Fact Sheet
Canada Lynx

Basic Facts About Canada Lynx

The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a medium-sized cat characterized by its long ear tufts, flared facial ruff, and short, bobbed tail with a completely black tip. It has unusually large paws that act like snowshoes in very deep snow, thick fur and long legs, and its hind legs are longer than its front legs, giving lynx a stooped appearance.

© Norbert Rosing / National Geographic Stock

© Norbert Rosing / National Geographic Stock

Canada lynx look similar to bobcats, but there are some distinguishing features: bobcats have shorter tufts on their ears, the tip of their tail is black on top and white underneath, and bobcats have shorter legs and smaller feet than lynx. Perhaps the biggest distinction is that lynx mostly occur only in northern states along the Canadian border or in mountainous regions, while bobcats range across almost the entire Lower 48 states.

Did You Know?

Lynx have excellent eyesight: they can spot a mouse at 250 feet! Also, the black tufts of hair at the tops of their ears serve to enhance their already phenomenal hearing.

Lynx, like other forest hunters, play an important ecological role. As a mid-size carnivore, lynx target smaller prey species that reproduce relatively quickly. They also require a mixed habitat that includes younger forests with thick vegetation for hunting small prey, and older forests with a full canopy and good cover for denning. By protecting lynx, we’re also protecting these rare and dwindling habitats that comprise some of the most pristine wilderness remaining in the U.S.

Diet

Lynx are specialized hunters that target snowshoe hare, which make up the bulk of their diet. In fact, lynx can only sustain populations where there are adequate snowshoe hare populations. In Canada and Alaska, lynx populations actually fluctuate in response to how many hares there are. Lynx are also known to eat mice, voles, grouse, ptarmigan, red squirrel and carrion.

Population

Lynx populations in the lower 48 continually ebb and flow due to prey populations and related periodic movements from Canada; therefore it is difficult to have an accurate estimate. Yet overall, in the lower 48, lynx populations can currently be generalized as quite low and substantially reduced from historical levels.

Range & Habitat

Lynx are generally found in moist, boreal forests that have cold, snowy winters and a high density of their favorite prey: the snowshoe hare.  Snowshoe hares tend to occur in habitats where dense stands of young conifers provide shelter, and where they can forage on conifer boughs that protrude above several feet of snow. These forest thickets may result from wildfires, timber harvest, or other disturbances. Meanwhile, lynx also use mature forests with dense undercover and downed wood for denning. 

Did You Know?

Lynx like to hunt and travel alone, and are slightly more active at night than day.

Lynx can be found throughout much of the boreal forest of Alaska and Canada. The southern portion of their range has historically extended into the U.S. into the northern Rocky Mountains/Cascades, southern Rockies, Great Lakes states and the Northeast. Today, in the Lower-48 states they are known to have sustained breeding populations in Montana, Washington, Maine, and Minnesota and have been reintroduced to Colorado.  They also occur and sometimes breed in Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin, but their population status is not well known in these areas.

Behavior

Generally solitary animals, lynx usually hunt and travel alone, and are slightly more active at night than by day. Lynx hunt by actively walking, flushing and chasing prey, and by using resting or hunting beds to wait for prey to come close, and then giving chase.

Reproduction

Lynx mate during the winter, and the females give birth once a year. Lynx do not create a den site – they locate their kittens under an existing feature, such as a downed log, root system, or simple ground depression surrounded by dense vegetation. Without the presence of kittens, the actual den site is often not distinguishable from its natural surroundings. Kittens stay with their mother for the first year while they learn to hunt. The male lynx does not help with rearing young. Yearling females may give birth during periods when hares are abundant. While mothers have an average of 4 kittens when there is a periodic abundance of snowshoe hares, they have smaller litters the rest of the time, when fewer hares are available.

Mating Season: March and April
Gestation: 63-70 days
Litter Size: 1 - 5 kittens

More on Canada Lynx: Threats to Lynx »

You may also be interested in:

Polar bear, © Tom Schneider
Conservation Issue
Climate change is now one of the leading threats to wildlife. Find out what Defenders is doing to help animals around the country survive in a warming planet.
In the Magazine
Lynx Driven to the Brink; The Right Thing to Do; Living with Wildlife
In the Magazine
Citizen scientists take the road less traveled to help wildlife.