Rare Bunnies in the Blue Hills?

Thanks to Debbie Neumann for researching and writing this post!

There are rabbits in the Blue Hills, and they may be a somewhat rare species. Massachusetts has two species of cottontail rabbits. The New England cottontail is native to the area and used to be found in abundance. The Eastern cottontail, despite its name, was primarily found in the midwest and was introduced into Massachusetts in the 1880s.

Despite being the non-native species, the Eastern cottontail has thrived throughout the state, in part because it doesn’t need a large home range and can do well in small scale meadows (otherwise known as suburban backyards). The New England cottontail, however, needs a larger habitat and prefers thickets to thrive. For a number of reasons, thickets are decreasing, and with the competition for food that the Ne w England cottontail faces from the Eastern cottontail, the New England cottontail’s numbers have plummeted over recent years. Because of this, New England cottontails are a candidate for federal listing on the Endangered Species Act and for Species of Greatest Conservation Need listing on the state level. The Fish and Wildlife Services have recently kicked off a survey to document the location and population of the surviving New England cottontails.

They may find that there are some in the Blue Hills. Understory growth in the Fowl Meadow section might provide the type of habitat critical to the survival of the New England cottontails. However, if the FWS doesn’t test, we’ll never know for sure if the rabbits here are New England or Eastern cottontails. The rabbits look very similar, and while there are some distinguishing marks, they don’t always appear. The surest way to tell is to analyze the pellets or to tell by the skull structure.

For more information, check out the US Fish and Wildlife Service website.

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