The great British cat fact file

Wild cats

Remote highland forests and moors are the home of the wild cat. It was persecuted as vermin and almost died out in the 19th century, surviving only in isolated areas north of Scotland's Great Glen. Since the 1920s it has been slowly spreading south again.

Wild cats are most active at dawn and dusk, hunting alone of in pairs. Rabbits, mountain hares, small rodents and birds are their main food. The cats either lie in ambush to pounce on their prey, or stalk it and then attack with a rush. 

They usually keep to one mate, but spend much of their time alone and normally breed only once a year. Second litters from late summer are probably the offspring of wild cats and feral cat hybrids. Young wild cats are independent at about five months and fully grown by about ten months. They live for up to 12 years.

Read more: The great British fox fact file

Wild cat features:

Blunt rounded tail tip with three to five dark rings

Although it resembles a domestic tabby the wild cat is slightly larger with longer softer fur

The den is located where there is a good view of the area around it. It may be in a rock pile, an old fox earth or under a tree stump

Black or grey body stripes

Before mating, the male will follow the female and nuzzle her flanks. In Britain, wild cats mate in the first two weeks of March

Feral cats

Feral cats are domestic cats that have reverted to living wild. Some are lost or abandoned pets; others are descendants of such pets and have always lived wild. They usually live in colonies of related animals.

In rural areas, there are small colonies in farm outbuildings, but most live in towns—not in residential areas where domesticated cats are numerous, but in the grounds of places such as hospitals, as well as in factories, dockyards and even city squares. 

An average colony has about 15 cats but some are much larger.


Members of a cat colony rub against one another to transfer scent from a gland on top of the head. This helps them recognise one another.

A feral cat colony establishes an order of rank among its members and claims its own territory, driving out other cats. Females outnumber males by about three to two and each year a female may bear three or four litters of about three kittens.

Many kittens die of cat flu and other diseases, or in accidents. Rural cats mainly feed on small mammals and birds. Cats in built-up areas feed mostly by scavaging for household and restaurant waste.

Read more: The history of domestic cats

Feral cat facts

Most wild-born animals are pure black, black with white markings or are tabby. Feral tabbies are more blotched than true wild cats and have pointed tails. Size varies greatly.

Prominent places in the territory are scent-marked by rubbing with a gland under the chin or by spraying urine.

Urban feral cats will hunt small birds and mammals to add to their diet of scraps.

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