The eastern cottontail rabbit, as with all rabbits, are prolific
animals. A female may give birth and within hours after giving birth, be
bred again. Three weeks later she will have another litter. The young of the
first litter fend for themselves when the second litter arrives.
Eastern cottontail rabbit feces is typically round and
approximately 1/4" in diameter. There is typically a small grouping of
pellets together. The picture below is of eastern cottontail feces.
Almost all predators including rattlesnakes, hawks,
mink, foxes, bobcats, fishers, weasels, coyotes, dogs, cats, skunks,
raccoons, and wolves eat cottontails.
The cottontail breeding season typically begins in late
February and lasts through September. Gestation lasts 27-32 days. The female
will breed and multiple litters will be born each year – a female will have
anywhere from 1 – 6 litters each season!!
When pregnant, the female (doe) will dig a nest cavity.
The nest measures 5” – 7” wide and approximately 7” deep (see picture). She
will line the nest with grass and leaves and then with her fur. Typically,
after the nest is complete, the opening is covered up.
At birth, kits are hairless, sightless, and virtually
helpless. There are typically 3-6 young in each litter. They weigh about an
ounce. Kits leave the nest after three weeks.
pictures of the cottontail in the flowers shows how the nest is built, what
the excavation looks like and finally when complete, how the doe camouflages
the opening. It only took the rabbit approximately 10 minutes from start to
finish. Several weeks later my wife watched the doe breast feeding the kits.
Two weeks later the nest was abandoned. Reproductive maturity occurs at
about 2 to 3 months of age.
disease that is deadly to rabbits is tularemia. Tularemia is caused by a
bacterium, Pasteurella tularensis, which is transmitted to the rabbit by
ticks or fleas. A number of wildlife species and humans can contract the
disease, but it usually occurs in rabbits and rodents. The disease is always
fatal to the rabbit, with most succumbing to the illness within 10 days
following onset. As mentioned, humans can contract the disease. However, it
responds quickly to antibiotics and is not considered a serious health
threat if treated promptly. The following precautions will greatly reduce
your risk of exposure:
•Do not harvest rabbits that appear sluggish or do not
•Wear rubber gloves when dressing rabbits.
•After removing the gloves,
wash your hands with antibacterial soap.
•Cook rabbit meat thoroughly. Do
not eat rare or undercooked rabbit meat.
The eastern cottontail is chunky red-brown or gray-brown in appearance with
large hind feet, long ears and a short fluffy white tail. Its underside fur
is white. There is a rusty patch on the tail. Its appearance differs from
that of a hare in that it has a brownish-gray coloring around the head and
neck. The body is lighter color with a white underside on the tail.
The average adult weighs about 2 - 4 lbs with the
female tending to be heavier. They are between 12” - 16”.
Optimal eastern cottontail habitat includes open grassy areas, clearings,
and old fields supporting abundant green grasses and herbs, with shrubs in
the area or edges for cover.
Eastern cottontails can be found on farms, fields,
pastures, open woods, thickets, fencerows, forest edges, and suburban areas.
They are also found in swamps and marshes and usually avoid dense woods.
Trick here is to look for food and cover.
They are seldom found in deep woods.
The eastern cottontail has a wide
distribution and is found throughout most of the eastern United States. They
range from eastern and south-central United States, southern Canada, eastern
Mexico, Central America and northernmost South America. Originally, it was
not found in New England, but it has been introduced there and now competes
for habitat there with the native New England Cottontail.
Cottontails eat green plants, twigs, tree bark, fruits, buds,
flowers and seeds. I have watched eastern cottontail rabbits eat fallen bird
seed during winter. Eastern
cottontails produce two types of fecal pellets one of which is consumed. The
digestion of fecal pellets increases the nutritional value of dietary items.
They are a pain in the ass in the garden. They have eaten my bean plants,
carrot tops, beet greens, cabbages, etc. During winter they have gone after
my blue berry plants.