There are several species of cottontail rabbit, but the eastern cottontail is the most common. This ubiquitous animal can be found from Canada to South America and, in the United States, from the East Coast to the Great Plains. Cottontails range from reddish brown to gray, but all feature the distinctive “cotton ball” tail for which they are named.
Habitat and Diet
These rabbits seek out habitat on the fringes of open spaces, such as fields, meadows, and farms, but can adapt to other habitats—including those of humans.
They browse at night on grasses and herbs and are fond of garden fare such as peas and, of course, lettuce. In winter, their diet becomes a bit coarse and consists of bark, twigs, and buds. During the day, cottontails often remain hidden in vegetation. If spotted, they flee from prey with a zigzag pattern, sometimes reaching speeds of up to 18 miles an hour.
Females give birth in shallow ground nests, to young so helpless that perhaps only 15 percent survive their first year. Fortunately, rabbits breed three or four times every year and produce three to eight young each time. Young rabbits mature quickly and are self-sufficient after only four or five weeks. They are sexually mature after only two or three months, so populations are able to grow with staggering speed.
Cottontails are plentiful and can be problematic for farmers; they are also a popular game animal.