A Bestiary: Part Seven ~ Cottontail Rabbit

I often note in nature the numerous quarrels, disputes and downright fighting matches between various members of the wildlife community. When I consider the enormous scale of violence within human species, it brings my mind to settle on the thought that ‘peace and harmony’ is somewhat of a myth or only temporary at best and not the natural order of things. The mind must cultivate compassion to harvest an abundance of harmony.

 Much of it comes down to space or territory and respecting boundaries. Countries have borders and often large fences, walls and border guards to protect them. Homeowners will put up fences, walls and gates around their land to keep out any intruders . . . including wild beasts. (Closing off much needed corridors for animals.) Wildlife have more invisible borders . . . birds will sing and defend a certain amount of space around their nests but will mostly co-habit peacefully with other species, while not tolerating their own nearby. Other beasts will mark their territory with urine and other creative rubbing or clawing to warn or alert other critters to their dominance.

 This line of thinking is directly linked to the seventh installment of my Bestiary . . . the beastly Cottontail Rabbits . . . and the lack of respect they have for boundaries of any kind along with the need of this farmer/gardener to nurture tolerance and acceptance, if not a change of diet.

 Cottontails are truly beasts to contend with here at Flower Hill Farm . . . not only regarding a competition for food, but many beloved native shrubs and small trees fall prey to their gnawing especially over the winter months. Early on in my encounters with cottontails, I mistakenly believed there was only one species hopping about the gardens, fields and forest, but in fact there are two. Our native New England cottontails Sylvilagus (Sylvilagus) transitional, are being consider for the endangered list due to the introduced Eastern cottontail’s Sylvilagus (Sylvilagus) floridanus, zealous procreation.

The front gardens and my terrace gardens have evolved into a nursery for baby cottontails. Not only do I have to diversify what I plant for edible greens . . . rabbits do not seem to care for arugula or bok choy . . . but I now also must rethink how I plant in pots the little buggers can jump up on.

Clever parents taught their young to stay near the house thereby safe from predators. Bunnies enjoy dining on my potted plants! We can clearly see the Eastern cottontail ‘white mark’ on the head of the little one above.

Rabbits are beasts I could happily never encounter here at Flower Hill Farm. My terrace garden is mostly for the hummingbirds and it is lucky that the salvias they enjoy are not palatable to the cottontails.

I have changed my way of gardening to make living with rabbits more tolerable.

In an earlier installment of this Bestiary, I did share a story of my allowing a young hunter here one year and how his harvest of a cottontail rabbit invited an unexpected guest. Knowing that I am helping raise healthy food for other wildlife . . .  in one case even humans . . . lightens the burden of living with cottontails. I only wish the native New England cottontails had survived here . . . it seems the two do not interbreed . . . for perhaps they were more aware of our natural boundaries.

© 2012, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Carol we have spurts of cottontails in the area…they will be everywhere and suddenly the birds of prey, local cats and fox clean house thankfully. I do adore the little ones and I have chased many a pregnant momma from the yard as she was building her nest. I have to net my veg gardens because of deer and rabbit and watch the patio as the young ones clearly love to stay near the house and eat what may be in the pots….I have a great crop of clover that grows everywhere in the garden and this is their main food, but I also have to spray a nasty smelling spray without pepper on fav plants to keep them munching in the fields and out of my garden…
    Donna@ Gardens Eye View recently posted..Work in Progress

    • says

      Donna, Thanks for sharing your cottontail experiences. We have many predators too, but the rabbits are clever and there is an ocean of plants for them to hide beneath. If i were to dig up all the clover growing in the fields and gardens and put it in one area it would most likely cover an acre. Rabbits have such a diversity of food here but they like to hang close and eat my treasures. I cannot spray any plants for I cultivate for all sorts of butterflies and their larva too. Even if organic I would be afraid to spray. I am simply learning what I can grow that holds no charm for the cottontails. Luckily we have great farmer’s markets where I can buy kale and other greens I love.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Early June Garden Fragrances Merge ~ A Potpourri of Pinks With Touches of White ~ Roses and Pink Lilacs

  2. Mary Pellerito says

    We have rabbits here at Marshview as well. I have clover growing in the grass and we stopped mowing a portion of the property all together so they have a field. But the rabbits prefer the lettuce I am growing in a corner of my vegetable garden that we have not yet fenced off. Our rabbits like good food.
    Mary Pellerito recently posted..Wellspring

  3. says

    Countless generations of cottontails have been born in a blackberry bramble at the end of our driveway. They’ve annihilated a couple of plants–their hunger for Tennessee coneflower is tragic and insatiable!–but thanks to a fenced back yard, I’ve got a pretty reliable bunny-free zone for veggies.

    But I have never, ever gotten used to leaving the windows open on a warm spring night and hearing the scream when a predator gets one. It jerks the whole house awake, and the beagle has to start baying hysterically. While I’m glad that the population is under control, it’s still a helluva sound.
    UrsulaV recently posted..Nasturium-splosion

  4. Denise says

    I am convinced we have the New England Cottontail in my little wildlife garden here on the North Shore of Long Island. I spent a lot of time observing rabbit habits in 2011. We had a healthy group of docile, shorter eared black forehead bunnies.
    I called NY’s DEC and was told the same thing about skulls. However they led me to believe DNA recovered from their scat could be used too. And were supposed to send me a collection kit. That never happened. Then our neighbors excavated for a pool and we decreased the size of our brush in the front. Away they went. Though I did spy a likely candidate today. Mostly we have UGH! Norwegian Rats now (construction everywhere in this gentrifying neighborhood). I even found one in our Mulberry tree Saturday. I’ll take Rabbits over Rats any day.

    I think they are living in a bank-owned home behind me… I hope our Screech Owls and hawks get rid of them and return some balance to life in my suburb!

  5. says

    Carol, I enjoyed your pictures of the rabbits even though they recently out-foxed me. I had planted scarlet runner beans around a tee pee structure in a children’s garden. I had carefully placed a floating cloth cover all around the base so the the deer could not eat the plants, thinking I would not have to spray until the plants were two feet up the tee pee. But the bunnies just went right in and ate from the inside out. Silly me.
    Sue Dingwell recently posted..A Moment in a Meadow

  6. says

    My late friend was a wildlife rehabber and suggested that I plant clover in my yard and for the most part that works..that and we have hawks, owls, occasional mink and cars to keep the population under control…. I would not want to be that low on the food chain as rabbits or as vulnerable as baby bunnies in a nest that a Mom only stops by twice a day to nurse. It is a hard, short life..Michelle
    Rambling Woods recently posted..In the White Sky-Many things in the world have already happened. You can go back and tell about them~William Stafford

  7. Sue Sweeney says

    Wonderful pictures!

    We have cotton-tails ( the non-local kind) all over Stamford; they can be kept out of gardens (mostly) with a little judicious bribery. As mentioned above, clover in the middle of the yard works as does common blue violet in the garden borders. They do have fondness, in winter, for the buds of certain shrubs that is harder to control.

  8. says

    awwww, they are so darn cute :)

    I’m lucky enough that there is no apparent damage from the gang that shows up here daily and they sure exercise the dogs (I should pay them personal trainer wages), but I can see where if you have formal gardens they can be a pain. When I start my vegetable garden again I probably will not have such a high regard for them.

    Eastern Cottontails are the natives down here, but even cuter is our other native, the marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris), a tad smaller, browner, with shorter ears and it kinda walks with an occasional hop. I’m told the marsh ones swim so I guess that’s why I have so many with the pond out back, but must be only at night since I have never witness a butterfly stroke or backstroke.

    As always your pictures are outstanding. Thanks for your take on our little easta’ friends!
    Loret recently posted..Profile of Darkness


  1. […] have troubles with rabbits in their flower gardens as well. Carol Duke wrote a great piece on cotton tail rabbits in the garden.  They sure are cute – but just like deer and other wildlife that we all love – when […]

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