Mountain lions are probably at the very top or the very bottom of your “hope to see in the wild” list. Mountain lion sightings at Edgewood are rare, but our wildlife research shows these beautiful large cats occasionally frequent the preserve.
Mountain lions are large, slender cats with yellow- to gray-brown fur and a distinctively long, thick tail with a black tip. Their chest and underbelly are pale buff, their ears have white tufts, and the fur around their lips is also light.
Females are usually smaller than males. Adult females generally weigh 65 to 90 pounds, whereas males can weigh between 130 and 150 pounds. From tip to tail, females are about seven feet long and males are about eight feet long. This camera trap video of a beautiful female shows off her coloring and the length of her tail.
At Edgewood, mountain lions are often confused with bobcats or coyotes seen at a distance. Bobcat tails are bobbed (about six inches long), compared to the much longer mountain lion tail, which is two to three feet long. Coyotes have long, narrow noses and pointier ears than mountain lions.
Unlike coyote or dog tracks, mountain lion tracks usually don’t include toenail prints, the front two toes are offset from each other, and the pad has a pronounced “M” shape. Their tracks are also larger, about four inches across.
Mountain lions are cautious, typically avoiding people, and are even shy of recorded human voices, so it is very unlikely that you will encounter a mountain lion at Edgewood Preserve. Our wildlife cameras, which are set far off-trail, occasionally capture mountain lions feeding, raising cubs, or prowling through the woods. When rare sightings are reported, San Mateo County Park rangers post warnings on nearby trails.
In July 2020, Friends of Edgewood’s wildlife cameras caught these videos of a mountain lion, nicknamed Mercury, and her cub. In the first video, Mercury is moving a deer kill to a safe spot where she can feed while her kitten plays nearby. In the second video, she chases turkey vultures away from the same food cache.
More About Mountain Lions
Mountain lions can reside throughout North and South America as long as they have suitable cover and prey. In the Bay Area, mountain lion territory is diminishing. The Santa Cruz Mountains are one of the few remaining habitats on the San Francisco Peninsula that can support these far-ranging animals. Males can have a home range of approximately 100-150 square miles. Females range approximately 40-80 square miles. By comparison, Edgewood Preserve is only one square mile, so usually these elusive cats are just passing through.
As the only remaining apex predators (except for people) in our area, mountain lions are likely ecosystem engineers, playing many roles in our ecosystems. They reduce the deer population, culling unhealthy animals and preventing deer from over-foraging the plants that smaller animals depend on. A mountain lion’s kill also provides food for other animals. A single deer carcass might feed dozens of animals in addition to the mountain lion, including bobcats, coyotes, foxes, rodents, turkey vultures, and invertebrates.
Like house cats and bobcats, mountain lions purr, but don’t roar. Females are also known to make a caterwauling sound to call potential mates and use clicking noises to communicate with their cubs. Listen for the squeaky call of a cub that captures the attention of mom in this camera trap video.
If you encounter a mountain lion, follow advice from the Mountain Lion Foundation or California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Keep Me Wild webpage (available in English | Español | Vietnamese | Khmer).
Felidae Conservation Fund. The Bay Area Puma Project.
The Value of the Mountain Lion. 2020, Jan 11. Cats of the Wild – A Podcast about Wild Cat Conservation, episode 6, produced by A.Varvel.
University of California-Santa Cruz and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2021. Santa Cruz Puma Project.
Ordeñana, M. The Sound of Our Griffith Park Mountain Lion: P-22 and the Mysteries of Puma Communication. Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.
California Department of Fish and Game. Living With California Mountain Lions [brochure].
Mori, F. 2020, Jan. 26. Mountain Lion (Puma discolor) [photo]. Posted by janeyd. iNaturalist. Used with permission.
National Wildlife Federation. Mountain Lion.
Sempervirens.org. 2021, Jan. 26. Redwoods, Pumas, and People.
Shivaraju, A. 2003. Puma concolor. ADW: Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan, Museum of Geology.