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The Plight Of The New England Cottontail

Updated on September 4, 2012

Backyard Bunny

I remember the first time I looked out my window, and saw it. I was shocked I had never seen one in my yard. It was just sitting there, and I had to get a closer look. I moved in for a closer look and it just sat there. I don’t think I had ever seen one so close, and I was obviously curious. Still it was amazing, and I couldn’t believe it. Many people will probably wonder what the big deal is.

I live in the city; I've always lived in the city. It's not a big city but its still a city, and this particular city is right on the water. It has woods, swamps, and able to support wildlife. Mostly small animals, like raccoons, skunks, possums, chipmunks, and squirrels. What was this wild animal? It was a rabbit. So you're probably saying to yourself so? What's the big deal? Well I'd never seen many rabbits that were not someone's pet especially in my own backyard. It could have been also that we had put our beloved German shepherd to sleep. She never let anything in the yard, even humans. So I decided to do some research, and what I found out was very surprising.


Backyard Bunny 2

The New England And Eastern Cottontail

What I found out was that this type of rabbit was called the cottontail rabbit, and that there were two types of cottontails that inhabit Rhode Island. These are the Eastern cottontail, and the New England Cottontail

In Rhode Island there is also the Snowshoe hare. The Snowshoe hare is not nearly as common as the New England cottontail, and the Eastern cotton tail. The Snowshoe hares coat changes in the winter, and they are born with fur. The hare has larger feet, ears, and are a little bit bigger. They are able to jump at least ten feet, and are able run very fast, and can easily escape predators.

The Eastern cottontail is the most common. This species was introduced to New England in the early 1900s, for hunting, and to supplement the New England cottontail population. The Eastern cottontail can weigh 2 – 4 pounds, and are 15 to 18 inches long. They feed on grasses, clovers dandelions in the summer, and bark in the winter. Their coats are speckled grey fur with a short fluffy tail with white underneath, and they also have white on their bellies.

The New England cottontail is a species of rabbit that is native to the area. The New England cottontail and the Eastern cottontail look almost exactly alike with a few subtle differences. The New England cottontail weighs 1.5-3 pounds, and are 14-19 inches long making them slightly smaller than its cousin. The New England cottontail has a black spot on its head, while about half of all Eastern cottontails have a white spot on their head. The New England cottontail has slightly smaller ears and eyes than the Eastern cottontail.

It is very difficult to tell these two apart in the open field, one would have to examine them closely to find out which species it is. Scientists can tell the difference by examining their skulls, and their fecal pellets through DNA, but the average Joe could not tell these two apart just by looking at them, unless you got close enough to them to see distinguishing characteristics.


Nice Sunny Day In Rhode Island

On The Verge Of Extinction

A sad fact about all this is that The New England cottontail is on the verge of extinction. It is estimated that 86% of the area where these rabbits inhabited, has shrunk since 1960. Once Found in all New England states This rabbits population has shrunk to just five small areas in New England, and is extinct in the state if Vermont.

The main reason scientists and biologists believe that this has happened is loss of habitat. These rabbits need what they call a young forest, and thickets to survive. These forests are less than twenty five years old, but once the trees grow to a certain height, the vegetation on the ground becomes thin, and the New England cottontail finds this habitat no longer suitable. In the past natural occurrencances such as forest fires, controlled burning from Indians, and beavers building dams that flooded the area promoted natural habitat for the New England cottontail which allowed them thrive and flourish.

In the early 1900s many farms were abandoned in the New England area. The result of this was that the New England cottontail found habitat in these abandoned farms because it promoted the growth of young forests. They were able to sustain their population, and increase their numbers.

Unfortunately since 1960 their numbers have been declining because these things are not occurring as often as they used to, and many properties and residences are landscaped which does not produce a suitable habit for the declining population of this species.

It's a sad fact that a rabbit native to this area is about to become extinct, and that another species the Eastern cottontail, which was introduced to this area, is thriving. The Eastern cottontail is not actually ousting the New England cottontail on purpose, but they are able to survive in areas that the New England cottontail cannot. Their larger eyes and ears make them able to avoid predators much easier, especially in more open areas.


From My Backyard

Another From My yard

You Can Help

It’s a sad fact that animals become extinct, but it is usually some animal from some foreign country or distant land not in your own backyard, and the good news is because of their natural reproduction rate these rabbits can rebound quickly given the right circumstances and environment. so there is hope, and there are many organizations committed to saving this native rabbit of New England.

I have enclosed some pictures from my own back yard. Most likely the photos from my back yard are that of the Eastern cottontail, because obviously the New England cottontail prefers heavy brush, thickets, and cannot survive naturally in the open. I will also post some link where you can read about this and help if it so moves you. Thank You for reading.

Check out this site for more information: http://newenglandcottontail.org/

And also this site: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pdf/necotton.fs.pdf



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