Garden Visitor of the Day: Cottontail Rabbit

Among our most frequent visitors this winter have been cottontail rabbits. Evidence of their visits is everywhere in the yard, with tracks (and droppings) running all through our foundation plantings and completely ringing the house. One of the reasons I added a trail cam to the house was to better see when, where, and how long they were visiting the yard.

Here is what I’d read about rabbits in the garden:

  • Their primary winter foods are woody stems and left over grasses/plant materials
  • They don’t survive long – most rabbits will not live longer than two years in the wild
  • They hunker down in culverts or thickets when cold weather hits, and sometimes take over burrows that other animals have dug and abandoned
  • In the winter, you’re most likely to see them out and about at dawn and dusk on days when the weather is milder

Here’s what I’ve found after a month of watching them on the trail cam:

  • While they are definitely gnawing on some of the left over plants in the garden (mostly kale plants and herbs – all severely damaged by frost), their primary food in our yard this winter is birdseed that has dropped to the ground. The mix I use contains both sunflower seeds and cracked corn, which I assume is what they are going for. In past years, they have eaten woody stems in the yard, especially burning bush and fruit tree suckers which I leave on purpose for them so they do not damage the actual fruit trees. This year, though, they’ve left the woody plants alone. Perhaps a mild winter means better food is available?
  • They start showing up on the trail cam an hour or so after sunset, and visit the yard frequently throughout the night until a half hour or so before sunrise. It really isn’t just the sunset and sunrise hours that they are active. I frequently see them on the camera at midnight, one a.m., two a.m – all through the night.
  • They are also not most active on the mild days in winter. They visit frequently during the week (but not every night) regardless of weather. One of the most active nights for visits so far this winter was -15F and terribly windy!

While it was not anywhere near that cold today (high of 39F, low of 9F), the first rabbit showed up tonight at 8:24 and mulled about around the garden for about an hour. He (she?) or another rabbit altogether was back at 11:00PM searching for more food and was active in the yard for at least half an hour. Here’s a quick clip:

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