Monday, June 16, 2008

Dancing Cottontail Rabbits

by Donna L. Watkins

One morning I walked out the front door and looked out over the yard and saw two rabbits doing their mating dance. What a delight! That's the way a day should begin every day.

Well, not really considering how many rabbits there would be and how much food they would require from our flower gardens.

Since we also have deer that eat our plants, I learned how to know whether it was deer or rabbits eating our plants. Examine the plant where the chomping occurred and look at the edge of it. A deer tears the plant off leaving a ragged edge. A rabbit bites it off in small pieces so it’s a smooth edge. Sometimes you can see tooth marks.

The mating dance is part of the process as the male chases the female who eventually stops and faces him to box at him with her front paws. Then one of them will leap straight up and the other will jump into the air also. Instantly my mind said "jump for joy." As soon as they saw me, they froze.

I don't know the difference between male and female rabbits and if anybody does, please leave a comment below for us all to know. Since one of the rabbits seemed to have a bite out of his ear, I called him Tough Boy. Males will often fight with each other.

Since the other rabbit had laid down while I went inside for the camera, I figured she was a Slinky Sue. So, I had a rabbit couple that made my day delightful. All day I pictured myself leaping for joy.

We should have some baby rabbits since it only takes a month for the female to give birth. She can have up to 9 little ones, but generally it's 4-5. They are born with their eyes and ears closed, without any fur, and unable to walk around. She'll feed them twice a day for about three weeks and at seven weeks of age they leave the nest.

Since females can mate again only hours after birthing the babies, and the fact that females only need to be three months old to begin mating, we could have cottontails dancing everywhere here at Bluebird Cove. We might need to change the name of our place to Rabbit Run.

Actually, since rabbits are near the bottom of the food chain, it's nature's way of ensuring survival of the species. Young rabbits are an important food source here in Virginia for many species from foxes to hawks. Actually a Cottontail that lives more than a year is sadly not common. Not that a rabbit is a helpless victim since it can jump up to eight feet and make lightning fast changes of direction to elude predators.

The Eastern Cottontail prefers habitats that are between woods and open land. You'll find them in bushy areas, fields, woodlands, swamps and thickets.

The bank they were on was bare when we moved in over seven years ago, but we moved every little pine and cedar tree on our property to the bank so we'd have an evergreen habitat for the birds and critters.

Birds love the area for nesting and the cedar berries are a delight of many birds also. Now that the front shields the land behind it we can let a few briers begin to grow to provide more berries. Keeping only a "few" briers takes some attention.

Cottontails enjoy a variety of plants and will eat just about anything green. They'll eat the most nutritious foods first, such as clover, legumes, fruits, and young flowering plants. They love violets in our garden so I rarely get to see them bloom.

A young rabbit will consume large amounts of grass and weeds like dandelions and ragweed. In the winter it eats the woody parts of plants like the twigs and the bark of brambles, birch, oak, dogwood and maple trees.

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