The Marsh Hawk (Northern Harrier) sitting in the grass off in the distance, was holding captive a bunny.
The bunny was staying still and the hawk was, surprisingly, not attempting to capture the rabbit. Perhaps because avian predators, like hawks, hunt by swooping in, and in a short distance stand-off, the hawk would have to sort of hop over to the bunny. Rabbits can hop to escape a great deal quicker than can hawks-on-foot give chase.
The Short-eared Owl arrives and the Marsh Hawk takes cover.
The Snowy Owl appears on the scene…
and the Short-eared Owls are nowhere to be seen.
The Bald Eagle, Ruler of Marsh and Meadow, swoops in. The Snowy departs.American Bald Eagle Juvenile
I can’t tell you how often I have accidentally uncovered a bunny nest while in the garden. The nest is usually only an inch or so below the ground surface, tucked under a perennial such as lavender or asters, and only covered with a thin layer of the mother’s fur.
If you find a nest, do not disturb. If you have accidentally disturbed the nest by raking or tidying up, place the fur back on top of the babies.
If the baby bunny has been accidentally handled or touched, still return it to the nest. The greatest myth is that Mama Cottontail will reject the baby if handled by a human. This definitely is not true and the Mama will definitely want her baby back!
Eastern Cottontail mothers do not stay with the nest all day. Rabbits are a prey species, in other words, they are hunted, and she does not want to draw attention to the nest. Cottontail Mamas typically return twice a day, at dusk and at dawn, to feed the babies. She nurses the babies by straddling the nest, so you want to keep everything as it was when you found the nest.
If you are worried because you have not see the Mama return to the nest to feed the babies, lay two pieces of string over the nest in an X shape. If after twenty four hours the string looks disturbed and the babies look plump and well-fed, you can be sure that the nest is not abandoned.
EDITED: To our Cape Ann readers- for bunnies and other small mammals that need rescuing I recommend contacting wildlife rehabilitator Erinn Whitmore.
It has just been pointed out that Erinn Whitmore is away until the fall. Erin Parson Hutchings also does small mammal rehabilitation and she too is a Mass Wildlife licensed rehabber. You can contact Erin through facebook.
This tiny Eastern Cottontail was found today by Ari at Wolf Hill, in a nest located in some gravel. She accidentally uncovered the nest while tidying up around the plants.
Why does this little rabbit look so different from the rabbits we see so often in our gardens, alongside roadsides, and in meadows and dunes? Because it is a New England Cottontail!
Massachusetts has two species of cottontails, the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). The introduced vegetable-and-flower-eating Eastern Cottontail has flourished, while this beautiful and illusive little creature’s numbers have dwindled to an alarmingly low number.
Prior to 1930, New England Cottontails were present in all 14 counties of Massachusetts and it was the only cottontail species appearing among 59 reports, except for 7 from Nantucket where Eastern Cottontails were introduced as early as the 1880s. Between 1924 and 1941, at least 16,200 Eastern Cottontails were imported from the mid-west and released. Another 4,600 were raised and released at a state propagation facility.
The most critical threat to New England Cottontails is loss of habitat. They can only survive in the ephemeral landscape of newly emerging forests, which provide low ground cover for shelter. Once a forest matures, the low growing plants become too sparse to offer food and shelter. Today the New England Cottontail resides in only about one fifth of its historic range.
The photo above of the New England Cottontail was taken at Gooseberry Island in Westport. He shot across the path on the way to the beach and wish I had a better photo to share, but now that I know to look for them there, I’ll try again.
You can compare the difference in the rabbit species in the two photos. The New England Cottontail’s (above photo) ears are shorter and his fur a bit grayer than the Eastern Cottontail (below). When I caught a glimpse of him I immediately recognized the rabbits we saw daily at my grandparent’s home, built in the dunes on a bluff on Cape Cod, where at that time, there were few homes and lots of cool scrubby habitat for wild creatures. The ubiquitous Eastern Cottontail, Good Harbor Beach
Dwindling New England Cottontail Range Map.
As you can see, New England Cottontails have been completely extirpated from Cape Ann and Essex County.