Eastern Cottontail

The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is a very common mammal in just about every habitat you can think of. They are very adaptable, but their diet is limited to vegetarian fare, so that's why your vegetable and flower gardens are targeted so frequently. Rabbit also have an evolutionary inclination to keep their habitat open and clear of woody plants, so if you just planted a nice sapling oak tree, or an expensive seedling dogwood, you had better put a fence around it, or they will snip it down as soon as you turn your back.

A female rabbit will dig a shallow hole and line it with her fur pulled from around the neck and chest. She will give birth to three to eight young producing up to five litters per season. The young are born with very little fur, are black in color and measure about two inches long. Their eyes are closed and they depend on their mother’s milk for survival. At four to five days of age their fur turns to their natural color, they measure three inches in length and their ears begin to perk up. Eyes still closed, they still need mom’s milk to survive. Their eyes will begin to open at seven days of age and at 10 days they can fully see, their ear canals open and they will start nibbling on the grass around their nest. Mom’s milk is still necessary. At three to four weeks of age young cottontails are eating natural foods. They come and go from their nest.

To determine if mom comes back to feed them, place four to five pieces of yarn over the nest as demonstrated here. It is best to do so at dusk because cottontails are active at night to avoid predators. In the morning check the nest. If the string is has been moved, mom is coming back to care for her young. Let them be. If the string has not been disturbed, you may carefully pick them up and place them in a container lined with soft bedding. Use gloves to do so. Keep them warm, do not feed them and contact a Rehabilitator in your County.


Photo Credit: Alan Emerson


Photo Credit: Maddy Lauria