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Eastern Cottontail

Common Name: Eastern Cottontail.

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus Floridanus.

What to look for?  Yes, we have all seen a rabbit! But here’s a brief description anyway. Eastern Cottontails are named for their short, white, cottony-looking tail. The upper parts of their body consists of an inner layer of dense, buff-brown fur covered by longer, coarser, gray- and black-tipped guard hairs. Their underside is white to grayish white. And there is a white or light brown spot present on their forehead. Eastern Cottontails have long ears that stand erect (no droop for this rabbit). They have large, brown, protruding eyes situated high and on the sides of their head, giving them nearly 360 degrees of vision. They have relatively long hind legs and large back feet. And, if you are close enough to count toes, the front feet have five toes while the hind feet have only four toes.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? You will see the Eastern Cottontail on our lawns and gardens around our homes and along the edges of Carillon Stonegate Pond. But they are skittish and move fast for cover!

How big are they? The Eastern Cottontail can reach up to eighteen inches in total length. And they weigh about two and one-half pounds.

How else do they behave? Eastern Cottontails are “crepuscular” – more active at dawn and dusk - and spend most of the day hidden within thick cover. The Eastern Cottontail’s escape behaviors can be characterized as “freeze”, “flush” or “slink”. If it sees a predator first, the Eastern Cottontail will freeze, or simply remain motionless. Flushing is a fast, zig-zag dash to an area of cover if it is detected. Slinking is moving low to the ground with the ears laid back to avoid detection. The Eastern Cottontail also checks its surroundings by standing on its hind legs with its forepaws tucked next to its chest.

What’s for dinner? Vegetarian! Eastern Cottontails are herbivores. In the spring and summer, they feed on buds, clover, lush grasses, dandelion heads, flower blossoms, legumes, lettuce and other garden vegetables – they love our gardens! In the winter, Eastern Cottontails consume woody plant parts including the twigs, bark, and buds of oak, maple and birch trees. They also eat spilled seed at bird feeders.

Where do they take up residence? The Eastern Cottontail is found all over the eastern United States from the Great Plains to the East Coast. They seek out habitat on the fringes of open spaces that are flanked by dense cover – between woody vegetation and open land, such as fields, meadows, and farms. And, as we all have seen, they are abundant in city parks, suburbs, and woodlands.

When and where do they breed and nest? Eastern Cottontails are prolific breeders. During the seven months between early spring and late autumn, they can produce as many as seven litters of three or four young. The gestation period is approximately 30 days. Their nests are established either on the surface of the ground or in a depression. The nests are lined with dry grasses, plant fibers, and fur. At about two weeks, the young are capable of leaving the nest. And they mature at approximately five months.

Where do they migrate? The Eastern Cottontail does not migrate. They also do not hibernate in winter.

Do they make any interesting sounds? The calls of the Eastern Cottontail include distress cries to startle an enemy and warn others of danger, squeals and grunts if predators approach a nesting doe and her litter. Adults “thump” the ground with their hind feet, perhaps as an alarm signal. They also have a keen sense of sight, smell and hearing.

Interesting Facts About Eastern Cottontails:

  • Eastern Cottontails have especially keen hearing. Their ears are cupped, which helps to catch and amplify sound waves And they can move their long ears back and forth, which helps them determine the sound’s direction.

  • Their impressive courtship display includes male chasing female; female standing up on her hind legs and punching male in the ears and face; male leaping some 15 feet into the air and flipping and followed by the female repeating the dance.

  • Eastern Cottontails have some 17,000 taste buds (humans have 8,000 –10,000), so they probably enjoy an intense flavor array!

  • The Eastern Cottontail has great mobility on the ground and can reach speeds of up to 18 miles per hour.

  • The Eastern Cottontail and other rabbits are an important link in the food chain, and if their prolific rate of reproduction is any indicator, it appears that nature intended it to be that way.

  • Predators include owls, crows, hawks, foxes, skunks, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, snakes, weasels, cats and dogs, and hunters.

  • The average life span of the Eastern Cottontail is three years.

For more information on Eastern Cottontails and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit National Geographic, University of Michigan Animal Diversity, Penn State University Virtual Nature Trail and Fort Hays State University Kansas Mammal Atlas.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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