Maine Field Office - Ecological Services
Northeast Region

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) - Threatened

Canada lynx sitting. Credit: USFWS digital library

Canada lynx sitting. Credit: USFWS


Species Description and Life History

This lynx is a secretive forest-dwelling cat of northern latitudes and high mountains. It is medium-sized, similar in size to the bobcat, but appears larger because of its long legs. It has unique, long (over one inch), black tufts of fur on the ears and a short, black-tipped tail. The winter coat is light gray and faintly spotted, and the summer coat is much shorter and has a reddish-brown cast. Lynx have unusually large, densely haired feet to help travel over snow. Adult males average about 33 1/2 inches long and weigh 26 pounds. Females are about 32 inches long and average 19 pounds.

Mating occurs during March, and 1 to 7 young are born 60-65 days later in May. Maine litters produce one to four kittens. Lynx dens in Maine consist of a bed under thick regenerating fir or elevated downed logs. The female raises the kittens. Young leave the den area in late June or early July and stay with the female for a full year before leaving their mother in late winter.

Lynx are highly specialized to hunt snowshoe hare, which comprise over 75 percent of their diet. When hares are abundant, lynx may consume one or two a day. In the summer, the diet is more varied and may include grouse, small mammals, and squirrels. In winter, carrion (dead animals) may supplement the diet.

Lynx are primarily nocturnal, but Maine lynx cam be active during the day. Family groups (mother and kittens) hunt together to increase efficiency. Males are solitary for most of the year except the breeding season. Size of the home range varies with snowshoe hare density, habitat, and season. In Maine, female home ranges average about 18 square miles, or the equivalent of half a township, and males occupy about a township. Home ranges overlap, and male home ranges usually encompass several female ranges.  

In northern Canada and Alaska, snowshoe hare populations undergo a 10 year cycle. Lynx numbers vary with the snowshoe hare populations. Snowshoe hare populations fluctuate in Maine, and recently declined to half of that observed in the early 2000s.  During periods of low prey availability, lynx may forego reproduction, experience higher mortality rates, and increase their home range sizes.  

Lynx are rare at the southern edge of their range as in Maine. Populations likely fluctuate with populations of snowshoe hares and are affected by lynx populations in neighboring Canada. Decreased snowfall in recent decades gives a competitive advantage to bobcats, whose range periodically expands northward. Bobcats are more aggressive and displace lynx from their home ranges. In recent years, a few lynx have been incidentally trapped. Fishers killed several radio-collared lynx in Maine. Clearcutting is beneficial to lynx by providing large patches of young forest stands preferred by snowshoe hare. Recent trends in forest practices from large clearcuts to partial harvesting results
in habitat fragmentation, lower landscape hare densities, and will limit future lynx habitat. Woods roads are not a barrier to movement, but do cause some road mortality and increase human access and associated disturbance. High-speed, interstate highways and large scale development are significant threats.


Habitat is widespread through northern Maine and includes large areas of young, dense stands of spruce and fir approximately 12 to 30 years after a major forest disturbance (clearcutting, fire, insect damage). These stands have dense understory vegetation that support high densities of snowshoe hares.  Habitat conditions were close to ideal in Maine in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the widespread clearcuts of the 1970s and 1980s attained prime conditions for snowshoe hares. As stands mature and snowshoe hare numbers decline, lynx populations are expected to decline. Lynx habitat used today will not be prime habitat 10 or 15 years later. Careful forest planning is needed to ensure that large areas of regenerating conifers are present on the landscape to preserve populations of lynx and snowshoe hares.


Species Range:

Lynx are common throughout the boreal forest of Alaska and Canada. The southern portion of their range once extended into the U.S. in the Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes States, and the Northeast. Today, they are occur in the lower 48 States primarily in Montana, Washington, Maine, and Minnesota.  In recent years, lynx have been documented in northern Vermont and New Hampshire.  Maine’s population, believed to be several hundred animals, is contiguous with populations in southern Quebec and northern New Brunswick. 

Distribution in Maine:

The Canada lynx is widely distributed throughout northern Maine (Aroostook, Franklin, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset County, and  Washington Counties) wherever large areas of regenerating conifer support high landscape densities of snowshoe hares.  Habitat shifts with time as stands mature and new stands are cut.  Dispersing lynx may occasionally occur in central and eastern Maine, although breeding rarely occurs outside of northern Maine. Lynx habitat in Maine has been modeled by Hoving et al. (2004). Hoving et al. (2005), and Simons (2009).

Mark McCollough with lynx kitten.  Photo provided by Mark McCollough, USFWS

Mark McCollough with a Canada lynx kitten.
Photo provided by Mark McCollough, USFWS

Additional Information

Permit regarding State of Maine trapping program

September 27, 2017:

2017 Annual Report (PDF)
2016 Annual Report (PDF)
2015 Annual Report (PDF)
Amended Indicental Take Plan (PDF)

November 4, 2014, Agencies finalize plan for Canada lynx affected by Maine's trapping programs; Maine to provide habitat in 22,000-acre lynx management area

News release (web) (PDF)
Permit (PDF), Permit finding (PDF)
Final incidental take plan (PDF)
Final environmental assessment (PDF)
Biological opinion (PDF)
Finding of no significant impact (PDF)
For descriptions of these types of documents, see this page from the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook)

August 5, 2014, Agencies release revised plan, assessment for protecting Canada lynx affected by Maine trapping program

News release (PDF) and web
Federal Register Notice of Availability for revised documents (PDF)
Revised draft incidental take plan (PDF)
Revised draft environmental assessment (includes responses to comments) (PDF)

Submit comments and find revised documents and other supplemental materials at, under docket FWS-R5-ES-2014-0020, starting August 6, 2014, through September 5, 2014.

Nov. 8, 2011, Wildlife agencies announce request for lynx permit, invite public to comment on draft plan for Maine trapping program

News release (web) (PDF
Federal Register Notice of Availability for draft documents (PDF)
Draft incidental take plan (PDF) 
Draft environmental assessment (PDF)
Meeting advisory, Dec. 1, 2011: Public invited to open-house sessions on incidental trapping of Canada lynx 
PowerPoint presentation from December public meetings on incidental trapping of Canada Lynx (PDF-413KB)

Last updated: November 1, 2018
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