Physical Characteristics: 18-23 inches tall at shoulder, 31-40 inches long including tail, 15-40 pounds. This medium-sized, short-tailed, long-legged cat has huge feet and protruding ears tipped with 2-inch black hairs. Its fur is long, ranging in color from reddish, yellow-brown, to silvery-gray with dark spots or streaks and whitish underside. Its large, furry feet allow it to stalk its prey in silence and travel fast in snow.
Diet: The Snowshoe Hare typically makes up the bulk of the diet, so much that when the hare population crashes the number of lynxes drops as well. The Canada Lynx will sustain itself on squirrels, grouse, other rodents, or even domestic animals. It is primarily a solitary hunter of remote forests, largely nocturnal with more diurnal activity in winter, and will cache uneaten kill under snow or leafy debris.
Habitat: The Canada Lynx depends on dense conifer forests for security and denning. Numerous fallen trees, rocky outcrops, and occasional dense thickets that serve as effective cover and ambush sites are desired habitat components. Forest edges, which provide food for lynxes’ major prey—snowshoe hare—are critical.
Range: Primarily an inhabitant of boreal forests, the Canada Lynx occurs across much of Canada and Alaska, and into northern US border states, extending south into the Rocky Mountains through Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Colorado. The size of individual lynx home ranges vary and have been documented between 3 and 300 square miles. Lynx populations rise and fall cyclically in their northern range, reflecting similar fluctuations in snowshoe hare numbers. In the lower 48 states, the population levels and densities tend to remain low. Lynx were historically found throughout the Clearwater region. A confirmed sighting by a Forest Service wildlife biologist occurred along the Lochsa River in the early 2000s.
Reproduction: The breeding season for Canada Lynx lasts only one month, ranging from March to May depending on local climate. The female attracts a male by leaving some of her urine where he has marked his territory, and by repeated calling. The female lynx will only mate with one male each season, though a male may mate with multiple females. The female gives birth to one to five kittens in May or June; they stay with their mother through the first winter and share a den until mature enough to leave.
Threats: In the contiguous United States, the Canada Lynx is officially listed as “threatened” as per the Endangered Species Act. While over-trapping put intense pressure on lynx numbers historically, current threats are primarily habitat destruction and fragmentation due to human development such as logging, road building, motor vehicle traffic, and snowmobiles.
Miscellaneous: Because of their popularity for fur, records of lynx population have been kept by the Canadian government and the Hudson’s Bay Company since the 1730s. The classic predator-prey relationship between the Canada Lynx and the Snowshoe Hare is well known and has been documented for decades; the critical link is so evolved that each respective population parallels the other, and when hare numbers are low, the change in lynx diet causes the productivity of adult female lynx and survival of young to nearly cease. Other animals benefit from lynxes’ superior stalking skills: the Great Horned Owl will station itself above the lynx and wait for the lynx to flush the prey out of its hiding place, then swoop and capture its meal before the lynx can get to it.
Learn more about our collective efforts to protect lynx from trapping in Idaho.