The cottontail rabbit is one of the forest’s cutest inhabitants. Easily recognizable by its white tail, you’ll find this rabbit in the eastern and central United States woodlands, thickets, fields, and suburbs.
These rabbits have long ears and are grayish brown in color. They grow up to 14-18 inches long and you might spot them at dusk grazing or hopping to safety. And while they are most noted for their speed, they can only run approximately 18 miles per hour in short bursts. If you’ve ever jumped a rabbit, you’ll notice that they flee in a zigzag pattern making it very hard to chase.
Rabbits feed on leafy vegetation during the Spring and Summer months. They will change their diet to bark, twigs, and buds during the winter months. They will often hide in thick vegetation during the day and come out into the open at dusk to feed. If you have areas of clover, this is particularly attractive to the cottontails.
Aside from their notable speed, rabbits are also best known for their ability to reproduce! Rabbits mate from February to September and can have up to four liters of 4-5 baby bunnies (“kittens”) every year!! Because their shallow burrows are open to weather and predators, fewer than 10% of these bunnies survive to adulthood. And while the life expectancy of rabbits can be up to 3 years, few live longer than a year in the wild.
If you happen to chase a rabbit out of their burrow, look for a small, fur-lined hole and you may be able to spy a den of baby bunnies. This can especially be true if the adult rabbit doesn’t flee far or stays still rather than hopping to safety. I’ve had to mark many of their burrows over the years for fear of hitting them with our lawn mower.
From the legendary Peter Cottontail to the Easter bunny, the rabbit is one of society’s woodland favorites. So search out the thickets & brush, and you may just catch a glimpse of the very cute cottontail rabbit!