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Here Comes Peter Cottontail

For many young children, today is the day that the Easter Bunny delivers baskets of candy and toys.

So, let’s learn a little bit about our local rabbit population.

Cottontail rabbits are one of the most common mammals in New York. There are two rabbit species in the state: the New England Cottontail and the Eastern Cottontail. They are very similar, in fact it’s difficult to tell them apart just by sight. The New England Cottontail is found in eastern New York State north of Long Island. So, in The Famous Phoebe’s hometown, any rabbits she met were most likely Eastern Cottontails.

It is believed that the New England cottontail is no longer found on Long Island because of the loss of habitat space. They are not becoming threatened or endangered, they have just relocated to areas that better suits them.

Rabbits do not move around much. They spend their whole life within a two-to-seven-acre area. So, if you have a rabbit in your yard or see one at a park, chances are you’ll see it there again.

Rabbits protect themselves with eyes on the sides of their head, which gives them a good view of what’s going on around them. Their ears are large and cupped, so they can hear distant and faint sounds.

We have a bunny we’ve named Clover who lives in a field where we walk and play with Reina. As soon as we can see Clover (which means she can see us coming), she freezes. This is what rabbits do to try to blend into their surroundings and camouflage themselves from predators. When we get too close, Clover takes off. Reina would never have a chance to catch this little friend. Rabbits can run an 18 to 20-mph dash to get away from danger.

Like many animals, springtime is mating season for rabbits. And they sure do reproduce a lot. Rabbits begin mating in February and continue into September. Gestation is an average of 28 days, and the female frequently mates again on the same day she gives birth. Litters range from 3 to 8 offspring, and the female has 3 to 4 litters each breeding season.

It’s important to know that rabbit nests are made on the ground. They are usually found in patches of long grass or bushes. The nest is a dug-out shallow area that is lined with grass and fur from the mother rabbit. The nest will have a cover made from the same materials to protect babies from weather and predators.

I accidentally found two rabbit nests. Once I was trimming sea grass and a bunch of baby bunnies jumped out of the nest and scattered. I frantically went after each and brought them back to the nest. Another time, we were walking Reina, and she was sniffing in some long grass in a field. I saw it was a nest and quickly pulled her away before she got too close.

Now that you know how to identify a wild rabbit and its nest, you’ll be able to tell the difference between a wild rabbit from a pet rabbit. If you see a domestic rabbit outdoors, contact the Long Island Rabbit Rescue Group for help, or find a rabbit rescue group where you live. For injured wild cottontail rabbits in Nassau or Suffolk counties, contact the Department of Environmental Conservation at Stony Brook at (631) 444-0200.

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