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Bunny time of year...

Special to KyForward

It’s hard not to love Eastern Cottontail Rabbits. They are adorable. To bad-talk cottontails is like slandering the Easter Bunny, and who wants to be on the bad side of the Easter Bunny?

But as cute cottontails are, they face trials and tribulations that few other species endure.

When you’re the favorite food source of just about every predator out there, you better be able to reproduce – often and quickly. And cottontails do just that. To “breed like rabbits,” is an understatement. An extremely high reproductive rate is what ensures the cottontail’s survival, up to six litters in a single season producing about 35 youngsters.

In the 1700’s, Pennsylvania Dutch German immigrants grew the Easter bunny story.  They told their children about the “Osterhase,” (Easter hare), who gave only good little children gifts of colored eggs in nests made of children’s caps and bonnets each spring at Easter time (Photo Provided)In the 1700’s, Pennsylvania Dutch German immigrants grew the Easter bunny story. They told their children about the “Osterhase,” (Easter hare), who gave only good little children gifts of colored eggs in nests made of children’s caps and bonnets each spring at Easter time (Photo Provided)

In the 1700’s, Pennsylvania Dutch German immigrants grew the Easter bunny story. They told their children about the “Osterhase,” (Easter hare), who gave only good little children gifts of colored eggs in nests made of children’s caps and bonnets each spring at Easter time (Photo Provided)

 

Young bunnies grow quickly and are weaned and independent in less than a month. They are sexually mature in three months or less, allowing populations to grow with staggering speed.

That said, you’d think our yards would be full of cottontails. Think again. Known as the protein pill of the animal kingdom, they are one of the most heavily preyed on species, suffering an astounding 80 percent mortality yearly. Average longevity is less than two years.

Eastern Cottontails are found throughout the eastern U.S. They browse at night on grasses and herbs. Winter fare is bark, twigs and buds. They get most of the water they need from the foods they eat. Optimal habitat includes open grassy areas for foraging; with shrubs, thickets and hedgerows for cover.

Cottontails are seldom found in deep woods. And they’re fast. When pursued by a predator they run in a zigzag, reaching up to 18 mph. They can leap distances of 10- to 15-feet.

Right now cottontails are busy “cavorting,” a term used to describe their courtship behaviors. Usually occurring at night, cavorting includes a great deal of running, racing, hopping and fighting by bucks and does. It is thought to weed out the weak and enhance the reproductive pool. After mating, the doe builds a nest in a well-concealed depression and lines it with fur from her chest. Kits are born about a month after mating.

So how did the legend of the Easter Bunny get started? The ancient European pagan goddess of spring was called Eostre, hence the name “Easter.” According to folklore, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen in the bitter cold, so she turned it into a hare. The hare, having once been a bird, could still lay eggs.

In the 1700’s, Pennsylvania Dutch German immigrants grew the story. They told their children about the “Osterhase,” (Easter hare), who gave only good little children gifts of colored eggs in nests made of children’s caps and bonnets each spring at Easter time.

Gayle Pille is a naturalist and nature writer who many know through her work to establish the five-mile network of nature trails at Highland Cemetery in Ft. Mitchell. She created the cemetery’s popular 25-year-old Wildlife Enhancement Program and works with a small team of volunteers to maintain the cemetery’s wooded walking paths. An avid birdwatcher, Gayle also builds custom wildlife nest boxes for businesses, parks and residences through her business, www.woodlandhabitat.com

Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." style="border: 0px; font-family: inherit; font-style: inherit; font-weight: inherit; margin: 0px; outline: 0px; padding: 0px; vertical-align: baseline; color: rgb(35, 177, 93); text-decoration: none;">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

By Gayle Pille

Special to KyForward

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