Adult Eastern Cottontails are 15 to 19 inches long and weigh between 2 and 3.5 pounds. Females are larger than males. Their coats are range from grey brown to reddish brown, and their tail has a white underside that is visible when the rabbit is running. New England Cottontails are very similar in appearance, with slightly shorter ears, smaller eyes, and smaller body size. Cottontails tend to be solitary and silent, and stay close to cover as much as they can.
Eastern Cottontails prefer dense shrubbery interspersed with grassy areas such as meadows and lawns but are able to adapt to a variety of habitats, including forests, marshes, and suburban lawns. They do not dig burrows, but rest and nest in shallow, scraped out hollows called forms. Nests for raising young are lined with fur and grass. Cottontails do not hibernate and may use other animals’ abandoned burrows for shelter from snow. They are herbivores and will feed on a wide variety of wild and domestic plants, including woody plants in the winter months.
Eastern cottontails are crepuscular, meaning they are most active around dusk and dawn. They often remain in one spot, unmoving, for long periods of time. When fleeing predators, they run in a zigzag pattern and can jump sideways to disrupt their scent trail.
These rabbits can produce 3-4 litters of around 5 kits each year, beginning in early spring. Males do not participate in raising their young. Female rabbits dig or find shallow hollows for their litters and line them with fur or grass. They spend most of their time away from the litter, usually sheltering nearby and returning only at dusk and dawn to nurse. Cottontail kits are ready to leave the nest within weeks and are capable of being on their own despite their small size.
Wild rabbits can carry a number of bacteria and parasites that can be harmful to humans and domestic animals. In particular, tularemia, or rabbit fever, is a potentially fatal zoonotic bacterial disease. Gloves should always be worn when handling wild rabbits.
Female cottontails do not stay in the nest with their young, returning only at dusk and dawn to nurse. Because of this, nests may appear to have been abandoned by the female, but this is usually not the case. If you find a nest that has been disturbed or the you suspect has been abandoned by the mother, cover the babies with the grass that originally covered them and use a few pieces of string or thin twig to make a grid pattern over the nest. You can then check the nest after the next dawn or dusk to find out if the mother has been back to nurse her young.
Domestic dogs and cats are a major threat to young rabbit nests. A rabbit that has been attacked by a dog or cat should be taken to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife veterinarian immediately. Keep in mind that a dog or cat that has found a nest will likely return to the nest and will do more damage if they are allowed to.
Rabbits are extremely sensitive animals and become highly stressed when captured or handled. When rescuing wild rabbits, be sure to provide them with a quiet container where they cannot see, smell or hear domestic dogs or cats.
Bunnies are usually taken to Wild Care to be evaluated and then transferred to Kristine Beebe . If Wild Care is closed you can try Kristine at (508) 385-6725 home (508) 776-2474 cell.