Similar to domestic tabby cat but larger, more robust. Darker, thicker body stripes, with no white patches. Thicker, bushy tail with distinctive stripes and blunt black tip.
Rabbits, hares and small mammals are their principal prey, but quite large birds and animals freshly killed on the roads may also be taken.
Origin & Distribution:
Wildcats are confined to Scotland, north of Glasgow and Edinburgh, being absent from all of the Scottish Islands. They prefer areas with varied habitats on the edge of moor and, with pasture, scrub and forests. High mountains, where prey is scarce, and intensively farmed lowland regions, are avoided. In winter, bad weather drives wildcats into more sheltered wooded valleys.
Wildcats are active at night, mainly around dawn and dusk. During the day, and in periods of heavy rain and snow, wildcats lie up in dens located amongst boulders and rocky cairns, or in old fox earths, badgers sets, peat hags, or tree roots. Wildcats are solitary and territorial, living at a low population density; there may be one cat to 3km2 in good habitats but only one cat in 10km2 in less favourable areas. Urine sprayed on boulders and tree trunks and droppings deposited in prominent places marks territories.
Wildcats used to be found throughout mainland Britain but due to persecution and woodland clearance, populations have declined. Wildcats almost became extinct in Britain in the early years of the 20th century, but declines were reversed. However, this recovery now seems to have slowed down. The urbanised habitat seems to be a barrier to further dispersal. The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981 and 1988) now gives strict legal protection to wildcats and their dens. Although increasing afforestation helps the spread of wildcats, mature forest plantations become less suitable for the small mammals on which wildcats prey. Forestry management to encourage wildcats should therefore aim to diversify the age of plantations.