s. The San Juan Mountains have an estimated 150-250 lynx. The 55,000-acre Vail Pass winter recreation area does have some lynx, but they avoid areas used by humans. They have shown up on trail cams, so researchers know they are there.
Monitoring of lynx is what is called “occupancy monitoring.” That means looking for signs of the animals’ presence since they are rarely observed, even by researchers!
Lynx that have been released in Colorado are all wearing radio collars that help Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers track them. A collar is a confirmation that what you’re looking at is a lynx.
If you are ever lucky enough to see and positively ID a lynx, Colorado Parks and Wildlife would like to know. You can fill out a Lynx Sightings Form on CPW’s website so that they can keep better track the lynx population in Colorado.