One is elusive and solitary. The other is loud and gregarious. Two species with opposing temperaments: It's no surprise that Native American legends portray the bobcat and the coyote as rivals. But these clever predators often share the same habitat and prey. And while hunters and trappers almost wiped out their larger cousins–the mountain lion and wolf–more than one million bobcats and several million coyotes live throughout North America. Here's what enables these midsize hunters to thrive in a tough carnivore niche–and how to tell them apart from their less common relatives.
This quiet hunter is ferocious when cornered.
Found coast to coast, bobcats inhabit woodlands, swamps, semi-deserts, and alpine zones. Their hunting territories fluctuate from 30 square miles in deserts to several hundred acres in forests where food is more plentiful. They maintain several dens–usually thickets, rock ledges, or crevices–throughout their range.
Female bobcats are more territorial than males, though both are mainly solitary. Their brief, polygamous midwinter mating season is marked by the screams, yowls, and hisses from competing male suitors. In the spring, females alone raise two to four kits born fully furred, but blind, in a cave or burrow.
Sharp hearing, keen smell, and slitlike pupils that widen dramatically in low light help these cats hunt at night. Spotted fur keeps them hidden from their main natural predator–mountain lions. Long hind legs enable them to leap up to 8 feet high and 12 feet across.
Bobcats hunt alone just after twilight or before dawn. They grasp prey with retractable claws and kill–like mountain lions–with a crushing bite to the neck. They prefer ambushes and short-distance chases. Healthy bobcats almost never attack humans, but can kill pets.
This cunning canine finds refuge from national parks to Central Park.
Supremely adaptable, coyotes range throughout North America, with more than 2,000 found in greater Chicago alone. They flourish in wild areas where wolves are absent, and can live in forests, grasslands, deserts, swamps, and near many metropolitan areas.
These nocturnal canines dig burrows or enlarge badger dens. Breeding pairs remain monogamous for several years, producing annual spring litters of six blind, limp-eared pups. Coyotes are the loudest of North America's wild mammals, and communicate with pack members using yelps, falsetto howls, and short, sharp yaps.
Coyotes are agile runners, reaching speeds up to 40 miles per hour and leaping distances of 14 feet. Primarily carnivores, they augment their diet of voles, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and deer with occasional reptiles, carrion, and garbage. They rely on sight to catch movement, but depend on their sharp hearing and smell to find and track prey.
Less likely to form packs than wolves, coyotes hunt alone, in pairs, or in family groups. They occasionally team up to tackle larger prey, like chasing a deer to exhaustion. To trap marmots and badgers, one coyote will dig into a burrow while another blocks the escape hole.