Kentucky’s Big Cats: A Look at the 2 Different Types of Wild Cats Found in the State

Big Cats of Kentucky

Kentucky is home to two species of wild cats – bobcats and mountain lions. Bobcats are slightly smaller in size than their larger, lion-like relatives, but they are equally as powerful and important to the local ecosystem. In this guide, we will explore the features of these two impressive animals, their behavior patterns and habits, as well as how to best protect them in Kentucky.



Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are medium-sized wild cats native to Kentucky, and they can be found throughout the state. These cats are solitary animals and typically hunt at dusk and dawn. Bobcats are known to inhabit a variety of habitats, including swamps, forests, open fields, mountains, and deserts. They weigh between 15-35 pounds and can have a total length of up to three feet.

Let’s get into the details about Bobcats below.

ium-sized wild felines distinguished by their short “bobbed” tails, which measure about five to six inches in length. They have reddish-brown fur with white underbellies and black spots on their sides and legs. Generally, adults can weigh between 15 to 35 pounds and reach up to 38 inches in length. Bobcats have robust muscular bodies with powerful forelimbs and large broad heads with tufted ears. Their characteristic stubby tail is completely covered in fur, giving them the appearance of having a full tail like other members of the cat family.

Bobcats have sharp eyesight, allowing them to see well during the day, though they also possess keen night vision and a sense of smell. They are solitary animals but will sometimes hunt or travel in pairs. Bobcats typically prefer dense shrubbery for stalking prey or taking shelter from predators, but they can also be found living in grasslands, woodlands, or desert environments depending on what is available near their territory range.

Habitat and Distribution

Bobcats are native to the contiguous United States of America, but they historically occupied greater parts of the US. Before extensive habitat loss and overhunting, bobcats occupied much larger areas in the western and southern states. Today, bobcats live mainly in scrub habitats in suitable areas, such as chaparral hillsides, woodlands and deciduous forests.

In Kentucky, bobcats live mostly in forested mountains and hilly terrain throughout the southeastern regions of the state. Bobcat populations are monitored closely by officers with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). In addition to the KDFWR’s monitoring efforts, licensed trappers help monitor population levels across Kentucky counties. Their populations continue to remain stable or increase in most parts of Kentucky due to habitat conservation efforts.

Habitat conservation efforts for wild cats help to protect these animals from extinction—as their habitats become increasingly fragmented due to human activity saw a decrease in population numbers during the mid-1900s. However with increased public awareness, regulation changes and better monitoring strategies their presence has been increasing steadily again within Kentucky’s boundaries since then.


Bobcats hunting

They hunt small mammals such as rodents, rabbits, skunks, and opossums; birds such as quail, wild turkey and grouse; amphibians such as frogs and lizards; and even occasionally insects. They are also scavengers and will often eat carrion left by other animals.

They generally travel alone or in pairs. Typically, a home range size varies from 1-7 square miles (2-17 square kilometers). The diet of a bobcat varies from individual to individual, depending on the prey availability within their range. The availability of different prey items also varies among seasons, with waterfowl being most commonly hunted using an ambush technique during winter seasons due to relatively easy access to standing water sources combined with lower detection risk when their prey is unable to fly away quickly enough.

During other seasons it is most often mice or rabbits that provide the majority of bobcat diets. They can even occasionally take down small deer in some cases if those forces align favorably given prey availability coupled with the defending deer’s lack of skills or its disadvantageous positioning relative to the hunting bobcat(s).


They are known for their adaptability and survival skills and can thrive in a variety of habitats. They typically inhabit areas with rugged terrain, dense vegetation and plenty of prey such as rabbits, mice, deer, birds, fish and sometimes even reptiles. Bobcats mainly hunt by sight during the day but also hunt by smell or sound at night or before dawn.

In Kentucky, bobcats usually establish home ranges from five-to-sixty acres depending on the presence of prey species and other factors. They often make use of caves or hollow logs for denning sites throughout the winter months but may also use shelters in meadows when temperatures become severe. During colder months they are active mainly during night hours but shift to peak activity around early dawning until late afternoon when it gets warmer.

Males defend larger home ranges than females which is why they tend to be more solitary while females have a more varied social structure with groups that are more stable during times of abundance. They will rarely live together but family units do exist as young bobcat kittens are routinely assisted by their mother until reaching maturity at twelve months old.

Mountain Lions

mountain lion

They are among the more elusive wild cats native to Kentucky. They are characterized by long, black-tipped tails and thick fur coats that help to keep them warm in the cold winter months.

If you’re wondering what it would be like to spot one of these powerful beasts in the wild, this article will cover the physical characteristics and behaviors of the mountain lion.

Physical Characteristics

Also known as cougars or pumas, are one of the two species of wild cats commonly found in Kentucky. They are typically tan in color with white on the underbelly and throat. This elusive predator can be identified by their solid body shape and short tail. An adult mountain lion can measure up to 8 feet long (from nose to tail) and weigh between 120-180 pounds.

Adult males tend to be larger than females and both sexes have long, sharp claws for climbing trees, capturing prey, and protecting themselves when necessary. Additionally, the pads of their paws are padded for effective maneuvering in their rocky habitats including mountainsides and cliffs. They also have long whiskers around their muzzle which helps them detect subtle changes in air currents caused by potential prey movements; this adaptation allows them to be very successful predators even at night.

The mountain lion is Kentucky’s largest wild cat species and plays an important role in its ecosystem but is classified as a “species of concern” due to its declining population numbers. As humans continue building roads into the mountainside habitats where they live, there has been an increase in conflicts between humans and these animals resulting in occasional deaths. As such, it is important to design efforts that take this into account so that mountain lions can continue inhabiting their native home in Kentucky while keeping people safe from harm at the same time.

Habitat and Distribution

Mountain Lions Habitat and Distribution

In Kentucky, the most commonly found wild cats are bobcats and mountain lions. In terms of habitat and distribution, both species can be found in a variety of distinct areas, yet their occurrence is often clustered around specific regions.

They are adaptable and found in close-by forested habitats throughout the state. They tend to favor living in dense cover and have been recorded occupying farms, yards, meadows, swamps, creeksides and uplands. They range widely across the state but are not typically found in heavily populated areas like cities or towns.

The elusive mountain lion (also known as cougar) is historically found primarily within western Kentucky. They inhabit thickly wooded areas – often near steep rocky crags or caves – with access to plenty of water from nearby streams or rivers for hunting deer, elk, wild hogs and other smaller prey species for food. While sightings outside this region have been documented over the years, mountain lions remain quite uncommon east of Interstate 65 due to fragmentation of habitat as well as frequent human traffic on highways that would cause harm if collided upon when crossing.


Mountain Lions Eating

Mountain lions are obligate carnivores, meaning they feed only on animal meat. They are apex predators and their diet consists of a variety of prey including deer, elk, sheep, rodents, and rabbits. In Kentucky, smaller mammals such as raccoons, opossums, skunks and foxes have also been identified as potential prey sources. They have even been known to hunt birds in some areas.

They hunt mainly by stalking and ambushing their prey. They can sprint for short distances with bursts up to 40 miles per hour but prefer to lay in wait and ambush their food. This stealth hunting behavior is advantageous for them as it helps them conserve energy while preying on smaller-sized creatures that would be difficult to catch when pursued quickly.

Cats primarily digest proteins from eaten meat; fat content varies depending on the regional availability of prey species. Cats are able to adapt to eating small amounts of plant matter if needed which helps when natural prey is scarce due to environmental factors such as snowfall or temperature variations in the area they inhabit. Mountain lions’ diets must contain a range of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins in order for them to be healthy so they must opportunistically hunt different kinds of animals according to what’s naturally available in their particular environment.


Mountain lions generally keep a territory of up to 150 square miles but will expand their territory if food sources become scarce. They hunt larger animals like deer, moose, elk and wild goats by sneaking up behind them, either by approaching silently or leaping onto their backs. They kill with a bite on the neck or back of the skull and usually drag away the carcass to eat it in private. When food is difficult to find, they feed on smaller animals like rabbits or rodents while they look for more substantial sources of nutrition.

Unlike some other species of wild cats, mountain lions are generally not social creatures and rarely live together in groups. Territories are defended fiercely against intruders; conflicts may occur if males enter another’s territory or if females enter a male’s territory looking for a mate. This behavior helps avoid overpopulation of an area since each individual lion claims his own spot as the home range.

These big cats, including the bobcat and mountain lion, help maintain a healthy balance of prey and predator, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment. Unfortunately, human activities, such as hunting and habitat destruction, have contributed to the decline of wild cat populations in Kentucky.

The importance of preserving and protecting Kentucky’s wild cat population

wild cat

It is important to preserve and protect these species to ensure their survival for generations to come. One way to do this is through conservation efforts and education. This includes efforts to protect their natural habitats, implementing hunting regulations to prevent overhunting, and educating the public about the importance of these animals and the impact of human activities on their survival.

Moreover, wild cats are also important cultural symbols for many indigenous people in Kentucky. The Cherokee and Shawnee tribes have long held spiritual beliefs and cultural practices related to wild cats, including the mountain lion. Preserving these animals is crucial not only for ecological reasons but also for cultural and spiritual reasons.


Kentucky’s wild cat population

Are bobcats and mountain lions endangered species?

They are not considered endangered, but their populations in some areas have declined due to habitat loss and hunting. Mountain lions are also not considered endangered, but their populations have been affected by hunting and habitat loss.

What do bobcats and mountain lions eat?

They typically prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Mountain lions are carnivores and will eat a variety of prey, including deer, elk, and smaller mammals.

Where can bobcats and mountain lions be found in Kentucky?

They can be found throughout Kentucky, while mountain lions are rare and sightings are mostly limited to the eastern part of the state.

Can bobcats and mountain lions be kept as pets?

It is illegal to keep them as pets in Kentucky without a permit.

What is being done to protect wild cat populations in Kentucky?

Conservation efforts in Kentucky aim to protect and preserve wild cat populations through habitat conservation, public education, and wildlife management programs.

How can people help protect wild cat populations in Kentucky?

People can help protect wild cat populations by supporting conservation efforts, reporting sightings, and avoiding activities that may disturb or harm wild cats.

What should I do if I encounter a bobcat or mountain lion in the wild?

If you encounter a bobcat or mountain lion in the wild, it is important to remain calm and avoid direct eye contact. Back away slowly and do not turn your back on the animal. If the animal approaches, try to appear larger by raising your arms and making noise.

Can I hunt bobcats and mountain lions in Kentucky?

Hunting of bobcats is legal in Kentucky with a permit and during the appropriate season. Hunting of mountain lions is illegal in Kentucky.

Are bobcats and mountain lions nocturnal animals?

Both of them are primarily active during the hours of dawn and dusk, but may also be active during the night or day.


The presence of wild cats in the state of Kentucky is an indication of healthy and vibrant wildlife. Bobcats, mountain lions, and other species such as cougars have adapted to live in the diverse terrain of the state’s mountains, foothills, rivers and streams.

While conservation efforts are essential for these animals’ long-term survival, there are steps people can take to reduce the likelihood of conflict between humans and cats. These include keeping dogs on leashes when enjoying outdoor activities, never approaching or cornering a wild animal and minimizing encounters with cats whenever possible by cleaning up after activities that attract them (including leaving food or trash outdoors).

With proper precautions, Kentuckians can enjoy observing these magnificent creatures while helping to maintain their populations in the wild.

Related Post


Recent Posts