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Living In Harmony with Wildlife: Cottontail Rabbit

Little bunny Foo Foo I don't want to see you hopping through my garden and chomping on my plants. These little mammals are super cute and I grew up with them as pets, but those rascally rabbits can also wreak havoc on our plants and vegetables. These little native critters are well adapted for survival here and will munch on whatever plants are available to them, and like most of us they have their favorites too. So what to do, what to do?

First is it a rabbit who has been munching away? Vegetation that is nipped off sharply leaving smooth edges rather than ragged ones is a pretty good indicator that you have a bunny. Now that you have established that the culprit is a rabbit here are a few tips you can use to deter them from your yard and/or garden.

  • Use dried blood fertilzer around your flower beds or garden.
  • Use plants around the borders of your flower beds or garden such as hardy/perennial mums, coneflowers, or columbine which rabbits tend to avoid.
  • Install a 2-foot fence of 1-inch chicken wire with the bottom tight to the ground or buried a few inches underground.
  • During the winter install 3/4-inch mesh hardware cloth around shrubs that is high enough that they cannot reach over it when snow is on the ground.
  • Do not keep piles of brush in your yard. This is an attractive hiding and nesting place for rabbits.

Or, you could always try making them their own garden like a gentleman did for his frequent groundhog visitor, Chunk, to keep him and his little family out of his private garden.

Another thing to watch out for is nests of babies in your lawn. Female rabbits build their nests by digging a hole in a grassed area or other area where it can be camoflauged and hidden from predators and line it with a soft layer of their own fur to keep the babies comfortable and warm. Unfortunately, this often leads to fatal consequences for the babies in residential lawns or other areas that get mowed or tilled. This can often be avoided with some diligence and patience on our part. Rabbits reproduce from March through September, often having multiple litters. The babies only stay in the nest for about 2-3 weeks so they only need to be avoided for a short period of time. A little bit of patience and tolerance will go a long way in saving the lives of these babies. Here are some ways you can locate and protect these nests:

  • Look for brown patches or random tufts of fur in your yard. It may look like a patch of dead grass from afar, but if you look closely you may find tufts of fur. If you slowly and carefully move some of the grass and fur there are likely babies underneath.
  • Do NOT move the nest. The mother is often out foraging for long periods of time and will likely be unable to find the nest upon her return if it has been moved. A mother's care is best, leave the babies be.
  • Protect the nest from your lawnmower, tiller, pets, etc. You can do this by installing tall stakes around the nest about 8 feet away from it labeled with caution tape or some other kind of highly visible markings. This will allow for unrestricted movement of the rabbits and will provide a visible location for you or your landscaper to avoid. You can also place a lawn chair over the nest or other methods to mark the location if you do not have stakes on hand.

Remember the mother is often away for long periods of time so the babies will be fine, they have not been abandoned. However, if you find a baby that is cold, wet, and crying non-stop, has visible wounds, or is covered in maggots that is the time when you can intervene. Do not attempt to care for them yourself. Contact a wildlife rehab such as Penitentiary Glen or Lake Erie Nature & Science Center for assistance. These people know how to handle and take care of wildlife and give them their best chance of survival.

As always, remember, we are all connected, from the itty bitty to the big and tall. Everything we do affects the world around us. Be kind and thoughtful in your actions and protect those around us. The world is bigger than your backyard, but you can start there and its effects will be felt much farther beyond.

Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Stormwater Specialist II

Resources:

City Wildlife

Mass Audubon - Cottontail Rabbit Situations & Solutions

NC State Extension: Cottontail Rabbit

SFGATE: Flowers That Are Disliked by Rabbits

Wild Kratts: Eastern Cottontail

YouTube: Guy Catches Adorable Groundhog Eating His Veggie Garden

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