European Wildcat Habitat and Hunting: Photo of Scottish Wildcat and offspring by Keith Marshall (Flickr)
I have covered description and distribution of the European wildcat. This page deals with habitat and hunting. The European wildcat lives in a wide range of habitats reflecting its wide distribution. In general, it seems that wildcats prefer to live in forests. In Scotland they inhabit “forested areas with scrub, woodlands, bogs, open heather moorlands and marginal habitats between high mountains and moorlands”1. The Scottish Wildcat Association says:
“Scottish wildcats are solitary and largely nocturnal creatures; resting up in hidden thickets, dens or forests by day and patrolling and hunting up to 10km across open ground populated by prey at night..”
Other examples of European wildcat habitat are shown on the map below:
In the Carpathian Mountains, indicated on the map above, the European wildcat mainly feeds on the yellow-necked mouse, red-backed vole (see photo2) and bank vole.
Due to its relatively short legs, the European wildcat is not suited to walking in deep snow and so are restricted to areas where snow is no more than about 10 to 20 centimeters in depth. Wildcats will move to lower territory in winter to avoid heavy snow.
They are not normally found in the “subalpine belt” (pre-mountainous belt), coniferous forests and “spruce taiga”. Spruce is a coniferous evergreen tree looking like a large Christmas tree. A “taiga” is an ecosystem or community of plants and animals.
Wildcats mostly hunt on the ground but are very good climbers inline with all cats. They generally hunt at night. They hunt by watching and waiting or travelling slowly and silently throughout their territoty, watching and listening for prey. Once prey is located it stalks it using a low stalking run while using available cover. Once within strike range the European wildcat darts forward and strikes. As is the case with domestic cats, the killer bite is to the nape of the neck (back of the neck), severing the spine of the prey.
Prey is usually a rodent. They also prey on larger animals such as rabbits and hares; even young deer1. In Scotland the wild cat preys on rabbits; in spring this means young rabbits that are available. Less commonly it preys on shews and birds.
Being an inherently adaptable animal the European wildcat will also eat insects, frogs, fruit, fish, martens, polecats and weasels amongst other animals. The European wildcat is also liable to be involved in eating poultry and even cat food left out for domestic cats.
Who preys on the European wildcat? Answer larger carnivores such as the Eurasian lynx.
European Wildcat Habitat and Hunting — Selected associated pages:
1. Wild Cats of the World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist published by The University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN:0-226-77999-8 (cloth)
2. Wikimedia Commons file uploaded by user Bluemask.