Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cottontail Rabbit

Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

One morning this week my husband and I looked outside and saw a cottontail rabbit feeding right outside our window. The little white burst of color we call a tail resembles a cotton ball for which the rabbit is named. The cottontail’s body was covered with a soft pale-gray mixed cinnamon colored fur with black tips. The rabbit living in our backyard was grooming itself, as their fur isn’t waterproof and needs care to keep their hair in healthy condition. Their large, long ears shifted as a satellite dish as they listened to everything around them. All of these observations were made in a few moments, watching this rabbit outside our window.

The sun was not even up yet when we saw our backyard visitor. Cottontail rabbits browse for food at night on grasses and herbs such as clover, dandelions, alfalfa, fruits and vegetables. In winter, their diet consists of the woody parts of bark, twigs, brambles, and buds of birch, oak, basswood, willow, sumac, dogwood and maple trees. Their teeth are adapted for gnawing on plants. Their top incisor teeth keep growing constantly throughout their lives to allow them to keep chewing away at their meals.

Cottontail rabbits live in a variety of habitats from our neighborhoods, orchards, and farms to sparsely wooded or thick brushy areas. They can travel in a range up to eight acres, and can be moving any time of day or night, but mostly during dawn and dusk. They choose areas with good protection and escape routes.

Freeze tag was always one of my favorite games, and it is one that the cottontail rabbit excels at when avoiding predators. Freezing is far more than a game to these rabbits, as they use this technique to avoid predators, avoiding being noticed until the animal gets too close. Then they shoot out like a bolt of lightning, fleeing from their prey with a zigzag pattern, reaching up to 18 miles per hour and leaping up to fifteen feet away in one move. The zigzag movement gives them an advantage as it breaks their scent trail. Sometimes they will also stand on their hind feet to observe predators.

We all know the cottontail rabbit can sometimes be a bit of a scoundrel to us as they chew away our tulips, but they too can bring great enjoyment in our backyards. Be sure to post your own stories on the Nature Watch blog at

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs.

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